By James R. Druzik
In 1986 the Council on Library Resources, seeing a need for a national strategy on preservation in libraries and archives, established the Commission on Preservation and Access. Its purpose was to outline and promote a national agenda to preserve our intellectual heritage and to insure its availability into the future.
In January 1992 the Board of the Commission approved a scientific research initiative aimed at bringing together conservation scientists and preservation administrators. The Board set for the group the task of identifying those critical preservation issues where comprehensive research needed to be done. As part of the process, the Board considered a real collaboration between scientists and administrators to be critical: "A necessary component of collaborative preservation activities is a close working relationship among preservation administrators and scientists, with a shared understanding of how scientific research can be designed, interpreted, and used in preservation decision making. With this common ground, preservation managers and researchers can work together to build a prioritized, cooperative scientific agenda to address some of the most critical technical issues faced by preservation programs in the nation's colleges, universities, and archives."
It was clear from the beginning that simply creating another list of "research needs" was insufficient. This approach, taken frequently in the past, had proven productively barren. Instead, the Commission wanted its effort to result in fully developed proposals for which funding could be sought.
The initiative's first step was a two-day event in September 1992 at the Belmont Conference Center in Maryland. Here, four scientists and 14 preservation managers discussed such issues as how to use scientific information, the design of research, the strengths and limitations of the scientific process, and interactive seminars on specific technical subjects. The four scientists participating were Peter Sparks, formerly of the Library of Congress and the Conservation Graduate Program, University of Delaware at Winterthur; Donald Sebera, the Library of Congress; James Reilly, the Image Permanence Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology; and James Druzik of the Getty Conservation Institute. The event helped bring administrators "up to speed" on the process by which scientific research projects are typically developed.
At a February 1993 meeting in Washington, D.C., the group began identifying the most important research topics. Scientists and managers broke up into four teams and selected a broad palette of future projects dealing with environmental and storage concerns for various types of materials in collections. The selection was based in part on each project's impact, its scientific validity, its cost feasibility, and its application to a larger context.
Following a September 1993 workshop, six projects were selected for development, including: 1) assessing the influences of lignin in a paper on its permanence; 2) evaluating the role of the moisture reservoir in paper and book collections under fluctuating relative humidity and temperature; 3) using accelerated aging experiments to better predict the life expectancy of five types of paper found commonly in libraries and archives; 4) conducting research to determine the best storage containers for microfilm, movie film, and sheet film; 5) developing management tools for preserving information on magnetic media; and 6) designing a laboratory process to accelerate the natural aging of polyvinyl acetate adhesive films in order to test their performance.
The Getty Conservation Institute is participating in this initiative for several reasons. First, the Institute is committed to preserving cultural heritage; its Mission Statement specifically calls for it to "provide relevant information to those responsible for conservation policies." Second, the GCI encourages the multidisciplinary team approach to problem solving employed in this initiative. Third and finally, while the GCI conducts no scientific research on materials and problems unique to libraries and archives, its environmental research is as relevant to these institutions as it is to art museums and other cultural institutions.