We couldn’t let this moment go by without participating. We put all our conservation skills to work making DIY viewers at the last minute.
The best part was being surrounded by people gathering in peace in the name of science, and watching an amazing celestial event. Everyone was sharing viewers and glasses, talking with strangers, having fun, learning things, sharing a moment. A brief glimpse of the best of humanity.
It’s the end of the fiscal year and time to write reports. We had a very productive year. The only metric we track that didn’t increase this year was mold removal. It’s difficult to be sad about that.
1,625 book repairs (up 90% due to a very large acquisition project)
1,735 pamphlets bound (up 40%)
11,007 flat paper repairs (up 390% due to a very large digitization project)
7,018 protective enclosures (up 23%)
1,333 disaster recovery (down 56%)
22 exhibit mounts created (up 47%)
135 hours of time in support of exhibits (includes meetings, treatment, installation, etc.)
339.25 hours in support of digital projects (includes meetings, treatment, evaluation, etc.)
66% of total work was for Special Collections
34% of total work was for Circulating Collections
82% of work was Level 1 [less than 15 minutes to complete]*
17% of work was Level 2 [15 minutes – 2 hours to complete]
1% of work was Level 3 [more than 2 hours to complete]
Looking at a graph of the past few years of production you can see the impact that digital projects have had on our work (mostly working on archival collections, aka “flat paper repairs”). This trend is likely to continue.
*This number is skewed from past years due some very large projects that needed a lot of minor repairs.
Not Everything Is A Statistic
We gave tours to 121 people last year.
We created a new Sewn-Board Workflow for fine-press bindings in our circulating collections.
We had a wonderful pre-program volunteer who worked with us for almost a year to learn more about library conservation and treatment.
We worked with library colleagues to set up the new multi-spectral imaging equipment; and worked with campus resources to CT-scan some objects in the History of Medicine Collection.
We hosted a “preservation of digitally printed materials” workshop taught by Daniel Burge, Senior Research Scientist at IPI.
Conservation is often asked to take archival documents out of frames. This process can be tricky due to the myriad ways framers put things together. It can be a bit like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates…you never know what you are going to get. As you take the frame apart layer by layer, you hope that nothing is stuck to the glass or adhered to acidic cardboard. A lot of times you don’t get that lucky. The thing is, you never know until the very end…
As I am pulling rusty fasteners from these frames I am reminded that everyone working in the lab really should have their tetanus shot up to date. In addition, you really shouldn’t work with rusty nails and framer’s points without protecting your hands. Don’t be like me.* I’ve asked Rachel to put cut-resistant Kevlar (R) gloves on our next supply order.
*Yes, I have a broken finger. Even so, conservation work must go on.
When I shared an image of a tape-laden document last month, I was still in the process of treatment. That treatment wrapped up a few weeks ago and here are the final results:
While the results are not that aesthetically pleasing, the document is now stable. All the oxidized tape is off and the staining has been significantly reduced. I knew there were several significant losses going in, but I did not realize just how much of the center fold was gone until all of the tape was removed. Rather than attempting to infill the areas of loss with shaped pieces of toned Japanese paper, the entire sheet was encapsulated in clear polyester. This reduced the overall treatment time, while still allowing the item to be used and handled safely.
Last month I posted a picture of a tape-laden item from the NC Mutual Life Insurance Company Archives. Progress on this collection is slow and steady, but I thought it would be fun to share a during treatment photo of tape removal and stain reduction.
Pressure sensitive tape had been applied over this horizontal tear. Above the tear, the tape carrier has been removed. The paper below the tear has been treated with solvent and washed to remove the remaining adhesive and staining. Treatment has greatly improved the text legibility and will prevent further darkening of the paper support. Next, thin Japanese paper mends will be applied to rejoin the pieces.
This week I’m working on a small collection of newsprint and other printed publications from the NC Mutual Life Insurance Company Archives. This set of materials has been closed to patrons due to some pretty obvious condition issues that make handling risky, but represent some of the few remaining copies of publications from this important organization. This issue of The North Carolina Mutual from August 1903 is, by far, the worst in regard to the amount of pressure sensitive tape that has been applied. I’ve spent the last couple of days just removing tape carriers and reducing adhesive. So far I’ve encountered five (!!) different kinds of tape, all layered on top of one another, in what I’ve started calling a “tape lasagna”. In some places, the original paper support is gone – there is only a hardened bundle of tape.
I’m assuming this item once lived in a 3-ring binder and over time became more and more damaged at the vertical fold and horizontally across the sheet as the pages were turned. I can imagine that over the last 100 years many different custodians took it upon themselves to repair this document and just reached for whatever tapes they had nearby. The earliest (i.e. lowest) tape layer has a glassine carrier, which has darkened a little. Fabric tape was then applied over this to reinforce the binder holes punched along the spine fold. The third layer is tape with a cellophane carrier, which has oxidized and turned dark yellow. Here and there I have found what appears to be a polyvinylchloride film tape and, finally, some more modern cellulose acetate tape at the very top of the heap. I have had to employ a number of different techniques to release each kind of tape, including heated tools, poultices, and solvent chambers. Removing those repairs will take a considerable chunk of time, and some yellow staining still remain. For now, at least, this project feels like a combination of an archaeological dig of office supplies and a jigsaw puzzle.
Regular readers of this blog may remember when I shared some photos of a fun little copy of the Dance of Death a few weeks ago. The front board had come off, so it was looking a little sad.
It felt a little strange to leave the treatment story of this item unresolved, though. Here are a few more images of the book after treatment.
After firmly re-attaching the front board, I covered the split leather along that joint with a thin, flexible overlay of toned Japanese paper. The leather had been very heavily dressed at some point, and that coating had become quite dark over time. I was able to remove the coating during treatment, which brightened up some of the tooling on the boards and spine.
This little Dance of Death is now ready to head back to its home in the stacks… or to the reading room to remind researchers of their own mortality.
I talked with one of the Music Library staff this week. They had a damaged microfilm and wondered if we could fix it. The film had lost its reel, and someone in the past folded it into about six sections and stuffed it back in the box. This caused it to crack at the folds. Luckily we have the terrific Sonya in Microforms who is an expert in microfilm. I asked if she had some splicing tape, and indeed she did. She gave me a tutorial on how to use it along with a roll of splicing tape. Until today, I had never spliced microfilm, nor did I know the sprockets on 35mm microfilm don’t really matter in terms of how the film physically runs the through the machine (unlike motion picture film–the things you learn!).
I came back to the lab and carefully eased out the folded sections (who said being a photo major in the ’80’s would never prove useful?). I then matched the pieces and spliced it together at the broken folds. I put the roll on a new reel and sent it back to the Music Library. Hopefully it will run through the reader now without further damage.
The other thing I learned today was how to change the toner in our copy machine. I’ve never had to do that before today, either. It’s been an amazing day of skill building.
While we are always trying to maintain an awareness of new techniques and materials for conservation through the literature, sometimes it can take a while to experiment and actually put them to use. Recently, I have finally gotten around to trying my hand at making and applying cast acrylic films for book repair; a technique which I had originally seen presented by Grace Owen-Weiss and Sarah Reidell at the Library Collections Conservation Discussion Group of AIC back in 2010 (See the Book and Paper Group Annual Vol 29, p. 92). Using a silicone mold, a blend of acrylic gels, and a paper or textile support, one can employ this technique to create a thin, reversible repair material that matches both the color and texture of the object.
This bound serial came into the lab several months ago, exhibiting some splitting of the leather at the joints and corners. Luckily the boards were still firmly attached, so it just needed some minor, stabilizing repairs to reduce the potential for further damage or loss. There is a lot of variation in the color of the red leather, either from light damage (evident on the marbled paper on the back board), pollution, or handling, which gave me the opportunity to make several different samples of film to match the various colors.
Bookbinding leathers come in such a variety of grains and surface textures, so I started by making a silicone mold with two different grains. The brown leather on the left is a piece of goatskin from Harmatan, while the black piece on the right is actually fake leather from an old backpack. These were adhered to a piece of davey board, placed in the bottom of a bristol board tray, and then the 2-part mold material was poured over the top.
Interestingly enough, the fake leather grain was a better match for this book. After applying the acrylic mixture to the mold, a thin Japanese paper support is applied on top. After drying, the film can be peeled away from the mold. Sarah Reidell has a really wonderful bibliography on her website, where you can find step-by-step instructions for creating the acrylic films, so I won’t go into more detail here.
This technique produces a repair material that is quick and easy to apply, but visually blends much better than a toned Japanese paper repair. There are so many opportunities for experimentation using this technique, with the support materials, the application methods of the acrylics, and textures of the molds. I’m very excited to add this to our stable of techniques that we can employ here in the lab.
It’s that time of year. The time to rush around frantically looking for gifts for your friends and relations. If you need some last minute ideas, any of these would be a lovely gift for your conservator friends
What’s On Your Wall?
“Bitten by Witch Fever” is a beautiful book about the history of arsenic in wallpaper. The book contains 275 facsimile samples of wallpapers that were tested and found to contain arsenic. The book explains the manufacture, uses and effects of arsenic. Arsenic, it’s not just for silking documents anymore.
Shanna Leino makes wonderful tools. This little steel micro chisel is a workhorse of a chisel. It can be used on paper, leather, binder’s board, and wood. Henry says, “I use it all of the time!” Can’t argue with that.
Steel micro chisel (the website says “sold out” but there’s always Ground Hog Day to shop for).
“Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections” is a companion catalog to a multi-institutional exhibit of illuminated manuscripts that is taking place this fall. Gorgeous reproductions of over 260 manuscripts from the collections of Harvard University’s Houghton Library, the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, and more.