Now that microfilm (and fiche) are seen as the main solution to the brittle paper problem, not to mention the space problem, and are bought in increasing numbers for daily use, it is possible to overlook the fact that brittle paper has launched a vengeful counterattack against microfilm, and is winning a few battles of its own in microform reading rooms. The paper envelopes in which microfiche are stored and the paperboard boxes in which microfilm are stored, can fade or erase the images on the film if they are made of inferior or inappropriate materials, which they often are. The loss of these microforms cannot be shrugged off, because they may represent a considerable investment by the library and if the past is any guide, some of them will have to serve as masters eventually. Even a certain percentage of silver nitrate masters stored in underground facilities are housed in acidic boxes, which will surely harm them. (For comments on this problem by some of the people involved, see the October 1989 issue of this newsletter, p. 99; and December 1989, p. 148.)
The problem is not new, because the effect of bad boxes on microfilm in government repositories was described in detail and given wide publicity in the 1960s, but it is given fresh attention every 10 or 15 years. After all, new test methods, materials and other elements are constantly being added to the picture, and new corrective actions become possible as time goes on; also, sadly, sometimes people tend to forget what they have learned, or they do not pass on what they know to the next generation.
The library community began a counter-counterattack several years ago, on two fronts. The first is a survey of 750 micropublishers (publishers of microforms) by the RLG and AALL, funded by the Commission on Preservation and Access, on microform production and quality control, storage conditions and inspection practices (CPA Newsletter, Sept. 1991 and Abbey Newsletter, Oct. 1991, p. 90). [For meanings of all these initials, see below.] This includes a section on storage enclosures. The second is a survey of microform packaging in ARL libraries, carried out by the RLMS Micropublishing Committee, to determine the extent of libraries' reliance upon publishers' supplied packaging for storage and to confirm librarians' need for acid-free, buffered and durable packaging from publishers. It has been completed but not published yet. Permission has been granted to summarize the results here.
The respondents made their position very clear in their unanimous or near-unanimous answers to several questions. All 67 (100%) said that most, if not all, microforms purchased by their library were intended to become part of the permanent collection. About 95% of them said their library was concerned that materials used in the storage of microforms meet available ANSI standards for stability and durability. Only 16% of the libraries had the facilities and staffing to test materials for stability and durability. Almost all (97%) wanted publishers to furnish microfilm in boxes meeting available ANSI standards for stability and durability, with a statement specifying these standards being printed on each box. Most (88%) also wanted storage materials for microfiche (individual protectors, albums, binders, trays, etc.) to meet available ANSI standards for stability and durability. And 81% even wanted publishers to offer fiche storage materials as extra-cost options, instead of automatically supplying them and including their cost in the cost of the microfiches.
of Law Libraries
ansi=American National Standards Institute
arl=Association of Research Libraries
cpa=Commission on Preservation and Access
rlg=Research Libraries Group
rlms=Reproduction of Library Materials Section, which is part of ALCTS (Association for Library Collections and Technical Services), which is part of the American Library Association.