Brittle and Irreparable Collection Materials:
A Joint Preservation and Collection Development Working Plan
The Brittle Book Problem
From the early 1800s much of the paper that has been
used in the world has been manufactured through processes that leave an acidic content in
the paper. The acid breaks down the cellulose fibers of the paper and, with sufficient
time, the paper becomes brittle to the point that it breaks when folded. Surveys
conducted in academic and research libraries over the past fifteen years have confirmed
that there is an enormous brittle book problem.
It is estimated that nearly
eight million books in North American research libraries
are embrittled because
they are printed on acidic paper.
Equally threatening to information access is the
growing number of books that have, through normal use, been damaged beyond repair. It is
likely that libraries will witness this latter scenario escalate as dollars for new
acquisitions dwindle and retrospective collections receive heavier use. The problem of
chemical and physical deterioration is also widespread in non-paper media (e.g. motion
picture film, sound recordings and videotape). The ultimate result is that strong
research collections are eroding.
The Preservation Strategy
Preserving embrittled or irreparable materials is a
significant challenge. Paper that has deteriorated to the point that it breaks when
folded cannot withstand the manipulation required for binding or normal repairs. For most
books which are too brittle or have become so damaged that they cannot be repaired by
routine methods, the best preservation option is to purchase a reprint or, when one isn't
available, to reformat the damaged text onto a more permanent, durable format.
Preservation-quality microfilming and photocopying have been the preferred surrogate
formats to date. Microfilming preserves the text of a volume on film; photocopying
provides a bound facsimile of the original and is an appropriate option when color needs
to be preserved, when a text is used frequently (e.g. a reference text) or the subject
content is not conducive to use in a film format (e.g. popular fiction). When a volume is
microfilmed, the master negative is stored under archival conditions to ensure a life span
of several hundred years, while new positive (use) copies can be produced on demand.
Digital media will provide new options for providing surrogates for brittle or irreparable
collection materials as libraries gain experience with associated selection, production,
management and archiving issues.
University of Texas Libraries Collections
Because the collections are relatively
young and have, for the most part, been stored in environmental conditions conducive to
their longevity, the University of Texas Libraries does not face an embrittlement crisis
like that faced by older research libraries. Approximately 18% of the University of
Texas Libraries collections are brittle
; the preponderance of these items are
classified in Dewey.
Because it would be prohibitively expensive to replace or
reformat all items in the collection that are brittle or irreparably damaged,
University of Texas Libraries preservation efforts in this area target primarily the
needs of collection items that are currently being used. In PCL, brittle and
irreparable items are identified by Preservation Department staff as they perform routine
reviews of collection items that have been set aside by Circulation Services staff because
they were returned to the library in damaged condition. Branch library staff will
identify brittle and irreparable items in much the same way.
General Process and Outcome
Generally, we cannot provide good service to patrons
when library materials in demand are in poor physical condition. Therefore, it is
recommended that bibliographers review currently used brittle and irreparable collection
materials. Items will be reviewed for their importance to the University of Texas
Libraries collections; preservation treatment decisions will be made for titles to be
retained. An item's relevance to University of Texas Libraries collections will be based
on current collection development policies and on the artifactual value policy (See Policy
#1: Materials Requiring Special Protection
and Preservation and Collection Management Guidelines: Bibliographer
Items in the brittle/irreparable condition category will be reviewed with
the intent that they will not be returned to the shelf in their current condition.
Decisions to return items to the shelf "as is" must be adequately justified.
or irreparably damaged serials will require a similar review process. Bibliographers will
need to evaluate holdings and determine the disposition or replacement of circulating
serial titles. However, due to the complex issues surrounding serials, a framework of
review for each individual title may need to be explored.
As a general working plan, brittle and damaged gift volumes shall not be
added to the University of Texas Libraries collections (See
Preservation and Collection Management Guidelines: Assessing the Physical Condition of
Gift Materials for Selection
, for decision-making regarding the physical condition of
a gift item). The cost of providing access to brittle and damaged library materials is
high, so high that we can scarcely address the needs of collections in current use.
However, there may be cases where a gift item's intellectual content or archival value
outweighs its poor physical condition. In these cases, the accepting bibliographer must
make a monetary commitment to make the gift items serviceable. For example, when
published volumes are in question, the bibliographer should attempt to identify funds to
purchase a copy of the title that is in good condition or, if an acceptable copy is not
available, to have the item reformatted. In cases of a gift of an archival collection
with significant artifactual value, bibliographers should consider asking the donor for
processing funds or commit part of their allocation to the preservation of the collection.
Bibliographer Role in Review for Preservation
Bibliographer decisions regarding
preservation of brittle and irreparable materials are made within the context of subject
collection development policies and University of Texas Libraries' policies and guidelines
for replacing (#21)
, duplicating (#8)
and transferring materials
(#14). For PCL collection items, Research Services Division staff will initially review
them and make preservation decisions when possible. Items requiring more in-depth review
will be forwarded with preservation treatment option
to individual subject bibliographers for final decision-making.
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