Summary - Responses about deteriorating plastic reels

Jean Hewlett (
Tue, 9 Apr 2002 13:50:52 -0700 (PDT)

A few weeks ago, I posted a message to publib and videolib asking for
advice about a problem with some microfilm reels. The problem was that
the plastic spools that hold the microfilm are deteriorating and seem to
be crumbling away.

Many thanks to everyone who helped me with this! My message was passed
on to the a list devoted to microforms management, and I received three
replies from experts in the field. Here is a summary of the three

One person commented that in microfilm's earlier days there was an
emphasis on making the film last for 100 years, but little attention was
paid to the reels, boxes and labels. They recommended replacing all the
reels and having the film inspected as soon as possible, and suggested a
local professional we can contact about this. (Local to us, in northern

The second person reported that they had noticed deterioration of some
blue plastic reels when doing consultancy work for their State Library.
The spools were not actually crumbling, but were changing color to a
pale blue, becoming brittle, and breaking under pressure. Their memory
is that these were spools with acetate film, and the spools with
polyester film did not have this problem. (Their consultancy involved
studying vinegar syndrome in the acetate film.)

The third response was from someone who works for a major micropublisher
and has kindly offered to inspect one of our reels and try to determine
the source of the problem. They are not familiar with the exact problem
I described, but suggested two similar problems. The medium gray reels
used by the Recordak Corporation in the 1950s gave off a white powder
identified as stearic acid, and some of the old Kalvar brand vesicular
films gave off hydrochloric acid that might have damaged the plastic.

Many thanks again for all your help and advice! If anyone has any
further comments or suggestions, I'd be most interested. (Please send
them directly to me, not to the list.) I'm especially interested in
hearing from other libraries that are experiencing similar problems.

Jean Hewlett
North Bay Cooperative Library System, Santa Rosa CA