Making Delrin Tools

Regular readers of Preservation Underground know that we spend a lot of time thinking and talking about tools. The variety and sometimes repetitive nature of our work requires a great many of them and we regularly experiment with new designs or materials to find implements that are more effective or ergonomic. Tool collecting can also be a little addictive.

A bone folder was probably the first bookbinding tool I ever purchased and remains one of the most used items at my bench. I’ve acquired or made many folders over the years of different shapes, sizes, and materials (like Teflon, metal, or nylon) and was amused to read that Jony Ive included a bone folder in his list of top 12 tools. It’s also the only reasonably priced tool on that list.

We have been using Delrin lifters in the lab for a few years now and Delrin folders have been growing in popularity in the bookbinding and conservation community, so I have been interested in making one. Luckily, during the pandemic, Rachel Penniman was able to attend a virtual workshop taught by Jeff Peachey on making Delrin and bamboo tools. We were able to set aside some time recently so that she could share what she learned in the workshop and we could all try making our own.

Delrin is a Dupont product that has a number of helpful properties for conservation work. It has a low coefficient of friction, but is stiffer than Teflon. It exhibits chemical and fatigue resistance and can also be very flexible when shaped to a thin tip. Peachey has written a great deal about the advantages of delrin folders and lifting tools.

The material can be purchased in a variety of sheets and bars, so there are many options for creating tools of different shapes. We started the day by looking at existing tools from our personal collections to discuss the features that we like or don’t like and how we might be able to make a better version from the Delrin stock.

Some of our starting tool blanks.

Delrin is easily shaped with cutting tools or abrasives and doesn’t come with the same health risks as shaping Teflon. A facemask and proper ventilation should still be deployed to avoid inhaling the dust.

Pictured above: box cutter, file, cabinet scraper, wooden bench hook, various grit sandpaper.

We were lucky to have good weather, so we set up an outside work space by the library loading dock. Views of the nearby Chapel were a bonus.

Shaping takes some time, so it was helpful to have clamps and wooden bench hooks on hand to support the work in progress.

Can we call this a Delrin “preform”?

After sawing, filing, scraping, and sanding for a few hours, we had produced a number of new tools. The nice thing about this material is that if you don’t like the shape you have produced, you can always shave it down some more or cut off the end and start again.

Now that I’ve gotten a feel for working with Delrin, I’m looking forward to experimenting with some larger, more rigid tools.

Preservation Week 2022 Is Here!

There is so much great programming this week as we celebrate Preservation Week 2022. We are rounding up some of the notices we have seen, if you have an event you would like to share, please add it in the comments.

ALA Preservation Week has two scheduled webinars this week that are free to attend:
  • “How to Implement Sustainability in your Facility” on April 26th at 1-2pm Central Time. “In a time when sustainability and saving energy is imperative to slowing down climate change, institutions and organizations must become more aggressive when it comes to saving energy. There are a number of sustainable energy saving strategies that collecting institutions can implement, however, these strategies require knowledge of the facility that houses the collection as well as a strong data monitoring program. “
  • “Digital Preservation’s Impact on the Environment” on April 28th at 1-2pm Central Time. “Digital content is created and collected by everyone, not just libraries and archives. Keeping digital content viable requires not only energy use, but also refreshing the digital storage media and technologies. This webinar will explore the energy consumption and e-waste generated in current preservation infrastructures and actions, and review the environmental impact embodied in the full lifecycle of these infrastructures. It will include recommendations for actions and policies to mitigate digital preservation’s impact on the environment.”
  • Follow ALA Preservation Week on Instagram and tag your posts  #PreservationWeek22
  • Check out ALA’s Preservation Week resource page. 
The Library of Congress has an awesome lineup of free webinars this week.
  • Fragments, Discovery and Creating Knowledge Using state-of-the-art, non-invasive examination techniques, Preservation Research and Testing Division (PRTD) staff are collaborating with other library staff to learn more from the material/physical aspects of the Library’s collections. PRTD has been taking non-invasive portable instruments to special collection reading rooms to work with curators and to add value to our collections by answering curatorial and researcher questions. Working with Marianna Stell in Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC) we have been exploring 12th to 16th century parchment “fragments” to expand our understanding of historic parchment and inks. Additionally, we are also looking at contemporary paper and inks as we work to better understand “at-risk” components of modern collections.
    Monday April 25, 11am. Speaker: Dr. Fenella France, Chief, Preservation Research and Testing Division
    Register Here!
  • Preserving the Legacy of Robert Cornelius and Other Daguerreotypes in the Prints & Photographs Division Daguerreotypes are amongst the earliest photographic records and the Library holds over 800 of these images, including the iconic daguerreotype self-portrait of Robert Cornelius made in October or November of 1839. Ms. Wetzel will provide a brief history of the development of the daguerreotype, an introduction to the work of Robert Cornelius, and explain how her research project on this subject has led to a recent acquisition and generated the current focused effort to preserve the daguerreotypes at the Library.
    Tuesday April 26, 11am. Speaker: Rachel Wetzel, Senior Photograph Conservator
    Register Here!
  • Preservation Digitization Program OverviewThe Preservation Services Division performs a wide variety of reformatting including brittle books, foreign newspaper digitization, as well as tangible media capture and forensics. This presentation will include a brief discussion of each reformatting, plus a sample of online collections.
    Wednesday April 27, 11am. Speaker: Aaron Chaletzky, Head, Reformatting Projects Section
    Register Here!
  • Moving Collections to an Off-Site Facility: Key Things to Keep In Mind This presentation will provide a top level overview of the issues to keep in mind if a library decides to move a portion of their collections to an offsite facility. Key topics include selection of materials for transfer, identification of the offsite facility, shelving schemas, transportation of materials, retrievals and governance policies.
    Thursday April 28, 11am. Speaker: Cathy Martyniak, Chief, Collection Management Division
    Register Here!
  • Fiscal and Organizational Sustainability for Preservation Programs Hear how the Library of Congress Preservation Directorate plans for and maintains its preservation programs. These include a series of reorganizations, completed in 2017 and 2021, and an ongoing series of cost studies. These studies examine total costs of major service areas and support scenario planning around pay and non-pay activities. These combined efforts help to make sure the Preservation Directorate will be able to respond to changes: in immediate requirements and across strategic planning cycles, while making progress on long-term and large-scale preservation needs.
    Friday April 29, 11am. Speaker: Jacob Nadal, Director for Preservation
    Register Here!
Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts
  • “You Don’t Have to be Special to Use Special Collections” is on April 26th at 2pm Eastern Daylight Time.  What can archives and special collections offer an “unaffiliated” and curious public? Join us for a webinar with Independent Historian and Writer Lucie Levine, for a discussion on how any interested person might make use of collections.
Newburyport Public Library 
  • The Library put together two online videos discussing preserving personal collections. These are “Archival Supplies and Storage” and “Archival Storage and Handling Tips.”
Yale University Libraries Preservation Department
  • Need a LibGuide for Preservation Week. Here it is. The “Stressed about pests” looks really good.
Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission (RIHPHC) and the Rhode Island Advisory Commission on Historical Cemeteries
  • RI Historical Cemeteries Awareness and Preservation Weeks programming is free but filling fast. Learn about historic cemeteries or volunteer for a cleanup. There are plenty events to sign up for, check out their calendar.

Books Can be Deceiving

As someone who repairs books for a living, the idiom “don’t judge a book by its cover” can have a much more literal meaning than expected. I’m regularly encountering books that seem to need only one kind treatment from the outside, but then have more problems than I realized on the inside. This can be a bit frustrating when you’ve mentally prepared yourself for one kind of project and instead find yourself tackling more than you had planned for. Even so, it is especially satisfying to finish a treatment on a book that you felt was going to be complicated. In today’s blog, I’ll be sharing my most recent encounter with a book that I misjudged.

The Problem

The Perkins Library has a great number of collections of Arabic books like the ones you see below.

These books are especially striking due to the eye-catching uniformity of their spines. Outside of how aesthetically pleasing they are, there is an added benefit to the fact that all the books are identical in design. Take a look at this collection of books below. Do any of them look different than the rest?

If you happened to notice the fourth book from the left in particular, then you can see what I meant earlier by “an added benefit”. Thanks to the collections precise design, it’s all the more obvious when something isn’t quite right.

In this case, this poor book seems to have been crushed under something as well as torn along the spine. We certainly can’t leave the book to be handled by patrons in this state, so back to the lab it goes.

At this point, I had assumed the only problem I was dealing with was the crushed spine of the covers/textblock. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t realize that this book had been through more than just some extreme pressure. Right as you open the book to its title page, you’re greeted by discolored paper and some significant black speckling. The spotting continues a good 20 or so pages.

These are the tell-tale signs that not only did the book get wet at some point, but mold had made itself at home here as well.

Now, luckily this isn’t a terrible amount of mold to be dealing with. However, it does mean I have to add several more steps to my treatment before I can tackle the original issue of the crushed spine.

The Solution

Let’s say there hadn’t been any mold in this book. What would my treatment have looked like?

First, I would remove the covers so I could assess the damage done to the spine of the textblock. Once I had addressed that, I would prepare the textblock as I normally would for a recase. Finally, I would repair the covers by making a new spine piece to replace the damaged one, and reattached the textblock to the case.

Now, I will have to remove all of the mold first before I can start anything else.

Based on the dry and powdery consistency of the mold, I can tell that it is no longer active and can be safely cleaned by hand. To do so, I used a soot sponge to manually clean the mold and debris off of every page.

You can see the immediate difference before and after using the sponge on the old mold, both on the pages and the sponge itself.

The soot sponge is mostly likely also picking up dirt and dust on the pages as well, but regardless it’s clear the book needed a good cleaning.

Now that the textblock is free of the residual mold, I can finally get to the treatment I had planned at the start. This book will be back on the shelves and ready for patrons in no time!

Miniature Screens

The internet loves things in miniature, and books are no exception. We’ve previously written about miniature figurines, photo albums, and other books – but today I’d like to add miniature screens to the mix. Recently this wonderful little book came into the lab for boxing: Japanese Screens in Miniature; Six Masterpieces of the Momoyama Period.

The Momoyama Period (1573–1615) was a time of great social change and constant warfare in Japan. A growing interest in the outside world and the introduction of European firearms contributed to new styles in both architecture and art. Large folding screens, covered in gold leaf and ornately painted, became an important decorative element inside the large fortresses built during this period.

The set of six small screens (~ 6″ tall) comes in a textile-covered wrapper and includes a short introduction with some historical context.

Each screen is six panels, mounted on board and folded in accordion style. A paper label with the title, artist, and date is adhered to the verso. The hinges are a little stiff, so I had to use some small weights to hold the screens open wide enough to image.

It is such a satisfying tactile experience to open each screen and unfold these delightful images. You just get the sense of how incredible the original objects must be, standing approximately 60″ tall with so much gilding.

North Korea as Seen Through Stamps

Stamp collecting, often associated with philately (or the study of stamps), is a hobby that has been around since the first postage stamp was issued by Britain in May of 1840. Since then, stamp collecting has been one of the world’s most popular hobbies, resulting in the production of over 400,000 different types of stamp by the year 2000.

Many of the stamps produced are from smaller countries seeking to bring in much needed revenue, which they achieve through the printing of limited run stamps specifically for stamp collectors. One such country happens to be North Korea. This fact came to my attention when a collection of North Korean stamp albums arrived at our lab.

The collection of stamp albums stacked on top of one anotherThe collection consists of five stapled pamphlets and two bound books, all full of loose stamps in need of securing.

The stamp albums that are pamphlets spread out on a flat surface.

A top down view of the the stamp albums that are in book format.

I will mention that it is unclear whether these are actually functional stamps or just coated paper made to look like stamps. There is no noticeable adhesive on the backs of them, and even a UV light analysis and our ordering specialist couldn’t get us any closer to a conclusive answer.

Regardless, we couldn’t risk all of these stamps being lost or stolen. I had to find a way to contain them all so that patrons could access these albums without leaving the fate of these stamps to chance.

How do we treat these items?

Each of these albums is made up of pages containing several small slips of mylar with the bottom edge adhered to the actual page.

A hand pulls back one of the mylar slips and also bends one of the loose stamps away from the page.

Within each of these slips sits either a single stamp or multiple stamps, which varies from page to page.

A page from one of the stamp albums showing an assortment of stamps focused on North Korean fine art.

A page from one of the stamp albums showing an assortment of stamps focused on North Korean natural landmarks.

Although the stamps don’t necessarily fly about or out of the slips as you flip through the pages, it’s obvious that they aren’t exactly going to just stay in place over time.

So, what is the solution here?

Since these mylar slips were already at my disposal, it made the most sense to use them to my advantage. After applying a thin bead of wheat starch paste to the top of each stamp, I tipped each stamp into the mylar and made sure the bottom of the stamp was placed as far down into the slip as possible.

Two photos side by side. The photo on the left shows a brush being used to apply wheat starch paste to the top edge of the back of a stamp. The photo on the right shows the stamp being placed back into its mylar slip and adhered to the page.

This way the stamp is secured in place without having to glue up the entire back of the item, and the mylar acts as a catch for the bottom of the stamp so that they can’t be pulled out as easily. With the stamps now safely secured, these albums are ready for a closer look at their contents.

How do we interpret these items?

These albums seem to be geared towards foreigners and tourists. Of the seven albums here, three contain text in Korean, Chinese, and English, one contains text in just Korean and English, and the other three contain text in just Korean and Chinese. Seeing as none of these are written only in Korean, it can be assumed that these albums were not intended solely for Korean audiences.

A page from one of the stamp albums showing a larger sheet that is perforated to hold multiple stamps. The stamps depict images of Kim Il-sung, various antique cars, and a music score. There is also accompanying text in Korean and in English.

As you have also probably noticed, these stamps cover a wide variety of subjects as well. It seems as though you can find a stamp on just about anything if you really wanted to. This is probably for the benefit of appealing to as many collectors as possible who might only collect certain kinds of stamps.

A page from one of the stamp albums showing an assortment of stamps focused on Kim Jong-il meeting with various international leaders.

The world of stamps is quite intriguing, especially considering how they can become vehicles for propaganda. Are you a stamp collector or a philatelist (someone who studies stamps)? Leave a comment with your thoughts on this collection if you are, and leave a comment even if you aren’t! We’d love to hear what you think about our new addition to the Perkins Library. If you’d like to find these items in our catalog, you can click any of these links.

Our New Golden Devil

We had the opportunity to order some additional brass type for our Kwikprint hot foil stamping machine recently, thanks in huge part to donors to our Adopt-a-Book program.  The additional sizes of type will give us more options when we need to make labels for new bindings, rebacked spines, or enclosures.

Along with the type, we were also able to get a small custom die of the reading devil who adorns the roof of the von der Heyden Pavilion – and it looks pretty amazing.

Reading devil, stamped in gold. Now that it’s in the machine and heated up, I will be spending the next hour looking around the lab for anything that I can stamp. The back of my Moleskine notebook was the first thing to go.

moleskin notebook stamped with reading devil

Now no one’s office supplies are safe! What should we stamp next?

Stapled Instead of Sewn

When you look at how books are generally made, you’ll find that a majority of them are either sewn with thread, glued together as individual sheets, or occasionally bound with a combination of sewing and commercial glue.

On rarer occasions, a book will be stapled together. As luck would have it, one of these books recently came across my bench in need of a new cover. At first glance, you can’t immediately tell the difference between a stapled book and a sewn book.

It’s not until you open the book up and look at the gutter of one of the signatures that you might be able to see whether the book is stapled or not.

An opened book revealing the gutter of the pages where a staple can be seen.

It’s even easier once you’ve taken the cover off and can look directly at the spine of the textblock. As you can see in the images below, there are staples running through a significant portion of the signatures of this book.

Now, in a perfect world where I have all the time and patience I could want, I might remove the staples, mend any damage to the signatures in the process, sew the book back together, and then make a new cover. In this case, such an approach would be too labor intensive and time consuming. As the only senior conservation technician charged with maintaining the general collections, I cannot devote that much time to one book when I might have as many as 25 other books also waiting to be treated.

Considerations

With binding structures like this, the treatment decisions tend to boil down to preserving the provenance of the object vs choosing to rebind the book for greater longevity. In this blog post by Peter D. Verheyen in 2011, it’s evident that these wire bindings are a curious part of the history of bookbinding. Since they’re unusual, and since our goal is to conserve as much of the original item as possible, one might think that saving the original binding would be the obvious choice.

But how do technicians in general collections conservation (such as myself) reconcile keeping as much of the original object intact when we also have to prioritize making sure that the book can withstand regular use from patrons? If the staples in the binding had been so rusted that they were breaking whenever I opened the book, I would most likely take a more involved approach to the treatment of this book. An example of such a treatment would be adhering a cotton cambric to the spine and sewing through it along with the textblock, which you can see an example of in this paper by our very own Beth Doyle.

Luckily, in this case, both the paper and the staples were in good enough condition that a secondary treatment wasn’t necessary. However, it could be argued that perhaps I should have gone ahead with the more complex treatment just in case the staples failed in the future. In the end, these are the dilemmas we face in general collections conservation.

Treatment

I decided that the best course of action would be to clean the spine of its original lining and glue and replace it with a strong Japanese tissue adhered with wheat starch paste. By doing so, the spine is stabilized and strengthened while the staples are also given additional support. This reduces the potential damage that could occur from future use and repeated opening and closing of the book.

A picture of the stapled textblock post spine cleaning being held in a hand. The spine and staples are protected with a thin Japanese tissue, so you can still see the staples.

With the textblock now in a stable state, I could prepare a new case for the book. The original case had already failed and since the original materials were too fragile to keep using, it didn’t make sense to try and reuse the case. Instead, I made an inset on the front board in order to preserve the original cover material. If you’d like to learn more about the book, you can find the catalog record here.

Phooey Fanuly

Highlighting, underlining, sticky notes, more sticky notes.  If patrons decide to mark their place or organize their thoughts inside library books, it usually ends up coming to Conservation because it is difficult for the next patron to use without distraction.  We get these a lot.

Underline all the things!

“You Don’t Look 35, Charlie Brown” came to the lab because someone has written their notes in the book. Normally if books are heavily marked we will send them to Collection Development for evaluation. If a clean copy can be purchased, we will replace it. I decided we should keep this one, notes and all, because the commentary was sort of insightful. We did replace the cover, as the original was heavily damaged.

We hear you, Lucy.

It also made us laugh, and that counts towards wanting to keep the record of this use, right?

Cookies will ALWAYS solve problems.

Call it “provenance” and have a cookie. Happy Friday to all. May Charlie Brown finally get to kick the football this Superbowl Weekend.

The “Disaster Wiggle” Redux

Remember our post from May 2020 that introduced “The Disaster Recovery Wiggle?” The Wiggle is back for an encore!

I am working on a large collection of paper and photographic records that were recently acquired. These were stored in a wet garage and came to us damp and actively moldy. Pro tip: don’t store your papers in a wet garage.

I divided the records into packs containing 3-4 folders each, wrapped them in plastic, labeled them well, and put them in the freezer. Each package contains a group of photographs and/or documents that should fit into the fume hood for easy drying. Time warp to almost a year later and I am ready to get these thawed and cleaned.

Remember Freezer Friday? It’s also back. This project takes up the top two shelves.
Step 1: Thawing

I remove one package at a time from the freezer and spread the documents out in the fume hood to thaw. The contents are carefully spread out so that the original order can be maintained. When the pages can be carefully separated, I remove the rusty fasteners.

The metal fasteners have no structural integrity left.

This is a good time to remind conservators that they really should keep their tetanus vaccine up to date.

Step 2: Drying

Many of the packages had too many papers in them to all fit on the deck of the fume hood. I had to figure out a way to expand the available surface area for drying without inhibiting air flow. I figured there must be a way to recreate the double-decker drying we set up in May of 2020 (again with the time warp) but with more airflow.

A diffuser panel makes a great second tier drying rack.

We use diffuser panels as a base in humidity chambers because they are sturdy, but have holes in them that allow moist air to move through the paper. I thought, “Why not reverse the process?” I grabbed a panel, propped it on some supports, and voila! A double-decker fume hood drying rack.

With the double-decker drying rack in place, I needed to be sure the air flow was constant at the top and bottom. I cut two pieces of newsprint, grabbed a couple of Plexi Glas weights, and fashioned a “flag” that could wave in the breeze if it was sufficiently windy. Will it wiggle?

The top rack wiggles!

The top rack had no problem with air flow. But the space below was smaller. Will it wiggle, too?

The bottom wiggles, too!

It does! With the flags gently waving I felt that the air drying could commence.

Step 3: Vacuuming

I’m leaving each package in the fume hood for at least two days to thoroughly dry before vacuuming. Once cleaned, I will re-folder the documents and repeat with the remaining 19 packages in the freezer.

More info on preservation your collections

For more tips on preserving personal collections, see our “Preservation Week: 10 Tips for Your Collections” series.

Tips 1-2: Environment and Enclosures
Tips 3-5: Handling, Display, Facsimiles
Tips 6-7: Disasters and Non-paper collections
Tips 8-10: Preservation/Access, Informed purchasing, DIY repairs

 

 

Duke University Libraries Preservation