The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 13, Number 4
Jul 1989

CIC will Evaluate Mass Deacidification Processes

The Committee for Institutional Cooperation (CIC), a consortium of universities whose membership consists of "the Big Ten plus the University of Chicago," has been seriously considering mass deacidification for its members' libraries for several years. Richard Frieder (Head, Preservation Department, Northwestern University Library, 1935 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208), who is chair of the task force described in the proposal below, reports that the proposal became the charge of the task force when the CIC library directors met in April, and the task force had its first meeting in May. The task force welcomes ideas and information from all interested parties.


The Preservation and Collection Development Officers propose that the CIC libraries establish a Task Force on Mass Deacidification. The Task Force will be charged to evaluate available processes, monitor and, where appropriate, participate in evaluation activities being pursued elsewhere, assess the need for mass deacidification services within the CIC, examine the potential benefits of joint action, recommend one or more processes, and suggest a plan and timetable for implementation. We propose that the Task Force be kept small and that it include CIC Preservation and Collection Management Officers, and Library Directors. The Task Force should complete its work within one year.


The libraries of the CIC are committed to undertaking a comprehensive range of preservation activities, mass deacidification among them. An estimated 60% of the paper-based collections in CIC libraries are acidic but not yet brittle. Unless these materials are deacidified, the vast majority will deteriorate irreparably within our lifetimes, as roughly 30% of our collections already have. Allowing materials to become brittle invites potentially catastrophic loss of library collections; at the very least, it will increase the cost of preservation approximately tenfold. Therefore, the CIC has placed a high priority on gaining access to mass deacidification services.

There are now at least five mass deacidification processes in the United States, each in a different state of development and availability. They are: the Bookkeeper process (invented by the Koppers Company, now owned by Richard Spatz); the Booksaver process (invented by Book Preservation Associates, now marketed by Information Conservation, Inc.); the DEZ process (invented by the Library of Congress, and now being developed in a contractual arrangement with Akzo Chemicals); the Wei T'o process (invented and marketed by Richard Smith); and a process invented by the Lithium Corporation of America. Other processes are reportedly under development.

The CIC libraries observe that, after years of testing and development by the library and scientific communities, mass deacidification is nearing reality. We should actively seek to position ourselves to take advantage of this preservation option in a timely and responsible way. We propose that through the work of the Task Force, the libraries of the CIC enable themselves to make wisely the important choices about mass deacidification that will soon face research libraries nationwide.

The CIC libraries must act promptly if mass deacidification is to remain a feasible business venture for the organizations presently developing processes. Unless a market for mass deacidification materializes in the near future, developers will lose interest.

Need For Evaluation Of Processes

An evaluation of the various mass deacidification processes is needed to enable the libraries of the CIC to make fully informed choices. Whether acting jointly or individually, responsible decisions to invest resources in one or more processes can be made only after a thorough examination of a number of key issues. To act without attempting to address these issues fully would be to fail in our responsibility as the managers and caretakers of the invaluable collections held in the libraries of the CIC.

Issues That Must Be Addressed By Evaluation

The Task Force must address several key issues in evaluating mass deacidification processes:

I. Chemical Process - Does the chemical process properly neutralize acid and deposit a chemical buffer? Is paper strength changed as a result of treatment?

II. Materials Compatibility - Does the process have deleterious effects on any of the wide variety of papers, inks, and binding materials to be treated?

III. Toxicology - Are the chemicals toxic, either to personnel treating the volumes or to the many library staff and patrons who will handle them for generations to come?

IV. Materials Handling - What are the materials handing considerations, e.g., must material be sorted or prepared before treatment? Can the treatment be performed in-house or must material be shipped? Is the process designed to minimize the potential damage and labor costs involved in handling?

V. Engineering - Has treatment machinery been engineered and has it been demonstrated to be safe, effective, and efficient?

VI. Dependability - Is the process backed by a stable and reputable organization?

VII. Cost - Can treatment be made available at reasonable cost?

Objectivity and impartiality must receive high priority in conducting the evaluation. The libraries of the CIC have no preferences as to which process(es) might eventually be used; our concern is only that our needs be properly net. It is likely that more than one mass deacidification process will prove viable. The aim of the evaluation will be to examine each process with regard specifically to the needs of the CIC libraries.

Evaluation Efforts Already Underway

The evaluation performed by the CIC libraries should build on other similar efforts already underway. The Task Force on Mass Deacidification should thoroughly inform itself of these efforts, recommend that the CIC libraries participate where appropriate and, based on the needs of the CIC libraries, shape its work around the efforts currently in process. Some efforts already underway are:

  1. Library of Congress: The Library of Congress is required by Congress to investigate all viable mass deacidification technologies before selecting one or more for use with its own collections. A Request for Proposals will be issued in June, 1989. The REP specifies in detail the documentation required to allow LC to evaluate all respondents in each of the seven areas described above under "Issues that must be Addressed by Evaluation." LC will not itself perform testing on the various processes; each respondent will be required to provide documentation according to the very specific requirements of the RFP. The REP document will be made public, but responses will not. The RFP has been carefully constructed to provide in a fair and thorough way the information LC feels it needs to make fully informed choices. The entire REP process will cost LC several hundred thousand dollars.
  2. University of Toronto: The city of Toronto has provided the University with $30,000 (Canadian) to commission a feasibility study to determine what mass deacidification process might be employed in a treatment facility for the use of Toronto-area libraries. The study will focus on identifying the need, performing a non-technical examination of available processes, and developing a business plan. A private consulting firm has been hired to perform the study, which was begun in late January and is scheduled for completion in May, 1989. This study will not be nearly as comprehensive and detailed as the LC REP process. The University is willing to make the final report available to the CIC.
  3. Association of Research Libraries: ARL has commissioned the University of Toronto to write a report based on its study. [It is to be published in the fall of 1989.]
  4. Dr. David N. S. Hon: Dr. Hon, Professor and Director of the Wood Chemistry Laboratory at Clemson University, was the contractor for the landmark Office of Technology study of mass deacidification processes published in 1988. He is planning to conduct a further study of only the chemical aspects of various processes. Owners of all known processes will be invited to participate by treating a group of materials sent by Dr. Hon, and then returning them to him for extensive testing. The project is expected to cost between $250,000 and $500,000. Dr. Hon already has enough funding from private sources to begin the study. He is planning to submit a proposal to NEH in June, for which be is presently seeking sources of matching funds. Regardless of the outcome of the NEH proposal, Dr. Hon plans to begin the study in September. He has indicated an interest in working with the CIC.

Identifying The CIC' S Need For Mass Deacidification

In order to fully evaluate the potential and suitability of various mass deacidification processes, the CIC libraries must better identify their need for deacidification services. In addition, a sharper definition of the need and an evaluation of the processes will allow the Task Force to comment on whether joint action is beneficial in selecting material for treatment, in obtaining services, or in securing funding.

The Task Force will have to design a plan through which to meet these objectives. They might begin with a survey of the CIC libraries aimed at assessing the quantity of their perceived need, their expected actual demand for services, and their present thoughts on funding and selection. With this survey as a starting point, an effort to address these issues can be further pursued.


Beyond funding for a minimal number of Task Force meetings, it is presently unclear if other funding will be necessary. If it is, the (IC or the libraries themselves might be willing to contribute. In preliminary discussions, both the Commission on Preservation and Access and the National Endowment for the Humanities have expressed interest. How much if any funding might come from the mass deacidification developers themselves is an issue to be explored.

How To Proceed

The Preservation and Collection Development Officers recommend that the Task Force on Mass Deacidification be appointed and charged by 15 April 1989, and that their work be completed within one year. The group's first task will be to inform itself of evaluation efforts underway elsewhere and to design and perform the survey described under "Identifying the CIC' s Need for Mass Deacidification." The Task Force will also investigate the broad selection and operational issues associated with mass deacidification and the regional interest that may exist in this preservation treatment beyond the CIC institutions themselves. The Task Force may decide that a Request for Information (RFI) addressed to developers of mass deacidification processes will be a good means of conducting this investigation.

The Task Force will follow the general plan outlined in this document, shaping it as necessary in consultation with the CIC Library Directors, Preservation Officers, and Collection Development Officers. By April 1990, the Task Force will produce a report summarizing its work, recommending one or more mass deacidification processes, and suggesting a plan and timetable for implementation.

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