The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 12, Number 8
Dec 1988

Senator Pell Seeks Legislation on Acid-Free Paper

Sen. Claiborne Pell (D., R.I.), chairman of Congress's Joint Committee on the Library, says that during the next congressional year he intends to push for a national policy to have important books and other publications printed on acid-free paper. To this end, he introduced on October 11 a joint resolution (S.J. Res. 394, "To establish a national policy on permanent papers") which will be reintroduced and pursued with vigor in the next session. He introduced it with a speech which was printed on p. 5 15477 of the Congressional Record for October ii. It is excerpted below.

"Mr. President, I am introducing today a Senate Joint resolution which would establish a national policy that books and other publications of enduring value be published on acid free paper.

"Within the last year, an increasing amount of publicity has been given to the fact that we are facing the loss of an enormous part of our historical, cultural, and scientific record because of the self-destruction of the acidic papers on which books and other publications have been printed since the mid-lath century. This is the problem of the "brittle books," which has been the subject of attention on public television and other media.

"I have been particularly concerned about this problem in my role as chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library in the 100th Congress. The Library of Congress is a pioneer in developing the technology for mass deacidification of its collections through the use of diethylzinc [DEZ]. A pilot plant utilizing this process is now being tested in Houston, with the expectation that a large scale facility will soon be in operation under license from the Library. The present goal is to begin treatment of all the Library's new acquisitions by 1991 and to start retrospective treatment at the same time of existing publications in American history.

"The National Archives and Records Administration and the National Library of Medicine are also making vigorous efforts to deal with the problem, either through deacidification or through microfilming books and publications which are already too brittle to save.

"Congress has already appropriated over $100 million in support of these efforts, and we should be prepared to provide more. At stake is nothing less than the preservation of the whole record and literacy output of the most remarkable century of human experience to date.

"However, it makes little sense to continue the remedy without attempting to curb the basic problem. And that is what the resolution I am offering today is designed to do. It establishes a national policy to promote and encourage the printing of books and other publications of enduring

value on nonacidic paper. In a figurative sense, it locks the library door against prospective invasion by publications printed on acidic paper....

"... It should be noted that the implementation of the national policy, by attacking the problem prospectively, will have the effect of reducing the long-range costs of deacidification. Every book produced on acid-free paper today frees up preservation resources which can be used to attack the crumbling backlog of publications dating beck to 1850.

"I commend this resolution to the attention of the Senate, and I invite comments and suggestions. It is, of course, late in the 100th Congress, but I intend to reintroduce the resolution in January 1989, and I hope it will be possible to hold public hearings soon thereafter to explore the matter in depth. I have every confidence that it will not be said 100 years from now that we knew how to solve this problem but did nothing about it."

The text of the resolution itself is as follows:


To establish a national policy on permanent papers.

Whereas it is now widely recognized and scientifically demonstrated that the acidic papers commonly used in documents, books, and other publications for more than a century are self-destructing and will continue to self-destruct;

Whereas Americans are facing the prospect of continuing to lose national historical records, including government records, faster than salvage efforts can be mounted despite the dedicated efforts of many libraries, archives, and agencies, such as the National Archives and Records Administration;

Whereas the Congress has already appropriated $50,000,000 to the National Archives and Records Administration, $32,000,000 to the Library of Congress, and $2,400,000 to the National Library of Medicine for deacidifying or microfilming books too brittle for ordinary use, and $25,000,000 to the National Endowment for the Humanities for grants to libraries and archives for such purposes;

Whereas nationwide many hundreds of millions of dollars will need to be spent by the Federal, State, and local governments and private institutions to salvage the most essential books and other materials in the libraries and archives of academic and private institutions;

Whereas there is an urgent need to prevent the acid paper problem from continuing into the indefinite future by means which already exist, in as much as acid free permanent papers with a life of several hundred years already exist and are being produced to some extent at prices competitive with acid papers;

Whereas the American Library Association Council in a resolution dated January 13, 1988, has urged publishers to use acid free permanent papers in books and other publications of enduring use and value, and other professional organizations have expressed similar opinions;

Whereas some publishers such as the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the Library of Congress and many university presses are already publishing on acid free papers, and the Office of Technology Assessment has estimated that only 15 to 25 percent of the books currently being published in the United States are printed on acid free paper;

Whereas even when books are printed on acid free paper, the fact that such books are printed on acid free paper is often not made known to libraries by notations in the book or by notations in standard bibliographical listings;

Whereas most Government agencies do not require the use of permanent papers for appropriate Federal records and publications, and associations representing commercial publishers and book printers have thus far not recommended the use of acid free papers;

Whereas paper manufacturers have stated that a sufficient supply of acid free papers would be produced if publishers would specify the use of acid free papers; and

Whereas there is currently no statistical information from public or private sources regarding the present volume of production of acid free papers and what volume of production would be required to meet am increased demand: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

Section 1. It is the policy of the United States that Federal records, books, and publications of enduring value be produced on acid free papers.

Sec. 2. The Congress of the United States urgently recommends the following:

(1) Federal agencies require the use of permanent papers for publications of enduring value produced by the Government Printing Office or produced by Federal grant or contract, using the specifications for permanent paper established by the Joint Committee on Printing.

(2) Federal agencies require the use of archival quality papers for permanently valuable Federal records and confer with the National Archives and Records Administration on the requirements for paper quality.

(3) American publishers use permanent paper for publications of enduring value, and voluntarily comply with the American National Standard, and when books are printed on acid free papers the fact of such printing be noted in the books, in advertisements, in catalogs, and in standard bibliographic listings.

(4) Reliable statistics be produced by public or private institutions on the present production of permanent papers and the volume of production required to meet the national policy declared in section 1 regarding acid free paper.

(5) The Department of State make known the national policy regarding acid free papers to foreign governments and appropriate international agencies since the acid paper problem is worldwide and essential foreign materials being imported by our libraries are printed on acid papers.

Sec. 3. The Librarian of Congress, the Archivist of the United States, the Director of the National Library of Medicine, and the Administrator of the National Library of Agriculture shall jointly monitor the Nation's progress in implementing the national policy declared in section 1 regarding acid free papers and report annually to the Congress regarding such progress by January 1, 1990, and each succeeding year thereafter.

Editorial Comment

This resolution, which may become law next year, is a great step forward. After more than a century of speculation and research on the causes of deterioration in paper, the causes have been pretty well identified, and we cam be confident that remedies based on this research will succeed. We have to be careful, though, that in the process of turning knowledge into policy we do not slip a cog or two. We have all read, in our youth, about literal-minded fairies who created problems by granting poorly-worded wishes, and many of us can testify that modern computers are carrying on this tradition very well. It would be too bad if legislation based on this resolution turned out to backfire like those fairy-tale wishes.

We need paper that is more than merely acid-free, because acid-free paper cam be short-lived if it is oxidized or of poor quality. For permanence, paper also needs an alkaline buffer (usually calcium carbonate) to protect it from the effects of pollution, high temperature and humidity, light and other agents of deterioration. It must also be free (or reasonably free, whatever that is) of ground-wood. It must also be strong (durable) enough for its expected use. All this has been well established by the paper permanence research of the last 60 years, including Barrow's work and other work continuing into the present.

But how can all these factors be worked into a document like this eloquent and convincing resolution, without destroying the effect altogether? Could the main criteria for permanence and durability be described in one of the Whereases, and referred to thereafter as permanence? This would take care of most concerns, but would leave a few loose ends such as other permanence factors not mentioned, and test methods for monitoring adherence to the specifications set. (The problem of preserving the eloquence of the document would disappear if we were writing a law. No one cares whether laws are eloquent or not.)

Why couldn't both the resolution and the law refer to standards? That would make it even simpler, and it's what standards are for. The resolution or the law could simply recommend or require that paper meet one of the existing formal standards of permanence. That would solve the problem of having to modify the law as our technology changes and our understanding of permanence increases, because formal standards are regularly revised to keep them up to date, and new standards are introduced from time to time as the need is felt. If standards are not referred to, the implied goal of paper permanence may never be reached, and the law's requirements may be unenforceable.

If all this seems too great a change to force unto producers and consumers of writing and printing papers all at once, a temporary compromise could be struck by requiring 'acid-free, buffered" paper, and encouraging eventual adherence to permanence standards.

The resolution should not prejudice its case unnecessarily by implying that there is a price difference between acid and acid-free papers. In the only known comparative price study (Alk. Pap. Advocate 1 #3, p. 20, 1988), prices turned out to be the same. The popular belief that acid-free papers cost more may be a carryover from the early years of this century, when the only way people knew to make longer-lasting paper was to use rag pulp. It could also be a result of the mill practice of converting their best quality grades first, or of the high prices charged for Permalife and similar papers marketed through retail mail-order outlets to tiny markets.

Another matter deserves careful consideration before the final wording is formulated: the archives. Their problem is much larger than the libraries', in this country, at least. Well over half of all trade books are now being published on alkaline paper, which is at least a step in the right direction toward permanence; but only 5-10% of office papers (the kind of paper that winds up in archives) are alkaline, according to an estimate from the paper industry. Books are published in multiple copies, but almost all archival materials are unique. The problem of getting permanent paper used in public and private offices across the country will be a tough one, because there are so many kinds of paper involved, and so many buyers. There is no single group like publishers to pressure, either. In the face of odds like these, perhaps it would not be cowardly to postpone that campaign until the campaign for libraries is won. But we should not deceive ourselves that this joint resolution will do much to solve the problems of the archives.

Now, it may seem inconsistent for this Editor, who is also the editor of the Alkaline Paper Advocate, to be saying that it's not enough for paper to be acid-free, since acid-free and alkaline are the same thing. The fact is that alkalinity, with few exceptions, is a necessary condition for permanence in paper that will see normal use and be stored under normal conditions. (After all, newsprint will stay white and strong indefinitely if it is stored under optimum conditions and never used.) And for it to stay alkaline, it has to have that alkaline reserve. Our rallying cry really ought not to be "acid-free paper" but "paper with an alkaline reserve," if we wanted to be a stickler for detail--but you can't build many coalitions or move many mountains with a rallying cry like that.

Look at it this way: If you succeed in getting acid-free paper used everywhere, you've made it to first base. If you also succeed in getting an adequate amount of calcium carbonate in the paper as an alkaline buffer, fewer people will know what you are trying to do, but you will get to second base. If you also want to guarantee that groundwood content will be below a certain maximum, you'll find that the magic has kind of gone out of your cause for many of your allies, though all you've done is to ask for paper that meets all three of the ANSI standard's specs for permanence. You're not home, though, till you get paper that is also durable. Even then someone may tell you that your paper has performed poorly in an accelerated aging test for some unanticipated reason, and you'll wake up and find out it was all a dream. (Not likely. Only joking.)

When you're working for change, you have to take one step at a time. First we have to get to first base--but everyone has to remember that second base lies beyond it, and third base, and that what counts is running across that home plate eventually.

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