Re: Summary - Responses about deteriorating plastic reels

Helen Cornwall (
Sun, 14 Apr 2002 12:36:18 -0700 (PDT)


Jean Hewlett wrote:
> 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
> replies.
> 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
> California.)
> 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