I was a very odd child.
While reading books in elementary school, I would tear little pieces from the book and eat it while reading. The best bits were the soft covers of the Harry Potter books. Looking back onto my collection of Harry Potter, lining the shelves among other fantastical stories, the covers are tattered and worn.
I didn’t start valuing the paper of the books until I started reading the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. I noticed that in these hard covered books, the paper was thicker.
And I had grown up so I stopped eating paper. Shush.
Anything having to do with publishing and printing books has me fascinated, yet I’m not a science-y type of person. I’m a writer through and through. But after reading “From Gutenberg to the Printing Press”, an article edited by Jeremy M. Norton, there was a section that caught my attention:
“The word written on parchment will last a thousand years. The printed word is on paper. How long will it last? The most you can expect a book of paper to survive is two hundred years. Yet, there are many who think they can entrust their works to paper, only time can tell” (36).
First I was thinking of the modern technology and computers to make things last and how others claim that anything written on a computer will last for eternity. But there is also something called “electronic decay” (links that have stopped working, or the pathways to websites have changed, or content is deleted. All of these issues can cause work online to disappear forever.), which is a topic for another day. There was something much more relevant that didn’t pop up straight away for me.
The actual paper we commonly use everyday.
If you go to Staples paper you will find all the different type of paper you can buy. And there’s more than that. The writer of “Gutenberg to the Printing Press” is correct. Handcrafted paper will last longer than mass produced paper.
Don’t believe me?
Well shame on you for not believing a stranger off the internet. We would never lie to you.
(Just remember to not look, or think, about the dog park)
To prove it to you, my reader sir, I’ve done the research for you.
Paper, handmade before the 19th century, was made with material such as cotton, linen, and hemp. The fibers produced by homemade paper are longer. When paper is mass produced, the paper is churned longer and the fibers that connect the paper together are more fragile. The wood that makes the paper as well shorten the fibers. (information from the Library of Congress, check it out here)
It takes a while to make paper by hand, and the rate of demand that early Europe was taking on prompted paper makers to start inventions. Lothian Health Services Archive writes
“The first papermaking machine was invented in 1798 by Nicholas-Louis Robert. This mechanical pulping and formation resulted in shorter fibres and also unintentionally introduced metallic particles into the paper resulting in a weaker sheet”
so I’m not totally nutty.
The substance used to make the paper and the process of how it’s made really determines how long that paper might last, including a few extraneous details, like the proper care of a book.
Like not eating the damned paper while reading.
Leaving a book in moist areas can lead to mold. Bugs can find their way into the book and eat the paper (I swear I’m not a book bug, though maybe a book worm). The chemicals used in producing the book, even chemicals that come into contact with the papers, can start deteriorating the paper. In mass paper making, minuscule metal bits can get into the mush and that will actually weaken the paper as well.
Nimfa R. Maravilla, a chemical engineer who joined the National Historical Institute’s (NHI) Materials Conservation Center (MCC) in 1984 wrote about the deteroration of paper as well:
The materials of which library and archive collections are composed, namely paper, parchment, palm leaves, birch bark, leather and adhesives used in bookbinding, are susceptible to two main forms of deterioration. One is biological deterioration caused by insect attack and/or fungal growth, and the other form of deterioration is caused by adverse environmental conditions such as extremes of dampness or wide fluctuations in relative humidity associated with large variations in day and night temperatures, light and atmospheric pollutants. These two forms of deterioration are interconnected because humid conditions favor the growth of fungi and accumulations of dust and dirt will attract insects.
Paper is a fickle thing. You can burn it. You can eat it (please don’t eat it), you can take notes, draw, paint, form into objects. It’s near the essence of creativity, and no matter how advanced technology gets, paper is a tool I believe we as a human race will always rely back onto.
Maybe we should start questioning if the word we write down want to be preserved for 20 – 100 years, or if we only want them to last for a year? If we want what we dirty the clean paper with to last, how will we change our storing techniques to preserve the creativity we share worldwide?
If you would like more information on the deterioration of paper with more scientific wording or advice on how to take care of books, check out the websites I read:
If you would like to comment on this post, please do.
Kirsten Staller is a junior at SUNY Oswego. She is a Creative Writing major with a minor in Business Administration. She aims to work in a publishing company, loves her cats, and her tea. She hails from the village of Quaker Hill, Connecticut. Though she lives on a farm, she is not a farmer. Writer through and through.