The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 16, Number 5
Oct 1992


Libraries and Archives: Design and Renovation with a Preservation Perspective, by Susan Garretson Swartzburg and Holly Bussey, with Frank Garretson. Metuchen, NJ, and London: Scarecrow Press, 1991. 225 pp. Acid-free paper. $27.50. ISBN 0-8108-2420-5.

Reviewed by Ellen McCrady

Basically, this is a selective classified bibliography, with each reference annotated and with a longish general commentary to introduce each of the seven chapters. The first chapter, a history of library design and preservation, has a section to itself. The others are

  1. Planning: The Librarian, the Consultant, and the Architect
  2. Design, Construction, and Renovation
  3. The Interior: Shelving, Storage, Interior Design, and Exhibition Space
  4. The Environment
  5. Safety, Security, Emergency Planning, and Insurance
  6. Preservation of Library and Archival Materials

The book is written to have broad appeal in the library world. It is not just for preservation librarians, though preservation is covered in several chapters besides the last one. It will not scare away any librarians who do not like technical details, because there is hardly anything technical in the text. Where technical facts and advice are provided, they may be off base or unconvincing, e.g. the statement that deterioration accelerates tenfold with every degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature (it actually doubles with every 100°F increase in temperature), or the reluctance to recommend installation of sprinklers as a fire suppression measure (p. 89, 153 and 168).

Readers who are looking for practical advice rather than a broad overview will have to turn to the references, which are drawn from the conservation, architecture, engineering, museum, insurance and government regulatory literature as well as from the library and archive literature. There is even a bibliography of bibliographies, and a list ofjournals and a directory of organizations. The subject index is skimpy but the author index appears complete, with about 275 names in it. Not much of the worthwhile relevant literature available in English seems to have been missed. Some of the references are from other languages, but foreign literature may not have been carefully searched. There seems to be no mention of the state-of-the-art French and German archive buildings that incorporate economical and dependable passive environmental control into their design.

This book began in 1980 as a review of the literature on library design and renovation, in preparation for construction of an annex for little-used collections in the Rutgers University Libraries. Since then, the annex has been built, and some of the modern high-rise shelving in it has collapsed, adding to the authors' felt urgency to prepare a guide to protect others from similar experiences. Some of the more interesting references, by the way, have to do with building defects and collapse, with or without earthquakes. There are about nine of these references in the chapter on design, construction and renovation.

The authors found that most of the voluminous library literature on buildings was not helpful for people interested in the physical environment for housing of collections. As they say, nearly every administrator will be involved at one time or another in a construction or remodeling project, and nearly every administrator has a compulsion to write about the experience. The authors originally intended to have a chapter on case studies of successful buildings, but found that they were so rare that you could count them on the fingers of one hand, if you were generous. They then hoped at least to find some good critiques of existing buildings, but were again disappointed. They are able to recommend only two librarians who have written such critiques: David Kaser and Ellsworth Mason.

There is apparently no book that explains why it is so hard to build good libraries and archives. There is a publication, however, not mentioned in the Swartzburg/Bussey book, which explains why bridges and other structures collapse: Henry Petroski's To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design (New York: Vintage Books, 1992). Petroski says a big factor in failure is the engineer's practical desire to use new improved materials in construction, and to use a novel design for each structure. He is not much help, though, in explaining less spectacular things like leaky roofs or excessive light; for these things, consult Swartzburg and Bussey.

A Roundtable on Mass Deacidification: Report on a Meeting held September 12-13, 1991 in Andover, Massachusetts Edited by Peter G. Sparks. Sponsored by the Association of Research Libraries and the Northeast Document Conservation Center. Washington: Association of Research Libraries, 1992. 115 pp. $20. Available from the ARL, 1527 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202/232-2466. ISBN 0-918006-21-X.

by Gregor Trinkaus-Randall
Collection Management/Preservation Specialist,
Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners

Mass deacidification is on the minds of many in the preservation field, but until this meeting no attempt had been made to bring together the non-vendor players involved in decision-making, applications and trials of this process. During two days a variety of topics were addressed, including institutional and management issues, funding strategies and public relations, cooperative approaches, toxicological issues and experiences with trial treatments.

The importance of this publication is that it permits the reader to find in one place a brief synopsis of the experiences of those currently at the forefront of activity in mass deacidification, including both those who are "beginning to decide" and those who have "decided to begin." The papers describe clearly what has occurred and been learned from each of these efforts, thus allowing the reader to gain an overall picture of the current state of mass deacidification activities in the United States and Canada. By dividing the conference, and therefore the publication, into the above-mentioned categories, the organizers allow the readers to focus on their particular interests. Furthermore, since these papers are lucid ly and succinctly presented, generally in non-technical language, the reader can gain a much greater understanding of the issues and decisions facing the library, archives and preservation professionals as they address the long-term preservation of their collections.

Of particular importance are the overriding themes of the need for cooperative action and the realization that a range of challenges faces those pursuing action in this area, including "operational issues...; treatment side effects...; and quality control." Another area of emphasis was that it is important, for the future of mass deacidification in this country, to work with the vendors to solve the problems that exist currently. Finally, it becomes clear that there is a need for continning coordination of effort, analytical assessment on a broad level, and consistent and constant communication at a variety of levels. By bringing these issues to the fore and by setting the stage for a frank discussion of the successes and failures of the participants' actions, the conference has permitted a continued dialogue on mass deacidification. With that in mind, this publication must be considered to be an important addition to preservation literature and should be required reading for those contemplating proceeding in this direction.

Preservation and the Management ofLibrary Collections, by John Feather. Published by the Library Association, London; distributed in the U.S. by UNIPUB, 4611-F Assembly Drive, Lanham, MD 20705-4391(301/459-7666). $37 + postage & handling. 122 pp. ISBN 0-85365-769-6.

Reviewed by Ellen McCrady

This little book exemplifies the best and the worst features of preservation writings today. The author is a teacher, administrator, and scholar, and has been an eloquent spokesman for preservation in Britain for years, so his book might be expected to benefit the field, especially in Britain. On the other hand, he gets so many of the important facts wrong that he may be doing more harm than good. He is a leader, a wonderful speaker with a delightful writing style, but his education was obviously in the humanities, because he seems to lack even the barest appreciation for technical matters. In preservation, anyone who wants to be effective has to appreciate the importance and nature of handling, pH, temperature, relative humidity, light, insects, and so on, and understand how they affect the processes of deterioration--not in detail, not like a specialist would, but well enough. At least nothing should be done that would shorten the collection's life. When the original is no longer fit for use and must be copied, the procedures as well as the costs and benefits must be understood. The people who read this book will not get this kind of guidance.

Every writer on this subject seems to feel that they must have a historical introduction, perhaps to give them a running start in writing the rest of the book. The rest of the book can usually stand without it, but I often find it to be useful as an indicator of how well the author has researched his book. Feather's historical statements, in the first two chapters, show that he did very little research on events of the past. On page 14, he says the Chinese invented paper in the fifth century AD (three or more centuries off, depending on which of the early papers you think fully qualify as paper). On page 3, he says that American paper in the 19th century was even worse than its European equivalent; but the survey of the Yale library collections revealed that the country of publication had almost nothing to do with the condition of a given book, while the year of publication had almost everything to do with it.

He says on page 15 that the hollander used hammers to break down the vegetable matter of which the paper was made; in fact, it superceded the use of hammers. He also says bleach was added to the paper stock, whereas it was actually used in stock preparation, so that it could be rinsed out. If left in, bleach would destroy the paper before it could be sold.

Later on, when he discusses preservation, he is just as inaccurate. On pp.40-41, for instance, he shows that he is all mixed up about relative humidity. He does not think anything can be done about mold and high RH in developing countries, aside from installing an elaborate and expensive air conditioning system or simply removing the most vulnerable and affected materials. He says nothing about the value of moving air, cleanliness, regular inspections or any of the low-cost measures that can be used to good effect in any country. He thinks the ideal RH is 55-65% for libraries with a full environmental oontrol system, provided the temperature is held between 13° and 18°C, which is fairly cool. His authority for this recommendation is a British Standard that was written in 1977; he cites more recent work, but does not seem to have digested it, and he has ignored the sound and valuable body of literature produced in his own country by book and paper conservators.

Like many administrators in the United States and elsewhere, the author has fallen into the trap of communicating only, or mainly, with other administrators, a practice that guarantees a flow of stale and undependable information. Preservation depends on conservation for the knowledge it uses. All preservation administrators, even those with formal degrees in the field, need to have several channels through which they receive information from conservators and conservation scientists.

In the United States, the preservation administrators in the larger research libraries have made a formal, urgent request for better access to scientific findings, and for better explanations of the technical issues they have to deal with in their work. The Commission on Preservation and Access and the Library of Congress have both responded generously. Neither organization will be able to make the technical aspects of preservation understandable to everyone, because there is more to it than answering questions and providing summaries of papers, but there is a great deal that can be done.

The basic problem is the immense gap between the "two cultures" of science and the humanities. Most librarians lack the technical background that preservation work calls for, but some of them have bridged part of that gap by taking up bookbinding as a hobby, not as a duty, but because they love it. This gives them first-hand knowledge of the materials and structures they deal with in the library-their nature, cost, permanence, and working qualities. Most preservation librarians work hard to learn whatever they have to in order to carry out microfilming, deacidification or other programs, and it is pretty impressive to hear them discussing densities, queueing, administering of contracts, polymerization, volatile products, and so on. They are also generally adept at the use of computers and computer networks, which require technical knowledge.

For the sake of people who have already bought this book, and those who plan to buy it, let me point out a few of the omissions or misstatements that might otherwise result in harm to collections. All light, not just UV light, is harmful to paper and other materials. The reasons UV light is filtered or excluded are: a) we don't need it to see by, and b) it is more harmful than visible light.

More can be done to prevent infestation by insects than taking the steps he recommends: cutting away foliage next to the building, calling the exterminator, making the library inaccessible to termites, caring for the wooden parts of the library, and monitoring the books and documents. (The author mentions but gives no details on any of these procedures, though he does cite Thomas Parker's 1988 RAMP study, Study on Integrated Pest Manngement for Libraries and Archives] It is necessary to monitor the insects, rather than the books and documents, because insects cannot be controlled if you do not know where they are, how they are getting into the building, and what species you are dealing with. Only after this information is gathered by means of inspections, identification of traces left by the insect, and setting out traps, can you exercise the minimal control that integrated pest management calls for. A targeted kind of treatment can then be planned, such as freezing, use of inert atmospheres, or (as a last resort) insecticides. Steps can also be taken at this time to prevent or discourage future similar infestations.

Pollutants are discussed on page 44, and carbon monoxide (CO) and lead are mentioned as pollutants. On the following page, the author says that CO will oxidize cellulose. The author does not realize that lead and CO, harmful as they are to people, do not hurt library materials. And CO cannot oxidize anything, because it has no oxygen to spare.

Preservation microfilming is not a simple task, as stated on page 57 ("No editorial work is involved, and the possibility of error is comparatively slight") and on page 72 ("In technical terms, microform surrogate programs present no very serious problems"). It can be done easily, or it can be done well, but it cannot be done both easily and well. Since microfilming is always a big part of the preservation program Preserving where facilities and expertise exist, it should be treated more seriously than it is here. At the very least, the author could have referred the reader to a few published manuals and standards. No general manuals, guides or standards are listed in the ten-page bibliography, though the 1987 Gwinn manual is footnoted on p. 57. The index does not contain entries for microfilming or preservation microfilming.

At the time this book was published, the author had three publications in preparation or in press:

I find it hard to draw conclusions or make recommendations for readers. This is one of many books that have been written, and will be written in the future, containing invented history, fanciful facts and misguided advice on preservation. It is one of only a few such books that have been written by anyone in such an influential position. Yet it is hard to blame the author, because in a country with a class tradition, there is no way for an administrator to approach someone as a colleague who works at a bench and ask for information, especially if one is already well-known as a teacher of the subject. Administrators who champion preservation can do a great deal for the cause, if they limit their activities to areas they understand. They can learn more by reading and attending conferences in their limited free time, but the problem of role and status makes it very hard for them to take on the role of a serious full-time student again, unless they go abroad on a leave of absence or sabbatical. Even then, it cannot be easy to interrupt a busy and rewarding career for long enough to make a difference.

This is not a condemnation of John Feather. It is a description of a preservation problem that will come up again and again, which will benefit by being discussed openly. Perhaps a special program could be set up like the Society of Archivists' program for training archival conservators in England, which is decentralized, cooperative, ongoing, and tailored to the needs of people who cannot stop working in order to acquire the education they need for their job. Like the instructors in that program, and like the four "presenters" at the annual Standards Seminars of the Guild of Book Workers in the U.S., its instructors could be chosen from among the few best in the country for each topic.

Features of other successful training programs, like those of the Society of American Archivists and the University of California for training preservation administrators, could be incorporated. They combine home reading assignments and project reports with three week-long workshops, and require full administrative support and follow-through by the trainee's home institution.

The current practice of arranging intern ships at different institutions on a custom basis can be followed by anyone doing important enough work to make an impressive case for acceptance, especially if the institutions can be compensated either directly or indirectly. It is even conceivable that the whole training program could be customized for a student to include a variety of educational experiences in addition to the internship or intern ships, taking into account the trainee's needs, preferences and resources. ICCROM, with its experience in training conservators from around the world, might be a good partner in such an effort.

Preserving the Illustrated Text: Report of the Joint Task Force on Text and Image. Published April 1992 by the Commission on Preservation and Access, 1400 16th St. NW, Ste. 740, Washington, DC 20036-2217; also available from ERIC Clearinghouse on Information Resources. 30 pp. $10. Printed on alkaline paper.

Reviewed by Ellen McCrady

The scholarly and professional 16-member Joint Task Force, whose work was generously supported by the Getty Grant Program, was asked to look into the problems, needs and methods for preserving images in texts in nine fields of study, and then to make recommendations for a national strategy for image preservation. This is a very general and daunting mandate, but they have come through with a competent and credible analysis, and have done a good job of pathfinding. They inspire optimism about the future of the illustrated books we know are crumbling on shelves across the country, not because they offer any off-the-shelf solutions to problems but because they indicate where to look for solutions.

Preserving printed material by black-and-white microfilm is no longer problematical, but preserving illustrated texts can be very problematical because the usual microfilming procedure does not work for color or halftone illustrations, which were increasingly common after 1880.

The Task Force drew four main conclusions, the first of which was that existing microfilm technology can be used for most books published between 1850 and 1880. At some future date the films can be converted to electronic format.

The second conclusion was that additional information is needed about the images to be preserved-where they are in the texts, and the cost and feasibility of alternative methods of recording them (e.g., color and continuous tone microfilm, and electronic and bit-mapped storage). The third was that surveys are needed to determine the number and type of images to be preserved, and when and in what publications they appeard. Lastly, pilot projects are needed to proved information on effectiveness, costs and requirements of the alternative technologies considered.

On the topic of scanning, they recommend that the text be encoded to make it machine-readable and searchable, and the image bit-mapped, because no single method of scanning works equally well for text and image.

In calculating the cost, they say that the expenses involved in dissemination must be taken into account, not just duplication. (This differs from the current method of computing cost of microfilm copies.)

Because conservation is so expensive, selection of candiates for conservation treatment should be based on the following principles:

About the dilemma of using rapidly-changing technology for long-term storage, they say:

About half of the illustrations in this report are examples of printed images from various fields of science. All the illustrations are photographs of dramatically lit halftones originally printed in books that are now basket cases.

The book is beautifully produced, printed in black and dull orange on a coated cream paper.

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