The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 15, Number 5
Sep 1991

International Seminar on Preservation Research, May 1991

by Ellen McCrady

The official title of this event was "International Seminar on Research in Preservation and Conservation." It was organized by the Conservation Education Programs at Columbia University in cooperation with Unesco, IFLA and the ICA, arid attended by about 75 invited participants from 34 countries, not counting translators and student aides, so it bad a decidedly international flavor. Most were heads of libraries, archives, or conservation science labs. Participants were housed and served all meals at Columbia University's Arden House Conference Center in the Adirondacks.

The presentations focused on the effect of environmental conditions and means for controlling mold and insects. These two topics were chosen as those of most general interest and highest priority in most countries. Most of the 21 speakers were conservation scientists or leading technical specialists. The list included Paul Whitmore, Frank Preusser, Alan Postlethwaite, Colin Smith, Tom Parker, Oleg Gromov, Nieves Valentin, Vladimir Sorokin, Francoise Flieder, Don Sebera, Paul Banks, Chandru Shahani, Judith Hofenk de Graaff, Glen Cass, and James Reilly, as well as some less familiar names. The participants' voices were heard too, not only in the question period following each paper or session, but in reports from breakout group discussions and the list of resolutions compiled from these reports. Preprints were furnished to all participants and the organizers intend to publish the proceedings.

The Papers

A few of the papers were summaries of what is known on subject, or were previously published in English, perhaps in an earlier form. These included:

Nieves Valentin - Controlled Atmosphere for Insect Eradication in Library and Museum Collections
Paul Banks - Heating, Ventilating, and Air-Conditioning System and Associated Standards
James Reilly - Effects of Air Pollution on Photographic Materials

Others have not been published, but were given at other recent conferences. Among them are two slide talks given by Chandru Shahani on "Effect of Fluctuations in Relative Humidity and Temperature on conditions within the Book Structure" and "Effect of Contained Environments on the Stability of Paper."

Other papers summarized recent research (e.g., Frank Preusser, "A Review of Getty-Sponsored Research Relating to the Control of Insect Pests"), or presented recent solutions to old problems (e.g., Wolf Buchmann "The Koblenz Archives," a building designed to offer "natural" control of the indoor environment), or offered information that is in scarce supply, at least in the preservation and conservation literature (Colin Smith of the Rentokil Group, "Carbon Dioxide: The Fumigant of the Future" and A. Parker, "The Role of Insect Pheromone Trapping Programs in Libraries and Archives"). Paul Whitmore directly addressed the problem of what practitioners can realistically expect from researchers. Oleg Gromov and Vladimir Sorokin, both of the ad Scientific Center, described what was done there to control mold growth after the 1988 fire. Glen Cass spoke on "Protection of Collections from Damage due to Deposition of Airborne Particles." Two of the papers summarized research needs in Africa and Latin America.

The high points of selected topics covered will be summarized here.

Insect Control

Bookworm infestations are extremely rare in the U.S., and when they occur, it is usually in shipments of books from warmer countries. Nearly always it is the cigarette beetle (lasioderma serricome), sometimes the drugstore beetle (stegobium panicem). Pheromone traps are available for each species, to monitor presence and number of beetles at different locations before using control measures like freezing or fumigation. But first you have to find out what species you are dealing with, since each trap is species-specific.

Integrated pest management is not good enough for museums, libraries and archives. They need integrated pest eradication (IPE) because the goal is to eradicate the pest entirely. To achieve this, all staff and cleaners mast be ready to report promptly any evidence of infestation (frass, etc.) so the problem can be investigated and eliminated.

Repeated fumigation of items in collections is no longer as acceptable as it used to be, if any alternative exists, because of the effect on personnel who handle the item. Some of the poisons used remain and accumulate on the objects and my affect the objects as well as personnel. The four best alternatives are 1) freezing in bags for 72 hours or more at -20º C (some recommend -30ºC), 2) anoxic treatments with oxygen reduced below 1% by use of a vacuum, nitrogen, or the oxygen absorber Ageless for three weeks, 3) air with 60% carbon dioxide at 25º C for two weeks, in a Rentokil bubble or in a conventional fumigation chamber, and 4) traps using juvenile hormones and other non-species specific metabolic or behavioral regulators, which show promise and have no apparent disqualifications, but which have not yet come into general use.

Carbon dioxide must be used by a trained operator because it is toxic and the process of monitoring the concentration is tricky.

Nitrogen with archival material in sealed impermeable plastic bags gives 100% mortality in 3-20 days at 30-35º C, 50-60% RH, and O2 at 0.05-0.5%, depending an the species. The cigarette beetle is most resistant. To prevent reinfestation, the materials can be stored in the bags until they are needed by a user. After use they can be resealed in the same bag if environmental conditions can't be controlled. (Insects can' t chew their way into a plastic bag, though they can chew their way out.) But nothing takes the responsibility away from the archives to clean up the storage area and keep infested material out of it.


Only Alan Postlethwaite and Vladimir Sorokin discussed mold control at length.

Both prevention and treatment involve reducing temperature and relative humidity to levels that prevent further growth, but it is not necessary to kill and remove all the mold in order to have it under control. It is harder to kill mold than insects, anyhow: freezing does not work on mold; ethylene oxide fumigation has to be done under strict environmental control, by a registered technician; cobalt 60 radiation is cheap and may have only limited effect an materials, but it is not convenient; and after treatment, materials are just as vulnerable to reinfection, if not more, as they were to start with. (It is no wonder that milder methods, such as brushing with ethanol or physically removing most of the mold growth from the surface, are advocated. They may be just as effective in the long run.)

Alan Postlethwaite emphasized the importance of simple measures like housekeeping for mold control. The directives issued by William Chamberlain a few years ago for the Virginia State Library do work, he said. (They will be published soon in this Newsletter.)

There was a different problem in Leningrad after the 1988 library fire, with 8.1 million books in a fire-damaged building. Some of the books were taken to a freezer, but most remained in the library. Many of the books were damp, and with the high humidity, mold was threatening to cause a mycological disaster. On the basis of extensive research done previously in the USSR on control of microorganism in libraries, they chose to treat all books in place with formaldehyde. There were not many other options because of the great volume of work: all the vacuum chambers in the world would have taken 400 years to treat that many books. Other disinfecting agents were unavailable or not legally permitted in the USSR for this use. They knew it was toxic, but it can be well controlled. It is easy to detect in wall concentrations, and it can be neutralized with ammonia. The large amount of formaldehyde needed for this job was easily available from industrial suppliers, and a permit for using it was easy to get. The doors and windows were sealed first because the library is in a residential neighborhood. They had to do research to decide an the best concentration, because this had never been done before. They settled on 10%, which is 2800 times the lethal dose. Oleg Gromov, who coordinated the research on this, had to wear a self-contained breathing apparatus every time he went in to see how it was doing, and he had to go back in 430 times. Mold and bacterial cultures were taken periodically arid the mortality of different species monitored. Temperature and RH w-re adjusted to maximize the effect.

Someone from the audience spoke favorably of an air sterilizer called Sterilair, available from Brazil. It draws the room air into a box, where it cooks any organisms or spores at 37 degrees C, and discharges the sterilized air the other side. All the literature is in Portuguese For information write Luiz Antonio Cruz Souza; Cecor - EM Av. Antonio Carlos, 6627; 31270 Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais; Brazil.

Need for Research and Implementation of Findings

In 1989/90, David and David Clements surveyed all national libraries and archives and saw professional organizations and research institutes, and one of the questions had to do with main research needs in preservation and conservation in the future. Of the 69 respondents who gave answers to this question, 20% identified mass treatment (deacidification, paper strengthening, etc.) as important for the future. The quality of materials for the creation of books and records (ink, paper, photographs and electronic and optical media) was identified as another area for research, as well as deterioration mechanism and ways of getting the most use out of scarce resources, or of organizing for increased resources. Ten percent wanted more research in storage techniques, including preservation without environmental controls. Another 10% of the replies were from less developed countries, and stressed the need for simpler, more accessible solutions: equipment and materials, and trained staff, and literature oriented to the needs of tropical countries.

There is always a lot of implied pressure on conservation scientists to produce answers to problem, even when the answers can not be, or have already been, produced. Understandably sow of the scientists at the symposium (and others who sometimes provide help and consultation, who ,were there) showed irritation at this. Paul Whitmore's paper, read by Merrily Smith, was an admirably clear explanation of what scientists do, and how both scientists and conservators have to cope with incomplete information and tentative conclusions. David Thomas wondered whether the librarians in the survey who called for more research into mass treatment were fully aware of research already done or in progress. Frank Preusser said that we already have broad knowledge of how to preserve collections, but don't use all the knowledge we have. What is needed, he said, is development, not research. His top priorities are information exchange and distribution, and training; then implementation of known solutions before looking for new ones. Then research, oriented to application and prevention. Wolf Buchmann, in the discussion after the paper on needs for conservation research in Africa, said that IFLA and ICA had organized training programs, sent experts to African countries, done RAMP studies, and more-"What's wrong with what we did? What more do you want?" Mark Ncube of Zimbabwe replied that the advice they got from experts was often impractical; after the experts go how, nothing happens.

As an observer, I was strongly reminded of struggles in other fields to implement new knowledge, and of the carefully-planned decades-long programs in the Department of Agriculture to get farmers to accept hybrid corn and other innovations. Development and application of preservation knowledge for library and archival materials require their own programs and resources, but have gotten little or no specific attention. Until this is recognized, in my opinion, the incompatible viewpoints of those in research and those in preservation will persist. Opportunities will be lost, lab work done will not be implemented, and counterproductive and useless policies and procedures will be carried out in the collections. Two good references on this same issue, as it occurs in other fields, are unfortunately both out of print: 1) Michael J. Moravcsik. Science Development: The Building of Science in Less Developed Countries. PASITAM (Program of Advanced Studies in Institution Building and Technical Assistance Methodology of the Midwest Universities Consortium for International Activities), 1974 or soon thereafter. The author died in 1989 and PASITAM no longer exists. 293 pp. 2) Putting Knowledge to Use: A Distillation of the Literature Regarding Knowledge Transfer and Change. Human Interaction Research Institute, Los Angeles, in collaboration with National Institute of Mental Health, Rockville, 1976. The last is a government publication and can be freely copied. A copy of about 45 of the most relevant pages will be sent from the Abbey Publications office, in return for $6.00 to cover postage and handling.

What Can be Done Now on Little or No Money

There was another difference of opinion on whether the participants from lesser developed nations needed money in order to make any progress in preservation. Some of them are doing remarkably well with limited resources but most feel blocked at every turn by lack of money. Just how much could be accomplished in a bootstrap operation was discussed on several occasions.

Frank Preusser said he had consulted on pest control in institutions that claimed to have done everything possible, even though he could see hundreds of entrances for insects when he walked in the building. Storage spare might not be lighted or organized so it could be inspected easily; cleaning was not done, which makes it impossible to tell new frass from old, and thus to spot new infestations; ventilation was not as good as it could be; the best storage areas were not used for the most valuable materials; and preservation priorities had not been set for the different materials or objects

The nitrogen-filled bags described by Nieves Valentin can protect a collection indefinitely from insects, whatever the temperature and humidity. Where a new building is out of the question, these would make it possible to preserve at least the most valuable items.

Where air conditioning exists, it should be operated to preserve the materials, not just to keep the staff and readers comfortable.

Granting agencies can require recipients to first do a damage survey and inventory, as is already being done in some places.

As David said, the best (achieving the ideal) is the of the good (optimizing conditions). The tropical institution that tries to achieve the environmental control specified in standards for temperate zones is likely to give up and not even exercise the control measures available to them.

For insect control, several speakers emphasized how money could be saved by using what are essentially management techniques: identifying the target pest, using a dose appropriate for the pest, monitoring the materials afterward and evaluating the methods used. This cuts down an the expense of sprays and fumigants. The usefulness of appropriate technology (indigenous structures, methods and materials) is often overlooked, though it is likely to be cheaper and better.

Spain, France and other countries have ongoing aid programs for their ex-colonies, and this aid sometimes covers preservation. It was suggested that the U.S. coordinate with Latin America through Puerto Rico, which has ties to both worlds. IFLA, ICA, Unesco and ICCROM provide aid for conservation and preservation in lesser-developed countries.

Question of Information

The need for all forms of information came up again and again: books, serials, research results, comprehensive and selective bibliographies with abstracts, translations, document delivery, training and consulting. An indication of the hunger for information is the fact that many sample publications on display during the evening devoted to this simply disappeared, and were not returned despite two appeals made in subsequent sessions.

Part of the problem is that some- countries that lack hard currency do not allow their residents to send money abroad, so it is not possible for them to buy the literature they need from other countries. They have the same problem with conservation supplies, which are not manufactured in many countries.

The need for translations is strongly felt. Abdelasiz Abid, who works for Unesco, said there is a certain Unesco program that will finance translations done by others. The for a book is $25,000. The Venezuela National Library is starting a translation program, English to Spanish, for Latin American preservation. A paper by the chief chemist in the analytical laboratory there emphasized that scientific literature, sometimes even that by Spanish-speaking scientists, is usually published in English, French, or German and thus is not accessible to most native readers unless it is translated.

Tony Clarke, of the National Museum and Art Gallery of New Zealand, suggested that sets of abstracts be published periodically in a large number of languages, and that selected articles be translated on demand. Another participant warned that translations were very expensive. Alan Postlethwaite said it might be possible to do machine translations-they are doing them regularly now at the Smithsonian Institution for correspondence with their researchers in Latin America.

I suggested that Unesco consider adapting expert systems like NAGARA GRASP to help administrators set preservation priorities and do long-range planning, because the user can borrow the software, or travel to a center where computers are available. It is a way of leapfrogging when there is not enough tire or money to train people in preservation.

The Resolutions

The best way to ensure that the decisions and discussions in a one-time conference like this do not evaporate into thin air when the participants disperse is to draw up a set of resolutions representing the consensus reached. The resolutions drawn up by this group are reproduced below.

(In November 1973, in Paris, there was a similar IFLA/ICA conference, on physical protection of books and documents. It resulted in 12 resolutions that were printed in Restaurator along with a list of participants, only one of whom [Francoise Flieder] attended both events. Where a resolution from the 1973 conference is similar to one from this symposium, a summary of it is appended in brackets. The similarity of the resolutions does not mean absence of progress, only persistence of need.)

Resolved that,

  1. Further research be undertaken in the priority areas concerned with disinfestation, environmental issues, lifetime testing, basic causes of deterioration, and deacidification and paper strengthening as listed in the attachments [i.e., the preliminary resolutions turned in by the six breakout groups].
  2. Research into low cost technical solutions including vernacular building techniques of importance for the control of building environment that take account of local conditions be undertaken.
  3. The use of law cost methods such as good housekeeping for helping the preservation of collections be encouraged.
  4. The development of local expertise and research into the use of indigenous materials be encouraged. [The corresponding 1973 resolution (#6iii) asks for standards and methods adapted to the environmental conditions, needs and economic capacities of developing countries, especially those relating to prevention of biodeterioration.]
  5. The application of modern management methods to the organization and control of preservation programs and strategies be pursued.
  6. Dissemination of knowledge of research results and the application of this information to practical situations be positively encouraged. [The 1973 resolution (#5) asks for the dissemination of information on national standards, current research projects and technical innovations and also the evaluation of priorities among librarians, archivists and scientists. Resolution #9i refers to the Secretariat they had just established and recommends that it compile a list of laboratories, workshops, research institutions and training centers active in the field of library arid archival conservation, describing their current work.]
  7. Dissemination of information be extended to cover Spanish and other major languages and the problem of dissemination into Asian languages be addressed.
  8. The valuable Unesco series of RAMP studies be extended.
  9. Awareness of preservation issues be promoted among funding sources and administrators as well as increasing public awareness.
  10. Support for improved training of teachers of preservation be given priority and better training programs an regional/local lines be developed. [The 1973 resolution (#6v) gives priority to conservation training and education at all levels, and to promotion of understanding by curators and administrators of conservation issues.]
  11. Active cooperation among librarians, archivists, conservators, curators and scientists be extended through IFLA and ICA to include the museum community and international conservation and scientific organizations. [The 1973 resolution (#3) advocates continued cooperation among archivists, librarians and scientists on conservation. Resolution #7 recommends that a joint IFLA/ICA steering committee and secretariat for implementation of recommended actions be set up. The Steering Committee included David Baynes-Cope, Helmut Bansa, Frazer Poole and Poul Christiansen.]
  12. The role of IFLA PAC regional centers and ICA regional branches be extended wherever possible in order to encourage cooperation.
  13. Unesco be asked to publish the proceedings of this seminar
  14. Unesco, IFLA and ICA be asked to take into account these resolutions and recommendations in constructing their medium term forward plans, and
  15. That thanks be expressed to Unesco, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the H.W. Wilson Foundation, the members of the organizing committee, the interpreters, the National Library of Canada, the Conservation Education Programs of the School of Library Service of Columbia University, and in particular the Dean, faculty, staff and students of the program and the staff of Arden House for making this seminar possible.


Several fine papers have been ignored in this symposium report, because of the way the report is organized around issues. Readers are strongly urged to buy the proceedings when they appear, to give themselves access to all papers, which were generally of high quality.

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