The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 22, Number 1

Outsourcing of Book Conservation

This is a summary of three recent publications, covering the services of independent conservators, a commercial conservation center, and the automated conservation processes used at the Zentrum für Buch-Erhaltung in Leipzig. These are only part of the total picture, of course, because book conservation is done elsewhere, for instance at the NEDCC. In addition, many preservation services, including microfilming, photocopying and scanning, are jobbed out.

"Outsourcing" is a new word, but the concept is a familiar one in the context of library binding. William Henderson, Preservation Librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said in a recent communication that he, as Binding Librarian a number of years ago, was the only person on the Library staff who regularly worked in an outsourcing mode, and when contracts came along for other services, such as microfilming, he was called in to critique some of the new contracts.

He posted a brief summary of the history of library binding on the Conservation DistList in 1996, saying, "The major reasons for the development of binding outside libraries were economic. All but the very largest institutions could not, even a century ago, generate enough materials to keep a fully rounded staff of bindery experts fully occupied. As mechanization came into play the economics of buying and utilizing machines made the economics even more pertinent. In addition, binding is specialized work and many communities did not have sufficiently large labor pools to provide the specialized skills. The result was commercial library binders in larger metropolitan centers serving library customers over a wide geographic area. In a real sense library binding was the original outsourced service for most libraries in this country.

"In the past two or three decades the development of specialized equipment, new technologies, shortages of space in libraries, labor supply, and other factors have caused the demise of both inhouse binderies and many smaller commercial binderies, and larger concentrations of binding services in relatively fewer firms. The result is that today in this country we find a rather small group of firms specializing in library binding."

Contracting with a Private Conservator

In a December 1994 letter to the editor of Paper Conservation News, Alan Buchanan gave his opinion of the trend to outsourcing:

"Lately there has been much talk of Contracting Out. We are warned that it has swept America and will soon be common practice here. The reasons for its introduction are, firstly, to privatize conservation work and, secondly, to create a system of competition; the term 'competitive tendering' comes to mind...." He explains how competitive tendering works, and all the things that can go wrong with it, and suggests that IPC should prepare a contract for use by the members.

Although there are some functions that should not be outsourced (e.g., major decisions, and work that involves policy formation), it does go right most of the time, if it is done right. A few printed guidelines are available, including the leaflet from AIC, "Guidelines for Selecting a Conservator," which also describes how its referral system works, and the booklet from SOLINET, "Choosing and Working With a Conservator," by Jan Paris.

Matters that a private conservator should consider when taking in work are discussed in detail in "Contracts: Who's in Charge Here?" by Virginia Naudé (Jan. 1998 WAAC Newsletter, v.20 #1, p. 18-22). This is a guideline for the conservator, but it covers most of the same matters that must be considered by the institution with material to job out. There are 23 items in the list, including limitations of expertise of the conservator, risks, performance criteria, provisions for stopping work, transportation and shipping, time table, cost estimates and terms of payment, and insurance.

The legal aspects are explained in an article that follows the Naudé article, on p. 23-25: "Contracts: A Lawyer's Point of View," by Tom Case.

The American Library Association has an Outsourcing Task Force that is still gathering data (and uncovering stumbling blocks and contentious issues). The final report will be presented at the 1999 Midwinter Meeting.

In the meantime, the Outsourcing Task Force's web site at <> can be consulted. It reviews ALA policies and position statements as they relate to outsourcing, lists 50 questions raised during discussions, and provides a bibliography.

The Task Force's work was reported in the August issue of American Libraries, on p. 80, where the only service mentioned was system management.

A Commercial Conservation Center

The entire issue of Information Conservation Inc.'s newsletter, The Title Page, no. 10, 1997, is devoted to the Etherington Conservation Center in North Carolina. Don Etherington, formerly Training Officer, then Assistant Restoration Officer at the Library of Congress, and (1980-87) Assistant Director for the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center in Austin, is President of the Center.

The seven illustrated articles by staff members are essentially conservation report summaries, followed by a brief note stating the training and experience of the author. A few of them are summarized below.

Don Etherington - "Two Treasures, Two Challenges." (Treatment of a Civil War letter on acidic mounting board and a Carolina Charter from 1663, soaked with leather dressing.)

Jake Benson - "A Moldy Mess." (Treatment of moldy, water-damaged 18th Century books from Catholic University, where a roof leak flooded part of the library in the early 1970s. Some had been freeze-dried. Where necessary, mold was brushed off, stuck pages soaked apart, the spores killed with alcohol, pages deacidified in a solution of calcium carbonate, and sized with methyl cellulose; books were mended and rebound.)

Brenda Parsons - "Preservation of the Ohio Company Documents of Marietta College." (Two cockled and damaged vellum documents from the early history of the U.S. were cleaned, humidified, "pinned" with flat clips, and framed using the Chicago string method.)

Leslie Crowe - "The Charles Carroll Simms Collection." (Treatment of a scrapbook is described, in which items had been attached with wafers to pages that were weak, acidic and damaged. It was mended, copied, and all material was treated where necessary and remounted. Some new pages had to be made for loose enclosed material, and it was bound.)

The remaining articles are by Matt Johnson, Lisa Clark and Harry Campbell.

An Automated Conservation Facility

The Zentrum für Buch-Erhaltung (Center for Book Conservation) in Leipzig has been independent since November 1997. Before that it was a semi-governmental institute. (Incidentally, that hyphen belongs in the German word Buch-Erhaltung. It was probably inserted to make sure that people did not read it as Bücher/haltung, which would mean stopping books, rather than preserving them.)

Ken Harris briefly described the purpose and methods of this facility on the Conservation DistList, saying that it incorporates equipment and staff formerly operating at the Deutsche Bucherei. It has a paper-splitting machine, engineered by Ernst Becker's company in Germany, and it offers "a wide range of preservation services for a fee, including deacidification utilizing the Battelle equipment, conservation, reformatting, etc."

Cor Knops, a book conservator in the Netherlands, explained it at greater length on the conservation research listserv, in English, after receiving "four nice brochures" from the Center, in which the whole process is described, in German. Nancy Schrock, who attended the conference on book conservation last spring where Ernst Becker gave a presentation on it, was impressed, and passed on her three brochures and other material to the Abbey editor. (By the way, Becker spoke at the Physical Quality and Treatment discussion group at the American Library Association meeting in June, and assured the audience that the treatment for iron gall ink damage would be integrated into the automated process when it has been perfected.)

Now, back to Cor Knops's description of the Center and its "miracle-machine." He starts out by giving Wolfgang Wächter credit for being the founder and driving force of the company; Wächter has worked for 30 years to develop paper-splitting with a machine. Next he describes the general way the work is performed at the Center.

First the books are assessed, and treatments for each chosen as needed: mass deacidification using the Deutsche Bibliothek method (1-2% MgCO3, pH values raised to 7.5-9.5); decontamination (removal of mold and presumably also of mold stains using a dry-cleaning method); wet treatment (washing in warm demineralized water; removal of foxing and other stains by oxidation-bleaching; aqueous deacidification with a calcium/magnesium-bicarbonate solution; and resizing of weak papers with methyl cellulose or carboxymethyl cellulose); leafcasting in a machine that looks like Per Laursen's, with a moving belt; and paper splitting, which can be done by machine or, for valuable or difficult objects, by hand.

In addition to all this, the brochure on "Range of Services" lists microfilming, digitization or production of reprints; custom protective boxes; transport of material from the shelves to the Center and back; and consulting services in all fields of book preservation.

The Center's address is Mommsenstraße 7, D-04329 Leipzig (phone (+49-3 41) 2 59 89-0; fax 2 59 89-99; web site; e-mail <>).

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