Summit of Research Scientists (SORS) in Preservation
Description of the Summit and Research Presented
Millions of holdings in archives, libraries and museums could be lost to future generations without proper preservation care in the 21st century. A key step in meeting these challenges is opening lines of communications among research scientists. The Library of Congress took the lead in initiating an international dialogue by convening the Summit of Research Scientists in Preservation on July 24 and 25, 2008.
The participating senior scientists represented thirty national and international institutions with strong, established programs of preservation and conservation research. The introduction was given by Robert Dizard, Deputy Associate Librarian for Library Services of the Library of Congress (LC), who noted the Library’s commitment to preservation through its current investments in laboratory space, with 9000 sq. ft. currently under renovation. This renovation includes the addition of 800 sq. ft. to house historic reference samples such as the Barrow book collection, pigments, and reference paper samples. These would be available to support research at the Library and elsewhere. Additional investments include new research equipment and four new PhD scientists. “Through this summit, we aim to sustain and strengthen communication and collaboration among preservation professionals,” said Robert Dizard. “The Preservation Directorate of the Library of Congress has been advancing scientific preservation research for more than forty years and we are committed to continuing this.” Dizard reminded the participants that the “stewardship of the human record relies on the work you’re doing.”
Eric Hansen, Chief of the LC Preservation Research and Testing Division (PRTD) positioned the summit as an opportunity for participants to learn more about the PRTD program and facilities as well as to network with other participants. He noted the current focus on digital challenges, and emphasized LC’s view of mass digitization as primarily a tool for access rather than preservation. Hansen referred to the strong LC focus on traditional preservation, given the wide gamut of collection materials and the need for quality control for housings, conservation, exhibition, and storage. While mass deacidification could be considered a flagship of the Library, criteria for LC’s choice of research projects include their impact for the collections, laboratory and staff capabilities, and the potential importance of the research to the conservation field at large. Jennifer Wade of PRTD followed with an overview of the two-day summit and short introductions of participants.
Presentations on day one began with research updates from the United States and Canada, moving to updates from institutions in Europe, including the United Kingdom. Giacomo Chiari of the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) began the review of US research by outlining the work of four Getty programs—the Museum, Research Institute, Conservation Institute, and Foundation. With a staff of twenty the research institute focuses on one art history theme each year, while the conservation institute works internationally in four divisions—field projects, science, education, and dissemination. Their research focus divides into movable and immovable objects, with examples of projects including combined x-ray fluorescence/x-ray diffraction (XRF/XRD), portable instrument development, developing reference collections (a database, anoxic fading studies), effects of light and photo-oxidation, and polynomial texture mapping (PTM) as a documentation tool. René de la Rie from the National Gallery of Art (NGA) noted that scientists are integrated into the NGA conservation division with the mandate to undertake preservation research for the institution’s collections. Focus for the research entails the study of artists’ materials, largely in support of conservation treatment decisions and technical studies. Specific studies involving infrared imaging to inform the visualization of under-paintings and stabilization of varnishes were outlined, as well as collaborations on tideline research with the Centre du Recherche sur la Conservation des Collections (CRCC). Marco Leona, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Department of Scientific Research, described their research focus on technical analysis to support authentication, acquisition, monitoring of the state of the collection, and art historical studies. Specific projects include portable nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), colorants in inks and textiles, and environmental research.
The Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) was represented by David Grattan, who began by noting the completion of a five-year laboratory renovation. A key criterion for CCI research projects is their potential to serve the entire nation, from large museums to small rural libraries. He defined CCI’s scope as “heritage,” that valued by the community as an integral part of the culture. Much of their fundamental research builds basic understanding, with applied scientific research relating to methods, treatments, and solutions. Unlike many other organizations, CCI does not have its own collection, so client collections provide the primary impetus for project choices. This client-centric approach has made the historic focus on portable laboratory equipment critical, with environmental risk-assessment and the development of a damage atlas informing outreach. Mark Ormsby, from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), discussed how NARA is addressing and improving environmental conditions for storage of large national holdings— a range of holdings in approximately sixty separate record storage facilities. Along with a focus on air pollution using analysis of volatiles with solid phase micro-extraction (SPME), they are studying natural aging in paper.
Eric Hansen noted that the LC scientific research program is driven by lines of research plus individual object studies that relate to specific needs of the Library’s collections. The program provides service to librarians, LC collections and to the greater preservation community. There are five primary categories that comprise environmental studies, traditional materials, analog and audio-visual materials, preservation of digital materials, and technology transfer. Highlighted projects included visual storage in anoxic display cases, cellulose acetate laminates, iron gall ink, digital media, daguerreotypes, and development of a reference collection (including the characterized Barrow Book collection), as well as outreach projects.
European perspectives on research objectives and strategies were introduced by Velson Horie of the British Library (BL). The BL collection rivals that of the Library of Congress, including 150 million collection items, housed in a new building in London in 1998. The corporate strategy focuses on building a digital infrastructure, the capture and storage of UK digital publications, and ensuring user access across the collections. An additional offsite storage facility comprises 7 million objects in compact vertical stacks, with robotic handling and reduced oxygen for fire suppression. The BL research laboratory focuses on collaborations and partnerships with other institutions, one example being the multinational study of identical books. Anne-Laurence Dupont, of the CRCC, described major areas of investigation, including degradation of cultural heritage materials, aspects of collection interaction with the indoor environment, and the development of conservation treatments and techniques. Sample projects included paper degradation and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, identification of fungal species in foxing, tidelines, mass deacidification, and characterization of magnetic audio-visual tapes. The CRCC’s involvement in European Union (EU) collaborative projects includes the emerging POPART plastics research project.
Henk Porck, of the National Library of the Netherlands (NLN), noted that the issue of acid paper has always been on the NLN agenda, with a detailed inventory and damage survey of their collection undertaken in 1990. This survey was repeated in 2005, leading to the development of a “Preservation Factor” measure, based on the fraction of the collection that is still in existence and accessible after the fifteen-year interval. Participation in a number of European Union (EU) projects includes mass deacidification research (PaperTreat). Jana Kolar represented three research facilities: the National and University Library of Slovenia, Morana RTD, and the University of Ljubljana Faculty of Chemistry and Chemical Technology. In Slovenia, a country of only 2 million people, generating research funding requires a strong emphasis on joint and collaborative research, emphasized by participation in five EU-funded projects—InkCor, SurveNIR, PaperTreat, Papylum, and MIP Network. Other projects include Eureka, PaperVOC and participation in the identical books research initiatives. Dissemination has been achieved through the establishment of the journal e-Preservation Science, allowing timely access to new and emerging research. The preservation of paper has been the main focus for the past seven years, with analyses including corrosion in older papers (generally from iron gall inks) and acidic deterioration in more modern papers.
Matija Strlic, of University College, London (UCL), is based at the Center for Sustainable Heritage (CSH). The focus of research for this group comprises environmental and materials interactions, including air quality and pollution assessment, monitoring and modeling, validation, standards, and policy development. Participation in a number of projects includes the BL identical books project, PaperVOC, SurveNIR, Noah’s Ark (global climate change and its impact on buildings), anoxic storage and paper-based fading of watercolors at the Tate Museum, POPART, Papylum, and PaperTreat.
Mary Chute from the Institute of Museum and Library Studies (IMLS) began day two by noting that preservation science empowers librarians in managing library collections. She outlined the IMLS mandate to fund projects that benefit US institutions through several grant programs at the national and state level. The IMLS-funded Heritage Preservation Heritage Health Index was used to highlight the needs of smaller collections for collection care and preservation. IMLS has distributed a “conservation bookshelf” and helped develop a network of expertise to provide resources and advance preservation, especially in smaller institutions.
Nancy Odegaard, of the University of Arizona (UA), outlined the background of the Material Science Division that now includes the Heritage Conservation Science Program. This program focuses on knowledge of conservation research, treatment, and management of ethical and cultural issues, to better equip graduates for the needs of the preservation field. A key issue for this program is funding for students. Mary Striegel from the National Center for Technology and Training (NCPTT) described the Center’s mission to advance preservation through technology and training. To meet the need for thorough understanding of the behavior of materials, NCPTT provides funding to develop techniques for the transfer of new technologies to preservation applications. Research foci for NCPTT staff range from landscapes, cemeteries, and places of worship to stone and pollution research, with a constant search for creative ways to teach professionals and disperse technological advances. Rachel Frick from IMLS reviewed IMLS’s regional forums relating to preservation, and funding of digitization and digital repositories based on the LOCKSS approach (lots of copies keep stuff safe). She stressed the importance of bridging the gap between the researcher and practitioner through education programs that ensure younger generations understand the need for preservation of cultural heritage, and through continuing educational opportunities for practicing professionals.
The penultimate session of the conference highlighted technology transfer case studies. Carl Haber of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory presented the IRENE (image, reconstruct, erase noise, etc.) project, which has developed a method of preserving sound recordings based on imaging techniques used to measure particle detector tracks. Further developments focus on automating non-contact optical playback mechanisms for mass preservation. This digitization of encoded audio data uses three-dimensional imaging by a non-contact non-destructive confocal optical probe to produce a high-resolution digital map of a surface. Two-dimensional IRENE imaging recovers sound from discs with lateral grooves, while three-dimensional imaging is in development for media with vertical grooves. Jeanette Adams, of PRTD, outlined the use of direct analysis in real-time (DART) mass spectrometry, a new generation of open-air ionization that eliminates sample preparation and allows fast real-time analysis. Since this technique can be used at ambient temperatures and does not produce pyrolysis in studied material, so many additional compounds can be observed. The LC is building a reference library of materials analyzed by DART to explore its capability for problem solving in preservation science.
Giacomo Chiari (GCI) pointed out that if items must be moved to an instrument, the method is not truly non-destructive—portable equipment provides a safer analytical tool. He described the development of a portable XRF/XRD instrument derived from the Mars Rover work, with a prototype currently under testing at GCI. The prototype has been calibrated with data from a previously characterized painted mummy, and can collect data in less than a minute, so data analysis can begin while it is still being collected. The combination of the XRF and XRD techniques with portability will allow greater accuracy and accurate interpretation of cultural objects, supporting advanced problem solving. Greg Hodgins, from the University of Arizona Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory, gave a review of 14C analysis, emphasizing the absolute necessity of sample preparation for good results. He described the calibration curve and an atmospheric radiation spike in the years 1954-1963 (the result of nuclear testing) that could allow the detection of forgeries of pre-1955 works of art and artifacts. Applying carbon dating to paper has great complexities due to the sample homogeneity produced by paper processing. This provides challenges for 14C dating of paper, but the feasibility of 14C for dating gelatin in photographs is under investigation.
Matija Strlic (UCL) gave an overview of the SurveNIR project, development and use of a non-destructive instrument and software package for multivariate chemometric analysis of spectra. The instrument is portable enough to be utilized to characterize and survey collections in situ. Data for 1400 samples has been used to determine the relationship between measured spectra and pH, tensile strength, and other properties of the samples. Michael Toth, of RB Toth, Associates, described the history, design, and application of a hyperspectral imaging system developed for the Archimedes Palimpsest analysis and imaging of other cultural heritage items. The approach has developed program and data management strategies for the very large volumes of data generated by applying technology systems from security and astronomy to cultural objects. Integrated data standards are essential to manage the huge volumes of data involved. The development of scanning XRF revealed lost text under forgeries and a prototype light-emitting diode (LED) illumination system expanded the range of spectral analysis available for this context. Fenella France (PRTD) described anoxic encasements for long-term visual storage and display of artifacts. The LC’s development of anoxic cases began in the early 1990s, but the case developed for the Waldseemüller 1507 World Map has proven to be the flagship for LC. France emphasized the importance of appropriate materials, and the critical nature of hermetic seals to achieve long-term anoxic conditions, while describing the challenges of monitoring and sensor development for improving anoxic visual storage cases.
The final session of the conference summarized the convergences and common themes that had emerged over the two days of the summit. Lynn Brostoff (PRTD) noted some differences between the EU and US approaches, but noted a common focus on mass treatment and analysis of specific iconic items. Another common thread was the need for funding to accomplish preservation research goals. Many additional convergences related to challenges posed by deterioration of collection materials, and a strong shared interest in the development of reference collections with shared databases of completed analyses and access to samples. Many researchers are working on related problems, however it was apparent that this is overlap without redundancy, with each project adding to the body of knowledge in a different way.
During the summit, scientists reported on the preservation research projects conducted in their laboratories. Scientists were able to update one another about complementary efforts in various labs, in particular the development of non-destructive analytical techniques and the identification of chemical predictors for book and paper deterioration. “The symposium provided a rare opportunity for focused information exchange,” said Eric Hansen (PRTD). It was noted that not all institutions have the capacity or resources to carry out all research, so collaboration is critical to advance the field. Hansen, who organized the summit, said “Effective progress in preservation science requires an agreed-upon national research strategy for coordinated effort. We can maximize efforts by clearly identifying areas where collaborative research is most needed, encouraging fiscal responsibility, and fostering financial support from grant and other funding organizations.”
Participating scientists agreed on the importance of sharing tips and technology and the desirability of additional joint projects. They urged the Library of Congress to develop a Web-based model, such as a Web site, for broad research communication. Such a site would ideally include information on various institutions’ research goals, projects, and results; useful data; and even descriptions of project funding strategies. Another recommended initiative is development of a joint digital catalog of reference samples available for experiment and analysis, and a protocol for accessing the physical samples. According to participating scientists, collaboration is more common in Europe than in the US, in part because the EU provides significant funding for joint or cooperative preservation research. The modest availability of funds for preservation research significantly limits the US compared to Europe.
Generous support for this summit was provided by a grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and funds from the Foundation of the American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works and the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Additional sponsors included members of the International Federation of Library Associations Preservation and Conservation North American Network, including the Preservation Directorate of the Library of Congress, Yale and Pepperdine University libraries, and the Kilgarlin Center for the Preservation of the Cultural Record at the University of Texas at Austin.
Next steps for LC include investigating feasibility and funding for recommended initiatives, including a Web-based communication mechanism for researchers engaged in preservation and conservation science, and additional research collaborations in the context of LC’s newly modernized, “green” facilities for optical, chemical, and mechanical research, and storage of reference samples. An early outgrowth of the summit was a preliminary proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF) by summit participant University of Delaware Laboratory for Analysis of Cultural Materials in partnership with LC to create an Integrative Partnership Science and Technology Center for preservation of the human record. Although the preliminary proposal to this intensely competitive NSF program was not successful, NSF acknowledged its own lack of attention to preservation materials research, and encouraged further, narrower, applications for such collaboration. Potential partnerships and projects are being explored.
Summary of Lines of Research Represented by the Summit
An associated summary table of the matrix of projects by SORS partners reflects the research foci presented by participants and shows their intersection with projects at LC and other institutions. This work in progress includes only research presented at the conference. It is being expanded to more comprehensively reflect the related work of other researchers.