Selection for Conservation

Selection for Conservation
It is a quite new development that the precarious condition of the books and archival documents
originating from the period of early industrial paper-making has found broader attention in the mind
of people who feel themselves
responsible for the cultural heritage of humanity and has provoked their activity. A decade ago - in
the United States two decades — these people tended either towards leniently smiling when
specialists active in combating paper decay warned against this danger and asked for remedies, or
they evoked apocalyptic scenarios of the loss of our culture and called for the activity of scientists
to develop techniques to save the cultural heritage. Now there is some activity and some planning
among themselves. Brainpower is activated to face the different aspects of the problem. Committees
arc established, meetings are organized and the management oi libraries and archives is augmented
with a special office for preservation.
One question is deciding where to locus the most attention, i.e., the question of selection.
This is not related to deacidification. Regarding this mass treatment for which I hope there will be
appropriate processes in the near future, the only imaginable principle of selection is: all books or,
more precisely, all needing this process, or, most precisely, all needing no more than it. In general:
all books made of acidic paper, i.e., those produced in the period from the beginning of industi'ial
paper-making until the full change, to alkaline paper-making in the (I hope) near future. A relevant
programme should begin with the climax of this period (1870-1970) and be expanded from this
time successively to the beginning and to the end. The beginning: 1816 according to John Murray's
famous notice,1 or 1807, i.e., the year of the relevant ''patent".2 The end: the full change to alkaline
paper-making. To deacidify one or the other book not needing deacidification or some others
needing more than deacidiflcation wastes less money than lengthy selection procedures would. For
deacidification, no selection is the best choice, as this method does not harm any material of the
book, neither ink nor binding material.
A copy of the German manuscript of this article is available from the rditorial office of
RESTAURATOR until December 1, 1993.
Selection pertains to the other means of active preservation: reformatting and restoration. There are
many discussions on this topic. Because in fact it is neither possible nor necessary to reformat or
restore all books in the best manner at the same time, people seek principles by which they can set
1 think that all relevant efforts are in vain. It is impossible to predict what kind of library and
archival materials or what single items will be used and what will be forgotten. Any system to
separate books or archival files into those to be preserved and those to be neglected will meet
another system with contrary principles, even if the same results are achieved: the same amount of
useful, of double and of useless second formats. Investing brainpower in philosophically founded
selection wastes time and energy. This energy is needed to organize and establish a system that, il
executed correctly, can guarantee that nothing really needed now, tomorrow or m the remote future
will get lost. This system might be called selection by use.3,4
The statement that nothing will get lost il only the system is executed in the right manner starts with
the scientifically correct fact that books do not "literally crumble to dust"; John Murray was the first
to slate this and it lias been uncritically repeated since 1826. They will not. at least not as a result of
chemical attack only. Biologically based attack must be at work to make books and archival objects
partly or totally crumble, and of this kind of attack, human negligence and inattention are the most
dangerous. The final state of paper decay caused by inappropriate production, i.e., alum-fixed rosin
sizing and groundwood, is a thin plate of brittle material to be compared with powder fixed together
by sintering. This plate will break if it is folded or even bent. But if it is handled with due care the
information stored on it can be reformatted, regardless of what system is used. It is also possible to
restore that thin plate of powder to the state near to that it had at the time it was produced, i.e., a
flexible and bindable sheet of paper. Even this is true: the more the process of chemical decay
proceeds, the easier that very restoration method can be applied that seems to be the only one for
items in this final state: i.e. paper-splitting, done by hand or using a special machine.1
Selection by use works as follows. An indispensable precondition is appropri-ate storage
conditions: cool, dry and dark stack rooms that do not undergo abrupt climatic changes and are
regularly maintained in the sense of good housekeeping. Any efforts for conservation ol any kind
will be in vain in the long term if this indispensable precondition is not observed, and really,
depending on the local climate, observing it may require great amounts of time and money. In the
temperate zone these efforts are wisely invested in suitable buildings6; in tropic or subtropic
climates, air conditioning seems to be inevitable.
The second indispensable precondition is personnel whose eyes and fingers are trained to detect
brittle books and who are permanently attentive to set them aside.
The third is a laboratory for reformatting that is organized and equipped so that it can fulfil a
relevant demand without delay. The number of reformatting machines mostly, in our time, cameras
for microfiche - depends on the number of brittle books and files requested by readers and on the
time these readers can reasonably he expected to wait to get them. This lime can be described in
A reformatting laboratory duly equipped for this kind of service has slow periods when no users'
demands to be executed immediately are coming in. These periods can be used to indiscriminately
reformat the outstanding collections present in any library, which are thought to deserve
preservation as such or which seem to deserve reformatting not so much for pure preservation, but
for further propagating the collection or its items.
If there is a request for a certain book and the staff member taking it out of the stacks finds it to be
brittle, it is not given directly to the reader but first to the reformatting" laboratory. This simple
measure guarantees that any brittle book that, is really needed is reformatted and that no book not
needed is treated in this way. It might be argued that one single use docs not mean a real need. It
might therefore be organized that the first request for a brittle book, and possibly the second and the
third as well, are fulfilled, under restricted conditions to be observed in a special reading room, by
the original. Not only microfilming and paper-splitting is possible even with the most decayed
paper, but also very careful use. Chemistry is not crumbling our books to dust: our hands are.
Chemistry only helps to make the ratio of effort and result of this work of our hands extremely
After the first use, as original or as microfilm, the brittle book or archival file gets a protective box.
This may be a very simple one that can be produced by stamping a suitable board in a cross-like
form according to the three-dimensional numbers of the book or by cutting two strips of a suitable
board to be glued in a cross-like form on each other. Transforming the dimensional numbers of the
book to the dimensional numbers of the cross-like stamp or of the iwo strips to be glued together to
this form, and possibly at the same time ordinating the knives of the cutting machine, is a matter for
electronic steering. It seems unnecessary to strive for boxes ol uniform size. The size of books is too
different. Producing individual boxes economically requires time. There must be a room to
intermediately store the brittle, books that have been used or microfilmed and arc waiting lor their
The boxes not only serve to protect the books and files but also to mark
them. They should have a certain colour, preferably a loud one. Such a box in the stack rooms
indicates that the item inside is brittle and has been used at least once. Further information
necessary for future handling may be noted on two kinds of label, one having columns for the date
of use. If. as suggested above, the library or archives management thinks one single use is not
enough to justify reformatting, these date-marks indicate if the item is used more. The other label
may indicate that the item is reformatted and must not be used except for special purposes to be
specially allowed by the preservation officer. This marking may help one, unavoidable day when
the stacks are full in detecting reformatted kerns in order to store them elsewhere and more closely
or one day this will no longer be taboo to eliminate them. Prior to such a final action, the object
must be carefully inspected by specialists for its historic value. If it is found to be of intrinsic value,
it will be restored. Presupposing the first precondition, this is possible and easier the more the paper
is decayed.
Regarding books and libraries, a system to preserve our cultural heritage can be constructed from
this simple and practical procedure. Nothing else is necessan but regularly and completely
indicating what books have been reformatted in a certain library and allowing other libraries to
acquire a copy of this primary reformat. If there is a complete and easily accessible register of these
reformatting masters, the preservation officer of a single library with a brittle book used two or
three times and thus needing reformatting will find out whether the second format has just been
produced elsewhere. If \es - well, the decision depends on the circumstances. It might be decided to
acquire a copy of the externally produced second format; the request of a reader may be fulfilled for
the last tune by the original or the reader must wait until the copy of the second format is obtained.
It might be decided that the relevant work does not pertain to the locus of interest of the library and
that the reader might ask for it where its microcopy is available. And it might be decided that, even
if the book has just been microfilmed elsewhere, the library's copy rves to be microfilmed as well,
because it is of special value to the collection, because it has handwritten marginal notes by a
person related to the library, or for a comparable reason. Restoration, however, would be more
suitable in such a case.
If this system is instituted with the appropriate administrative measures, it should respond to the
challenge of brittle books. A cost-benefit analysis based on the principles of modern economics
must determine whether it is more expensive or cheaper than lavishly discussing sophisticated
ethical systems for selection, doing this selection and nevertheless microfilming or even scanning
books for machine use that will never be used. I am optimistic that selection by use is superior.
Selection for conservation
A system is presented to reformat (microfilm) brittle books when they are called for use and to
restore them when they are detected to be of intrinsic value only. It is claimed that this system, if
only followed consistently, is superior to any system of selection based on philosophical principles.
Selection pour la conservation
On presente un systeme pour reformater (microfilmer) des livres fragiles lorsque ceux-ci sont
destines a l'usage et pour les restaurer lorsqu'on considere qu'ils ont seulement une valeur
intrinseque. On assure que ce systeme s'il est realise de maniere correcte est superieur a tout
systeme de selection base sur des principes (ethico-) philosophiques.
Auswahl zur Konseririerung
Es wird ein System vorgestellt, nach dem Bücher aus brüchigem Papier nur dann kopiert (verfilmt),
wenn sie von einent Benutzer verlangt und daß sie nur dann restauriert werden, wenn sie in ihrer
originalen materiellen Form als historischer Wert erkannt werden, Es wird der Anspruch erhoben,
daß dieses System, wenn es nur in der richtigen Weise angewandt wird, jedem anderen, auf ethischphilosophischen Auswahlkriterien beruhenden überlegen ist.
1. Murray, J.: Practical remarks on modern paper. Edinburgh & London 1829; 99 sq.
2. Illig, M. F.: Anteitung, aul eine sichere ... An Papier in der Masse zu leimen. 1807. Reprint ed.
Mainz: A. Kenker, 1959.
3. Bansa, H.: Selecting for conservation. Presented at the IFLA General Council Meeting,
Montreal 1982.
4. Bansa, H.: Das Institut für Buchrestaurierung der Bayeriuhen Staatsbibliotek München.
Bestandssiche-rung und Bestandsrestaurierung — ein Binblik in die praktische Arbeit. Referate des
internatio-nalcn Kolloquiums in Berlin, 10.-12. 10. 1990. Berlin: DBI, 1992: 133-151.
5. Op. eil. p. 1-19.
6. Stehkämper, H.: "Natural" air conditioning of slacks. Restaurator 9 (1988): 163—76.
Helmut Bansa
Institut für Buch- und Handschriftenrestaurierung der Bayerischen Staatsbibliotek
Ludwigstraße 16
D-8000 München 34
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