It’s hard to say what a typical day in the conservation lab might be, or what skills you will need when you show up for work in the morning. What makes library conservation challenging is that you need to know about not only books and paper objects, but paintings, art on paper, furniture, sculpture, indigenous and folk art, photographs, analog and digital A-V materials, media of all kind from the dawn of mark-making, etc. The list of what we need to know is endless because libraries and archives collect broadly, and the conservation needs of these collections can be complex. This list doesn’t even cover the parts of library conservation that include budgeting, planning, managing people, environmental monitoring, attending meetings, and all those things that keep the Conservation program running smoothly.
Yesterday I was reflecting on the life of a collections conservator as were doing some out-of-the-ordinary work. I was asked to write condition reports for the three portraits in the exhibits suite. I’m not a paintings conservator, but I do know how to look at an object and describe its condition in enough detail that someone can understand the state of that object now, and determine if any changes occurred in the future. I found the Canadian Conservation Institute’s excellent reference materials online regarding evaluating paintings to be very helpful in my evaluation. I have also collected condition data on the two historic pieces of furniture in that room. I didn’t find a CCI document on writing condition reports for furniture, but they do make available a lot of furniture care and handling information. We have no paintings or furniture conservators on staff, but my skills are such that I can describe them for our records and help facilitate their conservation should the need arise.
When they were ready to go back on the wall, Henry Hebert from Conservation, and Ben Bridgers from Exhibits, rehung the portraits.
This morning, we helped put the book collections on the shelves that line the exhibits suite. It took about an hour and a half and eight people to finish the job. The exhibits suite is now ready for the weekend’s events.
Last week a rather strange and amusing item came in for rehousing, prompting me to do a little research about its origin. This satirical engraving by Stephen College, fittingly titled Strange’s Case, Strangely Altered, was printed in 1680. The dog represents Robert L’Estrange, an English pamphleteer, fleeing the gallows from his alleged involvement in the “Popish Plot“. “Crack-Fart” is one of the many names given to L’Estrange. The British Museum has digitized their copy, which includes extensive contemporary annotations on the characters involved. Ironically, the printer was hanged and quartered for sedition a year later, while L’Estrange returned and was knighted in 1685 for helping to discredit the plot.
As evidenced by the archives from the tag “Boxing Day“, we make a lot of boxes in the lab. Some objects require specific enclosures and we have many materials and techniques at our disposal for fulfilling the needs of the object. Of particular interest to me lately have been enclosures appropriate for parchment over boards bindings, which include some form of restraint.
Parchment is hygroscopic by nature and will change size and shape dramatically under different environmental conditions (Woods, 2006). The structure and limited adhesive of a limp binding will usually allow the parchment to adjust (Clarkson, 1982), but bindings composed of parchment adhered over stiff boards can distort significantly with fluctuating relative humidity. The vellum over boards binding below recently came through the lab for treatment and illustrates (to a lesser extent) some of the typical warping that can occur with this style of binding.
Planar distortion of the board creates a poor book action and opens the textblock to dust penetration. Once the boards have been flattened again, storing the book in an enclosure can create a micro-climate and buffer the item from some environmental fluctuations. Including gentle pressure or restraining elements can prevent the warp from returning or pushing open the box. Note that one should not attempt to flatten warped boards with pressure alone. Simply pressing down on the fore edge of a distorted board will strain and potentially damage the joints. There are many different options for creating a restraining enclosure; the following examples are common solutions, but certainly not exhaustive.
The simplest and most cost-effective of this type of enclosure is the the classic “phase box” (Waters, 1998). This design is constructed from stiff barrier board, with string and post ties at the fore edge. While quick to construct, this solution is not as elegant as some of the others.
Another option is to construct a restraining wrapper that would sit inside a standard box. Tomomi Nakashima, Book Conservator at the University of Utah, J. Willard Marriott Library, has developed a rather inventive wrapper, using magnets, barrier board, and clear polyester. Photos below by Christina Thomas.
The slipcase was once a very popular style of book enclosure and is still often seen with fine press editions or design bindings. Slipcases can be simple to construct and, if well-fitting, will restrict the opening of the volume inside. Roger Powell’s treatment of the Ricemarch Psalter in the early 1950s made use of a wooden version of the slipcase for this very reason (Cains, 1996). It is worth mentioning that Powell also used a set of spring-lidded wooden boxs for the Book of Kells (Pignatti, 2012).
We do not currently make new slipcases for items in our collections. Books can be difficult to safely remove from your run-of-the-mill cloth-covered slipcase, and the abrasive action of sliding a book in and out can present a danger to fragile covering material. A chemise may reduce but likely will not eliminate those handling issues.
The cloth-covered “clamshell” or “drop-spine” box can be a more durable and aesthetically pleasing enclosure than those listed above. For books requiring restraint, the clamshell structure can be easily modified to include restraining elements. There are examples in the literature of boxes with clasps (Foot, Blacker, & Poole-Wilson, 2004), but I cannot recall ever seeing one. Clasps can be difficult or expensive to make, and one would assume those clasps have suffered from the same condition issues as their book-bound counterparts over the years. There are modern alternatives with the same mechanical principles, however. Fore edge restraints using ribbon ties, Velcro®, or metal snaps can easily be adhered between the trays and case of the clamshell enclosure.
As bookcloth can tear quite easily with applied shearing force, I would suggest including a more durable material at the core of each strap. I will often use Tyvek® or parchment strips, wrapped in bookcloth.
Another variation commonly made to hold parchment over boards bindings is the pressure-lid clamshell box. The inner tray of the enclosure features a simple flap or lid, which is hinged to the fore edge wall and prevents the boards from pushing the box open.
I cannot recall ever receiving explicit instruction on an exact method for covering and attaching the inner lid for this style of box. Having learned many different methods over the years for constructing and covering a standard clamshell enclosure, I became curious as to how other conservators and bookbinders were executing this modification.
I began with a review of the literature on book enclosures to determine where this structure originates. Email listserv discussions have suggested several attributions of its origin to notable figures in the field, but I have not been able to make a definite link. Many of the classic manuals and reference volumes describe a method for making a clamshell box, but I have yet to find one which describes the making of the pressure lid. My biggest obstacle is nomenclature: while I tend to call this feature a “pressure lid”, it is often described with other names. A simple online search yields several images of this style of box shared in digital portfolios or treatment documentation, with “pressure lid” “pressure flap”, “fore edge flap”, and “inner lid” all appearing as descriptors. I have not yet been able to examine some of the more obscure print resources, however, and my own admittedly compulsive curiosity will likely force me to continue searching.
With input from colleagues, I began constructing models using different methods of attaching the pressure lid. Four methods emerged. A note about these illustrative models: Each model is only the inner tray of the enclosure. I completed each step of the covering process with a different color of cloth to better illustrate the process. In all but Method D, the pressure lid closes to fit inside the walls of the tray. Obviously for these methods, the thickness of the covered board must be accounted for in constructing the dimensions of the inner tray.
My initial thought was to attach the inner lid with as few pieces of cloth as possible. In this method, the head and tail of the lid are first covered with strips of cloth, then the lid is attached at the time of covering the inner tray. The interior of the lid and tray were then covered with a single piece of cloth. Click the thumbnail images for a larger image.
This method of covering is the nicest looking in my opinion, but it can be tricky to accomplish neatly and produces more waste cloth than the others.
Sidney F. Huttner suggested a method with similar attachment. The lid is still attached at the time of covering the tray, but with a much narrower strip of cloth. A second piece of material covers the outside of the lid, with turn-ins at the three remaining sides. For this model, I covered the inside with separate pieces of cloth for the interior hinge, interior of the lid, and floor of the tray.
This covering technique can be accomplished very quickly and makes use of smaller pieces of material, creating less waste. The slight bump of cloth on the exterior of the tray (far right image) is not as attractive, but could be mitigated with in-filling.
The boxing manual from the Library of Congress includes a description of a clamshell box with a “hinged shelf” (Brown, Etherington, & Ogden, 1982). This shelf was intended to separate and hold two items in the interior of the box; for example, a book and a set of plates. I discovered that the design could be easily adapted to function as a pressure lid.
The inner tray of the enclosure is constructed and covered in the usual way, with an additional covered board thickness added to the width of the tray dimensions. The flap is constructed separately, using two pieces of board. The thinner board of the flap is then glued to the interior fore edge of the tray.
This method uses a little more material and can be a little tricky to securely attach. During the gluing process, I stood the tray up on the fore edge inside a book press with the flap in place. Wooden blocks were then stacked inside the tray until they cleared the spine edge. The press was then tightened down onto the wooden blocks.
The final method of covering was suggested by Scott Kellar. For this method, the pressure lid actually sits on top of the walls of the tray. The tray is covered as usual, but the flap of cloth which usually covers the interior of the fore edge wall of the tray is sliced off at the top of the wall. The pressure lid is covered with an extended piece of cloth at what will be the fore edge and the remaining three sides are turned in. A spacer of thin material (20pt Bristol board) is placed between the flap and the tray while the extended cloth is glued around the fore edge of the tray and turned in underneath. When dry, a strip of material is added to the interior joint. In this model, it would appear that the interior fore edge wall and floor of the tray are covered separately. The lovely cut away model pictured below was kindly made and sent to me by Karen Hanmer.
I find that it is always nice to have options when constructing an enclosure and the different elements of these methods can be adapted or recombined in many different ways. I would like to thank everyone who answered my inquiries about their covering methods, and I hope that these descriptions and images are of some use to those attempting the pressure lid box for the first time.
Brown, M., Etherington, D., & Ogden, L. (1982). Boxes for the protection of rare books. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress.
Cains, A. G. (1996). Roger Powell’s innovation in book conservation: The early Irish manuscripts repaired and bound, 1953-1981. In R. Powell & J. Sharpe (Ed.). Roger Powell, the compleat binder (pp. 80-85). Turnhout: Brepols.
Clarkson, C. (1982). Limp vellum binding and its potential as a conservation type structure for the rebinding of early printed books. Hitchin, Herts., England: Red Gull Press.
Foot, M. M., Blacker, C. & Poole-Wilson, N. (2004). Collector, dealer, and forger: A fragment of nineteenth century binding history. In M. M. Foot (Ed.) Eloquent witnesses (pp. 264-281). London: Bibliographical Society.
Pignatti, G. (2012). Boxes for the housing and protection of books: Observations on their history and development. E-conservation: the online magazine, 23.
With the incredible diversity of Duke’s collections, you never know what will come through the conservation lab. For example, some of my recent treatments included a 17th century printed bookand a photograph album from the early 1990s. Despite the differences in format, materials, and subject matter between these two items, one common thread persists: big hair never goes out of style.
By Rachel Penniman, Senior Conservation Technician
In my last blog post I showed the design process for creating caps for rolled storage tubes. After going through multiple versions of potential designs I had found a model that used a minimal amount of material and still created an effective cap. Unfortunately I had also discovered the woes of trying to cut perfect circles by hand.
Initially I looked into getting a circular mat cutter but even with that specialized tool, it still looked tricky to use and time consuming.
Fortunately I work with a group of creative individuals so while I was bemoaning the difficulty of cutting circles, Henry suggested I look into getting them laser or die cut. Huzzah! That reminded me of an article I’d read about a makerspace on campus called the Innovation Studio. Makerbots, Shopbots, and Printerbots, oh my! After communicating with Chip and Vinny, the nice folks who run the iStudio, they assured me their equipment that would have no problem cutting our corrugated board.
From the description on the iStudio webpage:
“The Epilog Zing is a desktop-style 30 watt CO2 laser cutter. It can operate in two different modes: raster and vector. Raster mode is for engraving into the surface of materials. You can take photographs/images/text/etc. and use the software to engrave into a variety of materials, including wood, some plastics, some metals, and acrylic. Vector mode is for cutting custom shapes through thin materials by using a slow moving, high powered laser.”
The iStudio is conveniently located just across the street from the library. So Tedd and I brought some templates of the parts I needed over to the iStudio and they helped us draft up a vector drawing to my exact specifications in Solidworks.
The vector drawings got inserted into a CorelDRAW page and then the file was sent as a print job to the Epilog Zing.
Our first attempt very quickly yielded an expertly cut circle but the laser caused scorch marks on the board.
The cutting action of the laser can be altered by adjusting its speed and/or power so Tedd and I continued adjusting until we found a good setting that cleanly cut the board without being so overpowered to cause scorch marks.
In the end we found a setting of 50% speed and only 20% power made the perfect cut. The board still had a slightly burned scent to it even with the power so low, but leaving the parts in our fume hood overnight took care of that. Because the laser works by vaporizing the material, I’m not actually sure it’s possible to cut the board without having some smell.
The perfection of these laser cut parts is especially apparent when compared side by side with my hand cut parts, and the laser cut parts are completed in a fraction of the time.
One of the great advantages of the laser cutter is that it can take any size board 12×24” or smaller. So even small scraps can be laser cut into cap parts. I have put a new bin under our board shear to collect scraps that would otherwise be destined for the recycle bin. This makes me especially happy because we are able to make almost the entire cap out of material diverted from the recycle bin.
After perfecting the method I plan to collect scraps until I’ve got a good pile, then cut out a number of cap parts all at once. Then we can have a supply of parts ready to assemble whenever a new rolled item needs storage. The prototype was an excellent success though and has already been put into use.
My experience at the iStudio has sparked my interest in other potential uses for laser cutting or engraving. Could this be used for creating other enclosures? Or could we accommodate making more complex enclosures if they could be modeled and cut on this machine?
The folks at the iStudio had a wooden box on display that was cut and engraved on the Epilog Zing. A student using the machine on my first visit showed me a template available for free online that would calculate the cuts for a box of any size including calculating the size to make perfect finger joints.
To me was the lid of this box was even more inspiring. By cutting a series of parallel slits in the wood the flat board became bendable.
Could we cut an archival material with this living hinge method to fabricate a custom cradle for book display with a bendable spine that would accommodate multiple angled openings? Could we create supports for oddly shaped or rounded artifacts in our collection more easily? What other materials could we start using now that we have a tool to easily cut and modify them? Could complex acrylic supports be cheap and easy to make in house now? Or are there new materials that we could consider using now that we have a tool to manipulate them.
And these are all ideas for using just that one tool. How else could we make use of the Shopbot or Makerbots also available for use? A quick review of conservation literature doesn’t yield much being published on the subject yet. I did find one excellent blog post from Indiana University Bloomington Libraries preservation lab about taking a 3-D scan of an item and using their Kasemaker machine to cut out a three dimensional support for a warped panel painting. Surely with so many universities and libraries building maker spaces there must be many other preservation professionals with these tools at their disposal now too.
Has anyone else in the conservation or library world found a good use for this technology? I’d love to hear if anyone else has experimented with laser cutters or Makerbots. If anyone is interested in using my templates to create caps of your very own, I’m happy to share the vector files.
The holidays are upon us and that means it is the season for parties, family get-togethers, and making memories. There will inevitably be photographs and keepsakes from these events, and you may at some point consider gathering them together in a photo album or scrapbook. Before you begin, however, let us take a look at some historical examples so that you can avoid the mistakes of our scrapbooking-forebears.
Duke, like many research libraries, holds a large number of scrapbooks and photo albums across our collections. Scrapbooks are complex objects and they frequently come to the conservation lab to address inherent problems with the materials or housing issues. Usually, we find some pretty strange objects inside as well. A student scrapbook from the 1940s recently arrived in the lab which perfectly illustrates five common and problematic conditions.
No. 1: Tape
There are so many varieties of pressure sensitive tape and, because it is a very convenient way to attach materials to pages, we encounter it all the time on collection material. Unfortunately, adhesive tapes do not age well and can exhibit a number of problems, such as discoloration, adhesive creep, or even adhesive failure. Tape can stain the items it touches (like the white tabs on the felt flag above) or cause pages to stick together. A better option is to use a simple and reversible attachment method, such as photo corners. Stable plastics such as polyester, polyethylene, or polypropylene are preferred.
No. 2: Glitter
This one is more social etiquette than preservation practice: When you add glitter to your scrapbook, you give the gift of glitter to every person who looks at your scrapbook until the end of time. It is literally all over my bench as I write this.
No. 3: Perishable Items
Flowers and candy may hold many memories, but they are not so compatible with scrapbooks. Like tape, perishables can either discolor the pages and items around them or adhere pages together. These items may also be attractive to insects or mold, potentially compromising the entire scrapbook and putting other items in the collection at risk. Photographs of the flowers will function a little better in the book.
Strangely, tobacco products, like cigars or cigarettes are also commonplace in historic scrapbooks. Use of tobacco products in general seems to be declining, so maybe we will stop seeing this in more modern scrapbooks that come into our collection. If the urge does strike you, however, I would suggest just including the wrapper or packaging (like the Lucky Strikes on the left, above), rather than an entire cigar (as on the right).
No. 4: Rocks (Or really any hard, pointy object)
Books are not the best containers for three-dimensional objects. In addition to distorting the entire book, pointy objects can pierce through facing pages and damage the attached photographs or ephemera. Heavier objects can even tear support pages from the book. Objects like this will be much happier in a box.
No. 5: Large format materials
In a similar vein, larger format pages, such as whole newspapers or large posters, may not survive well when folded up and tucked inside a scrapbook. The bulk of the folded piece can strain the scrapbook binding. Some papers become very brittle as they age and may crack along the folds- especially as they are unfolded and refolded with use. These items are better left out of the book and stored flat.
Scrapbooks can be important cultural artifacts. I hope that in this digital age people continue to make them and that they will eventually make their way into library and archives collections. But I also hope that they do not contain so much tape.
By Rachel Penniman, Senior Conservation Technician for Special Collections
In my last blog post I showed an example of a tremendously oversize item that ended up in our super-size flat file storage. Not everything is best stored flat in a drawer. On some occasions we choose to keep an oversize item rolled. The new Rubenstein Library stacks space has cubbies purpose built to house rolled items.
For protection, we store our rolled items in archival tubes in either a 4.5” or 6” diameter and a 4’, 6’, or 10’ length. However after purchasing a number of 4.5” diameter tubes I discovered that none of our suppliers could provide caps for that size tube. Virtually every other size tube had a corresponding cap, but not this size. What to do? Without caps the rolled items could just slide out the end of the tube defeating the purpose of a protective housing.
With all the materials and know-how at our disposal we decided to fabricate caps in-house. To the drawing board!
Our first attempt at making caps were created by cutting a large circle out of archival corrugated board and creasing a smaller circle in the center. Segments of the outer part of the circle are cut and folded up like an old fashioned vegetable steamer basket. The cap is placed on the tube and tape is wrapped around the outside to hold the segments in place.
These were relatively quick to produce, though the fit was finicky. It was really difficult to get the sizing just right so it slipped onto the tube without being too loose. Even with the perfect sizing, the little segments would often catch on the lip of the tube making it difficult to put on. They didn’t look terribly professional either. Worst of all, we discovered that over time as they were taken on and off the tubes they became looser and looser.
So I went back to the drawing board and mocked up a different model.
For the second version I opted instead to try a cap that inserted into the tube instead of one that slid onto the exterior of the tube. I started by building up alternating layers of archival corrugated board and Volara foam to create the round plug. I then wrapped Volara foam around the perimeter of the plug to help it fit snugly inside the tube. A couple of slightly larger round pieces of archival corrugated board created the top of the cap. A strap of Tyvek tape with Velcro at the ends helped to hold the cap securely in place on the tube, and a loop of linen tape through all the layers gave a handle to pull the cap off.
What an improvement! Version 2.0 fit better, stayed in place, held up over time, was easier to insert and remove, and looked pretty spiffy too. In terms of function this model was an A+. But cutting perfect circles out of cardboard is difficult, time consuming, and rough on the wrists. Also no matter how well I measured I could never get all the slots and holes on the circles to line up perfectly. I also wasn’t happy with how much expensive Volara this model used. I considered replacing the Volara with more layers of cardboard but estimated that would require cutting 12 more circles out of board. Too much board use and too much wrist pain!
Back to the drawing board again.
This time I tried to take the parts I really liked from Version 2.0 (the general plug design, the Velcro strap, the linen tape handle) and modify the parts I didn’t (cutting lots of circles out of cardboard).
While the final product of this version looked almost exactly like Version 2.0 the interior was very different. Rather than layering Volara foam and many circles of corrugated board to create the plug, I created a wall out of a single piece of corrugated board that is attached with double stick tape to only two circles of corrugated board.
This model reduced the number of circles to I needed to cut from 6 to 3 and greatly reduced the amount of material used overall. I really liked this model and was extremely happy with the function and happier with the small quantity of material needed, but three circles per cap would still take some time to cut by hand.
I wonder how other institutions handle capping their rolled storage. Has anyone else found an easy, efficient, archival way to cap their tubes?
Stay tuned for part 2 of the continuing saga of Tube Caps: Adventures in cutting!
In early August, just as the final move back into the renovated space was taking place, Henry Hebert joined Conservation Services as the new Conservator for Special Collections. Henry is no stranger to the lab, having worked on the circulating collection as a graduate student several years ago.
I always ask our new staff about their favorite conservation project. Here’s Henry’s favorite:
While working as a contractor at Baker Library at the Harvard Business School, I was able to assist with treatment of the United Fruit Company Photograph Collection. The collection is composed of around 10,000 photographs documenting the company’s extensive banana production and shipping operations in Central and South America. Every day brought new and exciting photographs – everything from serpentariums to stone ruins in the jungle. The working condition on the farms were harsh and some of the images of workers were quite haunting. Through this project I learned that the story behind your typical grocery store banana is far more strange and interesting than you would ever think.
Every now and then we take some time to practice new techniques we learn at conferences and workshops. At the 2015 AIC Annual Conference, Erin learned how to use an airbrush and how it could be applied to conservation. Last week she showed us what she learned, and gave us all time to practice with the airbrush. Erin has experimented with tide line removal and tissue toning with the airbrush. We brainstormed other ways we could use this method, too, including consolidation and perhaps spot washing on the suction platen. Have you used an airbrush in your lab? Let us know in the comments how and to what effect.