PRESERVATION UNITS AND ACTIVITIES
The Preservation Department is composed of four units--Conservation, Shelf Preparation, Binding & Sorting, and Digitization & Brittle Books. Five full-time staff and about 12 part-time student employees ( 2.5 FTE) work in the Preservation Department. Library-wide, about 10 FTE are engaged in preservation activities. The following is an overview of remedial and preventive preservation activities carried out by the Preservation Department.
Staff in the Circulation Unit screen materials after they have been used by patrons, and route damaged materials to the Preservation Department. The head of the Binding & Sorting Unit evaluates each damaged item to determine the appropriate treatment, then routes them to the appropriate area within the Preservation Department--Conservation, Brittle Books, or Binding.
The Conservation Unit is responsible for the repair of materials in the Library's general collection. The Conservation Unit works to repair materials quickly and return them to the collection as soon as possible, and tries to catch and repair damage early so that extensive and costly repairs can be avoided. The following are the kinds of repairs done most often in the Conservation Unit:
- Replacement of missing and damaged pages
- Pamphlet binding
- Tightening loose covers ("hinge tightening")
- Placing fragile, small, or special items in protective enclosures
- Repairs to text blocks prior to rebinding at the commercial bindery
- Mending paper tears
- Repairing damaged bindings--e.g., replacement of damaged spines; reattachment of front or back covers
- Rebinding--making and attaching a new cloth cover for a volume
- Drying wet books
- Encapsulation of flat documents, such as maps
See Identifying Damaged Materials for an illustrated guide to the types of damage that are typical in library collections.
Click here to print Conservation Treatment Request Flags and use them when sending materials to the Conservation Unit.
The Conservation Unit also prepares new acquisitions for the rigors of library use as needed. This includes making pockets for accompanying materials such as loose sheets of paper and CDs; placing fragile or small items in protective enclosures or pamphlet bindings; and attaching errata sheets.
The Conservation Unit repairs 2,000-3,000 volumes per year.
Binding and Sorting
In the Binding and Sorting Unit, periodicals, new books, theses, and dissertations are prepared and sent to a commercial library bindery for first-time binding, and books with damaged bindings are sent for rebinding. The Library purchases hardcover books whenever they are available, acquiring paperbacks when they are the only format available. Most new paperbacks are not bound automatically when they are acquired. Instead, we follow the practice used in many other academic libraries called "deferred binding." New paperbacks are sent to the stacks unbound. If they circulate and become damaged they are routed to Preservation and are bound at that time. There are, however, several exceptions to the deferred binding policy, for materials that warrant binding immediately. The categories of materials bound when they are acquired are listed below.
In the Binding and Sorting Unit, materials are prepared and sent to a commercial library bindery along with specific instructions on the binding method to use. Staff use a program called ABLE to prepare the binding instructions for each volume and to keep track of work in process. The binding specifications for each periodical title are also saved in the ABLE database so that each volume bound is consistent in color, spine information, and binding method with other previously bound volumes of that title. Our binder follows national standards set out by the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) that have been established through the collaboration of the library preservation community and commercial library binders across the country. Our Library's specific requirements, including compliance with national standards, are set out in a written contract with the binder.
There are a few exceptions to the Library's deferred binding policy. Paperback monographs and serials that are bound when new include:
Illustrated books in the following areas:
- art and art exhibition catalogs
- design books or catalogs
- pottery and ceramics
Delicate or fragile items:
- pop-up books
- very small or thin books
- selected books with thin paper covers
Oversized materials and special formats
- folio plus items
- books containing foldout material
Staff in the Circulation Unit screen materials after they have been used by patrons, and route damaged materials to the Preservation Department. The head of the Binding & Sorting Unit evaluates each damaged item to determine the treatment that is needed, then routes them to the appropriate area within the Preservation Department--Conservation, Brittle Books, or Binding.
The Binding and Sorting Unit binds approximately 10,000 volumes and makes treatment decisions on approximately 6,000 damaged volumes per year..
Digitization and Brittle Books
One of the largest preservation problems research libraries face is the great quantity of books printed on acidic paper. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, book paper has been made from wood pulp and other additives, rather than from cotton and linen rags, which were used to make paper for hundreds of years before that. Wood pulp paper becomes acidic over time, losing its flexibility and becoming brittle and eventually unusable. When paper is strong and flexible it can be repaired--books can be rebound and torn pages can be mended. But once the deterioration has progressed to the point that the paper has become brittle, these remedial actions are no longer possible. The rate of deterioration is accelerated by poor environmental conditions, including high temperature and relative humidity, light, and pollutants in the air. In 1990 a condition survey in the University of Delaware Library found that 79% of the books in the general collections were on acidic paper (an estimated 1,467,000 volumes), and approximately 576,000 of those volumes (31% of the collection) were already embrittled.
What do we do about this problem?
Books with brittle paper are routed to the Preservation Department after they have been used by patrons. Each volume is evaluated, considering the intellectual content, extent of damage, past use, anticipated future use, and relationship to the collection as a whole (whether there are other copies or editions in the collection; or is part of a multi-volume work). Based on the content, use, and relationship to the rest of the collection, we choose from the following actions:
- Purchasing a recently published replacement copy (reprint, new edition, microfilm, or other format as appropriate)
- Making a preservation photocopy (on alkaline paper with a sturdy binding) when a suitable replacement is not available for purchase
- Making preservation microfilm of selected materials such as low-use, multi-volume works
- Boxing fragile volumes that are not used frequently
- Transferring low-use volumes to a more protected closed-stack storage environment
- Withdrawing outdated works or extra copies that are no longer needed
Brittle books that are structurally sound (no damage to the cover or breaks in the text block) are often quite useable, and can often be returned to the stacks as they are.
The Brittle Books Unit processes about 1,700 volumes per year.
The Preservation Department is responsible for managing and carrying our retrospective digitization of library collections. The Preservation Department digitizes analog collection materials, prepares descriptive records for the digitized materials at the item level, and develops Web sites to provide access to the collections. This work involves collaboration with and support from the Special Collections Department, the Collection Development Department, and the Library Computing Systems Division. The Unidel Foundation has provided support for the library's digitization program. See the list of collections on the Library Digital Collections home page.
Every item added to the general collections of Morris Library and the branch libraries is sent after cataloging to the Shelf Preparation Unit (except for periodicals). The Shelf Preparation Unit prepares approximately 45,000 books, microforms, videotapes, audio casettes, CDs, and DVDs annually for use, applying call number labels, library identification markings, and circulation slips and pockets. Newly acquired Special Collections materials that are designated for the Annex when they are acquired are also processed by the Shelf Preparation Unit, using a method that is non-damaging and reversible. The Shelf Preparation Unit also reprocesses materials when they are transferred from one location to another, including from the branches to Morris Library, reference materials to the main stacks, and from Special Collections to the Annex. If materials received in the Shelf Preparation Unit need treatment in addition to marking and labeling (such as repair, binding, enclosures, or pockets) they are routed to the appropriate unit in Preservation. The Shelf Preparation Unit processes about 45,000 items per year.
The Preservation Department arranges for the preservation microfilming of two newspapers on an annual basis--the student newspaper, The Review, and the Newark Post. Other microfilming of brittle materials is undertaken selectively. All microfilming follows national standards and recommended practices. Master negatives are stored off-site at the National Underground Storage in Boyers, PA. From 1983 to 1996 the University of Delaware Library administered the Delaware Newspaper Project, a coordinated effort to preserve on microfilm and catalog Delaware newspapers held in repositories throughout the state.
Some library materials are at risk because they are made from materials that are inherently unstable. One of the largest preservation problems research libraries face is the large quantity of books printed on acidic paper. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, book paper has been made from wood pulp and other additives, rather than from the cotton and linen rags that were used to make paper for hundreds of years before that. Wood pulp paper becomes acidic over time, losing its flexibility and becoming brittle and eventually unusable. When paper is strong and flexible it can be repaired--books can be rebound and torn pages can be mended. Once the deterioration has progressed to the point that the paper has become brittle, these remedial actions are no longer possible. Once paper has become brittle, the only viable long-term solution is replacement--either by purchasing a newer edition or reprint, or by copying onto a stable medium such as microfilm or permanent paper, to preserve the intellectual content. In 1990 a condition survey in the University of Delaware Library found that 79% of the books in the general collections were on acidic paper (an estimated 1,467,000 volumes), and approximately 576,000 of those volumes (31% of the collection) were already embrittled.
For many years the library preservation community has worked to solve the acidic paper problem. Two significant accomplishments over the past twenty years attacked the problem in two directions. First, the adoption of a permanent paper standard in the U.S. and most western European countries has helped to reduce the problem at the source. To address the millions of volumes now in research library collections that were printed during the “poor paper period” (about 1840-1980 or later), preservation librarians and conservation scientists worked to develop a deacidification process that could be used on a mass scale to effectively slow the deterioration of acidic paper before it becomes brittle.
Deacidification is a chemical process that neutralizes the acids in paper and deposits an alkaline buffer to retard further deterioration. This treatment is effective when used on paper that is acidic but has not yet become brittle. Embrittlement is not reversible. Conservators have deacidified paper for many years before a mass process was developed. Paper can be washed and deacidified in an aqueous solution containing an alkaline substance. In order to do this, books must first be taken apart—the covers removed and the sewing that holds the pages together taken out so that the text block becomes individual sheets of paper. Afterward, the book must be reconstructed. With mass deacidification, whole books are submerged in a non-aqueous liquid in which is dispersed an alkaline substance. A number of volumes can be put into a deacidification chamber and treated at once. The cost of deacidifying one volume is approximately $14—about twice the cost of commercial library binding. By comparison, the average cost of a preservation photocopy is $125. Deacidification is estimated to extend the useful life of acidic paper from three to five times.
The environmental conditions in which collections are stored, including temperature, humidity, light, and air quality, have a significant effect on the longevity of collections, including the rate at which acidic paper deteriorates. Therefore another viable alternative to slow the rate of deterioration of paper is lowering the temperature and/or relative humidity of the storage environment. The rate of paper deterioration doubles for approximately every 14 ºF rise in temperature.
When funding permits, the Library selects a group of materials for deacidification by Preservation Technologies (PTLP) using the Bookkeeper process. Staff in Bibliographic Control add a note to the catalog records of deacidified titles. A keyword search on “deacid” in DELCAT retrieves the records of titles that have been treated.
The collections in libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions are constantly at risk of damage or loss from events such as fires, floods, roof leaks, and plumbing or other building system failures. To reduce the chances that a disaster will occur, and to minimize damage to collections if a disaster does occur, every collection-holding institution should have a disaster preparedness and response plan. Disaster preparedness is an ongoing process that includes identifying risks and potential hazards to the collections, taking steps to eliminate or reduce those risks whenever possible, and developing and maintaining a disaster response capability to minimize damage or loss in the event of a disaster. The Library's disaster preparedness and response efforts are coordinated by the Preservation Department, working with the Disaster Coordinating Team and Disaster Response Team. The Disaster Plan is written and maintained by the head of the Preservation Department.
The environmental conditions in which collections are stored, including temperature, humidity, light, and air quality, have a significant effect on the longevity of collections. The detrimental effects of a poor environment are gradual and cumulative over time. The environment of the Library Annex, opened in early 2001, was designed with the long-term preservation of the collections in mind. Because it is a "closed stack" environment, the settings can be optimized for the collections, as opposed to an open stack environment, where the comfort of people is also a factor, and the temperature cannot be set as low. The set points for the Annex are 65 degrees F and 50% relative humidity.
Staff in Preservation monitor the environment of the library daily (M-F) as a means of ensuring that the climate control systems are working as they should. A breakdown in the system during the summer months, for example, could result in sudden high temperature and humidity, bringing the danger of a mold outbreak. Readings are taken at 19 locations throughout the library of the temperature (F°) and relative humidity (RH), and are recorded in a database. Special Collections staff monitor the environment in areas where Special Collections materials are housed. Staff in the Library Annex monitor the temperature and relative humidity there to ensure that systems are working as intended. Readings are reported to Library and University Facilities staff when conditions are out of the normal range so that problems can be identified and corrected.
Preservation surveys are used to determine the nature and scope of the preservation needs of a particular collection or repository, so that plans for addressing them can be formulated. One kind of survey is an overall assessment of the conditions in which the collections exist, including the environment (temperature, relative humidity, light and air quality); housekeeping; pest control; fire protection; security; disaster preparedness; and handling, storage and use policies. In 1989, following the hiring of the Library's first preservation officer, a preservation self-study of this kind was conducted, following the model developed by the Association of Research Libraries. Four task forces were formed to study environmental conditions, physical condition of the collections, disaster planning, and resources. Each task force prepared a report documenting their findings and recommending actions to be taken to improve the preservation capabilities of the Library. The key recommendations were to:
- Establish a comprehensive program to conserve and preserve the Library's general and special collections
- Improve environmental conditions throughout the Library system
- Address overcrowding of the collections
- Improve the security of the collections
- Develop a disaster response capability
- Develop funding strategies to support preservation activities
Click here for the complete list of recommendations from the four task forces.
A condition survey, which examines the condition of items in a collection, may be conducted by evaluating every item in a collection, or by selecting a representative sample from a larger collection and projecting the results from the sample to the whole collection. The Preservation Department conducted a condition survey in 2002 after staff working in the Microforms Collection recognized the characteristic sign of cellulose-acetate base deterioration. Cellulose-acetate base film is subject to a form of deterioration known as the vinegar syndrome, because deteriorating films emit a pungent vinegar odor. Photographic film (including microforms, photographic negative film, and motion picture film) is composed of a plastic base layer, and an emulsion layer in which the image resides. The base layer of cellulose-acetate film is inherently unstable. As the base becomes more acidic, it shrinks, curls, and buckles until the emulsion and base layers separate. These distortions eventually render the film unreadable.The goal of the survey was to determine the extent and severity of the problem, so that a plan could be developed to ensure continued access to the content of research materials needed by our users.The survey was designed to determine the number of reels of microfilm in the collection that are on acetate base, and estimate their life expectancy based on the conditions in which they are currently stored. The survey report presents the findings from the condition survey and recommmends actions to be taken.
Promoting Careful Handling and Storage
The most important preservation efforts are those that prevent damage to the collections and slow the rate of deterioration. Far more can be accomplished by preventing and minimizing damage and deterioration than by remedial efforts after damage has occurred. The careful handling and use of the collections by patrons and staff is an important aspect of preventive care. Each time that a book or other item is handled is an opportunity to either protect it or contribute to its demise. Library materials are handled multiple times--both by staff and patrons--every time they are used. Collection materials are taken from the shelves, perhaps read over lunch, bookmarked, photocopied, carried in backpacks, the trunks of cars, stored on radiators, and returned in book drops. Library staff collect materials from the book drops, transport them through the library, and reshelve them. The cycle of handling is repeated every time an item is used. If careful, non-damaging handling practices are observed, Library staff and patrons can have a great impact on the long-term preservation of the Library's most valuable resource--its collection. For more information on care and handling of library materials please read An Ounce of Prevention.
Preservation Home | Staff | Units and Activities | How You Can Help Preserve the Collections | Disaster Plan | Mold | Wet Books | Identifying Book Damage | Preservation Information, Links to Preservation Suppliers and Service Providers, Regional Appraisers, Bookbinders, and Conservators
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