There is an article on this topic in today's NYT that indicates that the post office is well aware of the problem.
January 11, 2002

The Irradiation of Mail Can Also Zap the Contents


Susan Whitmore
Chief, Information & Education Services Section
NIH Library
Bldg. 10, Rm 1L19A
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, Maryland 20892-1150
tel: (301) 496-1157
fax: (301) 402-0254
email: [log in to unmask]
web page:

-----Original Message-----
From: Dunn, Christina [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Thursday, January 10, 2002 5:46 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Irradiation of the mail: damage to journal issues

We are having big problems with this and contacted our Office of Management earlier this week to see if anything can be done.  To date we have had no reply.  

-----Original Message-----
From: Mohrman, Robert J WRAMC-Wash DC
[mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Thursday, January 10, 2002 3:41 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Irradiation of the mail: damage to journal issues

I'd like to ask if anyone in the Federal Library world is addressing the
issue of the damage that
irradiation of mail does to print products.  The mail we receive here at the
Walter Reed Army
Medical Center is being irradiated, and while I understand the rationale for
doing it, it is very
damaging to a paper product.  Envelopes and their contents become very
brittle; the plastic windows
in envelopes are shriveled, stuck to the contents of the envelope, or vanish
entirely.  Self-adhesive
labels fall off the envelopes.   The effect on white paper is quite
pronounced:  it is visibly yellowed,
as if exposed to sunlight for a very long period of time.

What distresses me most is that this is being done to library materials as
well, and the same damage
is evident.  The glue in the binding of one journal issue I looked at today
is almost entirely melted
away, and once again, the paper is brittle.  The ink from the bar codes on
the outside of two books
that were mailed back to us by a patron had disappeared entirely (I didn't
notice any real damage
to the pages, but who knows).

I'm not sure who to complain to about this.  We are paying a lot of money
for our print subscriptions,
which we bind when volumes are complete, theoretically for posterity.  With
the damage that this
prophylactic irradiation is doing to our journals, we need to seriously
reconsider this time-honored
practice of archiving information.  I'm also concerned about mailing books
for interlibrary loan; what
kind of damage is this causing, and who will be ultimately responsible?
I've done some quick and
dirty searches of the Internet using Google, but I haven't come across
anything on this subject.  The
US Postal Service web site discusses irradiation of the mail, but they don't
address this issue, either.


Robert Mohrman
Acting Chief, Medical Library
Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC)
6900 Georgia Ave NW
Washington DC 20307-5001
(202)782-6547; fax (202)782-6803
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