Ewa Potrzebnicka

THE DEACIDIFICATION OF LIBRARY MATERIALS AT THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF POLAND.

The holdings of the National Library of Poland have been predominately produced on mechanical pulp paper, whose long-term storage causes great difficulties. 

In the mid-19th century, mechanical pulp paper became the fundamental medium for information storage, enabling substantial access to it. Unfortunately, over the decades the deterioration of its structure started to be visible even to the eye, which led to intense research in chemistry in the second half of the 20th century aimed at determining the durability of this material. The question of paper and cellulose degradation became an important topic for librarians, archivists, and materials science. At this point, it ought to be mentioned that as far back as in 1887 Polish naturalists – prof. Karol Jurkiewicz and Aleksander Marian Weiberg, PhD1 – pointed out that highly acidic papers offer virtually no chance for long-term durability, and in 1936, the founder of the Polish school of paper conservation, prof. Bonawentura Lenart, a collaborator of the National Library, strongly criticised the paper produced at that time,2 calling for the introduction of a standard for printing at least “one monumental copy for research libraries” on high-quality paper.

As a matter of fact, acidification occurred in the paper as early as at the manufacturing stage, however, its high level did not affect the popularity of this material or its industrial usefulness. The value of the new technology consisted in its massive production capacity and low price. Nevertheless, libraries and archives have suffered the consequences of masses of information being recorded on low-quality and quickly degrading paper up to this day. This is why the question of paper durability and the state of preservation of library and archival materials are intertwined and of great importance for any institutions that are in charge of long-term storage of holdings on a statutory basis. 

Mechanical pulp paper contains varying amounts of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin, and many other components of a smaller percentage share in the total paper mass, which makes its degradation a highly complex process provoked by a series of sequential and simultaneous chemical reactions.3 The paper decomposition is also influenced by many external factors. The conclusions are dramatic: paper degradation cannot be undone, but only stopped. 

The Polish librarian and conservationist communities were no strangers to the threats of using mechanical pulp paper, thanks to the excellent contributions of prof. Bronisław Zyska who was examining the durability of paper in 19th- and 20th-century books between 1985-1994.4 He published a dozen books, including a series of monographs entitled Protection of Library Holdings against Destruction,5 which paved the way for the programme of saving 19th- and 20th-century writing. A journal edited and published since 1998 by the National Library of Poland dedicated exclusively to the protection and conservation of library holdings has had a wide reach up to the present, addressing issues related to conservation policy, examples of conservation activities, as well as physics, chemistry and microbiology.6 Even its first issue featured articles on the durability of the paper used in Polish 19th-century7 prints and other kinds of printing paper.8

Considering the results of research conducted throughout the world and the scientific achievements related to mechanical pulp paper degradation, including the findings of the European Commission on Preservation and Access (ECPA) established in 1994 to support the activities aiming to preserve the holdings of European archives and libraries,9 the IFLA and UNESCO recommendations, and the over 10-years’ experience of the Library of Congress in deacidification,10 we can ascertain that the years 1998 and 1999 were a breakthrough period in Poland when it comes to initiatives undertaken and pursued in connection with the acidification of library and archival materials, discussed in detail in the reference literature.11 Their goal was not only to conduct a propaganda and information campaign in order to draw attention to the threats related to the decomposition process that paper produced in the 19th and 20th century is subject to, but also to establish the basic principles of programmes and funds that would enable them to save the deteriorating library and archival materials of the 19th and 20th centuries. 

The actions aimed at launching a program for the protection of the national writing were directly inspired and conducted by the then-directors of the National Library, the Jagiellonian Library and the Head Office of the State Archives as well as chemistry professors of the Jagiellonian University.12 As early as in November 1998, a team appointed by the Ministry of Culture and Arts to prepare the programme for the protection of the written national heritage of the 19th and 20th centuries submitted the outline of such a programme. In June 1999, a financing agreement and implementation schedule were signed between the participating ministries and the head of the State Committee for Scientific Research. 

The programme was adopted by the Council of Ministers on 17 November 1999, pursuant to point 11 of the Memorandum of Understanding no. 46/99 of the Meeting of the Council of Ministers. Its full name was: “Acidic paper. Saving endangered library and archival collections by mass-treatments.” Its time frame was projected for the years 2000–2008. The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage was its managing body, while the National Library became the programme coordinator. 


1 Jurkiewicz Karol, Weiberg Aleksander Marian, Badania nad papierami krajowemi ze względu na ich własności fizyczne i skład chemiczny, Część I: Papiery dokumentowe. Druk K. Kowalewskiego [Research on Domestic Types of Paper in Terms of their Physical Properties and Chemical Composition. Part I: Document Papers. Printed by K. Kowalewski], Warszawa, 1887

2 B. Lenart, “O trwały papier książkowy” [For a Durable Book Paper], Przegląd Biblioteczny, issue 10, 1936, p. 200.

3 Andrzej Barański, “Problem kwaśnego papieru. Koncepcje badawcze, uwarunkowania i działania praktyczne” [The question of acidic paper. Research concepts, conditions and practical action] in Kwaśny papier [Acidic Paper], Kraków, 2001, p. 67. 

4 Bronisław Zyska, “Permanence of paper in Polish books of the period 1900-1994”, Restaurator, no. 17, 1996, pp. 214-228; Bronisław Zyska, Trwałość papieru w drukach polskich z lat 1800-1994. Wyniki badań [Durability of Paper in Polish Prints of 1800-1994. Research Results], Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Śląskiego, Katowice, 1999.

5 Bronisław Zyska, Ochrona zbiorów bibliotecznych przed zniszczeniem [Protection of Library Holdings against Destruction], vols. 1-4, University of Silesia, Katowice, 1991-1998.

6 Notes Konserwatorski [Conservationist Notebook], National Library of Poland, Warszawa, issues 1-15, 1998- 2012.

7 Bronisław Zyska, “Ocena trwałości papierów w drukach z XIX wieku” [Assessment of paper durability in 19th-century prints], Notes Konserwatorski, 1998, p. 51.

8 Józef Dąbrowski, Papier drukowy i jego trwałość” [Printing paper and its durability], Notes Konserwatorski, 1998, p. 103.

9 In 1995, the Association for the Protection of Archive and Library Collections was founded, inspired iby the ECPA, launched a year before, see: Joanna Pasztaleniec-Jarzyńska, „Stowarzyszenie na Rzecz ochrony Zasobów Archiwalnych i Bibliotecznych” [Association for the protection of archive and library collections], Notes Konserwatorski, issue 2, Warszawa, 1999, p. 97. 

10 T. Łojewski, “Działalność Biblioteki Kongresu USA w dziedzinie odkwaszania książek, Ochrona Narodowego zasobu Bibliotecznego” [The activity of the US Library of Congress in book deacidification, protection of the National Library Resource], in SBP, Materiały i dokumenty ze szkolenia dyrektorów bibliotek, których zbiory tworzą Narodowy Zasób Biblioteczny, Kraków, April 2001, p. 38.

11 A. Barański, J. Grochowski, K. Zamorski, “Kalendarium i założenia realizacyjne wieloletniego programu rządowego na lata 2000-2008: Kwaśny Papier. Ratowanie w skali masowej zagrożonych polskich zasobów bibliotecznych i archiwalnych” [Calendar and implementation principles of the long-term government programme for 2000-2008: Acidic paper. Saving endangered library and archival collections by mass-treatments], Notes Konserwatorski 4, Warszawa, 2000, p. 9.

12 A. Barański, J. Grochowski, A. Manikowski, D. Nałęcz, K. Zamorski, “O potrzebie ratowania dziedzictwa kultury polskiej w zbiorach bibliotecznych i archiwalnych XIX i XX wieku. Memoriał” [On the need to save the Polish cultural heritage preserved in 19th and 20th-century library and archive collections. A memorial], Notes Konserwatorski 4, issue 2, p. 100. It contained the following attachments: 1. Standards for durable paper, 2. Foreign programmes of research on acidic paper, 3. Information on the Regional Laboratory of Physicochemical Analyses and Structural Research at the Jagiellonian University.