The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 17, Number 1
May 1993


To the Editor:

I write to correct and amplify information in your April 1992 article, "Kitchen Chemistry Revisited," on our procedures for restoring open reel tapes by the application of heat. Your readers will be interested to know that the project was responsibly researched and implemented. I would appreciate an opportunity to set the record straight.

In 1991, I began working with an experienced sound engineer to devise strategies for restoring severely deteriorated field recordings carried on mastering quality open reel tapes from the 1970s. Our project began with extensive research and experimentation. After gathering data from the archival and sound engineering literature, we talked with both engineers from Ampex and 3M and with leading sound archivists to compile information on successful restoration strategies. We then experimented with various techniques, moving from least invasive to most invasive, using discarded recordings from the local public radio station.

We found that baking the tapes represented the most successful strategy for restoring them to playable condition, thereby allowing a preservation transfer to be made. This was consistent with the information we obtained from both tape manufacturers and sound archivists. The technique, though it is clearly highly invasive and should be used only as a last resort, is accepted both by sound engineers and sound archivists as a viable strategy, not as a "deplorable method of preservation." In fact, my recent talk on this method at the annual conference of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections was warmly received, and a consultant's report on our technical operations by internationally-known sound archivist Bill Storm raised no issues with it. Your article recommends consulting The Midwestern Archivist, vol. XVI #1, 1991 for "reliable information" on the "sticky shed syndrome." Indeed, this volume contains three articles that examine oxide shedding and binder breakdown in mastering-quality tapes. All three articles recommend treating these problems by baking; one of the articles even presents a design for a hair-dryer driven baking chamber, similar to the one we designed and used.

We agree with your statement that "this is not a home remedy" and have never recommended use of this restoration method except by experienced engineers/archivists trained and equipped to conduct professional preservation transfer work. When used by professionals on the specific type of tape for which it is designed, the technique is very successful and enables the transfer of material that otherwise would be lost. We treated 75 tapes during the course of our project; all 75 were successfully restored and transferred.

We recognize that historically there has been little sharing of information between "paper" and "sound" archivists. Perhaps we can work together to find ways to better communicate strategies, techniques, and methods for preserving documentary materials carried on both paper and recorded sound formats. My guess is that most of us have, or will soon be responsible for, important items in both areas.

Mike Casey
Sound and Image Librarian
Manuscripts Department
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

To the Editor:

I was pleased to see Scott Kellar's article in the December 1992 issue of The Abbey Newsletter reviewing Northwestern University Library's (NUL) testing procedure for compliance to contract specifications for mass deacidification. It is in this way, through the formal publication and dissemination of information, that the library and archives conservation community becomes ever more enlightened about this still yet tentative preservation option. As readers will undoubtedly know, much information about mass deacidification is also passed along through organized meetings about the subject as well as informally.

Considering the focus of Kellar's article, I feel sure there is substantial and continuing interest among us in knowing that a vendor, i.e., Akzo, can comply with NUL contract specifications regarding pH and % by weight of alkaline reserve deposition, and about the techniques used to determine compliance in the library's Conservation Lab. It would have been beneficial if Scott had included data about the time and cost of this aspect of their quality control operation, as it is an ongoing additional cost to the mass deacidification program.

The troubling thing to me, however, is the short shrift given in the article to the physical inspection of treated materials after their return to the library. It is useful to know that NUL staff, other than those from the Conservation Lab, use a checklist of fourteen possible observable treatment effects to monitor both minor and serious problems. Two of these problems are listed: odor and loose call number labels. At least one unnamed problem requires the rebinding of some deacidified materials. Obviously, in this instance, the bindings of these treated materials are being seriously damaged. But with so little information presented about physical inspection, I am curious to know more about the twelve additional possible treatment effects on their list as well as the reason the list is limited to a total of fourteen effects. It would also be interesting to know the extent or seriousness to which those effects occur for all the materials which have been so far deacidified for NUL. Finally, disclosing remediation expenses is also helpful to assess the impact of this necessary activity on the total cost of the mass deacidification operation.

It is not productive to characterize Scott's article as slanted, but it does follow in the steps of the OTA's 1988 Book Preservation Technologies report. In it the investigators reported that DEZ was compatible with most book materials, and they spent as little print space as Scott does claiming such. It could be the case that OTA staff were simply responding to focused documentation presented to them by Library of Congress staff. Since the time of that report we have found that DEZ has limitations, some of them serious enough to damage materials beyond normal use.

It has been the case, moreover, that information disseminated by other libraries with active mass deacidification programs has also been focused and directed, primarily on the more successful paper preservation aspects of DEZ, which is, ultimately, the most important aspect of any mass deacidification process. The negative aspects, mostly relating to binding materials damage, have been downplayed, distorting the alleged overall benefit this process affords our collections.

I believe that information exchange is important, but the selective dissemination of information is neither factual nor useful. It is incomplete and inconclusive and does not contain all the elements with which we, as administrators and conservators, require to make decisions regarding the preservation of collections under our care.

Robert J. Milevski
Preservation Librarian
Princeton University Libraries

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