There were several good messages about Vinegar Syndrome and sources for additional information have been posted on Museum-L in response to a query about scanning laminated newspaper clippings in late June.
I agree that scanning is a good option to preserve the intellectual content of the clippings and to prevent further deterioration due to handling and light exposure. If this were may project, I would want to do test scans to determine if the laminate interferes with the quality of scanned images. If it is a problem, remove as much of the laminate as possible before proceeding should help. If removal is difficult, consulting a paper conservator is the next step. Adhesives don’t always stay put and it’s possible that the newsprint has transferred to the inside surface of laminate. All of this depends to a significant degree on what the storage conditions have been like – heat and humidity increase the likelihood of transfer as well as the deterioration of the paper and plastic that are already causing problems.
If scanning isn’t possible at present, a low cost and low tech alternative is photocopying the newspaper clippings. They may photocopy better through the laminate than they will scan. Modern photocopy paper is generally acid free, if not slightly buffered, and the toner is nonreactive. A photocopy has a good chance of lasting longer than the scans and has the advantage of being readable with the naked eye.
The question was posed because the Museum-L’er needs to make a case for scanning to the powers-that-be. This suggests a couple of possible internal problems — too many higher priorty jobs in the queue or lack of experience or staff or equipment to scan. Realistically, if an organization is already scanning vital documents, collections data, original photos and dealing with born-digital material, I’d expect them to be pre-disposed to this project so the problem is building a case to get into the queue.
Any or all of the following points should be incorporated in the proposal to scan — the increasing rate of deterioration, the high demand to use the clippings and
the importance of the documents to other collections within the institution.
For an organization just heading into the brave new world of digitization, though, I’m not certain a newspaper clipping file, no matter how deteriorated is going to have the same priority as original documents, photos, organizational records and other unique materials. Chances are, somebody holds copyright to the newspaper clippings so your scans could only be made available to users on site. While clipping files provide contextual data, most major newspapers and many smaller ones have been microfilmed courtesy of the Library of Congress and various State newspaper projects.
In any case, before embarking on the project, make certain the IT staff can backup, periodically refresh and migrate these images to new server platforms and operating systems. Otherwise the project could have a short useful lifespan which negates the effort this project requires.
Shortly after reading Nicholson Baker on the tragedy of microfilming projects of the post-WW2 era, I experienced a similar problem myself when trying to find a turn of the century ad in a medical journal. Most library binders followed routine library instructions and eliminated those ad sections that appeared in the back of scholarly journals to reduce the amount of space a stored journal would require. When these journals were microfilmed, or more recently scanned, to preserve the intellectual content, the ads were long gone. Luckily, I found a copy with ads in the fourth library I checked and was able to arrange to borrow it long enough for our photographer to photograph the ad in question which was then blown up and used to illustrate how survivors of a 19th century epidemic were housed in tents manufactured locally. It was a great local addition to a national travelling exhibit and very nearly did not happen because back in the day saving space and reducing binding costs trumped the perceived value of the ads.