The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 26, Number 2
Aug 2002

Volunteers Sought to Develop Standard for Archive Adhesives

Institutions use pressure-sensitive adhesive (PSA) labels for inventory management in large collections needing long-term stability. ASTM Adhesives Committee D14 is drafting a standard for label adhesives used to catalog historic documents in libraries and archives. To participate, contact Michelle Youket, a D14 subcommittee chairman and quality assurance specialist, Preservation Research and Testing Division, U.S. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Youket has worked on adhesive specifications for the Library of Congress since 1994. "Downloading a call number to a label immediately upon cataloging can prevent items from being mis-shelved [or] lost, by eliminating transcription errors," she says. "Labeling items with machine-readable barcodes can facilitate the tracking of materials through the various stages of acquisition, cataloging, binding or housing, retrieval, and exhibition, thereby enhancing security. Barcodes can also be used to tie an item to a large amount of data stored in a centralized database that can be accessed across multiple divisions in large institutions."

In April, ASTM Committee D14 renamed its former D14.50 Subcommittee on Hot Melt and Pressure Sensitive Adhesives, to "Hot Melts, Pressure Sensitives, and Archival Adhesives," and elected Youket as new subchairman. According to D14 manager Scott Orthey, the former subcommittee focused on standards for hot adhesives. The new group will develop standards for special labeling adhesives that don't affect the long-term viability of historical materials in libraries and archives, he says. These materials include but are not limited to books, compact discs, slides, photographs, A/V, serials, and documents.

Helping to draft the new standard are former D14.07 co-chair Jennifer Banks, head, Collection Management Services, MIT Libraries, Cambridge, Mass., and Janet Gertz, director for Preservation, Columbia University Libraries, a preservation standards developer with the National Information Standards Organization (NISO).

Also participating are label and adhesive manufacturers, library-supply vendors, archivists, librarians, scientists, representatives from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, conservators, and other preservation specialists, according to Youket.

"To make the use of PSA labels feasible for libraries and archives, there needs to be a stringent set of quality control measures in place to ensure that the labels that are being applied have the characteristics of permanence and durability, and are not detrimental to the item itself," says Youket. "One of the ways in which an institution can regulate the quality of their labels is to have a standard to follow that delineates appropriate performance characteristics for labels for various uses. Different formats have different requirements. A 'one-size-fits-all' approach to label purchasing will not work for all media.

"Even when an institution has found the 'perfect' labels for a particular material or collection, and has been buying them for years, there is no guarantee of continued quality or availability," she continues. "Manufacturers change their formulations, mistakes are made in construction, and although often insignificant for the casual user, these changes can have unexpected, and sometimes disastrous, results when applied to archival materials. Many times I have received requests for help from collection custodians when their previously reliable labels suddenly refuse to stay affixed to their objects. Purchasing labels based on adherence to a particular standard can prevent this from occurring."

Part of the subcommittee's research for the new standard included review of labels, label stock, substrate surfaces, and applications existing in libraries and archives. "These were so complex that the group decided to focus first on the adhesives appropriate to paper labels to be applied to paper substrates," Banks wrote in a memo to the committee this year. "Once this standard had been developed, the group intended to use it as the basis for additional standards specific to other combinations of labels and substrates.

"The group developed a document describing performance expectations for label adhesives for paper labels to be applied to paper substrates," continued Banks. "We identified some of the tests necessary to measure performance, but we still had many questions about other kinds of tests and how to determine what range of test results we wanted to recommend. For example, we had debates about the reliability of accelerated aging tests. At the time, LC [Library of Congress] was developing an internal specification for label requirements. This document, and the related research and testing begun in the Preservation and Research Division at LC, provided a valuable example for the subcommittee members, both those from industry and from libraries/archives. In addition, NARA [U.S. National Archives and Records Administration] was researching adhesives for long-term applications on collections being moved into a new storage facility. Since then, both institutions have made substantial advances in their research and have much expertise to offer to the subcommittee."

The subcommittee plans to use the standard as a model to develop standards for labels made from other materials such as film stock, and cloth, to be applied to other library/archive materials such as book-cloth, box-board, metals, and plastics, Youket says.

Contact Youket, Preservation Research and Testing Division, U.S. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (phone: 202/707-1792). Committee D14 meets Oct. 14-16 in Norfolk, Va. For meeting or membership details, contact Scott Orthey, manager, ASTM Technical Committee Operations (phone: 610/832-9730).

Reprinted, with permission, from Standardization News, vol. 30, No. 8, copyright ASTM International, 100 Barr Harbor Drive, West Conshohocken, PA 19428.

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