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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 095-114-E
Division Number: VI.
Professional Group: Preservation and Conservation
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 114.
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

Permanent Paper and the Brittle Book Problem in Hungary

Beatrix Kastaly
Newspaper Preservation Department
National Széchényi Library
Budapest, Hungary


A significant part of the printed and manuscript library materials produced in the last 130 years is threatened by self-destruction caused by acids in paper. Brittleness of paper can be attributed to acids and mechanical woodpulp together. At the National Library of Hungary the most important and largest collection of acid and brittle newspapers in the country has been being microfilmed for 30 years and a programme for microfilming a certain part of the brittle books has been also launched. At the same time the conservation of playbills, placards and a few newspapers by deacidification and paper-strengthening has been carried out.

The most effective preventive measure against paper decay lays in papemaking, namely in manufacturing of acid-free and permanent paper for printed and manuscript documents. In Hungary there have been many efforts taken for research, spreading and producing of permanent paper for libraries and archives. The composition of a permanent paper suitable for copying of newspapers onto it has been developed by the National Library and the Paper Research Institute. By the early 90s all Hungarian papermills which produce writing and printing papers converted their technology for alkaline papermaking. The ratio of acid paper in book publishing in Hungary changed from 98,5% to 15% between 1986 and 1996.


Outside of libraries and archives it is not very widely known yet that the books, journals, newspapers, posters, maps and other publications and certain part of the manuscript documents which have been produced on paper since the 1860s-1870s are threatened by the gradual but sure self-destruction. The common characteristic of these papers is that their acid content is relatively significant (their pH-value is between 3 and 5). This can be attributed to that the sizing of the pulp has been carried out in an acid medium since the beginning of the last century. If the paper contains a major quantity of mechanical woodpulp (since the mid 19th century), these two factors together cause a high degree of brittleness. Brittleness of paper means that paper can not withstand one double fold but breaks to pieces.

Surveys which have been carried out in different libraries in the world show that there are enormous quantities of already brittle books, newspapers and other printed and manuscript documents both in Europe, America and Asia. In the USA there were 80 million, in Germany (in the Western part only) 30 million books found the paper of which was already brittle. At the National Széchényi Library - the National Library of Hungary - the paper is brittle in 10% of the books which means about 230000 volumes. Besides the books, there are half a million theatre bills, most of them acid and/or brittle. Naturally there are many other types of printed and manuscript material also on paper which are acid and in a more or less brittle state.

Among them the most significant one is the newspaper collection.which contains today about 300000 volumes of newspapers and journals. The quantity of newspapers separately can not be determined exactly in spite of that in 1888 a separate division was created inside the library as a Newspaper Library. But later the journals were added to it.

In Hungary newspaper preservation as such is a task which falls mostly to the share of the national library. In other libraries those newspapers which are to be retained permanently will be bound sooner or later and they are stored in various - sometimes very poor - environmental conditions. Approximately 70% of the old - pre-1952 - newspapers of the nation can be found only in the national library, in a relative completeness. But the national library had never had sufficient resources for storing well and binding its all newspapers. Besides the inherent acidity and brittleness of their paper this was the other reason why considerable amounts were, in the sixties, in a bad condition; they were very brittle, crumbling, yellow or even brown.

Preservation microfilming

Using of the brittle printed materials is not possible any more that is why libraries do their best to transfer the content of these documents to other formats and the surrogate copies can then be consulted.

To preserve the information content of the newspapers as much as possible it was decided to microfilm all the Hungarica newspapers of the national library. The financial, technical and personnel necessities for this work have been provided by the government. Since 1969, the retrospective microfilming of newspapers has been in progress and about one million pages have been microfilmed annually.

Before microfilming, smaller or greater repairs or full conservation have to be performed on the old newspapers to secure the best legibility possible. When the paper is very brittle and crumbling we deacidify and strengthen it. This latter is done by lamination with polyethylene and Japanese tissue.

The archival quality master-negatives have been preserved in an air-conditioned archive at 15-16C and 30-40% RH. Second negatives, however have not been made. The positive films are kept in the store-rooms of the newspapers. The originals - if their positive film copy is available - may be consulted in exceptional cases only. After being microfilmed, the original newspapers are retained at the national library because most of the old newspapers can be found here only, and, in the many cases, in one copy only. The original newspapers - if they are unbound - are placed to custom-made corrugated boxes lined with alkaline paper. This is the preservation method applied for the archival copies of the current newspapers too. The second copies of the current newspapers are to be bound because they may be consulted until they will have been microfilmed.

The newspaper microfilms are regularly recorded and published in registers at the national library. From these registers other libraries can order microfilms against payment to complete or preserve their newspaper holdings. The microfilms made at the national library are as complete as possible becasue the titles which are not complete in the national library, are completed with the missing parts from other libraries. The national library has also microfilmed Hungarica newspapers in libraries of some of the neighbouring countries (Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Serbia and Croatia).

In 1997 a new project has been launched at the national library: the microfilming of certain brittle books. The first criterium of selection for microfilming is use. After the first consultation a brittle book is to be placed to a phase box - if it has not been placed yet - which is labelled and the date of consultation is noted on it. The second use will be also noticed and then - after the third consultation - the book will be microfilmed. When the positive microfilm is available, the label on the box says that "this book may be consulted through microfilm only". If the paper of the book is extremely brittle it will be microfilmed already before or after the first consultation.

Deacidification and strengthening

The retrospective microfilming of newspapers will end in a few years. The last several years of some current newspapers (those which originate from before 1952) have been also microfilmed. The microfilming of the other current newspapers will follow the retrospective microfilming. Then the repair work will decrease to a minimum, and thus the task of the conservators will change. They will deacidify and strengthen the paper of the most valuable and unique newspapers because the national library wants to retain them permanently. We have not determined yet the mass treatment by which these aims would be achieved. The paper of most of our old newspapers is too much weak and brittle that is why impregnation with an adhesive only is not sufficient for them. Deacidification and strengthening by hand is highly time-consuming.

Acid-free and/or permanent paper

Bad experience of the last 120-130 years led to that recognition that for the future the only good and preventive solution is if non-acid paper is produced from pure cellulose with an alkaline reserve for archival purposes

In Hungarian paper mills the first trials for producing paper in neutral medium using a synthetic sizing agent and calcium-carbonate filler were carried out between 1975 and 1980 but at that time the introduction of this technology for the production of writing and printing paper was prevented by the instability of the sizing dispersion and uneconomic prices. After initial attempts the first big breakthrough occured in 1984 when one of the paper machines in the Szolnok papermill was converted to the use of acid-free materials. This conversion was necessary because the waste products which formed on the coating machine, which used calcium carbonate pigment, could not be recycled since the medium was acid. Conversion meant that not only was aluminium-sulphate no longer used but that a synthetic sizing agent was added which brought changes throughout the whole technology of papermaking. The successful conversion in Szolnok, the increasing price of sizing agents based on pine-resin (which needs the acidic medium), the reasonable price and ever-increasing quality and quantity of fillers based on Hungarian carbonates convinced the other mills too. The percentage of acid-free writing and printing paper produced in Hungary is a very clear indication of the tendency; from 10% in 1984, 30% in 1986, over 60% in 1990 and it is 100% by today.

In the 1980s the conservation research group of the national library performed many experiments together with a papermill and the Paper Research Institute to produce a lignin- and acid-free, thin but durable and permanent paper with a good opacity. The national library planned to copy the deposit copies of the newly published newspapers onto this paper in order to reduce the volume of newspapers needing conservation in the future. By the early 90s we succeeded in formulating the suitable composition but in the last years the national library had no financial possibility to get a thin paper of great mechanical strength produced (which should be free of groundwood and should contain cotton- and pine-pulps) and to purchase a photocopy machine of large size suitable for copying newspapers.

Meanwhile the technology of the manufacturing of the imported newsprint paper used in Hungary has also changed. The acid medium in which sizing was previously made has been converted to a neutral or an alkaline one and this made possible the use of calcium-carbonate filler. Thus thess newsprint papers is not acid any more but slightly alkaline and obviously does not deteriorate so fast and seriously like the acid one. Because of their poor fibre composition their mechanical strength naturally is not big enoguh but they preserve their original strength for a longer time.

Similarly to the producers of newsprint paper, many of the manufacturers of writing and printing papers have converted their technology from sizing in acid medium to sizing in neutral or alkaline one in Western and Central Europe. This made it possible to use an alkaline filler, calcium-carbonate instead of clay which is a neutral one without a positive impact for the permanence of paper. The second half of the 80s the cost of carbonates from which a better ratio of whiteness in paper could be achived decreased, thus making the production of acid-free paper more economical. This was important because price is the dominant factor in the industry, not permanence.

The quantity of acid-free paper made in Hungary is not equal to the quantity actually used, taking import and export into account. As a consequence of complete liberalization of the import to Hungary, since 1989-1990 vast quantities of printing paper have been being imported and the numerous new publishers and printing offices often show preference for foreign paper because of their good quality and relatively low price.

Knowing the big change in the production of non-acid printing papers in Hungary between 1986 and 1996 and the fact that a great quantity of paper was imported from Western, Central and Northern Europe for the books which were published in Hungary the last ten years, one could assume that the prevailing role of acidic book-paper has ceased. To gain a clear view on this question we have tested the acidity/alkalinity of and the presence of lignin in the paper of those books which got to the national library as deposit copies between 1986 and 1996. By a random but statistically relevant sampling 450 books printed on non-coated paper were chosen and tested. The results are shown in the table 1.

The ratio of acid-free papers used for the printing of books seemed to be stabilised around 85% in Hungary during the last five years. This proves both that sizing in neutral or alkaline media and the use of calcium-carbonate as filler are spreading steadily in the European papermaking technology and that the use of neutral or alkaline printing papers is already predominant in Hungary.

In 1993 and 1994 the Research Institute for the Paper Industry tested ten different (printing, photocopying and preservation) papers produced by three Hungarian papermills to establish if these papers meet the requirements of the ISO 9706 standard. This testing was initiated by the National Archives and the National Library. All the papers met the requirements but the mills haven't attached great importance to this as it is shown by the fact that they haven't mentioned the permanence of their papers in the description of their products. Thus the publishers and printing offices can not get information on it and they couldn't apply deliberately these acid-free or often permanent papers even if they wanted to. And in their publications they can not mention that "this paper meets the requirements of the ... standard". That is why I think that libraries and library organizations should make further efforts to ensure that quality (including permanence) of the paper be indicated in the product descriptions of papermills. The name, quality and origin of the paper, together with the exact name of the manufacturer, should also be indicated in publications. This would provide a base for estimating the life expectancy of each publication, particularly if the ageing properties of the paper used are known.


*The result is more than 100% because there were some books in which acid and neutral papers were bound together. These books have been counted to both categories.


  1. Kastaly, Beatrix: How Hungary Has Tackled the Brittle Paper Issue. International Preservation News. No. 16. January 1998. 6-8. Pp

  2. Kastaly, Beatrix: Idoálló hazai nyomópapírok. (Permanent printing papers in Hungary) Magyar Grafika. 1995. 3. 43-47. Pp

  3. Kastaly, Beatrix: The Composition of Permanent Papers. In: Proceedings of the Conference on Book and Paper Conservation, Budapest 4-7 September 1990. Budapest. 1992. 444-448. Pp

  4. Völgyi, Péter: Acidfree Papermaking in Hungary. In: Proceedings of the Conference on Book and Paper Conservation, Budapest 4-7 September 1990. Budapest. 1992. 439-443. Pp

  5. Kastaly, Beatrix: Newspaper Preservation in Hungary. In: Newspaper Preservation and Access. Proceedings of the Symposium held in London, August 12-15, 1987. Vol. I-II. K.G. Saur. München-New York-London-Paris. 1988. 285-286. pp