The conservation treatment and reformatting of library andarchival materials is problematic for many institutions, given the uneven nature of resource distribution. This  part of the tutorial  addresses conservation in a pragmatic way, providing alternatives to conventional practices while still describing them in considerable detail.  We  also discuss  the merits of in-house versus vendor-provided services, explores the design of facilities, and presents some model floor plans for conservation operations.

1. The Nature of Materials

Throughout most of its history, humankind has inscribed messages in various forms on flat surfaces. As writing developed, the chosen surface was first stone—a cliff or cave face on which letters or symbols were chiseled or painted—and later stone pillars or walls. Because these surfaces were not portable, stone tablets were used to carry information, to lay down laws, or to provide instruction. But stone tablets were cumbersome to carry and tiresome to inscribe, and clay tablets began to be used in Mesopotamia around 3000 B.C.

Around the same time papyrus rolls began to be produced in Egypt. Papyrus provided a light, flexible writing material, and the papyrus plant was readily available in the region. At first sheets made from papyrus were glued at the edge and made into rolls for works of any length, but when the codex (the book form) was developed around the second century A.D., papyrus was used in that form.

The limits to the strength of papyrus became apparent as the codex became more popular, and parchment gradually replaced it for both rolls and codices. Parchment permitted writing on both sides of the sheet, allowed erasures and corrections, and could be stitched together in greater bulk than papyrus. If kept in a stable environment, parchment also has greater stability and permanence than papyrus.

In parts of Asia palm leaf was being used for manuscripts from around the second century A.D. Palm leaf manuscripts are still produced in some cultures.

The next important development was the introduction of paper. Paper was first developed in China between A.D. 105 and 700, and its manufacture spread slowly through Korea, Japan, and Arabia until it reached Europe around 1100. In Europe the character of paper began to change; people began using macerated rag rather than plants to produce paper, making it strong and durable. Stamping mills were introduced to make the rag more malleable, and the first watermark appeared in Fabriano, Italy, in 1282.

Early European paper was also strong and durable because of the absence of damaging chemicals and its slow production. For example, milk was used to help break down the rag fibers before manufacture, loading the fiber with calcium, and the water used for papermaking contained dissolved limestone, further enhancing durability.

In the East the development of paper was quite different. Paper was produced by hand for many centuries before the introduction of mass production methods in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Various forms of mulberry were used for fiber, which usually came from the inner bark. In Japan, where paper is still made by hand for art and conservation purposes, three main types of paper are used: kozo, mitsumata, and gampi. Because this paper is strong, flexible, and lightly sized, it was used in double-leaf books. Similar papers are still made by hand in Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam, where they are variously called poonah or do (za) paper.

 mulberry leaves

The mechanization of paper production brought about a change in raw materials, and new chemicals were used to produce harder sizing and to speed production. Chemical wood pulp, introduced around 1850, was obtained by dissolving lignin with chemicals to leave fibers consisting mainly of cellulose. Mechanical wood pulp paper, introduced around 1867, was obtained by grinding logs under a stream of water or by grinding chips between discs. For a number of reasons ground wood pulp deteriorates quickly and is used mainly for newsprint and cheap book paper.

The materials used for the construction of bindings, including paper, wood, cloth, and leather, developed along with the various forms of the codex.

2. Conservation

The physical features of an original artifact—paper, ink, binding, sewing structure, and covers—hold matchless information for the researcher. They establish a connection with the past that cannot be established through electronic access alone.

Thus the main object of conservation is to keep library and archival materials in their original format for as long as possible. Library and archival materials can be preserved through remedial treatment of individual materials (flattening, book and paper repair, binding), treatment of an entire collection (mass deacidification, fumigation), and stabilization (surface cleaning, new containers, protective enclosures). Conservation methods and materials should not damage library materials.

Conservation also involves prudent collection management. For example, sound techniques for binding materials such as periodicals and unbound monographs are important, because the way these materials are bound determines how long they will last and how easily the contents can be accessed. While in the past, highly-decorated bindings were produced as a part of the rebinding process, the primary object of conservation is not cosmetic, indeed, the cosmetic approach can often compromise good conservation practice.

3. Facilities

The location of preservation/conservation operations usually depends on the age of the library or archive and the overall objectives of the institution. In buildings constructed before 1950, space was allocated often for a bindery and sometimes for a microfilming unit. Beginning in the mid-1960s, less attention was focused on preservation; only modest preservation facilities were planned for buildings constructed during this period.

More interest has been focused on preservation over the last twenty years. There is growing concern about the need to preserve the world's cultural heritage, and administrators are now faced with difficult choices over facilities to accommodate old and new library/archive functions. Attempts to establish preservation operations in buildings not designed to house them have resulted in awkward space allotment, stress as different library departments vie for space, and increased strain on already tight budgets.

Space is becoming even more of a problem as libraries and archives fill up with research materials, and as the wave of new technologies diverts attention from preservation.

4. Reformatting

Reformatting is the process of copying library and archive materials to ensure the survival of their content and to extend access. Reformatting is one of the major activities of any preservation program. Much of the paper produced from the mid-nineteenth century to recent times is made from inferior materials in ways that are ultimately destructive. Although paper quality has improved in many developed countries because of mandated changes in manufacturing, poor quality paper continues to be produced in most developing countries.The struggle against deteriorating paper has always been three-fold: improve the quality of paper production, develop methods of chemically stabilizing acidic paper to prevent deterioration, and preserve the textual and graphic content of the paper by copying to another form.