The Problem of Brittle Books
of thousands of books in Cornell University's Albert R. Mann Library
were originally printed on paper that becomes brittle over time.
Between 1850 and 1950 publishers used acidic paper to print books
and magazines, not realizing that acidic paper disintegrates with
exposure to air, becomes brittle over time and crumbles into dust.
About half of Mann's collection is printed on this type of paper,
and the page at left is an example of the deterioration that comes
For several years Mann has used a preservation technology
that produces satisfying results: scanning and digitizing. This
technique, though more expensive than microfilming, produces an
excellent quality, acid-free facsimile of the scanned original
as well as a digital file from which a microfilm reel and a web
version of each title can be created. The new, acid-free
version is cataloged, shelved for patrons to use and will remain
durable for hundreds of years.
Scanning also generates an electronic file of the
book that Mann posts online for public use. This means we have
both an acid-free copy of the book and that we can share an electronic
version with the community of scholars and students where there
is copyright clearance. Finally, scanning and digitizing allow
us to make a microfilm copy of each book for permanent storage
at National Underground Storage.
With more than 350,000 volumes in our collection
threatened by embrittlement, it was hard to decide which to digitize
first. Working with scholars in the field, we identified the Core
Historical Literature of Agriculture - those books and journals
that represent the most important publications in the agricultural
sciences between 1850 and 1950. So far we've scanned and digitized
more than 2,000 of these books for posterity.
Mann plans to continue preserving the Core Historical
Literature of Agriculture, and we have established a similar collection
that focuses on the historical literature of home economics and
human ecology. Visit Home Economics Archive: Research, Tradition
and History (HEARTH) at http://hearth.library.cornell.edu.