The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 19, Number 4
Sep 1995

The Acid-Free Paper Pledge Six Years Later

by Barbara Sagraves and Jane Welsh

Sagraves was Head, Preservation Assessment and Replacement Office, in the Preservation Department at Northwestern University at the time this was written. She will start in October as Preservation Services Librarian at Dartmouth College Library.

Welsh was Preservation Assistant in the Preservation Department at Northwestern University when this was written. She is now a first year law student at Georgetown University.

Staff in the Preservation Department of Northwestern University Library conducted a survey to determine what percentage of new acquisitions were printed on acid-free paper. It has been six years since the Commitment Day signing by authors and publishers who pledged to use acid-free paper "for all first printings of quality hardcover trade books." [See sidebar.] We wanted to see what percentage of new acquisitions in 1995 met the goals of the pledge.

The survey was conducted to examine five percent (1192 volumes) of all Northwestern's new acquisitions, both approval and firm order purchases. Special purchases were not included in the survey because of the workflow difficulty they would have presented. The books were selected from receiving trucks for a five-month period from March to July, 1995. Gutter margins were tested with a pH pen (chlorophenol red) and the color reaction recorded. Other informaion gathered included publisher, place of publication, date, and the presence of an infinity symbol, the ANSI Z39.48 statement, or some other statement indicating acid-free paper. This was not a random survey so it cannot claim to have scientific validity. Nonetheless, the results suggest trends within the publishing industry.

Of all the new acquisitions tested, 89% were printed on acid-free paper. Approval orders--books arriving as part of a vendor selection plan--were printed on acid-free paper 97% of the time. Only 1% of hardcover approval orders were acidic. Compare this with 30% of softcover approval orders and the difference is marked.

Of firm orders--orders placed by the library to a vendor or publishing house--82% were acid-free. Hardcover books (which accounted for 70% of the firm orders) were 93% acid-free while 80% of the softcover were printed on acid-free stock.

The source of manufacture for the acidic books is worth noting. This fell roughly into three categories: those printed in developing countries, those printed in the U.S. by non-academic presses, and academic presses publishing in softcover.

We discovered that while a large number of presses print on acid-free paper, they are not uniform in reporting this, or in their method of reporting. Forty-nine percent of the acid-free items had a comment about the acid-free nature of the paper, but the ANSI standard was not widely used. Statements varied widely. Here are a few examples:

Some presses printed on acid-free paper but were not consistent in reporting this. Both commercial and university presses were guilty of that important omission, including a number of presses that signed the Commitment Day pledge.

This study suggests that softcover books, which are sometimes preferred by libraries because they are priced significantly lower than their hardcover counterpart, are not always a good value when selecting for long term retention. Books printed on acidic paper might cost less in the short run, but if they need replacement or reformatting the savings will be wiped out in an instant.

What this small study illustrates is that although publishers have moved closer to printing all books on acid-free paper, more needs to be done to increase the use of acid-free paper in paperbacks and to promote both the use and consistency of the statement noting acid-free paper.

[From the Abbey Newsletter, May 1989, p. 31]

Authors and Publishers Pledge to use Acid-Free Paper

There was a "Commitment Day" ceremony at the New York Public Library on March 7, honoring the 46 authors and 40 publishers who had signed the prominently-displayed "Declaration of Book Preservation." Like the Declaration of Independence, it was large, attractively calligraphed, and followed by a number of signatures. The big-city press was there in force, taking pictures and crowding around to ask the famous authors questions after the speakers had stepped down. Later their stories appeared in major publications, e.g. Newsweek for March 20, on p. 80. The New York Times for March 16 carried a full-page replica of the Declaration and all the signatures.

The text reads as follows:

"We, the undersigned authors and publishers, hereby declare our commitment to use acid-free paper [in footnote: subject to availability] for all first printings of quality hardcover trade books in order to preserve the printed word and safeguard our cultural heritage for future generations."

Among the authors are Isaac Asimov, Joan Didion, Allen Ginsberg, Barbara Goldsmith (whose idea this was in the first place, and who rounded up the publishers), George Plimpton, William Safire, Maurice Sendak, Susan Sontag, Tom Wolfe and Kurt Vonnegut. The complete list of publishers is given below, as of March 7. It is still growing.


Newmarket Press

Beacon Press

W.W. Norton & Co.

George Braziller, Inc.

Ohio University Press/Swallow Press

Columbia University Press

Princeton University Press

Cornell University Press

Random House


Random House Adult Trade

The Free Press

The Rosen Publishing Group

M. Evans & Co.

Shambhala Publications

David R. Godine, Publisher

The Shoe String Press

Grove Press

Simon & Schuster

Harper &Row

Smithsonian Institution Press

Harvard University Press

Summit Books

The Hearst Trade Book Group

Syracuse University Press

Houghton Mifflin Co.

TFH Publications, Inc.

Henry Holt & Co.

Ticknor & Fields

Alfred A. Knopf

Time Inc. Book Company

Louisiana State Univ. Press

Walker & Co.

McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Yale University Press


Meckler Publishing

William Morrow Inc.


 [Contents]  [Search]  [Abbey]

[Search all CoOL documents]