In preservation work, you never know where the next challenge is going to come from. A year ago, who would have guessed that it would come in at the loading dock, and that it would be popcorn? Yes, that is real popcorn, without the butter and salt. According to the messages from librarians and others that have appeared in the last few months on the Conservation Distribution List (Cons DistList, an electronic forum described in the July 1990 issue), it is coming in boxes from book vendors and audiovisual equipment suppliers who have apparently jumped on the ecology bandwagon without looking at the route number. They are trying to get away from Styrofoam.
And yes, it is a problem, since it makes good food for microorganisms, insects and rodents. It also weighs eight times as much as styrofoam, according to a 1990 study done by Booklab. If it gets wet, it loses all value for packing. It is more flammable than Styrofoam, and costs more. Little bits of the hulls get stuck in the carpets and don't vacuum up. The corn actually does contain some oil, which might get on the books if they are not protected by a bag.
There is a related material called Eco-Foam, also investigated by Booklab. It is made of extruded corn, and is very light, comparable to Styrofoam, but has some of the same disadvantages that popcorn does. It loses all its body when wet, and is edible.
Anyone who knows of a biodegradable packing material that is just as good as Styrofoam should contact Carol Kent at Booklab, 8403 Cross Park Drive #2E Austin, IX 78754 (512/837-0479, Fax 837-9794). Anyone who has an idea for stemming the flood of popcorn will earn the gratitude of librarians by putting it on the Cons DistList.