PART TWO: PERMANENT PAPER
Paper permanence is a very important issue. Preservationists face the constant task of trying to save the fragile remains of still popular old books. Law libraries have hundreds of old law books containing brittle paper in powdery leather bindings. Binderies can transform the bindings, using acid-free end sheets and cloth bindings, but can do little about the paper. Brittle paper can be re-sewn, but as a book is used the paper easily cracks along the sewn fold and pages may fall out.
Brittleness is a problem which is bound to grow with time. We know that all books will eventually become brittle or fragile, although for some of them it may take a thousand years or more to lose all their strength. Even books that are deacidified and given the best of care, and those originally printed on the finest rag paper, will eventually become brittle or tender. What is unusual about the brittle books of today is that they come from the same time period of production, that they have reached a terminal state so quickly, and that many of them are still in active use.
Paper defined as permanent has a much longer life expectancy than non-permanent (acidic) paper. Historical evidence worldwide is threatened because documents printed or written on acidic paper are crumbling into dust. Now that we know how to avoid this and can afford to do so, we can take steps to ensure that the records we create today last far into the future.
Alkaline paper, easily identified by the infinity symbol on the back of the title page of a book, means that the paper used in the book meets the American National Standards Institute/National Information Standards Organization (ANSI/NISO) standard for permanent paper: pH, alkaline reserve, low lignin, and good tear strength. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z39.48-1992 standard defines permanent papers as those made from cotton or 100% chemically purified wood and having a pH between 7.5 and 10, making them alkaline. They contain an alkaline reserve (2-3 percent) and are expected to last at least 300 years under normal storage conditions. Some alkaline papers are available that do not meet the ANSI standard for permanence, but even these papers should be strongly favored over their acidic counterparts. Such paper, used now in many trade and reference books, will not become brown or brittle with age the way paper such as newsprint or book paper from the first half of this century does.
It is important to keep in mind the distinction between acid-free paper (or alkaline paper), generic paper, and permanent paper:
» Alkaline paper is paper that will last for at least one hundred years under normal use and storage conditions. Alkaline paper grades are groundwood-free with a minimum pH of 7 and an alkaline reserve of 2 percent or more. Something that is alkaline or acid-free is not necessarily permanent.
» Generic paper is paper without a specified pH or alkaline reserve. The longevity of generic paper varies and is uncertain; many last for 50 to 100 years.
» Permanent paper is paper that will last for several hundred years under normal use and storage conditions without significant deterioration. Permanent paper grades are groundwood-free with a pH of 7.5 or above, an alkaline reserve of 2 percent or more, and other strength or performance properties that guarantee the use and retention of records generated on this paper for a maximum period of time. The alkaline buffer is intended to offset environmental factors that will make the paper become acidic.
The specifications that William E. Barrow used for manufacture of his first permanent/durable paper "Permalife" served the library community well as an informal permanence standard and provided a basis for the 1984 edition of the ANSI standard. It was largely because of Barrow's work that everybody now looks for "acid-free paper," rather than rag paper, when they need paper that will last a long time. With over 200 brands of permanent paper now available on the market, the use of permanent paper for nearly all types of printing is possible. Although some kinds of paper are not yet manufactured to meet permanence specifications, the choice is wide and likely to grow.
The cost of permanent paper has become more competitive with acidic or generic paper. In recent years, the cost of permanent paper was two to four times more than generic paper and the cost of alkaline paper was one-third more than generic paper. However, a 1995 survey indicated only a 5 percent difference between comparable permanent, alkaline, and generic xerographic paper grades with the permanent paper grade costing the least.
I. THE SPECIAL ROLE OF LIBRARIANS
Librarians, speaking for themselves and the others involved in keeping books and records, have traditionally been strong and effective advocates of paper permanence. After all, they are known to be the dedicated custodians of very old books, and they have a substantial credibility on the topic of longevity. Some may even knowledgeably discuss the chemistry of paper deterioration. They have been expressed their concerns about the condition of book paper for a century or more, as can be seen in the pages of the 1964 IPC Bibliography on Permanence (Bibliographic Series No. 213).
Now that alkaline paper is readily available, preservation librarians and archivists have lobbied for state laws requiring its use for government publications. Unfortunately most of the state laws passed so far are not likely to be very effective because they are so vaguely worded. However, it is well to remember that such laws offer a foundation on which to build. They are the result of a grass-roots movement which is likely to gather strength as time goes on. Even the ANSI/NISO standard might never have been written without this grass-roots support.
Advocates of paper permanence have different concerns, depending on their goals and activities. Many of them have to rely on the library community to do something about the situation because librarians can speak about the condition of paper with authority and can (sometimes) get the attention of the public and decision makers. For instance, while stamp collectors focus on finding permanent album paper and hinges for their collections and only sometimes worry about the paper the stamps themselves are made of, lawyers care mostly about legal papers and publications. Some artists deliberately choose short-lived materials like newsprint, sticky tape and felt-tip pens, while others prefer to use lasting materials. Serious collectors are generally careful to use archival envelopes and other enclosures, but do not concern themselves much about offset paper. Best-selling authors do care about offset paper because the immortality of their words depends on the paper their books are printed on. They have been able to influence publishers, with some help from the New York Public Library. Genealogists, who typically run off their family histories on photocopy machines, often insist on "acid-free" copy paper because they have seen old family records disintegrate when they are handled; they do not want the same thing to happen to their own family history. They have doubtless exerted some market pressure through copy centers around the country.
II. THE PUBLISHERS
1. General Concerns
Preservationists long argued that a vital part of the solution to the brittle book problem was use of alkaline paper by book publishers. Several sectors of the paper market, however, discourage wider use or availability of acid-free paper. One reason is its cost. Alkalinity is just one factor that goes into the pricing of paper. Mills have little incentive to change because book paper accounts for only about five percent of the total 20.5 million ton annual printing paper market. Plants making alkaline paper, however, produce less pollution then their acid paper producing counterparts. And in some cases, alkaline paper is competitive in price with acid stock. Many also ask what incentive publishers would have to use acid-free paper, since the Library of Congress is planning to deacidify new books anyway.
2. Public Sector Publishers
Maintaining public records requires judicious management of resources. It compels records custodians to identify simple, practical, cost-effective approaches that can be incorporated into daily routines. Using permanent and acid-free paper is a vital part of the proper management of public resources.
On the federal level, the Government Printing Office (GPO), National Archives, and the Library of Congress have attacked the problem of brittle books through a plan developed by the GPO to increase the use of alkaline and permanent papers by the Federal Government.
Other governments, including many states, have resolved the brittle book problem by passing statutes requiring the use of permanent paper for official documents. Utah is one such example. In 1996, Utah's legislature passed a bill sponsored by R. Mont Evans (R -Salt Lake City) promoting the use of permanent paper by state agencies. The Centennial Permanent Paper Law requires that public procurement units purchase and use alkaline paper. The bill advocates an education program to encourage local governments, corporations, non-profit organizations, individuals, families, and publishers to consider using alkaline paper for their records of enduring value. The stated rationale for permanent paper use is to ensure that our documentary heritage will endure and to provide information on practical issues such as its cost, availability, and quality.
3. Federal Agency Publishers
Public Law 101-423, "A Joint Resolution to Establish a National Policy on Permanent Papers, enacted in October 1990," establishes:
» that as the policy of the United States, Federal records, books, and publications of enduring value be produced on acid-free permanent papers;
» that Federal agencies require the use of acid-free permanent paper for publications of enduring value produced by the Government Printing Office or by Federal grant or contract, using the specifications for such paper established by the Joint Committee on Printing;
» that agencies require the use of archival quality acid-free papers for permanently valuable Federal records and confer with NARA on the requirements for paper quality.
While the law makes it a "policy" to use alkaline paper in government offices and publications and to use permanent paper for documents of enduring value, it has no teeth in it and requires librarian activism to further ensure the use of permanent paper.
The GPO has developed a helpful list for identifying important documents, compiled on the basis of a survey of Federal Depository Libraries. GPO mailed the list to printing and publishing officials in government agencies. Document types are listed in order of priority for long-term preservation. (That list is reprinted in the Abbey Newsletter, v.15, no. 1, Feb. 1991, p. 9). Briefly, the eight most important document types, in descending priority order, are: legal materials, monographs, statistics, journals and pamphlets, newspapers, catalogs and other such lists, maps, reports and proceedings. All these types of publications were nominated by 50 percent or more of the respondents.
In 1993, President Clinton mandated use of recycled paper in the executive branch, including the GPO (Executive Order 12873 of October 20, 1993, "Federal Acquisition, Recycling, and Waste Prevention). Many preservationists see this order as circumventing permanence standards as it does not refer anywhere to permanence considerations or to Public Law 101-423 (printed in Alkaline Paper Advocate, Nov. 1990). P.L. 101-423 states, in part:
"It is the policy of the United States that Federal records, books, and publications of enduring value be produced on acid free permanent papers . . . . The Congress of the United States urgently recommends that . . . federal agencies require the use of archival quality acid free papers for permanently valuable Federal records and confer with the National Archives and Records Administration on the requirements for paper quality . . . ."
Preservationists fault the Executive Order (EO) on several grounds. Because it was written to be easily enforceable and does not explicitly mention permanence, the purchasing agents of the government agencies will find it far easier to heed than the permanent paper law, which lacks enforcement provisions. Many people (including many government employees) are confused about recycled and permanent paper, in the sense that they think of the terms as mutually exclusive or they do not know how to find papers that meet both sets of criteria. Because permanent papers are not advertised and labeled as such, most people have difficulty purchasing papers that are both recycled and permanent. Most disturbing of all, this EO contains language (Sec. 505) that authorizes and encourages the General Services Administration (GSA) to ignore permanence standards (possibly even those set by the agency as authorized in Section 504) if it decides to take the position that a) permanence is not an aspect of "performance," b) brightness retention after aging is not necessary, or c) fiber quality (freedom from lignin and mechanical pulp) is not important. All three of these beliefs are wrong, half-true or unproven. Three important standards bodies, ISO, ANSI, and ASTM, approved paper permanence standards in 1993 that limit lignin content because of its effect on brightness and strength.
Sec. 505 directs the GSA to "eliminate any standards or specifications unrelated to performance that present barriers to the purchase of paper or paper products made by production processes that minimize emissions of harmful byproducts," raising the question as to whether this refers to original manufacture, or to recycled papermaking. It calls for "a review of unnecessary brightness and stock clause provisions, such as lignin content and chemical pulp requirements." This seems to be a subtle encouragement to use recycled paper even when it contains lignin. It favors the interests of two groups: many recycled paper mills, and the manufacturers of high-yield or semi-chemical pulp, because higher levels of lignin are found in the products of both groups.
The EO requires all printing and writing papers to contain 20 percent post-consumer waste by December 31, 1994, and to contain 30% by December 31, 1998. Alternatively, they may satisfy a requirement in an obscurely phrased paragraph (Sec. 504(c)), which appears to allow the use of wood waste from the timber and sawmill industries, in lieu of post-consumer waste and other recovered materials. This can be a justifiable practice. Many excellent papers are made from sawdust, and have been for years.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology was designated to test the performance of products and conduct life cycle analyses to assist agencies in selecting appropriate products and services.
The EO actually stated the 20 and 30 percent levels must be reached beginning December 31, 1994 (and 1998), but there is no penalty for starting earlier, and GPO has confirmed that it is already inviting bids on paper with 20 percent post-consumer waste. Furthermore, all agencies "making solicitations " (inviting bids) for printing and writing paper are directed by this EO to start using recycled paper with post-consumer content, effective immediately (Section 504(3)).
The EO was regarded as a serious setback for advocates of permanent paper, and it illustrates how one branch of government may work at cross purposes with another. Congress, for example, has been trying to cope with the last century and a half of acid wood pulp paper production, now gone brittle in libraries and archives. The only way to keep books from becoming brittle, if they are not on permanent paper to start with (besides putting them in deep freeze), is to deacidify them. Congress has spent millions of dollars on a deacidification program for the Library of Congress. (Fortunately, the modern practice of using calcium carbonate as a filler has about the same effect as deacidification. No one knows, however, whether calcium carbonate is a cure-all for poorly made paper, because the necessary research has not been done. Carbonate-filled paper is still vulnerable to oxidation, though the carbonate does protect it against hydrolysis. It is known that high levels of any filler weaken paper, and that a reasonable strength is one of the requirements of permanent paper.)
Books that deteriorate and become brittle have to be microfilmed. Congress is now footing much of the bill for the massive microfilming program underway in American research libraries. Because of its involvement with microfilming and deacidification, Congress is aware of the cost of short-lived paper. If the White House is also aware of the cost of impermanent paper, that awareness is not reflected in this document.
If the agency publishers are able to establish performance standards that include permanence considerations, at least for their most important documents with long-term value, there may be no cause for concern.
On September 8, 1995, the National Archives and Records Administration under John Carlin, National Archivist, issued NARA Bulletin No. 95-7 on the subject of procurement of writing, copying, and printing papers for Federal records, actually a guide for implementation of P.L. 101-423, the permanent paper law that was passed in 1990. Such a guide was certainly needed, because there are many hidden obstacles on the road to consistent and economical implementation of a permanent paper policy. The Bulletin advises agencies "to procure permanent and alkaline paper grades routinely to create all Federal records. This recommendation complied with Public Law (Pub.L.) 101-423, Executive Order (E.O.) 12873, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidance. Information on cost and availability of paper grades was also provided."
The rationale for the Bulletin was that:
Papers used for most documents and publications since the mid-nineteenth century were highly acidic. The acid in these papers greatly a accelerates their deterioration and is a principal threat to our documentary heritage. In the past, the cost of acid-free papers was generally prohibitive. In recent years, the pursuit of inexpensive papermaking techniques has resulted in an increasing replacement of acidic pulps with more economical alkaline pulps. Fortunately, the alkaline process also extends paper life by many decades.
EO 12873, section 504 and EPA's "Recovered Materials Advisory Notice" (60FR21386) establishes minimum percentages for recovered waste and post-consumer waste for printing and writing papers. Although many permanent and alkaline papers contain a significant percentage of recycled material, most do not meet the percentages specified by the EO and EPA's guidance. However, sections 502(2) and 504(1) of the EO authorize agencies to select papers that do not meet content percentages when available items fail to meet reasonable performance standards.
The Bulletin further states that agency heads should direct records officers and officials who administer procurement, printing, and supply distribution to jointly develop policy and procedures to procure and use permanent and alkaline papers for both permanent and temporary Federal records. Copies of this Bulletin are being distributed to agency records, printing, and procurement officials.
The Bulletin recommends that permanent paper be used for routine use in office units that create and file a high proportion of long-term and permanent records; and that Alkaline paper is recommended for routine use throughout agencies for all documents. It also recommends that publications intended for long-term use in a paper format by many recipients, such as those that are placed in multiple Federal, State, and local government depositories' core collections in libraries and offices, should be created on permanent or alkaline paper. Generic paper is suitable for mass publications such as press releases and telephone directories; however, if the record set of a publication has long-term value, a file copy should be created by (1) photocopying onto alkaline or permanent paper, (2) maintaining an electronic version, or (3) creating a microform version from the paper or from Computer Output Microform (COM).
Many lawmakers still want to limit the use permanent paper only for publications "of enduring value" and, in fact Congress has instructed GPO to identify the types of publications (legal documents, maps, catalogs, etc.) most likely to have enduring value so that the correct paper can be used for them.