Throughout the year, the Preservation Department selects materials from the circulating and special collections for deacidification. We discuss priorities with curators and pinpoint book and paper collections that may be acidic and would benefit from the process to add an alkaline buffer that neutralizes the acids. While single-item treatment is performed in-house, our deacidification vendor, Preservation Technologies, LP, processes the larger collections.
Art Collection staff came to us with a mass deacidification project to address collection materials that have acidic binders. These board binders were sewn or stapled onto small paperback books, most likely done in the 1940s-60’s. They identified 1,400 items with these binders. There are several challenges of dealing with such a large amount of books: time, space, and access.
The project was initiated as the conservation lab was closing for renovation, and this seemed like a great project to start during that time since we can process mass deacidification shipments in other spaces. But even with lab access, there is not room to store 1,400 items – especially as the project would take around a year to complete, roughly estimating. Adding to this, all of the items are circulating and should not be off the shelf and unavailable for that long.
In order to efficiently handle all of these factors we decided to start with a small sample shipment of 150 items to get an idea of how this project would proceed. After evaluating the group, we realized only 30% of the items could be deacidified. The remaining books had clay coated pages (which cannot be treated) or were already brittle. While the original aim was to deacidify the entire collection, it became clear that the majority of the project would instead focus on binding, shelf preparation, and enclosures. The workflow would require a high level of item evaluation to decide how to process each individual book.
The resulting treatment of the each book varies. Some books are deacidified then commercially bound; some books can only be removed from their acidic covers and pamphlet sewn or boxed; other items may just need deacidification. Making such individual decisions for each item requires good organization and detailed tracking. Clear and frequent communication with coworkers within Preservation and Art and our vendors is also necessary.
Working through a collection of this size is always a challenging task and attention to detail is necessary with the multiple phases of this project. Though the majority of the books cannot be deacidified, the collection will benefit from the numerous rehousings and enclosures to address the preservation needs of hundreds of old and ephemeral titles.