All posts by Henry Hebert

Tours, Tours, Tours!

It’s so nice when folks come down to the Perkins Library basement to visit the lab, and this week we had quite a few visitors from very different parts of the campus community. Early in the week, around 20 incoming freshman came to learn about the conservation program as part of Project Search, a program designed as an introduction to undergraduate research at Duke. Then this morning, we were visited by a tour offered through the Duke Alumni Association.

Sara Neel shows a damaged book to six individuals as part of a tour.
Technician Sara Neel describes circulating collections repairs.
Conservator Erin Hammeke describes the conservation treatment of a very large book to seven tour attendees.
Senior Conservator Erin Hammeke describes a recent conservation treatment.
Conservator Henry Hebert shows two bindings undergoing treatment to six tour attendees.
Conservator Henry Hebert describes some in-process conservation treatments.

It’s always a pleasure to share our work with Duke students (both current and former), because they are just so personable and naturally curious about the process of conservation and the library materials we have to show. Thanks for dropping by!

Farewell Garrette!

Today is the last day for Garrette Lewis-Thomas, our second HBCU Library Alliance/University of Delaware Winterthur intern.  The end of this two month internship really snuck up on us! As you may have read in some of  Beth’s recent posts, we have thrown a ton of information and instruction at Garrette in the last eight weeks – and she has accomplished so much in that time.

We decided to wrap up with a fun little intro to some basic bookbinding: Coptic style bindings.

These books are a simple, non-adhesive structure that mirrors some of the earliest multi-section codices. An unsupported chain stitch serves as both the primary sewing and the board attachment.  The books are very flexible and open flat, which makes them wonderful little notebooks. We dressed them up a bit by covering the boards with decorative paper and stamping Garrette’s initials in gold on the front cover using our Kwikprint hot stamp.

We will miss Garrette so much, but wish her luck in the coming school year!

Evidence of Ownership

Some of the more intriguing objects in the collection have characteristics that show evidence of a previous owner’s interaction with them. A good example of this recently came through the lab for an enclosure.

This copy of Walter Crane’s The Bases of Design (1898) is wrapped in a protective cloth cover, likely handmade by a previous owner. The cover is signed Naomi S. Gray at the tail of the spine, so we can only assume that she was the person who made it. These kinds of home-made book jackets are not all that uncommon, but the amount of detail in it’s design and construction is pretty extraordinary.  The actual design of the publisher’s binding looks like this:

The design of the titling on the spine of the case is copied faithfully onto the jacket – but rather than continue with the floral motif of the publisher’s design, a small drawing of a crane is included to represent the author. A hem and single line of stitching at the head and tail of the jacket spine was added to prevent the cloth from unraveling where it is cut. The turn-ins on the interior of the boards show an equal level of care.

Lacing with ribbon or cord in this fashion is often seen in home-made book jackets of this style. In most cases, the materials used appear to be cheap scrap. Rarely do we see hemmed turn-ins and individual stitching around the lacing holes.

The attention to detail in so many aspects of the design and construction of this book jacket tells not only a great deal about the appreciation that Naomi had for this book, but showcases her excellent hand skills. In many ways, the evidence of ownership can stir a greater connection to the object than the text itself.

Revamping Our Loan Documentation

The library loans a large number of items from various collections to other libraries and museums each year for exhibitions. The typical loan agreement is for a small number of items (usually less than 10), but occasionally we get a loan request that is much larger. It is important to document the condition of each object that is borrowed, and we do this by creating a condition report. Condition reports document any pre-existing conditions of a collection item (or lack thereof) and help to establish the responsible party for any future damage. A good report allows anyone handling the object to check and compare the condition of the item as it is packed and moved between destinations.

There are no standards for the length or format of a condition report. For many years, our reports have taken the form of a simple text document that includes an object’s identifying information, a brief description, and notes about any condition issues. In addition to the report, we take photographs of the object and save them to a networked drive.

This form has served us well until now, but in the next year we are facing some much larger loans. We began to wonder if there was a way to more quickly and accurately document the condition of an item, while still maintaining good record keeping practices. In recent years, a number of conservators have developed methods for adding photographs and digital annotations to their condition reports. With the increased functionality and reduced cost of portable touch-screen devices, the time seemed right to experiment with new documentation methods.

[Click to Enlarge]
At the most recent AIC Annual Meeting, I attended a talk by Katrina Rush, Associate Paintings Conservator at the The Menil Collection, on digital condition reporting using Apple devices. While the method she presented appeared viable for our needs, we needed to use hardware and software that could be fully supported by our IT department. We recently acquired a Surface Book 2, which combines the versatility of a laptop and a tablet in one Windows device. The accompanying stylus allows the user to precisely annotate images and the portability means that we can bring it along with the items as they travel. The attached camera could be useful for documenting the item outside the lab.

I began designing a new condition report template in Microsoft OneNote. This program allows us to include all the same information from the old form, as well as insert and annotate images. There are also some handy time-saving features like working checkboxes and timestamps. I have included an example of an item documented with the new form here.

At this stage in development, I am conducting “trial runs” with the new form and device. So far I have not been timing myself, but completing the report seems to go very quickly. For much larger loans, I have successfully tested workarounds using “mail merge” to generate the tables of bibliographic data for many items at once. I’ve found it very easy to fill out the fields and to drag and drop images into the form. While the drawing tools are extensive, it would probably be helpful to develop a standard legend of specific colors to describe common condition issues. Exporting the report to a more preservation-friendly file format (like PDF) is easy enough, but can require some adjustments to keep page breaks from splitting an image.

As this new documentation method gets more use, we will likely continue to adapt it. In the coming months I hope to share some of the lessons we learn and the resulting workflows on this blog.

New England Field Trip

A few of us travelled to Connecticut this week to attend the Annual Meeting of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC). It has been a very busy couple of days, listening to talks, reading research posters, and looking at the latest in conservation equipment and materials. As always, there is so much quality programming and not enough time to see it all. I’m feeling a bit if FOMO (fear of missing out)  and, by the end of the week, my brain is pretty full. I’m looking forward to our department’s recap of the conference to review my notes and further digest everything I’ve learned.

Sharing Our Work With Alumni

Last Friday was the start of a full weekend of activities for alumni as part of Duke Reunions and the library was a popular destination for those visiting campus. A few of us in Conservation Services were able to participate in some of the events and share our work.

Naomi Nelson, Director of Duke's David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, speaks about the Lisa Unger Baskin Exhibit.In the morning, Rachel Penniman and I partnered with some of our colleagues in Research Services, Technical Services, the Digital Production Center, and Exhibitions to talk about all the behind-the-scenes work that went into preparing the items currently on display from the Lisa Unger Baskin collection.

Henry Hebert, Conservator for Special Collections, speaks about the Lisa Unger Baskin Exhibit.Each speaker took a few minutes to describe their role in bringing the exhibition to life. Rachel and I discussed how we assessed and treated all of the items selected for imaging and exhibition, giving an overview of general principles of conservation treatment and some of our workflows.

Rachel Penniman, Conservation Specialist, speaks about the Lisa Unger Baskin Exhibit.Over the course of an hour,  the audience was able to learn more about the complex work that goes into cataloging, preserving, and documenting the items that the library makes available for scholarship.  The event was very well attended and we even had time at the end to speak with some of the alumni and answer questions.

In the afternoon, Beth Doyle and I brought some of the new items for adoption up to the Biddle exhibition suite to share with visitors of the exhibition.

Beth Doyle, Leona B. Carpenter Senior Conservator and Head, Conservation Services Department, speaks to alumni about the Adopt-A-Book program.Many of the people who stopped by to talk with us had very personal connections with the items we had on the table.  Several alumni commented that, even as students, they had regularly come to the library to see the “double elephant folio” copies of The Birds of America. The first editions of Tolkien were also a huge hit. We even had some items adopted on the spot!

Henry Hebert, Conservator for Special Collections, speaks with alumni about the Adopt-A-Book program.

It’s easy to get absorbed in the day-to-day challenges of supporting library projects and collections, but it is very rewarding to climb out of the basement once in a while to talk about our work with members of the campus community. I am reminded of how engaged both current and former students are with this university and their fondness for the library.

Duke’s Collections Inspire Book Art

We have written here a few times about teaching bookbinding skills to local Girl Scouts so that they can get their Book Arts Badge (Post 1 and Post 2) . In addition to learning about preservation activities of cultural institutions, the workshop participants learn about the components of a book, and make three different book structures. Having done this workshop a couple of times, we thought it would be nice to change up some of the types of books that we make. Luckily, the recently acquired Lisa Unger Baskin Collection provided an object of inspiration: this movable book.

See full item description in the online exhibit.

Also known as a metamorphosis or harlequinade, this item was made by Elizabeth Winspear, possibly a young woman of New England, in 1799. The book is composed of a single sheet, folded in an accordion style to form 4 panels. Each panel has a flap at top and bottom. The manuscript text and drawings tell a story using biblical figures and mythical beasts, ending with a kind of memento mori. The reader is instructed by the text to turn leaves up or down to see the transformation.

Although this item was made entirely by hand, the text and imagery are a very faithful representation of the genre. Examples of these movable books can be found from both Europe and North America, dating from the 17th to 19th centuries – and the story is remarkably consistent. See for example, this version printed in England in 1650.

The beginning, progress and end of man. (outside)
(inside) London, Alsop for T. Dunster, 1650. The British Library

I’ve said before that the most popular part of our Book Arts Badge workshop is the last hour or so, in which the scouts have time to decorate their books.  This type of movable book seemed like the perfect format to let the scouts unleash their creativity. After talking about Elizabeth Winspear’s book and showing them how to make the folds, we let them design their own metamorphoses. Here are some examples:

(Click each image to enlarge)

The scouts had a lot of fun with this structure and we really enjoyed seeing what they could do with it. It is amazing how an item produced by a young woman hundreds of years ago can inspire young women today to create book art of their own. Watching students interact with and respond to items from the library’s collection really brings the importance of preservation of cultural heritage into focus. We will definitely make more books like this in our future workshops.

If historical movable books are a topic of interest, you can see more examples of metamorphoses like this one at Learning as Play, hosted by Penn State University. Jacquiline Reid-Walsh has also written a book on the subject, titled Interactive Books: Playful Media Before Pop-Ups (2018). You may be interested in another genre of movable books, anatomical flap books, with many examples from Duke’s collection featured in this online exhibit. Highlights from the Baskin Collection are currently on display until June of this year in the Biddle exhibit suite,  located just inside the main entrance of Perkins Library.

Working on Women’s Work

The folks in the Rubenstein Exhibits department are currently hard at work, putting the finishing touches on the exhibition “Five Hundred Years of Women’s Work: The Lisa Unger Baskin Collection“. This exhibition provides a glimpse of the diversity and depth of the Baskin collection, revealing the lives of women both famous and forgotten and recognizing their accomplishments. Items from the collection will be on display in the Biddle exhibit suite until June 15, 2019.

The Conservation Services Department has contributed hundreds of hours of work in support of both this exhibit and the wider Baskin collection for the last few years. To highlight some of the behind-the-scenes efforts undertaken by our staff, we have put on our own small exhibit featuring conservation treatments and custom enclosures for the items on display upstairs.
Treatment documentation on display in exhibition case
If you happen to be in the library, possibly attending one of the many public events surrounding the Baskin exhibition, we invite you to stop by this exhibit case as well.  The case is located on Lower Level 1 of Perkins Library, across from the Conservation Lab entrance (Room 023).

Quick Pic: Casual Friday

The Rubenstein Library’s History of Medicine Collection always seems to provide the most unusual examples of illustration. This text (catalog record here) by English physician Robert Fludd, published by Johann Theodor de Bry in 1623, is no exception. The anatomical specimen is both comical and gruesome…but also strangely familiar.

Johann Theodor’s father, Theodor de Bry, was also prominent publisher and engraver, and many of his works on exploration of the New World can be found in Duke’s collection. Theordor’s 1590 engraving, The Trvve Picture of One Picte from the second edition of Thomas Hariot’s book A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, appears in the same pose.