The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 12, Number 5
Jul 1988

Conference on Microenvironments

At the National Archives' Third Annual Preservation Conference, "microenvironmental Research and New Directions in the Care of Collections," April 12, there were five papers. One described Russian archives in very general terms; two gave interim reports on research in progress (Elio Passaglia on math models of how well various types of enclosures protect the material within, and Frank Preusser on indoor and outdoor pollutants and their effect on stored or exhibited items); and two presented useful information, ripe for application (Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler and James Reilly). All papers will be published in Restaurator. Only the last two will be described here.

Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler of the National Archives spoke on "Preservation of Archival Records: Holdings Maintenance at the National Archives"--essentially this is phased conservation or stack maintenance, carried out in connection with the National Archives' 20-year plan to preserve the documents in its care. The scale of the operation is most impressive: the goal is to treat 90,000 cubic feet annually (45 million sheets), and they are meeting that goal. They give most of their attention to new materials but are making a dent in the backlog. The work is done by archives technicians, not by the lab staff. A total of 225 technicians have received their five hours of training and 30 are currently working in teams of 5-7. It is all very systematic: there are annual work plans, performance standards, time estimates, targets, bonuses and reviews of the work. The specs they use for purchasing boxes of two types (low lignin and acid free), file folders, corrugated paperboard and photographic enclosures were handed out to participants.

The work itself includes unfolding, removal of paper clips and rubber bands, dusting, tying of parts, much reboxing and refoldering, and putting much-used documents in mylar enclosures sealed on two sides ("L-sleeves"). (Someone asked if they had any problems putting acidic documents into polyester sleeves, and Ms. Ritzenthaler said their overriding concern was to protect them in use until it was possible to treat them.) A useful innovation is the "spacerboard," a piece of corrugated paperboard that can be folded to fill any extra space in archival boxes and hold the folders upright.

James Reilly spoke on "Photographic Enclosures Research and Specifications." At the Image Permanence Institute, which be heeds, they have tested 90 products used for photographic enclosures, using a more sensitive form of the ANSI test for stability of enclosures. Devised by the IPI with NEH support, it will become IT 9.2. Of the 90 products tested, 66 are sold as archival materials. Only 44% passed the test, which consists of incubation in contact with the standard detectors coated with sensitive colloidal silver. If the incubation does not result in staining, fading or mottling of the orange-colored detector strips, the material has passed the test. Another 37% of these "archival materials" met two of the three criteria. Some rag boards did very poorly. There was no correlation between CaCO3 content of the materials and performance. The test may and may not work with plastics.

Mr. Reilly offered five guidelines for choosing board or paper for storage of photographic materials:

1. Choose products intended for photographic use, or described as meeting ANSI PH 1.53 or IT 9.2.

2. If you can't find products meeting guideline #1, choose high quality rag products.

3. Avoid highly colored products, especially black.

4. Choose nonbuffered products, except for storage of nitrate and early safety film, even though the standards recommend buffered products. (This is a "very gentle recommendation".)

5. Test for groundwood.

The IPI will test storage materials for other institutions ("for a small fee"). Write them at RIT City Center, 50 W. Main St., Rochester, NY 14614-1274 (716/475-5199). But they cannot give out the names of the enclosure materials they tested for the study.

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