The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 20, Number 6
Nov 1996


An Ounce of Prevention: A Guide to the Care of Papers and Photographs, by Craig A. Tuttle. Highland City, FL: Rainbow Books, 1995. 111pp. $12.95

Reviewed by Gary D. Saretzky
Monmouth County Archives, NJ

Craig Tuttle, formerly archivist for the University of South Florida, has written a concise, readable guide to the organization and preservation of paper-based archival materials that can be recommended by archivists, librarians, and conservators to individuals with little background in preservation techniques, such as family archivists.

The guide contains eight very well organized chapters: an overview of types of paper and production methods; a brief overview of inks; preservation of the major types of photographic materials; prevention and treatment of deterioration; environmental concerns; storage; simple repair and cleaning methods; and arrangement of papers and photographs. The appendices provide references, suppliers, and a glossary.

Much of the guide contains useful advice for the novice, such as avoiding lamination and PVA plastic, using gloves and other handling tips, controlling light and environment, and a suggested organizational framework for a collection of family papers. A wide range of materials are discussed, including letters, photos, postcards, stamps, and books. The writing style tends to be straightforward with few qualifiers ("shoulds" and "nevers" are more common than "mays"). In general, his dicta are within the parameters of current archives and conservation practice.

Occasionally, one finds a lapse in precision of language, or generalizations that may not apply in all cases. For example, it is stated that stereographs were 3x7 inches; most were, but there was also a larger size. Elsewhere, it is asserted that tintypes "lacked the crisp resolution of the ambrotype." I think what is meant here is that tintypes have a lower contrast than ambrotypes; actually, since the same types of cameras, lenses, and collodion emulsions were used for both, the resolution (sharpness of image definition) was comparable between the two types. In his discussion of encapsulation, Tuttle doesn't mention that complete encapsulation of acidic documents may accelerate their deterioration, a situation that may be ameliorated by insertion of a buffered backing, if the document cannot be deacidified. And not all would agree with Tuttle's blanket recommendation that cellulose nitrate negatives be disposed of after duplication (they can be stabilized through freezing). Fortunately, such instances are few and do not significantly detract from the usefulness of this guide.

Mass Deacidification: An Update on Possibilities and Limitations, by Henk J. Porck. European Commission on Preservation and Access, Amsterdam, and Commission on Preservation and Access, Washington, October 1996. 54 pp. $15 from the CPA, 1400 16th St., NW, Suite 715, Washington, DC 20036-2217 (202/939-3400, fax 939-3407). ISBN 1-887334-52-1.

Reviewed by Ellen McCrady

This is the most competent and complete report on mass deacidification to date. It is not perfect, because it omits coverage of some of the newer systems, which are still publicity-shy, and does not mention the older methods that never caught on; but it gives good descriptions of the Battelle, Bookkeeper, DEZ, FMC and Wei T'o systems. It also describes four processes that combine deacidification with strengthening (the Bückeburg, graft-copolymerization, paper splitting and Vienna processes). The institutions that are using each of these nine systems are named, and the number of books per year, or other unit of time, is given.

The drawbacks and advantages of each system, along with prices charged, are objectively discussed, without making any recommendations. All of the systems require that books be presorted beforehand, to eliminate the books that would be adversely affected. For each institution involved in testing or using each system, the priority and selection criteria, overall evaluation of the treated materials, and future planning are described.

Most of the testing has been done by the national archives, libraries or research labs in several countries. The Swiss National Library and Federal Archives plan to build a Battelle process facility, beginning in 1998. A Dutch commercial firm and the Library of Congress are both putting their money on the Bookkeeper process, and Northwestern University is sending 450 items per month for processing by PTI. Diethyl zinc (DEZ) deacidification is described, although no one is using it, and there are no facilities available for this process. A number of libraries have used it: The Library of Congress, the Eisenhower Library at Johns Hopkins, Harvard University Library, and Columbia University. The State Archives of the Netherlands may revive the method.

The FMC (Lithco) method has been tested by the Institute for Paper Science and Technology for the Library of Congress; the Canadian Conservation Institute; and the Swiss National Library and Federal Archives. No strengthening effect was found; all books were damaged by the treatment to some extent; and most books were incompletely deacidified. There is a pilot plant in North Carolina.

The Wei T'o method depends on methanol or ethanol to dissolve the deacidification agent; but alcohol causes some marking inks to bleed. To dilute it and lessen this effect, freon is added; but freon production is being phased out in North America, and by the year 2000 even the more environmentally acceptable HCFCs now used in the Wei T'o facility at the Canadian National Archives will be prohibited. An alternative solvent is sought. The Wei T'o method was tested by the Library of Congress, IPST and CCI. A variation on the original method was developed for the French National Library at Sablé, but it too causes inks to run. A newer process using supercritical carbon dioxide for a solvent or carrier may one day replace it.

The last four pages of the text address several issues at the center of controversy about deacidification, which the author says have "caused considerable confusion," and he gives facts to assure readers that deacidification has a future. These issues are: preselection of materials, the effect of the process on paper permanence, the reluctance of institutions to commit to use of available methods, and the place of mass deacidification in the preservation program.

The bibliography is over eight pages long. References are from the literature of France, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, the U.S., and England. There is a two-and-a-half-page long list of the personal contacts from whom much of the information was gathered.

The report is authoritative, up to date, and clearly written in fairly nontechnical language. Technical details about each process are provided in tabular form. There are a few typographical errors, including one on the title page, but this is still a great bargain at $15.

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