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Archival...



Now there's a difficult term. What exactly does "archival" mean? What about
reversible?

As a conservator I've always felt that these things were important,
however, I think there is also a great deal of confusion resulting from
this lingo. I've also always tried to do the archivally sound and
appropriate thing as well as trying to keep things as reversible as possible.

Many of the materials we use are labeled archival. Davey board is not one
of them. Some of it is labeled ph neutral, but that doesn 't make it
permanent. If it was buffered, at some point in time, depending on how it
was used (covered in leather = acidic), old/burnt hide glue used which is
acidic... Those acids will eventually use up the alkaline reserve in a
buffered paper/board. Are you better off using buffered materials? Sure,
they'll last longer, but in the over-all context of a book, the structure
will play an equal if not more important role. Even if "acidic" those
boards will protect the textblock. Does the book open well, is the sewing
sound, is the textblock attachment sound... If any of those fail, the book
will fail and it doesn't matter whether the boards were acid-free/buffered.

Glues. Paste is generally slightly acidic, because most of the water we use
is, especially distilled. It is also very soluble in water, gives one a
long time to work with the material such as leather and flexible when
applied very thinly. If applied to thickly, for example on a spine, it gets
very brittle and the textblock can break apart on opening. It also won't
stain material.

PVA, might have a buffering in it, but what about plasticizers. It might be
labeled reversible meaning it can be "removed" with water (generally). But
say I line a brittle piece of paper to a good one using that adhesive. If I
put that in water and try to separate them, that brittle paper may very
well break up... Likewise, I may use reversible PVA to put down a leather
spine on a reback because I want to keep the water content down (H2O causes
deteriorated leather to turn to a black sludge). The leather will have been
greatly reduced from the back to make it as thin as possible. Am I going to
use water to remove it? I don't think so. When reversing this kind of PVA
you'll also have a film which won't disappear.

Papers: Ideally, you'd want an acid-free, buffered, paper. You'd want the
grain parallel to the spine so the pages are more flexible in the direction
they get turned, especially when using thick paper. You'd want a rag paper
because the fibers are longer. Many of our archival papers are made from
wood, and with wood there are two types: chemically extracted and
mechanically extracted (groundwood). The first is of a high quality and all
the boards used for Gaylord/Hollinger type boxes will use that kind. It
will be acid-free and buffered, or in the case of board for photo storage,
acid-free, unbuffered because some photographic media don't like a buffered
environment. These are however, also expensive materials. Davey board is
not buffered and is generally made from "dirty" pulp. You might find scraps
of other stuff in it as well. Chipboard is a grade below that even. Some
people use mat board. Also easier to cut with a utility knife. There you'll
have the same issues. Two books, one from the 15th made from rag paper but
soiled and worn, and one from the 20th century made from groundwood pulp
can have the same ph. The one from the 15th can still be strong and supple,
the one from the 20th turn to dust upon handling...

Leather: An acidic process to begin with although some companies such as
Hewits offer an Aluminum retan which is more "archival." If the book gets
wet however, the leather can bleed their dyes very easily and stain, ruin
the contents. Leather can also crack at the hinges, like cloth and paper,
wear through... and in really bad storage conditions succumb to red-rot.
Much of the longevity will depend on how the leather was worked and stored,
and some on how it was tanned. Vellum is a basic product, a raw skin which
as been soaked in lye to dehair and then stretched and scrapped. Get it wet
and it will revert to it's prior form, it is also extremely hygroscopic
(expands and contracts with changes in temp/humidity). There are also other
ways of preparing skins some good, some bad. Regardless, in most cases a
conservator will choose to rebind/conserve a binding in a manner which is
contemporary with the text and original binding. There are exceptions of
course. Despite some horrific examples, leather has held up quite well.

Gudy-O and other synthetic adhesives like that are deemed "archival"
because they don't have those nasty solvent based adhesive and plasticizers
in them instead being acrylic based. Some, like Filmoplast tape are mildly
reversible in water, but not always. The Gudy isn't. If you use something
like the Filmoplast to mend a tear, it might not be a picture perfect mend
with Japanese paper and wheatpaste, but it may keep the page together and
prevent further damage which is worth something in and of itself. BTW, the
Gudy is good for applying to the back of cloths that aren't backed with
paper so that they can be used to cover books, especially if you don't want
to get into the hassle of lining it yourself.

We all want things to last as long as possible, and we can ensure that they
will at least have a fighting chance by using the best quality materials
throughout. A box made from a "non-archival" material can however protect
an item from bad outside influences and help preserve it in the long run. A
well constructed binding of "not so hot materials" might last longer than a
sloppy one of "archival" materials. On one of my travels I saw a library's
historical collection. It had been lovingly sorted and put into folders.
They were not archival, and didn't have the budget to buy archival. It was
however well described in finding aids, put into decent quality file
cabinets. The curator could find exactly what she was looking for without
pawing through the lot of it. Providing good access can preserve materials
better for the long term even if not "archivally" housed. If you have to
look at every piece to find what you want, the likelihood of damage is much
greater. It's important to want to use the best materials you can. It is
equally important to use appropriate materials/treatments. Somethings don't
cost, others do, but it's also impressive what can be done with little
resources. The same applies to reversibility. Washing/deacidification, for
example are not reversible treatments. They are, however, very effective
treatments. It's very easy to get caught up in absolutes. Even for the most
conservative conservator there will always be compromises. The question is
making the proper ones.

BTW, various standards organization such as ANSI, TAPPI, NISO are looking
at changing the way paper is tested to a more "performance based" model of
testing. This may affect such things as lignin content and what materials
are considered archival. There have also been some changes in
recommendations for photographic storage but nothing definitive has been
published on that.

Bottom line folks, use the best materials you can afford and combine them
with sound structure, sound structure being a factor of good craft and
mechanics. Don't take short cuts like using spray mount and Elmers, use
materials in a manner for which they were intended. Keep an open
sponge-like find, but put a filter in. Not everything you hear, read... is
great. Somethings may be good, but when misapplied be horrendous, like
oversewing. Be flexible, and aware of what you're doing. Don't cheap out
because it's convenient.

                                >>> I loved working in the library. <<<
>>There was something to be said for working in a place bound in leather.<<

Peter D. Verheyen
     <wk> 315.457.5070 ext.
<Email>
mailto:pdverhey@dreamscape.com
<Webmaster>
http://www.dreamscape.com/pdverhey
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mailto:Book_Arts-L-request@listserv.syr.edu


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