The University Record, November 13, 2000

Project comes to the rescue of Library holdings

By Harriet Teller,
with the Preservation Division Staff
University Library

The serial Motion Picture, published in 1917-55, will be archivally photocopied in full color and placed in Library circulation. The originals will be put in acid-free boxes and stored in a climate-controlled area. Partial funding for this project was provided by the Friends of the University Library. Photos by Bill Wood, U-M Photo Services
Students, faculty and other scholars depend on the collections of the University Library for their research every day. With miles of stacks—containing more than six million books on thousands of subjects—the Library is the seventh largest academic research library in the United States, and at the center of the University community’s intellectual life. The University Library actually is 19 libraries spread across the Ann Arbor campus.

Along with all large research libraries, the Library faces a serious threat to the state of its collections—the acidic content in materials that causes the paper to become brittle, particularly in books that were published since 1800, as is true of the bulk of the collections. Today, many books published in this country are on acid-free paper, but 50 percent of the volumes purchased by the Library come from outside the United States. Depending on the origin of the book, it may be printed on acidic paper.

“It’s an incredibly serious problem,” explains Carla Montori, head of the Preservation Division. “One-half of what we own needs some sort of intervention now, and most of the rest will need some work in the next 50 years. The problems are multitudinous. In fact,” she adds, “every university library, historical society, public library and genealogical society has this problem because they all have older materials.”

Montori notes that the preservation program has strong institutional support. “The commitment to the Preservation Division and the support that’s been given to this program over the last 20 years are what sets us apart from most institutions,” she says. “We have very few peers—the Library of Congress, New York Public Library, Harvard and Yale universities—that do what we do in terms of the breadth of the preservation program at Michigan.”

The Preservation Division has developed a comprehensive program to address the situation. With 23 full-time staff members trained in a wide range of areas, ranging from bookbinding and paper conservation to microfilming, the ongoing program does brittle book replacement, conservation of rare and special materials, repair of general collections materials, bindery preparation, preservation microfilming, digital imaging, and mass deacidification.

These brittle volumes have been prepared by Library staff to be archivally photocopied.
A new, innovative program—Book Rescue 2000—offers members of the University community the opportunity to get involved in the campaign to preserve the endangered segments of the collections. Faculty, staff, students and friends can become Book Rescuers with a contribution of $25 or more. Book Rescuers receive a one-year membership to the Friends of the University Library, a one-year subscription to the Friends’ publication, Illuminator, special recognition in Illuminator and invitations to Friends events. Book Rescuers who contribute $200 or more may have a bookplate or the digital equivalent placed in their preserved title(s). Donors of $500 or more may designate a field of study from which books will be chosen for preservation treatment.

Stephen Darwall, professor of philosophy and a strong supporter of Book Rescue 2000, says, “The Michigan Library has wonderful selections. I can’t imagine doing my research or teaching without them. Helping the Library and its staff preserve the troublingly high percentage of the collections that are at risk seemed the least I could do to repay all the help and support they have given to me.”

Shannon Zachary, head of Conservation Services for the Preservation Division, reports that during 1999–2000, the Library accomplished a host of “Herculean” feats:

  • 6,292 volumes were repaired by book repair staff.

  • 7,165 volumes were sent out for mass


  • 953 rare books were fitted with protective boxes by conservators.

  • 3,580 pamphlets were bound into hard-cover binders in-house.

  • 19,247 monographs were processed for commercial binding.

  • 26,929 serial volumes were processed for commercial binding.

  • 1,894 historic photographs were treated by


    This before-and-after shot depicts The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, Bishop of Cesarea, in Palestine (1856, Thomas N. Stanford), along with a commercial purchase of a 1998 reprint of the book, Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, Complete and Unabridged, on acid-free long-life paper. Photo by Bill Wood, U-M Photo Services
    Some materials in the Library’s collection need repair as a result of many years of service. Others come into the Library in a form that is too fragile to withstand anticipated use.

    Nearly one-half of the holdings are printed on acidic paper that is or soon will be brittle. In most cases, the only practical way to preserve the content of these books is to replace them with a reprint or copy them to more stable medium, such as microfilm, a photocopy on acid-free paper or a digital format. The Library also holds close to two million volumes that are not yet brittle but are printed on acidic paper. They are candidates for mass-deacidification, a process that neutralizes the acid in the paper and greatly extends shelf life.

    The Library has been extremely successful in obtaining funding for project-based activities. Grants from the National Science Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities and other sources have enabled the Library to preserve materials in its collections by digitizing monographs, microfilming serials and providing conservation treatment for thousands of items. It also participates in a range of consortial and cooperative preservation activities, including with the Committee on Institutional Cooperation.

    “If we don’t take care of our resources now,” notes Ann Thomas, manager of preservation business services, “it may be too late to save them later.”

    For information on the Library’s preservation program and how to participate in Book Rescue 2000, call (734) 763-7368.