The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 25, Number 4
Dec 2001


National & Cooperative Programs: Education

Pacific Archives May Get Distance Education

The Pacific Regional Branch of the International Council on Archives (PARBICA) is undertaking a project to provide distance education in archives and records management to a number of Pacific island countries. The program will be based at the University of the South Pacific, which receives support from twelve member countries: Cook Islands, Fiji Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. The University also has agreements with more than a dozen international universities and will establish a presence in neighboring New Zealand in 2002. PARBICA has long recognized the lack of qualified record keeping professionals in the region and is launching this program to address that need. (From Archival Outlook, Nov./Dec. 2001)

Three University Departments Join to Make One Preservation Center

At the University College London, the Centre for Sustainable Heritage began operation last March 1, having been formed by the union of the Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment, the Institute of Archaeology and the School of Library, Archives and Information Studies. The purpose of this move was to integrate research and teaching on preventive conservation of the immovable and moveable heritage in a way that recognizes the physical, scientific, technological, environmental, social, economic and political contexts in which the heritage exists. It operates from offices within the Bartlett School of Graduate Studies at UCL.

To start with, the Centre will focus on nine research and teaching themes that promise to yield good results from interdisciplinary collaboration: preventive conservation; impact of use on heritage materials; pollution effects; energy efficiency; environmental design (including natural ventilation in historic buildings); cost/benefit assessment for sustainable use; definition of heritage value; impact of legislative and planning issues; and adaptive re-use of buildings. (From the October 2001 NPO [National Preservation Office] Journal, p. 8-9.)

British Archivists Get a Modular Training Program

Training has been an important part of the Society of Archivists' annual meeting for a long time. They also award a conservation certificate to members who have completed the requirements set by the Education, Training and Development Committee.

Now the SoA Conservation Certificate Board of Studies has announced the availability of six single "modules" that seem to be closest to extension or continuing education courses, except that they are taught one-to-one with a Society certified instructor, in an approved instructing office, usually a local government record office.

The following subjects are offered: Introduction to archives conservation, 2 wks; Paper conservation, 4 wks; Parchment conservation, 4 wks; Conservation of maps and plans, 3 wks; Seal conservation, 2 wks; and Bookbinding, 8 wks.

For more information, see the story in the December 2001 Paper Conservation News, p. 18; for details and requirements for single modules, contact Rosemary Hamilton, course Registrar, at

Disasters & Other Bad News

National Library of Canada is Losing its Collection: Maintenance Underfunded

National Librarian Ross Carrier clearly expressed his concern for the ongoing loss of the national collection in the October 4th Toronto Star; the story was picked up by the November American Libraries. The statistics are troubling: the library has lost 25,000 items as a result of water damage and poor climate control. That's $1.28 million in U.S. dollars.

Carrier explained what that means: "We are losing our national heritage. We are losing the work of our writers, historians, musicians and journalists...."

There have been 68 accidents involving floods, leaks, and broken pipes since 1993 in the six scattered buildings that house the collections. Ten of those were in the last nine months.

Although a new National Archives building has been opened in Gatineau, Quebec, the proposed $300-million building for the library and archives may be a long time coming because of financial pressures faced by the country, according to Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps.

Tornado Damages NAL and Other Maryland Libraries

There was a lot of wind, but little rain, September 24 in Prince George's and Howard Counties, when a tornado touched down just behind the National Agricultural Library at 5:20 pm. Large windows were broken, the stacks and collections were damaged, and the card catalog of a zoology collection was scattered in the Abraham Lincoln Building. They found shards of glass embedded in books 65 feet away from the windows, but no one was hurt.

Four days later, power was restored and the library reopened, but three floors of stacks were still being cleaned up, and were inaccessible to patrons. Most of the heavily used material was on those three levels.

The Prince George's County Memorial Library System was hit too. the Beltsville branch had 100 holes punched in its roof from about a dozen trees that fell onto it. As the holes appeared, library patrons helped staff relocate books to dry locations. [From Nov. 2001 American Libraries, p. 21.]

Worm Attacks Library Computers

The Nimda computer worm started attacking Web servers running Microsoft operating systems September 18, and is estimated to have infected 150,000 systems, mostly in the U.S. The hardest hit may have been a county library in Newport, Washington, which had to suspend circulation of books for a week. All of the library's computers were down for at least two weeks, and backup tapes from August 17 onward seem to have been lost.

The Nimda worm and another worm called W32.Vote, or WTC.exe, hit scattered computers and servers across the country. It was not hard to fix the computers, but it took time. In one New York school system, the system was shut down September 21, and staff worked over the weekend to clean the virus off each computer. It took five or six days.

Most libraries were not affected, perhaps (as one computer technician suggested) because they run Linux on their servers.

[For more information see American Libraries, Nov. 2001, p. 21-22.]

Real Bookworms Flourish as Library Budgets Cut

The British Library recently held a major conference on the problem of bookworms: termites, beetles, silverfish, book lice, moths and others. All damage they do is irreversible, according to Robert Child, head of conservation at the National Museums and Galleries of Wales; but the extent of the loss is unknown, because collecting institutions tend to keep quiet about it.

David Pinniger, a consultant entomologist, gave some frank criticism to museums and historic houses that clean only the front-of-house areas while leaving the rest "absolutely filthy." Many of the 150 curators, archivists and conservators present at the conference may have shared his opinion, but others may have seen the light for the first time.

Decontamination of Mail is Debated

On the one hand, terrorists are known to send anthrax spores through the mail, and only the Postal Service is in a position to decontaminate all mail before it is delivered; on the other hand, the Postal Service now has an estimated operating deficit of $1.8 billion, although it is supposed to be self-supporting. Additional funds are not likely to come from Congress or the President.

The Postal Service has been considering the use of radiation (referred to as "high energy electron irradiation") and/or chlorine dioxide chambers. But the radiation devices cost about $5 million each, and the chlorine dioxide chambers are still being tested for this purpose by the Postal Service. Postmaster General John Potter told a Senate subcommittee recently that unless the Postal Service gets $3 to $4 billion for bioterrorism protection, it will only decontaminate mail "where the risk of threat occurs."

Now, what does all this have to do with preservation of library, archival and museum materials?

The Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education (SCMRE) addressed this issue and prepared a four-page report that was released to the Internet on November 5, entitled "The Effects on Research Specimens and Museum Collection Items from Electron Beam Irradiation of Mail by the US Postal Service." the URL is

Fourteen of the Smithsonian's conclusions summarize this report. Those that relate most closely to the concerns of library and archive programs are:

  1. Materials of cellulosic composition, especially plant fibers and paper, will be quite seriously affected. They will lose significant tensile strength and will become more brittle, while the induced chemical changes, chain scission and oxidation, will accelerate their aging processes. Discoloration is also to be expected. Oxidation also will result from interaction with ozone formed in air during the irradiation....
  2. Dyestuffs will fade, resulting in fading and color shifts in textiles, stained specimens, and color photographs.
  3. Magnetic media (floppy disks, zip disks, audio and videotape) will probably lose significant information content. Undeveloped photographic film will be exposed.
  4. Since no nuclear reactions are induced under the proposed conditions, generation of radioactivity in the irradiated samples is not a concern.

Update: on the day after Christmas, two reports on the condition of irradiated mail were posted on the PADG list. One of them was from Eliza Gilligan, a book conservator at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries ( The first two pieces of first class mail since early October had just been received. They were postmarked Nov. 14 and Nov. 15. The envelopes were quite yellow; the tape used to seal them was dark and wrinkled. The photocopies of hygrothermo-graph charts inside were also yellow and in one envelope, the toner of folded photocopies had fused the two surfaces together. The envelopes and their contents were very brittle.

The sender, Eliza Gilligan, asked about other libraries' experiences, and whether this irradiation practice had affected other libraries' interlibrary loan program.

Smithsonian is Not Out of the Woods Yet

Somebody—or something—has been threatening to shut down the Smithsonian Institution's educational and scientific functions ever since last April. The Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education, which supports these functions in museums around the world, was going to be shut down Dec. 31, supposedly to save money. The conservation community rallied, wrote letters to Congress, and discussed it on the DistList. They found plenty of friends in Congress.

A message to AIC members from Penny Jones June 29 confirms this: "According to the report language we had a victory in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Committee ... said everything should remain status quo until after the Science Commission study is in, the Regents review it, and the relevant authorizing committees have concurred with final decisions."

The Science Commission referred to was established by the Smithsonian in July with 18 members from the US and the UK, in a wide range of academic disciplines. It met for the first time in September.

Both the House and the Senate voted to fund SCMRE in November and Lambertus van Zelst wrote a letter of thanks to supporters. It seemed that the long period of suspense was over.

Then a couple of weeks before Christmas, this small article appeared in the local Austin newspaper:

"In an unusual breach of rules against publicly commenting on budget plans before the White House has released its decision, the Smithsonian Institution disclosed that research funds for three of its principal science centers may be eliminated by Bush's proposed budget for next year."

The NCC (National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History) went into more detail on Bush's planned cuts in the Smithsonian's budget in the online version of its newsletter, NCC Washington Update for December 14. The text is at The NCC is an organization of professional historians, and it takes a strong interest in the history it sees being made before its eyes.

ASTM-Sponsored Paper Aging Project is Over

The main impetus for this eight-year long project was the paper industry's desire to use more groundwood pulp in fine papers. They had learned how to bleach wood pulp whiter than before, without removing much of the lignin, but the paper made from this pulp wasn't achieving its market potential. The papermakers were afraid that ASTM's permanent paper standard (which limited lignin content to 1%) was making it impossible to represent their new kind of paper as permanent.

When it became clear that the Paper Permanence Committee could not be persuaded to change the standard, without credible evidence that lignin really did not affect permanence, this $4,000,000 international research project was planned.

It was time to take a good look at the usual way of testing for permanence, anyhow. Nearly everyone uses heat, but every lab seems to be using a different temperature. Most are controlling relative humidity in the oven, but, again, there seems to be no consensus on RH. Sometimes paper is aged in a pile, sometimes in free-hanging sheets, and the results are markedly different. Most of these methods are good. The problem is that they are not uniform, and it is not always possible to compare the results of one lab against another's.

The ASTM project involved five laboratories in three countries. Light aging studies were conducted at the USDA Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin, and at KCL, the Finnish Pulp and Paper Research Institute in Espoo. Pollutant studies were carried out at the Image Permanence Institute at RIT in Rochester, NY; temperature studies were performed at the Library of Congress and the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa. Light, heat, and the chemical action of air pollutants were the main challenges to which the test papers were subjected.

The supply of 15 kinds of test papers supplied to each lab was made of known, documented materials, on paper machines (not in the lab). Nine kinds of paper were made of two kinds of pulp: "mechanical" or groundwood pulp, combined with 20% or 50% softwood kraft. There were acid and alkaline cotton furnish, acid and alkaline BCTMP, and acid and alkaline softwood kraft. Half of the papers were buffered with 5% PCC. About 30,000 pieces of each of the fifteen paper types were made, and stored in cold and dark conditions until they were sent to the labs.

Bruce Arnold's full report is at

 [Contents]  [Search]  [Abbey]

[Search all CoOL documents]