The Alkaline Paper Advocate

Volume 1, Number 5
Dec 1988

Senator Pell Seeks Legislation on Acid-Free Paper

Sen. Claiborne Pell (D, RI), chairman of Congress's Joint Committee on the Library, says that during the next congressional year he intends to push for a national policy to have important books and other publications printed on acid-free paper. To this end, he introduced on October 11 a joint resolution (S.J. Res. 394, "To Establish a National Policy on Permanent Papers") which will be reintroduced and pursued with vigor in the next session. He introduced it with a speech which was printed on page S 15477 of the Congressional Record for October 11.

In his speech, he summarizes the brittle book problem and acknowledges the steps taken by the Library of Congress, National Archives and National Library of Medicine, with help from Congress. "However," he says, "it makes little sense to continue the remedy without attempting to curb the basic problem. And that is what the resolution I am offering today is designed to do. It establishes a national policy to promote and encourage the printing of books and other publications of enduring value on nonacidic paper. In a figurative sense, it locks the library door against prospective invasion by publications printed on acidic paper....

"... It should be noted that the implementation of the national policy, by attacking the problem prospectively, will have the effect of reducing the long-range costs of deacidification. Every book produced on acid-free paper today frees up preservation resources which can be used to attack the crumbling backlog of publications dating back to 1850.

"I commend this resolution to the attention of the Senate, " I invite comments and suggestions. It is, of course, late in the 100th Congress, but I intend to reintroduce the resolution in January 1989, and I hope it will be possible to hold public hearings soon thereafter to explore the matter in depth. I have every confidence that it will not be said 100 years from now that we knew how to solve this problem but did nothing about it."

The text of the resolution itself is as follows:


To establish a national policy on permanent papers.

Whereas it is now widely recognized and scientifically demonstrated that the acidic papers commonly used in documents, books, and other publications for more than a century are self-destructing and will continue to self-destruct;

Whereas Americans are facing the prospect of continuing to lose national historical records, including government records, faster than salvage efforts can be mounted despite the dedicated efforts of many libraries, archives, " agencies, such as the National Archives and Records Administration;

Whereas the Congress has already appropriated $50,000,000 to the National Archives and Records Administration, $32,000,000 to the Library of Congress, and $2,400,000 to the National Library of Medicine for deacidifying or microfilming books too brittle for ordinary use, and $25,000.000 to the National Endowment for the Humanities for grants to libraries and archives for such purposes;

Whereas nationwide many hundreds of millions of dollars will need to be spent by the Federal, State, and local governments and private institutions to salvage the most essential books and other materials in the libraries and archives of academic and private institutions;

Whereas there is an urgent need to prevent the acid paper problem from continuing into the indefinite future by which already exist, in as much as acid free permanent papers with a life of several hundred years already exist and are being produced to some extent at prices competitive with acid papers;

Whereas the American Library Association Council in a resolution dated January 13, 1988, has urged publishers to use acid free permanent papers in books and other publications of enduring use and value, and other professional organizations have expressed similar opinions;

Whereas some publishers such as the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the Library of Congress and many university presses are already publishing on acid free papers, and the Office of Technology Assessment has estimated that only 15 to 25 percent of the books currently being published in the United States are printed on acid free paper; are printed on acid free paper;

Whereas even when books are printed on acid free paper the fact that such books are printed on acid free paper is often not made known to libraries by notations in the in standard bibliographical listings;

Whereas most government agencies do not require the use of appropriate Federal records and publications, and associations representing commercial publishers and book printers have thus far not recommended the use of acid free papers;

Whereas paper manufacturers have stated that a sufficient supply of acid free papers would be produced if publishers would specify the use of acid free papers; and

Whereas there is currently no statistical information from public or private sources regarding the present volume of production of acid free papers and what volume of production would be required to meet an increased demand: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

Section 1. It is the policy of the United States that Federal records, books, and publications of enduring value be produced on acid free papers.

Sec. 2. The Congress of the United States urgently recommends the following:

(1) Federal agencies require the use of permanent papers for publications of enduring value produced by the Government Printing Office or produced by Federal grant or contract, using the specifications for permanent paper established by the Joint Committee on Printing.

(2) Federal agencies require the use of archival quality papers for permanently valuable Federal records and confer with the National Archives and Records Administration on the requirements for paper quality.

(3) American publishers use permanent paper for publications of enduring value, and voluntarily comply with the American National Standard, and when books are printed on acid free papers the fact of such printing be noted in the books, in advertisements, in catalogs, and in standard bibliographic listings.

(4) Reliable statistics be produced by public or private institutions on the present production of permanent papers and the volume of production required to meet the national policy declared in section 1 regarding acid free paper.

(5) The Department of State make known the national policy regarding acid free papers to foreign governments and appropriate international agencies since the acid paper problem is worldwide and essential foreign materials being imported by our libraries are printed on acid papers.

Sec. 3. The Librarian of Congress, the Archivist of the United States, the Director of the National Library of Medicine, and the Administrator of the National Agricultural Library shall jointly monitor the Nation's progress in implementing the national policy declared in section 1 regarding acid free papers and report annually to the Congress regarding such progress by January 1, 1990, and each succeeding year thereafter.

Editorial Comment

First, a few small corrections. That estimate for the percent of books in the US that are published on acid-free paper is too low, of course, unless mass market paperbacks are included in the total.

Next, the resolution states that there is "no statistical information from public or private sources regarding the present volume of production of acid free papers." Actually, such information is compiled and circulated or published by several individuals in the paper industry, but because of the information barrier between the paper industry and the preservation community, it is hard to find. That information barrier is not deliberate, by the way, and it has nothing to do with antitrust regulations that forbid discussion of prices at paper meetings. It is just that librarians and archivists do not go to meetings of papermakers and papermakers do not attend meetings of the SAA or ALA. Each group publishes in a different set of journals, uses different suppliers, and goes to different schools. Papermakers live near the mills, which are all on rivers, while the people who work with research collections are all in cities and university towns.

Lastly, the resolution should not prejudice its case unnecessarily by implying that there is a price difference between acid and acid-free papers. In the only known comparative price study (APA, #3, p. 20), prices turned out to be the same. The popular belief that acid-free papers cost are may be a carryover from the early years of this century, when the only way people knew to make longer-lasting paper was to use rag pulp. It could also be a result of the mill practice of converting their best quality grades first, or of purchasers upgrading when they switch to alkaline paper, or of the high prices charged for Permalife and similar papers marketed through retail mail-order outlets to tiny markets.

This resolution is a great step forward, and the legislation to be proposed in 1989 may be the answer to everyone's wishes. We have all read, however, about literal-minded fairies who created problems by granting poorly-worded wishes. It would be too bad if legislation based on this resolution turned out to backfire like those fairy-tale wishes, just because it emphasizes pH at the expense of other permanence characteristics.

Acid-free paper can be short-lived if it is oxidized, of poor quality, or made vulnerable to oxidation by alkaline sodium compounds. For permanence, paper also needs an alkaline buffer (almost always calcium carbonate) to protect it from the effects of pollution, high temperature and humidity, light, and other agents of deterioration both in the environment and within the paper itself. It must be free, or at least reasonably free (whatever that is) of groundwood. It must also be strong (durable) enough for its expected use, not only now, but in future centuries when it has lost some of its initial strength. All this has been well established by the research on paper permanence over the last 60 or so years, which can be reviewed in the permanence bibliographies of the Institute of Paper Chemistry to 1977, and in the database PAPERCHEM after that.

But how can all these factors be made explicit in a resolution as eloquent and convincing as this one, without destroying the effect altogether? Could the main criteria for permanence and durability be described in one of the Whereases, and referred to thereafter as permanence This would take care of most concerns, but would leave a few loose ends, such as specs for other permanence factors and lists of test methods for monitoring conformity. (The problem of preserving the eloquence of the document would disappear if we were writing a law. No one cares whether logs are eloquent or not.)

Why couldn't both the resolution and the law refer to standards? That would make it even simpler, and that's what standards are for. Both the resolution and the law could simply recommend or require that paper meet at least one of the existing formal standards of paper permanence. That would eliminate the task of modifying the law as our technology changes, because there are procedures for regular updating of formal standards. If standards are not referred to, it may be impossible to implement the national policy on permanent paper as conceived.

If conformity to standards is too much to expect of everyone all at once, perhaps a temporary compromise could be struck by requiring "acid-free, buffered" paper, and encouraging eventual conformity to permanence standards.

It may seem inconsistent for the Editor of the Alkaline Paper Advocate to be saying that it is not enough for paper to be alkaline, but it is actually not. This newsletter was founded as a form within which papermakers and people concerned with preservation could communicate, and the best common ground seemed to be that of alkaline paper. It makes no difference that the paper industry is really concerned with profitability, and the preservation community is really concerned with permanence.

Look at it this way: If you succeed in getting acid-free paper used everywhere, you've made it to first base, and everyone will cheer you. If you also succeed in getting an adequate amount of calcium carbonate in the paper as an alkaline buffer, fewer people will know what you are trying to do, but you will get to second base. If you also want to guarantee a low maximum groundwood content, you will find that some of your supporters have gotten bored and wandered off. You are not home, though, till you get paper that is also durable.

Another matter deserves careful consideration before the final wording of the law is formulated: the paper on which archives and manuscripts are recorded. Archives have a much larger problem than libraries do, and they have far fewer champions. Only 5-10%. of office papers are alkaline, according to an estimate from the paper industry. When their active life is over, archivists will sort out the most important ones to keep indefinitely; but how many of them will last indefinitely? There is no possibility of borrowing a good copy through inter-library loan, if the original becomes damaged or illegible, because most archival materials are unique. Microfilming is more expensive, because a different exposure is needed for the sheets of paper in shades of yellow and brown. If archivists knew how to get other people to use permanent record materials, they would do it, but the problem is daunting because there are so many kinds of paper that go into record materials, and so many people and offices involved. Perhaps it would not be cowardly of us to postpone the campaign for archives until the campaign for libraries is won. But we should not deceive ourselves that this joint resolution will do much to solve the archives' problem of impermanent record materials.

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