UF library struggles with acidity that crumbles valued pages
Erich Kesse is the University of Flori-
da's preservation officer for the
sta'largest library. His job is to
prot the university's collection of
2.5 nilon books and manuscripts
from insects, heat, mold and mildew.
In this interview with Sun correspon-
dent Sulita Ramayya, Kesse talks
about the task of preserving the li-
brary's treasured books and
QUESTION: What is your goal
as preservation officer?
ANSWER: The goal is really simn-
pie it's to preserve, maintain, conserve
every library material that the library pur-
chases and maintains permanently. It's to
make sure materials are accessible, usable
- basically that they stick around for a cou-
ple of hundred years.
QUESTION: Al over the United
States, books made with inexpensive, acid-containing paper are
falling apart. Ten to 17 percent of the UF library's collection -
250,000 to 435,000 reportedly are in danger of crumbling to
dust. How can those volumes be saved?
ANSWER: In many cases, it's a real tough problem.
There is virtually no way of preventing the problem until you
get to the publishers (so they)start publishing on acid-free pa-
per or neutral paper some paper that doesn't have the acid
content that's going to crumble on us.
Generally, our problem is so big with materials that are al-
ready crumbling that we don't have the time to look at some-
thing that's not yet crumbling. We did a study recently in the
Baldwin Library and we found that 82 percent of the materials
in that library alone well over 85,000 volumes are in
danger of crumbling to dust. They're already acidic, they're
QUESTION: The old cotton (cloth) books tend to
ANSWER: No one really knows. Even if you've got
cotton rag content of paper, there's no guarantee that it's good.
Those materials tend to be better than processed wood pulp
papers. But it depends. Usually anything before 1850 is in good
shape, buFthat's not always true.
QUESTION: What are the common dangers to a
ANSWER: Brittleness, the acid content of the paper.
As the paper ages, the acid begins to escape. The acid leaks out
into the paper fiber and starts to cause the paper fiber to break
down, which brittles the paper.
Other things that affect the collections are the way in which a
book is bound. The causes are very simple and there aren't very
many of them.
QUESTION: Is preservation a costly undertaking,
and why is it worth the investment?
ANSWER: It depends on the kind of conservation
treatment There's no stock answer. Basic treatment in conser-
vation runs from $3 to a couple of thousand dollars. Microfilm-
ing on the other hand costs about $75 per book. How we
Sel KESSE on page 4G 0