THE solution to the acid paper problem, say many librarians, is to print on alkaline paper instead. This would avoid the extra step of deacidifying new books. Several mills in the United States produce acid-free paper. But only a handful of publishers - notably university presses and textbook and encyclopedia publishers are using it.
Preservation specialist Jan Michaels of the Canadian National Library in Ottawa says that if more publishers don't switch to acid-free paper soon, our books - the written records of our age - are doomed. ``Ironically, the so-called `age of information' will be [remembered as] a dark age!'' she says.
According to paper brokers in the Boston area, the costs of alkaline and acid paper are the same. Alkaline paper can be made from recycled fibers, and producing it actually creates fewer pollutants than the manufacture of acid paper.
For the last six years, Mohawk Paper Mills Inc. in Cohoes, N.Y., has been making alkaline paper in order to cut costs, reduce effluents, and meet a growing demand for archival-quality paper. By using a vegetable starch - calcium carbonate - rather than alum, explains Keith Anderson, vice president of administration at Mohawk, the paper comes out whiter and brighter than acid paper. The process, he says, ``is a definite help in reducing the effluent load from anybody's paper mill.''
Legislation has passed in the Senate - sponsored by Claiborne Pell (D) of Rhode Island - and is pending in the House to establish a policy of acquiring and using archival-quality paper for ``publications of enduring value,'' such as annual reports from Congress and inaugural speeches.