Have you ever stopped to think about why newspapers become brittle or why your old college textbooks are yellowing with age? The solutions to these questions represent a serious concern for libraries throughout the world. At the University of Illinois Library at Urbana-Champaign, the preservation of valuable research and educational materials is one of the highest priorities for the future.
Nearly 40% of the Library's world-class collections are in danger of physical deterioration. The primary culprit is the high acid content of most paper used in scholarly publications since the mid-1850s. When combined with sulfides and other harsh chemicals that keep ink from smearing, the result is a process that causes paper to become brittle and eventually turn to dust. Likewise, the composition of other media such as photographic negatives and audio, video, and magnetic tapes is not conducive to long periods of storage.
The Library is deeply committed to preserving its collections and is currently taking steps to protect endangered items. Proper temperature and humidity controls are maintained in some of the book stacks to reduce the rate of deterioration. Special conservation efforts, such as the restoration of bindings, are implemented to extend the shelf life of certain materials. Through deacidification, the early deterioration of paper can be halted by treating it with a solution that neutralizes acid content. When items become too fragile for use, they can be reformatted by microfilming, photocopying on acid-free paper, or digitizing to ensure long-term access.
The preservation of physical items in ways that ensure their longevity is an integral part of the Library's mission. “A comprehensive preservation program is absolutely essential to ensuring that the Library's holdings of some of the world's most important publications remain available to future generations of students and faculty,” says Paula Kaufman, University librarian. To fulfill its stewardship responsibilities, the Library must protect the educational investments made by the state of Illinois and private contributors since the University was chartered in 1867.
As a result, the Library announces its renewed commitment to preservation this academic year. Plans include the appointment of a new preservation librarian who will direct an enhanced and comprehensive program of conserving precious resources and ensuring their accessibility. Funding sources include Library dollars and a planning grant of $50,000 from the Mellon Foundation, which should be received this fall. As plans progress, University of Illinois faculty members can look forward to hearing more about the Library's efforts to secure the future of its magnificent collections.
For more information about the preservation efforts at the University, use the following URL: http://www.library.uiuc.edu/prescons/.