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Services of the Preservation Research and Testing Division

The Preservation Research and Testing Division undertakes scientific and technical research to advance and support Library preservation. Topics for study might include paper permanence; digital document formats; longevity of photographic, magnetic, CD-Rom, and other contemporary media; adhesives behavior; storage conditions; binding methods; deacidification; and other problems affecting the preservation of the diverse materials in the Library's collections. The Division also tests supplies and materials to ensure that items purchased for use in conservation treatment, binding, housing, and storage of Library materials meet appropriate standards of quality.

photo showing color measurement using spectrocolorimeter The Preservation Research and Testing Division works closely with the Conservation Division in establishing criteria and standards for supplies and techniques used in the Library's conservation, housing, and storage activities in coordination with other offices, as appropriate. It also works closely with the Conservation Division, with other offices of the Library, and with the Architect of the Capitol's Office to assure that all collection materials are displayed, housed, and stored under appropriate environmental conditions.

photo showing examination of computer disk for imperfections The Preservation Research and Testing Division communicates the results of its research with other research facilities that conduct similar or related investigations (both in government and private agencies) and with the preservation community of libraries, archives, and museums. Staff in the Preservation Research and Testing Division contract for preservation-related services, including drafting specifications, evaluating bids, and monitoring subsequent contracts. They also work with other units in the Library that have responsibilities for custody or care of various segments of the Library's collections.


Current research projects:


photo showing deacification with the Bookkeeper process Early in 1995, Congress approved a Library two-year action plan that proposed using a new book deacidification technology. As a result, the Library awarded a limited production contract in June to Preservation Technologies, Inc. (PTI) in Pittsburgh to use its Bookkeeper III deacidification process to neutralize the acid in over 70,000 books. The primary focus of this initiative is to ensure uniform, effective deacidification treatment of processed books and to enhance work flow, including book handling, storage, packing, and transportation procedures. The Bookkeeper method deacidifies paper when it is immersed in a dispersion of extremely fine magnesium oxide suspended in a fluid. Based upon its experience in recent years, the Library does not expect any mass deacidification process to be absolutely perfect -- each process is expected to have its advantages and some limitations. Library and preservation administrators hope that more than one effective process will eventually become available in the U.S. because this would encourage competition and help contain costs. It would also make it possible to utilize processes based upon their strengths for the collections that libraries prioritize for treatment. Recent encouraging developments with deacidification technologies in the U.S. and elsewhere may make it possible for libraries and archives to accomplish one of their abiding preservation goals -- that is, to isolate and contain the acidic paper problem.

Accelerated Aging Test For Paper

photo showing MIT fold endurance testing As a direct result of LC research on accelerated aging of paper, conventional testing methodology is being questioned for its compatibility with the natural aging process. In work presented by LC at a seminar sponsored by the Institute for Standards Research at ASTM, the potential for a new standard test that would be appreciably faster (3 days versus the presently required 30 days) and would not require expensive humid aging chambers, was demonstrated. Work is now in progress with financial support from ASTM to develop an accelerated test that could be accepted as a standard for gauging the permanence qualities of paper. The new test would not only bring about savings in time and money, but would also simulate the natural aging process more closely.

Portable Document Format - Archival

The Preservation Directorate is participating with AIIM, a national standard setting body, to develop an archival format standard based on the widely used Adobe's PDF, called the PDF-A. PDF-A is being developed to become a standard practice that addresses electronically archiving documents in order to preserve their contents over an extended period of time. More information on PDF-A can be found at the AIIM website.

Portable Document Delivery Format (PDDF)

The Library participated in an inter-agency effort to define the requirements for a Portable Document Delivery Format (PDDF). PDDF defines a final-form document for storage and transfer over the Internet. This work culminates a 6-month effort by representatives from 25 Federal agencies to recommend adoption of the requirements into a Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS). FIPS will provide a means for Government agencies to archive final form electronic documents in an open, transportable, format while maintaining document integrity. The importance of this achievement cannot be over-stated, since the availability of public domain non-proprietary software will enable virtually any Internet user to submit complex electronic documents (audio, text, graphics) in a form that can be retrieved in its original form with full retention of document integrity (no loss of format, content, color, etc.).

Compact Disc Preservation

equipment for the review of compact disc and CD-ROMs Preservation of CDs is an issue of increasing importance in the library community. Because the size of the Library's CD collection has grown explosively over the past few years (and will probably continue to do so) we urgently need to learn about the preservation problems CDs may experience in the future. Therefore, a testing and monitoring program for CDs was initiated in late FY95. Program objectives include developing guidelines for storage conditions that would maximize the useful life of CDs and estimating the lifetime of CDs in M/B/RS collections using an accelerated aging procedure. By determining the rate at which optical and physical changes occur, we can anticipate when discs in the collections need to be reformatted so no information is lost.

An additional objective is to establish a program to monitor periodically the condition of samples from LC's CD collection. This program, which is expected to continue for at least a decade, will establish benchmarks of the current state of the collection first. It will then continue to monitor the condition of the discs in order to determine any optical and physical changes over a period of time. The data gathered will provide information about when the disc should be reformatted for preservation. It will also provide important data on the natural aging of CDs. The methodology for artificial aging, and monitoring of information loss during natural aging have yet to be developed and are an important component of this research effort. [Study on CD longevity]

Research on Non-Paper-Based Materials.

equipment for the review of motion picture film Two important contract projects began in September, 1995, both pertaining to risk assessment of non-paper-based materials. One, to be conducted by the Image Permanence Institute, will evaluate the condition and life expectancy of the Library's motion-picture film collection (both nitrate and safety film). Recommendations are to be submitted that will suggest actions that will preserve the existing collection for a minimum of 40 years for nitrate and 100 years for both black & white and color safety film. The project, to be completed in FY96, will produce a model of tests and testing procedures that does not presently exist and that will be made available to other film archives for their use.

The second project is an evaluation of the condition and life expectancy of the Library's magnetic tape collection. The work, to be carried out at one of the Library's five storage sites (all in different geographic areas), is to be conducted by the National Media Lab (NML). As with the film project, recommendations are anticipated that will allow LC to take action to extend significantly the life expectancy of its current collection. In addition, the report will recommend whether to preserve digital library data on magnetic tape and, if so, under what conditions. Another project initiated is the development of a research plan to define methodology for evaluating magnetic tape media for their longevity. A testing methodology is needed to gauge the useful lifetime of individual magnetic tapes, and thereby to assign a priority order for duplication of magnetic tape collections, and also to gain insight into the effect of storage conditions on the stability of magnetic tape media.

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