Quick Pic: The View From Down Under

Today was board-shear maintenance day. We changed the blade, replaced some worn screws, and trued the cut. It takes two people to change the blade. One person under the shear (usually me) and one person to tighten the screws. We have the maintenance down to about half an hour.  A while ago we showed you the view from above, ever wonder what the view from below looks like?

board shear maintenance
Rachel laughing at Beth on the floor.

That is not a very flattering angle. It’s a very good thing Rachel has a great sense of humor.

When A Conservation Effort Fails (Or Did It?)

We are conducting a collections survey of the Music Library’s locked stacks in order to develop a conservation plan for the items held there. Surveying can be fun, but it can also be routine and repetitive:

  1. Pull book from shelf.
  2. Enter bibliographic info into database.
  3. Look at the covers and binding.
  4. Look at the text block and paper.
  5. Record your observations.
  6. Put the book back on the shelf.
  7. Repeat hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times.

It is easy to feel that you have seen every book there is to see and nothing could surprise you. Then you open the next score on the shelf and you gasp out loud.

Photo Jan 13, 10 01 46 AMThis brittle music score has had some pretty awful repairs done to it in the distant past (emphasis on distant). My guess is that when it was first damaged someone used self adhesive tape to repair it. Fair enough, it’s a common impulse and often seen in scores. When those repairs failed and the paper was too brittle to repair, it was laminated between two vinyl sheets AND stapled  AND glued  into a pamphlet binder.

Music score laminated in vinyl.There appears to be a little air pocket about a millimeter in width around the score. I tried picking around the edges of the vinyl with  to see if it would come away easily. No luck. We’ll have to bring this to the lab to see if there is something we can do to remove the lamination. Digitization may be the best option at this point given the condition of the paper.

As horrible as this treatment is, if not for the lamination, this score may have ceased to exist long ago. Yes, the treatment is actively damaging the paper, but it also kept all the pieces together.

We have a lot of discussions about when to undo previous repairs, and whether or not we should spend time working on items whose repairs may be unsightly but are still functioning and not causing further harm. It’s a worthy discussion to have. But this one is crying out for undoing if at all possible. It went into the database as “treat immediately” and we will be talking to the head of the Music Library about treatment options when it gets to the lab.

Job Opening: Conservator for Special Collections, Duke University Libraries

For the complete job announcement and how to apply, visit http://library.duke.edu/about/jobs/conservator

Conservator for Special Collections

The Conservator for Special Collections plans and carries out the physical treatment of special collections material from the Duke University Libraries including those from the Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University Archives, and branch libraries. This position reports to the Head, Conservation Services Department (CSD).


Conservation (80%)

  • Works with the department head and appropriate conservation and library staff to develop treatment strategies for special collections materials. Coordinates treatments and priorities with the Head of CSD.
  • Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab, Duke University Libraries.
    Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab, Duke University Libraries.
  • Performs appropriate conservation treatments on library materials held in the Libraries’ rare and special collections in support of various workflows including those for Rubenstein Library User Services and Technical Services, the Digital Production Center, and the Exhibits Program. Scope of work includes treating primarily bound and unbound books, manuscripts and other documents on paper and vellum. Depending on the conservator’s expertise the scope may also include treating photographs, papyri, and other formats and substrates found in the collections. Documents treatments with photographs and written reports following CSD and American Institute for Conservation (AIC) guidelines and best practices.
  • Identifies items for which protective enclosures will be the most effective preservation option; constructs appropriate protective enclosures or delegates the construction of enclosures to other staff, students or volunteers.
  • Other related duties as assigned.

Departmental Support and Programming Initiatives (10%)

  • Participates in planning and setting goals, managing projects and developing workflows in support of CSD priorities.
  • Assists in providing disaster recovery services for library materials.
  • Other related duties as assigned.

Professional Development (10%)

  • Actively participates on appropriate Library committees, task forces or groups to meet the strategic goals of the Department and the Duke University Libraries.
  • Displays continuing growth in professional and subject knowledge and takes an active interest in the profession. Growth and interest should be demonstrated through continuing development of professional knowledge and abilities, membership and participation in professional organizations, and service to the library, University, or community in a professional capacity.

Supervisory Responsibilities

  • Provides training, supervision and quality control for students, staff and volunteers in coordination with the department head and/or senior conservator.
  • May serve as interim supervisor in the absence of the department head and senior conservator.


It is the expectation that all Duke University Libraries staff members will demonstrate exceptional workplace behaviors in the execution of their specific position responsibilities. These behaviors are customer focus, collaboration, creative problem solving, continuous learning and a commitment to diversity.


Required: ALA-accredited MLS or Master’s degree in conservation of library and archival materials, or demonstration of a similar level of education and training required for the conservation of rare materials.

Preferred: Demonstrated record of continued education in areas relevant to this position.



  • Minimum of three years of demonstrated experience in conservation of special collections and knowledge of current conservation principles, practices, and procedures.
  • Exceptional manual skills and a full understanding of current conservation theory, principles, practices and procedures.
  • Knowledge of physical and chemical mechanisms of deterioration of library materials.
  • Knowledge of conservation ethics and practices relevant to research library materials; commitment to AIC standards of practice and Code of Ethics.
  • Demonstrated ability to work independently and productively in a changing environment.
  • Strong organizational, interpersonal, and oral and written communication skills.


  • Prior experience working in an academic research library or archives.
  • Prior experience supervising conservation technicians and students.
  • Expertise in the treatment of photographic materials; works on art on paper, vellum and parchment; or similar cultural heritage materials generally found in academic libraries and university archives.
  • Experience evaluating and treating materials to prepare them for digital imaging and/or exhibitions.
  • Experience in exhibitions including preparation, installation, materials testing and environmental monitoring.
  • Teaching experience.



Working While Lab-less

While we are out of the lab we have been staying busy with projects that do not require access to water, large equipment, and other tools and supplies that we normally use. At first it felt that we had to stretch to find projects to work on. As it turns out, we have more than enough to keep us, our students and volunteer busy, including some large-scale projects.

Beth surveying Music Library materials.
Beth surveying Music Library materials.

We are working on surveying the locked stacks in the Music Library. Rachel and Beth have created and tested the survey tool, and they are now in the midst of collecting item-level condition data. At the end of this project we will write the report and use the data to address some issues in this collection. We already know there is a lot of boxing needs, and there are a fair amount of brittle pamphlets that we need to discuss with the Music Librarian.

We started a re-encapsulation project in the Rubenstein Library map collection. In the past, these maps were encapsulated using the double-stick-tape method. The margins are much bigger than they need to be because they wanted to be sure the maps didn’t get accidentally taped into the polyester.  While the impulse was a good one, many of the maps have shifted in their packets and are stuck to the tape. In addition, the library needs to make room in the flat files for items that can’t fit in standard manuscript boxes. Since we are moving into the new space in the fall of 2015, now is the time to address these issues.

Lauren works on re-encapsulating maps.
Lauren works on re-encapsulating maps in Rubenstein Library.

We moved the polyester ultrasonic welder to a consultation room in Rubenstein Library to be closer to the maps. We are welding inside the tape, trimming the tape off, and putting the maps into large, flat manuscript boxes. Our students and volunteers have been doing most of this work with support from Rachel and Beth. There are an estimated 1,200 maps in these cabinets. This project will continue through the spring of 2015.

Erin prepares Duke Chronicles for digitization.
Erin prepares Duke Chronicles for digitization.

Erin has been working on preparing the next set of Duke Chronicles for digitization. The next set are from the 1940’s-50’s and have been bound together. The paper is fairly brittle, but remains flexible. Erin is going through each volume to stabilize any large tears. It’s also a time to find any missing volumes or pages and alert the digitization team.

Before the move, Tedd prepared several text blocks to the point of casing-in. He’s been working through these as well as making four-flap boxes for the Rubenstein Library.

It’s been a challenge to work in this space, but we are finding ways to be productive. I am finding that being more visible is a good thing for Conservation. We are seeing and talking to colleagues we normally wouldn’t see in the basement. That said, we are all looking forward to getting back to the lab. We will return next week if the construction is on schedule.







Moving The Lab: “At Least We Have Windows”

This week we moved out of the lab so that the construction crew could proceed with the Rubenstein Renovation Project. They need to remove our ceiling, take out old HVAC ducts and water pipes, and install new ducts and pipes. We have known for about a year that we would have to move out. The serious “down to brass tacks” planning started about five or six months ago.

Packing up the lab.

Our temporary space is a conference room and not designed to be a conservation lab. The challenge for our planning was to stay productive while working in a space about a third the size of the lab that has no water, sink, fume hood or the other equipment we have come to rely on. We also needed to figure out where and how to store our large equipment; negotiate storage space for library materials that are awaiting treatment; collaborate with our colleagues to adjust workflows; and physically move important files and materials that we wanted to move ourselves.

The plan involved moving some materials to locked stacks, move as much large equipment and supplies as could fit into our dirty room and computer nook, moving  supplies and equipment to our new room, and moving the remaining furniture to off site storage. It’s a good thing we specialize in organized workflows.

Moving Day

Moving Day came this past Monday, and continued through lunchtime on Tuesday. Most of the day went off without a hitch, and the small glitches that did occur were quickly remedied. It was an all-hands-on-deck situation with both planned and on-the-spot move assignments being made. Everyone worked together to ensure the safe move of all of our stuff, and what a lot of stuff it was.

Moving the large board shear.
Moving the large board shear.

There are so many people to thank that helped us in our move. Staff from the library helped by making space for us to store materials, by moving meetings to other rooms, by coordinating movers, etc. We had three people from Rubenstein Library come and help us pack when we needed extra hands. The Lock Shop even came over to take the door off the hinges so we could get the board shear through the door.  Everyone we asked seemed more than happy and willing to help us in our time of need. I am so thankful that we work with such amazing and helpful colleagues.

Our Temporary Lab
Our temporary lab is cozy, but at least it has windows!
Our temporary lab is cozy, but at least it has windows!

Our new space is small, but our planning has paid off. We have five benches for all the staff, students and our volunteer to share. We moved the large board shear, a couple of shelving units,  secure storage units, and several book trucks into the space. We also made sure to have room to move around and maneuver trucks to benches. The best part of the new space is that we have windows! Not since our original lab space have we been able to see the outside world during work hours. We will enjoy every minute of those, especially if this beautiful weather continues.

What We Are Learning

While it is difficult and stressful to move, we are learning there are other benefits besides the windows. First, moving gave us an opportunity to clean out stuff we no longer use or want. Everyone needs a good clearing-out now and then to create space and reduce clutter.

Now that we are in our temporary space, more people are becoming aware of Conservation because we are in a much more public space. We are interacting with library staff that we would normally not have a chance to talk to since we are more visible. Additionally, several people have stopped by to see our space. We are thinking of hosting a pop-up open house next week just for fun since so many people are curious about who just moved into Room 118.

You can see more images of our move  on Flickr.

Boxing Day: The Entire Lab Edition

Photo Nov 05, 4 26 16 PM
Book trucks ready for packing.
boxes of files
Boxes of lab files.

We are undergoing an epic boxing day…boxing the entire lab to move temporarily off site. Construction work needs to be done in our ceiling, which means we need to move out to make way. We are packing up the entire lab and moving some of it to temporary space, some will go into storage. If all goes well, we will be back into the lab in mid-December. Wish us luck!

When Halloween Is Like A Box of Chocolates

Photo Oct 31, 11 28 27 AM
Rachel unpacks some real gems from technical services.

We love getting Boxing Day books from Rubenstein Library Technical Services, especially pulps from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. When you open the crate, you never know what you are going to get.  Today the crate was filled with Horror! Fantasy! Choose your own adventure tales! All with some pretty amazing cover art. Happy Halloween!

Photo Oct 31, 1 12 14 PM
Be afraid. Be very afraid!


Photo Conservation Workshop: Wrap Up

Surface cleaning station. Don't worry, we do actually have real chairs.
Emily Rainwater, Whitney Baker and Melissa  Tedone at the surface cleaning station. Don’t worry, we do have real chairs in the lab.

We are all still talking about the shear amount of information we learned last week at “Photo Conservation for Book and Paper Conservators,” taught by Gawain Weaver and Jennifer Olsen of Gawain Weaver Art Conservation.

Colleagues from across the country came to the Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation lab for this event. We had people from California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, New York, Minnesota, and of course several from the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area (Duke, UNC Chapel Hill and the NC State Archives). Some work in university libraries and archives, others in private practice, and some in other types of organizations. It was a great mix of experiences and perspectives.

This workshop was geared toward mid-career conservators who already have a fundamental understanding of materials and solvents, experience in evaluating the condition of materials, and experience in making treatment decisions. The goal was to give paper and book conservators hands-on experience working with various historic and modern photographic processes and to get us more comfortable in doing so.

Jennifer Olsen (R) and Gawain Weaver (L).
Jennifer Olsen (R) and Gawain Weaver (L).

Gawain and Jennifer are very generous teachers. They use a good mix of demonstration, hands-on practicums and lectures to get the information across. We were also able to work with samples of actual photographs, which helped move theory into practice. We learned about removing silver mirroring, removing photos stuck to glass, attaching and removing heat set tissue, and various methods of mechanical and chemical surface cleaning.  We also discussed disaster recovery, mold removal, humidifying and flattening, housing options, and general mending.

Clara and Whitney discussing dry cleaning options.
Clara Ines Rojas Sebesta (L) and Whitney Baker (R) discussing treatment options.

We participated because so much of our photographic collections are valued primarily for their informational content, not their artistic value (although that isn’t always the case). Therefore, they do not rise to the level that would trigger sending them out for treatment. Yet, some of our photos need more treatment than simply housing. I think we all came away with a better understanding of what we can do even though photographs are not are area of expertise.

What I value most about last week is the camaraderie of professionals learning from each other; meeting new colleagues and working with long-time friends; being treated professionally by people outside your specialty; learning skills that would otherwise be difficult to learn; and walking away knowing more about when you should and shouldn’t undertake treatment. I also enjoyed the parts that began with the caveat, “You would never do this with real objects, but watch what happens when you do!”

We have posted images from the workshop on Flickr, and you can see composites and a brief description of Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4 on Preservation Underground. Check out Melissa Tedone’s review of the week on Parks Library Preservation.

Photo Conservation Workshop: Day 4

Working with a variety of historic and modern heat set tissues.
Working with a variety of historic and modern heat set tissues.

Last day of class and we are knee deep in attaching and removing various heat set tissues. We removed them mechanically with a variety of implements, and attempted to remove them chemically with varying success. I have a feeling some of these were successful only because they haven’t been sitting in an attic or outbuilding for 50 years. Maybe some artificial aging of the samples is in order.

Thanks to the Nasher Museum for lending us their heat set press. We wouldn’t have been able to do any of the last day without it.

Addendum: We have posted images from the workshop on Flickr, and you can see composites and a brief description of Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4 on Preservation Underground.

Photo Conservation Workshop: Day 3

Gawain Weaver and Jennifer Olsen demonstrate heat set tissue and review Day 2's results.
Participants work on photos, Gawain Weaver and Jennifer Olsen demonstrate heat set tissue, and we review Day 2’s results. So much tape to remove!

Day 3 of photo conservation for book and paper conservators was incredibly busy. We learned about platinum prints, then got to work experimenting on a variety of color print technologies. We tried tape removal techniques and played “what would happen if…?” by cutting up color prints and immersing them in various solvents. The sounds coming from the fume hood were similar to those at a fireworks show.

We ended the day learning about a brief history of cold-press and heat-set tissues, and prepped for today’s session of sticking photos to things and unsticking them from things.

See Day 1 and Day 2 posts.

Addendum: We have posted images from the workshop on Flickr, and you can see composites and a brief description of Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4 on Preservation Underground.

Duke University Libraries Preservation