Read all about it! Conservation of Newspapers

This week’s blog comes from Claire Hutchison, Icon Intern at the National Library of Scotland…

Newspapers.

Let’s be honest, most of you reading this probably haven’t bought one in a while, or at all! With the internet and social media, who needs a hard copy? We are constantly bombarded with information – it makes sense that we would forget how information used to be received.

My project work as an Icon intern at the National Library of Scotland (NLS) has been looking to preserve that information. We have thousands of newspapers within our collection that are not in the best condition.  My work focuses on a handful of regional Scottish newspapers titles that at risk; their contents are in danger of being permanently lost. For this project, I have been looking into the conservation, preservation and rehousing of the titles. This also includes the environmental controls best suited for newsprint.

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The newspaper collection at the National Library of Scotland

As many of you know, newspapers tend to be daily and normally get thrown out the next day. As a result, the paper is not of the highest quality. Wood pulps are used; these contain lignin, a polymer within the cellulose structure that gives off carboxylic acids and deteriorates the paper. When a newspaper ages, it will become discoloured and brittle. The edges of the newspaper will start to break off into confetti-like pieces putting the text block around the edges at risk of being lost. Normally, the lignin is removed from pulp but as newsprint is short-lived in use they did not remove it. Various alkaline treatments exist to remove acids from paper; but the risks outweigh the benefits when treating large and fragile formats such as newsprint.

Below are some examples of the newspapers within the collection; these were bound by the NLS in volumes of various sizes. Some have been boxed as loose issues or kept in their original binding. The volumes can be very heavy and hard to handle at their size. The majority of the damage is structural; certain titles such as Edinburgh Evening News are regularly requested by readers and this traffic is partly to blame. The binding is also very heavy which takes its toll on the lightweight paper. Common issues faced include brittle edges, tears, creasing and losses. The bindings tend to be in a better condition and have protected the paper to some extent; however the addition of straps and buckles to the binding has caused significant damage to the edge of the paper. Some have been tied too tightly which has warped the boards and torn the paper behind the buckles.

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Example of the damage caused by the buckles along the brittle edges of the paper.

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 Another example of large and successive tears within the volume, likely caused by poor handling.

My work began with a condition assessment of roughly 2000 volumes. Whilst doing this, I researched different methods in the conservation of newsprint both structurally and chemically.  The time and cost efficiency of each method was compared before creating a 2 phase treatment plan for the newspapers.  Currently, a ‘less is more’ approach has been used to improve the structural integrity of the newsprint. Conservation has also been prioritised according to condition. Work has started on those in a ‘fair’ condition to improve accessibility.  These include simple repairs with a reversible adhesive and a dyed Japanese tissue paper.  Any straps or buckles have also been cut off whilst conservation work has progressed; it is a simple yet satisfying task that should improve their condition in the long term.

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Before and after treatment with 10% Methyl Cellulose and Japanese tissue. The repairs are strong, subtle and do not obstruct the legibility.

In the coming months, I will be continuing my research into the preventive side of the project and repairing poorer condition volumes.  I will also be implementing a new fragile formats policy to ensure that the newspapers are handled with care and issued with their overall condition in mind.

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