Preserving our history one book at a time

“Foresight” is a word we often associate with individuals who manage to dodge a dangerous situation, or get rich by investing in a struggling new company. Foresight also can be the ability to sense that an event will be noteworthy in the future and should have its beginnings documented. It was foresight on the part of Robert Eiche, campus director from 1939 to 1968, which prompted him to begin filling books full of newspaper clippings about the fledgling undergraduate center from his very first days as director.

The result was a near daily documentation of campus happenings in the form of local newspaper articles glued into 40 (18”×12”) scrapbooks. Article topics included arts and sporting events, campus construction announcements, faculty accomplishments, distinguished speakers, and obituaries of donors, administrators, and faculty/staff. The majority of the articles are from the Altoona Mirror and all mention the campus within the text.

Through the years, the clippings books have been housed in several locations and under varying conditions. C. David Kimmel, associate director for stewardship in Development and Alumni Relations, recognized the importance of those books and the need to protect them. He brought them to the attention of the Heritage Project, a long-term effort to preserve the unique history of Penn State Altoona. Efforts are now being made to stop any additional damage to the books. Over a four-year span, 10 books a year will undergo a deacidification process and receive custom-made, archival boxes. The order in which the scrapbooks are selected for preservation is based on condition rather than age.

The deacidification process neutralizes the acid level in paper. High acid levels are the reason pages turn yellow and become brittle over time. The University Libraries’ Department of Digitization and Preservation recommended an international company, Preservation Technologies, for the deacidification stage. The process used by this company works by depositing a safe, nontoxic, alkaline buffer into the paper that neutralizes harmful acids without solvents or gasses. The bound books are placed on a carousel-type device so that the pages easily fall open for treatment. Test strips of acidic paper are placed throughout each volume to ensure that each page has been coated significantly to neutralize the acid. Following the deacidification process, the books are placed in specially made, archival boxes that have been created to the exact dimensions of each book.

The first 10 scrapbooks have undergone the deacidification process and are now part of the Robert E. Eiche Library collection. Special care is being taken with these volumes, and each one will be stored flat, on individual shelves, to prevent possible damage if housed vertically or stacked. The catalog record can be accessed through the library website (libraries.psu.edu) by typing Penn State Altoona Scrapbooks in the Start Here box. The books must be used within the library, and patrons are urged to wear gloves (provided) when browsing the articles.

Future plans for the collection include digitization of the books, which could make them accessible to researchers and alumni through the Internet. The digitization of current articles has already begun to take place. In April 2011 the University Relations department on campus stopped cutting and pasting and began digitizing the articles, as a more practical, long term method of archiving campus happenings.

Last Updated September 10, 2013