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Reformatting Policy

Cornell University Library's Approach to the Reformatting of Deteriorating Paper


Background and Rationale.

Much of the paper produced during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is destined to disintegrate because of faulty production methods and damaging chemicals. During the last fifty years in particular, research conducted by paper scientists and chemists has helped to identify the chief causes of this disintegration, and effective models have been developed that can predict—in a general way—the rate at which much of this paper deteriorates. Paper made from ground wood with alum/rosin sizing has the shortest life-span and most newspapers, even today, are made from these materials. In many developing countries most book production is on paper made from unpurified ground wood .



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Over the last several years, the steps taken throughout the world to try to change this situation have been four-fold:
(1) to improve the quality of paper production, especially for works of permanent value
(2) to require the use of acid-free paper through government legislation
(3) to establish procedures to chemically stabilize acidic paper to extend its life
(4) to capture the textual content of paper that has already begun to disintegrate.
Because libraries have a responsibility to collect and make available research materials for present and future readers, strenuous efforts have been made to develop strategies to chemically stabilize acidic paper and to reformat content on paper that has already disintegrated, or which will do so within a fairly predictable time-frame. Microfilm has proved effective in capturing the textual content of printed paper, and standards have been developed that ensure that high quality film is produced that will last hundreds of years. As librarians are dedicated to providing access, the use of microfilm has enabled broad distribution of textual copies to libraries throughout the world.


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Simply storing away books with deteriorating paper is not a viable solution for research libraries. When acidic paper deteriorates, it does not fall into dust, but it becomes so brittle that even careful and moderate use causes destruction. Thus the notion of simply storing acidic paper copies falls down on two levels. Firstly, safe storage makes access difficult, especially if many libraries share the same storage facility and paper copy. Secondly, once a fragile book or document is used, it is often rendered incomplete by gradual loss of the text.


Current Policies and Practices.

Cornell University Library has a highly active reformatting program to ensure the survival of works produced on deteriorating paper. The chief criteria for all preservation action in the Cornell University Library are
(a) significance
(b) level of use
(c) condition.

These criteria are applied to two kinds of paper library materials:
(a) those discovered at the point of circulation and
(b) those specially selected by collection development and preservation staff as being of national importance.

Materials from Circulation. When books with deteriorating paper are discovered after circulation, the Library first attempts to purchase a replacement reprint on sound paper. If a reprint is unavailable, the Library creates a paper facsimile copy of the item in accordance with fair use guidelines. If the work is multi-volume, however, it is usually replaced by microfilm. If it is felt that the original deteriorating copy has some artifactual value--important signatures or annotations, for example--it is transferred to the Rare and Manuscript Collection. The Library's general disposition policy can be found at .

Materials of National Significance. Many of Cornell's collections are of national and international importance, so maintaining these collections in usable condition is a grave responsibility. Collections that contain large quantities of deteriorating paper are microfilmed using federal grant funds, and the original copies are retained in closed stack storage. Examples of such collections include Southeast Asian literature, Peruvian literature, and Icelandic literature. In some instances, collections are digitized, and paper facsimiles are created from the digital image to ensure that paper copies are still available at the shelf while the originals are stored.

Because the quality of microfilm produced to national standards is very high, it lends itself easily to digitization, thus it will be possible to scan from the microfilm in the future to create network accessible resources. Such high quality microfilm is routinely produced in all of Cornell's microfilm projects.

For other overall information regarding reformattng see Reformatting at Cornell


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