Ewa Potrzebnicka The Deacidification of Library Materials at the National Library of Poland.

The long-term government programme “Acidic paper...” was a completely original programme and made no direct reference to any previous models. Its experimental nature must be underlined, however, it also ought to be mentioned that the programme prepared by Polish scientists and adopted by the government of Poland in 1999 coincided in most of its principles with the contemporary research tendencies in the field of national heritage protection, which defined the scope of research for each information storage medium (published in 2000).13 The Polish programme was established for library and archival materials produced in the 19th and 20th centuries only. The general objective of the programme was to gather thorough information on mass deacidification technology, conduct preliminary research in this field, determine the exact costs of the operations and launch a deacidification campaign in the Polish libraries and archives. The implementation of the principles of the long-term government programme “Acidic paper. Saving endangered library and archival collections by mass-treatments,” financed by the Polish government, created an opportunity for the successful preservation of Polish 19th- and 20th-century writing for the society. 

The research on printing paper durability was launched in Poland and worldwide approximately at the same time that wood pulp was introduced to the production of paper.14 It provided a basis for the selection of appropriate research methods used to assess the state of preservation of 19th- and 20th-century collections. Within the programme, it was decided to examine the state of preservation of the book collections of five libraries and paper-based archival materials stored at three major state archives. Within this programme a study was undertaken of the conservation status of five library collections: the National Library, the Jagiellonian Library, the Pomeranian Library in Szczecin, the Silesian Library and the Ossoliński National Institute in Wroclaw, as well as in the paper archives in the three large state archives: the State Archives in Warsaw, Olsztyn State Archives and the State Archives in Poznań.

The investigation was to be conducted using the popular Stanford method,15 as its adaptability and openness to modifications had been acknowledged as great advantages.16 The results of the research, published in 2006,17 confirmed the dramatic situation of 90% of 19th- and 20th-century book collections, which required deacidification, along with all of the archival resources from that period. Materials published after 1860 proved to be particularly threatened with destruction, while Cracow and the industrial part of Lower Silesia were indicated as the territories most affected by the problem. Research confirmed the necessity of implementing the investments anticipated in the paper deacidification programme. The examination of the state of preservation of Polish book collections carried out between 2001 and 2005 by the National Library is still viable, especially in terms of planning further mass conservation, and should be taken into account by other Polish book depositories that store library materials that form a part of the national cultural heritage. 

The research programme also included biological protection of the holdings and comparative studies on paper deacidified using various methods (Department of Paper and Leather Conservation of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń), as well as technological research on papers of an archival quality at the Polish Security Printing Works in Warsaw (Institute of Pulp and Paper in Łódź).18

The cost of the programme came to ca. 70 million PLN, 80% of which was spent on the purchase of deacidification installations and other deacidification-related works conducted by the end of 2008.19 Launching the mass conservation of endangered 19th- and 20th-century library and archive resources in Poland, which made it possible to save the most valuable original items, has been the most notable achievement of the programme. Within the initiative, eight deacidification installations were put into operation. At the National Library and the Jagiellonian Library, the renowned Bookkeeper systems have been launched, in which virtually all paper-based materials may be deacidified in vertical and horizontal treatment chambers as well as through spraying. Furthermore, in both libraries C900 (Neschen) devices are used for the deacidification of isolated pages and sheets of documents. Also, four conservation workshops at archives have been equipped with the C900 devices. 

The purchase of installations for the deacidification of paper-based collections is a major success of the programme, since companies owning patent rights to the technologies prefer to perform such services themselves. Moreover, the Bookkeeper installations acquired for the Jagiellonian and the National Library are the first pieces of deacidification equipment ever sold to libraries. 

Within the programme, 12 microfilm and digital imaging studios, mostly at state archives, have been upgraded and equipped with modern machinery. 

Other achievements include the establishment of the Paper Degradation Laboratory at the Faculty of Chemistry of the Jagiellonian University, which soon became a renowned research centre in this field on a worldwide scale. Scientists from Cracow, focused on issues related to acidic paper, conduct research and publish their results in internationally acknowledged journals. They also take part in numerous international projects.

The influence that the programme has had on expanding the knowledge about the protection of collections at libraries and archives cannot be understated. It was the subject of around 200 published research and popular science articles as well as several master’s theses, one habilitation and two PhD dissertations. The overview summarising the programme featured a bibliography of publications on the long-term government programme “Acidic paper.”20 It can be argued with all certainty that the programme has improved the quality of the protection of holdings in libraries and archives, and turned Poland into an important centre of mass conservation on a worldwide scale. 


13 H.J. Porc, R. Teygler Preservation Science Survey, Council on Library and Information Resources, Washington, 2000. 

14 B. Zyska, Nad trwałością papierów drukowych [On the Durability of Printing Papers], Katowice, 1993.

15 E. Potrzebnicka, “Współczesne metody oceny stanu zachowania zbiorów” [Contemporary assessment methods for the state of preservation of collections], Notes Konserwatorski, issue 3, Warszawa, 1999, p. 40; S. Buchanan, S. Coleman, “Deterioration survey of the Stanford University Libraries Green Library Stack Collection,” in Preservation Planning Program. Resource Notebook, Washington, 1982.

16 W. Sobucki, B. Drewniewska- Idziak, A. Michaś, K. Panoszewski, “Zasady charakteryzowania stanu zachowania zasobów bibliotecznych i archiwalnych” [Rules on how to describe the state of preservation of library and archive collections], Notes Konserwatorski, issue 5, Warszawa, 2001, p. 47

17 Stan zachowania polskich zbiorów bibliotecznych i archiwalnych z XIX i XX wieku [State of Preservation of the Polish Library and Archive Collections of the 19th and 20th Century], collection edited by B. Drewniewska-Idziak, National Library of Poland, Warszawa, 2006.

18 W. Sobucki, “Problematyka badawcza w programie ‘Kwaśny Papier’” [Research issues in the ‘Acidic Paper’ Programme], in Wieloletni Program Rządowy na lata 2000-2008. Kwaśny papier, Odkwaszanie zbiorów bibliotecznych i archiwalnych w Polsce, Podsumowanie, National Library of Poland, Warszawa, 2008, p. 11.

19 W. Sobucki, “Polski program rządowy ‘Kwaśny papier’ – najważniejsze osiągnięcia” [The Polish government programme ‘Acidic paper.’ Major achievements], in Przeszłość dla Przyszłości, Masowe zabezpieczanie zasobów bibliotek i archiwów, Wystąpienia wygłoszone podczas konferencji Przeszłość dla Przyszłości, Masowe zabezpieczanie zasobów bibliotek i archiwów, Tomasz Łojewski (ed.), Jagiellonian Library, Kraków, 2010, p. 9.

20 “Bibliografia publikacji wydanych na temat WPR ‘Kwaśny papier’” [Bibliography of publications about the long-term government programme ‘Acidic Paper’], B. Berlińska (ed.), Wieloletni Program Rządowy na lata 200-2008. Kwaśny papier, Odkwaszanie zbiorów bibliotecznych i archiwalnych w Polsce, Podsumowanie, National Library of Poland, Warszawa, 2008, p. 98.