The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 21, Number 4
Nov 1997


Microsoft Rivals to Build Common Platform

If the five computer companies now cooperating to create an Internet-based platform for software and operating systems can achieve their goal, preservation of digital records could get a lot easier. It is not often that competitors get together to work toward a common goal, but these companies feel threatened by the dominance of Microsoft in the world computer market.

The five companies are IBM, Netscape Communications, Novell, Oracle and Sun Microsystems. They have been meeting quietly for months, sometimes as often as weekly, to share ideas and technology. Lawyers do not see this as a violation of antitrust law, partly because of an increasingly liberal interpretation of the law, and partly because the activity promises to result in standards that anyone may use.

The companies are focusing on three new areas of technology: the computer language Java, developed for writing software that is easily transmitted on the Internet and run on any computing device; the low-cost network computer (NC); and a programming technique known as Corba for building Lego-like blocks of software.

Microsoft has been invited to participate, but they have declined.

[This is condensed from a story that appeared originally in the Washington Post, about November 16.]

New-York Historical Society Affiliates with NYU

The Society's financial situation has greatly improved under the direction of former New York City Parks commissioner Betsy Gotbaum, according to the August American Libraries, and its survival no longer seems in jeopardy, but its budget is bare-bones and the building needs work.

The Society signed a five-year agreement in June to affiliate with New York University, which will catalog and preserve the Society's collections of manuscripts, photographs, prints, architectural records, and books. This work will be funded by $2.8 million donated by the Mellon Foundation.

Peril in Old Paper

Chemical and Engineering News carried an article on the British Library's restoration of the Diamond Sutra, an ancient Chinese paper scroll, whose yellow color was attributed to Berberine and two other closely related alkaloids, Palmatine and Jatrorrhizine. But the article failed to mention that these three dyes are toxic and that conservators need to be cautious when working with them.

The dyes are plant extracts. Berberine is extracted from Berberis vulgaris and Hydrastis canadensis. It was used historically as a poison and a medicine in the treatment of malaria fevers. It lowers body temperature, increases peristalsis, and can cause death by central nervous system paralysis. The two other dyes in the scroll also have been used as poisons and medicines. Mutation data is reported for Berberine. None of the dyes have been studied for cancer effects. All three dyes are expected to skin-absorb. [From ACTS FACTS, Oct. 1997]

The Diamond Sutra, the first printed book in the world, was printed in 868 in China by Wang Chieh. It took the form of a 16-foot scroll. Apparently only one copy survives, the one discovered by Aurel Stein.

Europe Will go 100% Metric on Jan. 1, 2000

Not only will all U.S. products sold in Europe be required to be specified and labeled in metric (no dual labeling allowed), but the catalogs, advertising, manuals and user instructions will be metric too, by order of the European Union. Even the United Kingdom and Ireland will go along. Conservation labs and preservation programs that order supplies and equipment from Europe may need to become more familiar with meters, joules and pascals. [From Standardization News Sept. 97]

British Museum Calls for Papers on Reversibility

The British Museum Department of Conservation will hold a three-day conference on the theme "Reversibility-Does it Exist?" 8-10 September 1999 in London. Abstracts are solicited on the theme of reversibility as applied to cleaning, stabilization, consolidation, assembly and restoration. Changes to the physical or chemical properties of objects as a result of conservation are also relevant. Papers should explore themes and question current philosophy or accepted dogma, and should not shrink from controversy when relevant. The conference will be confined to the portable heritage, excluding buildings but including mosaics and wall-paintings.

Abstracts should reach Sara Carroll at Department of Conservation, The British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG, UK (fax: 44 171 323 8636; e-mail: by 31 March 1998. Successful authors will be notified in May 1998. Completed texts with all illustrations must be received by 31 January 1999.

British Library Catalog Now on Web

In May 1997, the British Library launched OPAC 97 (On-Line Public Access Catalog 97), making its catalog of over 8.5 million items available on the Web. The system can be accessed at

CCI Announces New Directions

The CCI has released New Directions for the Canadian Conservation Institute, in which it outlines its plans for the future and a program of cost recovery. Confronted with serious budget cuts and a need to look at future directions, CCI undertook a planning exercise which culminated in a national consultation in late 1996. Representatives from heritage institutions and associations, the private sector and provincial governments met to share their opinions on the proposed plans.

Most participants agreed that CCI must continue to play a vital role in Canadian heritage preservation, and have an active international presence. CCI's research and treatment functions and resulting information dissemination should continue to be its focus. While most agreed-if reluctantly-that some form of user fee is necessary to avoid reduced service, this agreement was tempered by a strong caution that CCI must do everything possible to reduce the costs of delivering its services, and that revenues should be sought primarily from non-mandated clients. [Excerpted from the September CCI Bulletin, p. 20.]

Alliance for Canada's Audio-Visual Heritage

The "Canadian Alliance," as it is called for short, was established a year ago, opened a Web site ( and created a discussion group (, created a Patrons Circle, held four board meetings, launched a membership campaign, and hosted two events. Among other committees, an "archival" committee has been set up to select "masterworks" of historical and cultural value. Another committee will select masterworks in the sound field.

Three programs are under way: relocation of coldvaults, a national network of Canadian audio-visual databases and register of rights, and a training program.

The Job Market for Digital Librarians

Out of 83 "Positions Open" ads in the October 1997 American Libraries, only 11 asked explicitly for applicants with computer skills. All 11 wanted knowledge of internet applications; print and electronic resources; information literacy programs; reference resources, services, and technologies; access to electronic texts; document delivery; "new technologies"; CD-ROM system use and management; automated circulation and catalog systems; and/or working knowledge of HTML.

The more specialized openings required familiarity with library computer applications (this was for a director of technology and administration in a learning resource center); or ability to design, plan, install and manage electronic library information delivery systems and services (for a systems librarian).

None of them mentioned imaging skills or building of virtual libraries. Most of the ads posted were from academic libraries.

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