Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Restrictions? What Restrictions?

Part 9 of The Library Chronicles
First off, I want to apologize for the almost one month gap between episodes. I meant to get it done weeks earlier, but other things kept cropping up to prevent me from writing it. That said, we continue with part 10 of The Library Chronicles.

So when I showed up at the library/historical society to pick up the newspaper(s) in question, I would be given a brief list on what we (meaning the Library) could do or not do with/to the newspapers. What follows is a few typical examples of what we weren't allowed to do, and how we were able to get around that particular issue (or not get around).

Warning: Don't read this if you're in the house and there's fantastic weather outside. Go grab some down time for yourself. Go on, scoot! Good grief, there's a millions things to do outside in the fantastic weather! Like taking your laptop outside and reading my blog, for example.

1} No flattening of the newspaper with things like a press or an iron. Sometimes we would get newspapers, that due to the stupid storage conditions inflicted on it, would have a brown crease at the fold so severe that you could use it to clean your fingernails with. Which in turn would create a "shadow" on the microfilm and make the text unreadable. The way that was usually fixed was to spray water on the fold and either use an iron to flatten it or stick it in a ginormous press. When we weren't allowed to do that, we instead used to a humidifier to relax the fibers, then covered the paper with black newsprint and place weights on them (usually bricks) to flatten the paper. Sometimes it work, sometimes it didn't. When it didn't, we stuck the paper in something called Mylar.

2} Repair using only archival tape. To repair holes, tears, etc., we usually used regular scotch tape. It's effective and gets the job done. We simply slap a couple of pieces on, use a herring bone to get rid of the shine, and viola', she is done. However, when this type of restriction was put on us, we took out the archival tape (specifically Filmoplast brand) to make the needed repairs. It was slow and very meticulous work, designed to slow the process down and it forced you only to make critical repairs, as opposed to the wholesale repairs that were normally done.

3} No repairs. This restriction frequently caused us the most problems. This invariably was forced on us by the owners of newspapers that, due to incredibly bad storage techniques, needed it the most. It was weird correlation (Murphy's Law for the Library) that the more poorer the condition of the newspaper, the more restrictions that were put on us. Like fixing the poor example of the newspaper would somehow make it worse if we actually prolonged its life. The one real way around it was to the wrap the damaged newspaper in blank newsprint. There was really one time that I can recall in which we actually returned to a myopic historical society there precious newspaper (which we really did need for filming), because the restriction of not repairing their seriously deteriorating newspaper was unworkable.

4} No cutting of the newspaper. Now this wasn't much of a problem as you might think. Usually we would chop the newspaper down the middle to separate the pages. When this restriction was presented to us, we did a simple page count and boxed the newspaper accordingly.

We had other types restrictions placed on us from time to time, but for the most part, these were our four major headaches that we frequently dealt with.
Up next: The fine art of microfilming.


  1. What's the oldest paper you have there?

  2. Well...we do have newspapers there dating from the early 1700's. I believe we have the second edition of the Hartford Courant there (first one is numbered 0).

    And we have donated a slew of newspapers to other libraries and historical societies that are interested in expanding their collection of local newspapers.

    I believe the one that is my favorite is one from the late 1880's called The Yellow Spasm, simply because it was a 8x11 newspaper printed on electric yellow paper. Most of what we filmed is actually available through your local library's inter-library loan system.

  3. Hi, I saw you over at Jannies n decided to see what you're up to over here.

    What alot to deal with in Library science! You need to be a rocket scientist to get the stuff legible- wow, never realized it was so involved!

    This reminds me that I have about 15 years of old copies (80s to 90's) of the local paper hanging about in odd storage spots, n because it wasn't properly archived, it'll prob all be toast when I finally get to do the scrap book I wanted to do.

  4. Snaggle Tooth: Thanks for stopping by to visit my little blog. I will be sure to return the favor.

    It was an exercise in futility sometimes. Dealing with the various organizations who thought that they knew better than my supervisor (preservationist librarian) involved a lot of biting the tongue and gnashing of the teeth.

  5. Do they still do microfilm or does the library just get digital copies of stuff from the newspaper.

  6. G - Are you still doing anything related to this work?

    Love your comment about taking the laptop outside. If only.

  7. bearman: The larger newspapers still do microfilm (New York Times, Washington Post), but digitizing seems to be the wave of the future, especially in this economic climate.

    Still, if the masters are stored under the proper conditions, they can last well over 100 years.

    There is a lot of microfilm out there, since I believe all fifty states have participated in this in one form or another. Microfilm is still the cheapest form of saving and extending the life of old newspapers.

    Lynn: Unfortunately, no. I did this stuff during my first six years or so of working for the state (1996-2001).

    Talking about this part of my state career is something I love, because I've always been a history buff. And, it's also the safest thing I can talk about. While all this stuff involves other people, I only identify myself by name, and everyone is identified with very general names.

    I can't really talk about my post layoff career (doing payroll since 2004) except in the most general of terms, due to confidentiality issues.


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