By Tim Barrett
Director, University of Iowa Center for the Book Paper Facilities
Research on paper permanence may seem a bit odd in the age of digital scanning and the internet, but there are a number of reasons why paper remains very important to future generations.
Paper originals that can be accessed without electronic hardware and software systems will continue to be essential backups to the digital record for a long time to come. Paper originals often contain information that is not available in even a high resolution digital scan. Close analysis of the papers themselves can often shed new light on a particular historical episode or figure. For example, when letters from a particular writer are found on especially poor-quality paper, given the writer’s time and place, it may indicate something significant about the writer’s financial situation. When a book was printed on very high-quality paper for its period and location, it might suggest something new about the publisher’s intended audience and marketing strategy. In both examples, digital scans are lacking. Finally, data from the analysis of historical papers that have proven exceptionally stable over centuries of natural aging can inform the work of paper conservators and those who make modern archival papers.
The University of Iowa Libraries is hosting a newly launched website that details all the research goals, procedures, and results. The UI Center for the Book is a part of the UI Graduate College.