Alkaline Paper Advocate

Volume 6, Number 3
Sep 1993

Enduring Value

The following passage is an excerpt from the 1991 "Report to Congress on the Joint Resolution to Establish a National Policy on Permanent Papers," submitted by the Public Printer, Librarian of Congress and Archivist of the United States. These three agencies (GPO, LC and NARA) are required to make three reports, at two-year intervals, to let Congress know how its "Permanent Paper Law" is being implemented, both within these agencies and in the Federal government in general.

The passages on enduring value and economics were selected for reprinting here because the concept of enduring value is widely referred to in the context of permanent paper use, and is even sometimes defined, but the problems involved in using it have seldom been addressed as well as they are in this document.

Another report will be issued by the same three agencies this December.

Enduring Value. Statutory authority for determining the enduring value of government records is assigned to the Archivist of the United States in Title 44, Section 2107, United States Code. The code states that "when it appears to the Archivist to be in the public interest, he may . . . accept for deposit with the National Archives of the United States the records of a Federal agency, the Congress, the Architect of the Capitol, or the Supreme Court, determined by the Archivist of the United States to have sufficient historical or other value to warrant their continued preservation by the United States Government." This authority is further strengthened by Sections 3303 and 3303a, which require the head of each agency of government to submit to the Archivist for his review and approval lists of all agency records deemed to be of less than enduring value (temporary). The Archivist must approve the disposal of temporary records and authorize the agency head to actually destroy the records.

The National Archives approves schedules drawn up by each Federal agency that define the textual record groups that have enduring value. These and other records are held by the agency for thirty years, then transferred to the National Archives.

Some records can be clearly identified at the point of creation as having enduring value. International treaties, public laws, and executive orders are a few of the kinds of records that document public policy, that safeguard the rights and delineate the responsibilities of citizens, that relate to the accountability of the government to the people, or that define the nation's relationship to other countries.

Many records, however, that do not fall into any of the above categories nonetheless have continuing use for scientific, medical, legal, environmental, and historical research that is not always easily identifiable by agency personnel at the time that the records are created.

It is impossible for any agency to identify at the time they are created all records that do or will have enduring value. Selected officials in each agency are generally aware which of its record groups have enduring value, and may even have an excellent idea for certain groups which individual records do or might have enduring value. In the majority of cases this knowledge does not extend to every agency employee who might be creating records. In any case, switching back and forth between different paper grades involves considerable inconvenience to agency staff and a loss in productivity.

Ideally, agencies should use permanent paper for all publications and records of enduring value. Given the practical problems that agency personnel face both in determining enduring value and in switching between paper grades, they are faced with the real world choice of using permanent paper for either all or none of the documents they create.

While the ideal solution would be to create all Federal documents on permanent media to assure their condition when NARA receives the records for appraisal, the economics of this approach are problematic. In 1991 the cost of permanent paper is significantly higher than grades in current use and would require an alternative to the all-documents-on-permanent-paper approach. [Note: No general market studies of the relative cost of permanent papers are known to have been done.--Ed.]

Economics. Based on a recent procurement of permanent paper, the National Archives and Records Administration determined that paper which meets the JCP Joint Committee on Printing] A270 standard is approximately 30% more expensive than paper that does not meet this standard. If, at their point of origin, some federal records were produced on permanent paper and some were not, the immediate administrative cost would be high, as stated before. If no Federal records or publications were produced on permanent paper, the future preservation cost would be high. If all Federal records and publications were produced on permanent paper, the immediate direct cost would be high.

A possible solution to this economics dilemma lies with alkaline paper. It is generally true that alkaline paper of any given fiber content and performance characteristics is much more long-lasting than its acidic equivalent. Moreover, alkaline paper is now generally no more expensive than acidic paper of like grade. If the Federal government developed a policy of using alkaline paper for all recording and publishing activities, it could be assured that records and publications of enduring value would be created on a longer-lasting medium at no greater cost to taxpayers. Those offices whose records and publications include a high percentage of documents of enduring value would continue to select permanent (JCP A270) paper. Such a policy would result in no increased supply or administrative costs, and would provide savings in long-term preservation costs. The policy would require the development of additional paper specifications, but these could be developed quickly and easily.

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