The Alkaline Paper Advocate

Volume 5, Number 2
May 1992

U.S. Archivists and Librarians Salute Papermakers

At the TAPPI Papermakers Conference in Nashville tributes were read from American librarians' and archivists organizations to "the papermakers who have contributed to the development of permanent paper." Karen Garlick, Senior Conservator at the National Archives (NARA) and chair of the Preservation Section of the Society of American Archivists (SAA), represented SAA, and Lisa Fox, Preservation Field Services Manager at the Southeastern Library Network (SOLINET) and chair of the Preservation of Library Materials Section of the American Library Association (ALA), represented ALA. The tributes are reproduced below.

The Society of American Archivists, founded in 1936, is a professional association of individuals and institutions, primarily in North America, who are concerned with the preservation and use of record materials such as manuscripts, films, maps, photographs, sound recordings, and machine-readable records. The more than 3,500 individual members are from archives located in federal, state,, and local governments, universities, businesses, churches, and other institutions. These archives were created to organize, preserve, and make available to the public the records, personal papers, and historical manuscripts that document the knowledge and experiences of our society. The responsibility for preserving these records has proven to be particularly challenging in this century because of the almost universal use of acidic papers after 1850. These acidic papers, which constitute, the vast majority of the documents currently held by archives national deteriorate rapidly, losing their strength and eventually becoming too brittle to handle without risk of damage. Millions of documents in our nation's archives are already brittle, and more will become brittle --and unusable--with the passing years. The ongoing deterioration poses a fundamental threat to the continued availability of our rich cultural heritage and its transmission to future generations. As a result, archives have devoted considerable efforts to slowing the rate at which their documents deteriorate: managing the storage environment, developing methods of deacidifying paper, and copying onto other media materials too battle to salvage. Until recently, there was no hope for relief from this endless and enormously expensive task.

Beginning in the 1950s, however, when the first alkaline sized papers appeared on the market and continuing today with the greatly increased availability of alkaline papers, there is reason for optimism. The problem of brittle paper has not gone away, because older documents are still with us, but its growth has been significantly slowed. The widespread production and use of permanent paper will end the threat posed by brittle paper and permit archives across North America to address other pressing preservation needs. Today permanent paper is readily obtainable, and actions are being taken to promote its use for the documents that will make up the archives of tomorrow. We are working to help the public understand the fundamental relationship between the use of permanent paper and the continued access to the records themselves. We are also working with records managers, archivists, and manuscript curators to demonstrate the importance of using permanent paper for documents intended for long-term retention. National standards are under revision to ensure that the paper used to create government records and private documents is long lasting. Legislation has been passed at the federal, state, and local levels to encourage the use of permanent paper for all Documents of enduring value.

The Society of American Archivists applauds the work of all those who contributed to the development of permanent paper. The importance of this work cannot be exaggerated. The mass production and use of permanent paper helps to ensure that archives inherit our nation's rich documentary heritage on a stable base for the use, enjoyment, and advancement of future generations. Centuries from now, archivists and the citizens they serve will be grateful for the work done in the paper industry to preserve the record of our nation's heritage.

(signed) Frank Burke, President, The Society of American Archivists


The American Library Association, the oldest and largest library association in the world, was formed in 1876 with the purpose of "promoting the library interests of the country." From its earliest days, the American Library Association and its members--now 54,000 strong--have been concerned with the rapid deterioration of library materials printed on acidic paper. At the first "Conference of Librarians" (the forerunner of the American Library Association) in 1876, John William Wallace, president of the Pennsylvania Historical Society, noted that the increase of books is to be attributed in some part to the "applications of chemical agencies ... to the paper maker's art." However, by 1913 the problem was so severe that the Council of the American Library Association heard a report from the Committee on the Deterioration of Newsprint Papers. That committee proposed that each newspaper publish a short run of each edition on a better grade of paper, a proposal that was only feasible for the largest city newspapers. Similar efforts at controlling the deterioration problem have been put forth in every decade since. Some of these, such as environmentally controlled storage facilities, microfilming, and deacidification efforts, have been implemented and are part of librarians' standard methods to provide stewardship for the collection with which we are entrusted But the fact remained that most materials collected by the nation's libraries were printed on paper that would deteriorate and become unusable by Library users unless extraordinary measures were taken.

These extraordinary measures continue to be necessary to preserve collections existing today. But there is hope for the collections being built today for tomorrow. Beginning in the fate 195'os, librarians began to hear reports of the work of the Barrow Laboratory in the development, not only of a better understanding of why paper deteriorated, but also of the means to produce alkaline paper. With the development of commercially usable alkaline sizing in the 1960s, librarians initiated the first of many efforts to encourage publishers and other users of paper to find and buy the alkaline and permanent paper which has become increasingly available. Our public relations effort, however, would have been pointless without the, work of many in the paper industry who made it possible to produce alkaline paper commercially.

The librarians of the American Library Association recognize the many people--manufacturers, entrepreneurs, scientists--who have played key roles, many of them difficult, in providing the industry with an alternative to alum-rosin sizing and in making permanent paper possible. Without their dedication, it would not be possible to preserve most books and records in their original form for as long as they are needed. The librarians of today, speaking for the readers of tomorrow, want you and your successors to know the historic and cultural importance of what has been accomplished by those who contributed to the development of permanent paper.

(signed) Arnold Hirshon, President, Association for Library Collections & Technical Services, The American Library Association

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