All posts by Henry Hebert

Revisiting a Big Challenge

The Rubenstein Library recently acquired another large Torah scroll. Measuring 40″ in length, these scrolls can be quite heavy and difficult to move safely. The support on which the scroll arrived was minimal and inventive.

The scroll was wrapped in layers of cotton muslin, with cotton twill tape laced through honeycomb board to secure it. Honeycomb board is light enough for two people to easily lift, but rigid enough that it doesn’t bow or cause the scroll to shift. At the time of acquisition, we discussed keeping this support. After considering the necessary handling and pathway through the building to serve the scroll in the reading room, however, it was decided that a full enclosure would offer more protection.

Longtime readers may remember when Beth boxed a similar scroll a few years ago, and more recently you might have seen Tedd’s series on Extreme Enclosures. Each of these large enclosures employs double layers of corrugated board, covered in buckram, to cut down on weight while remaining durable enough for long term handling. Beth’s Torah enclosure is nearing its seventh birthday, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to see how it has aged. Can the double-wall corrugated board really stand up to the abuse of regular handling and re-shelving?

It turns out the box (pictured above without its telescoping lid) is still in very good shape. Despite many trips to the reading room and all the activity of the Rubenstein Renovation, the enclosure shows no wear or distortion from the weight of the contents. Research Services staff report that the lighter weight makes re-shelving (with two people) quite easy and the drop-wall design allows for convenient removal of the heavy scroll from the box.

Considering the success of the first box, I decided to adopt the popular idiom of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and duplicated the design for the recently acquired Torah.

Library conservators are often called upon to creatively engineer solutions to unique preservation problems. With ever growing and diversifying collections, it sometimes feels like all our attention is pulled toward the next object coming through the door. It’s nice to have the opportunity to go back and critically review some of those solutions, but nicer still to see that, years later, they are still working as they should.

Rubenstein Materials on Display at the Nasher

Today I traveled over to the Nasher Museum of Art to install an item from the Rubenstein Library for the upcoming Portrait of Venice exhibit. A hand-colored map of Venice from Georg Braun‘s 1572 edition of Civitates Orbis Terrarum (below) will be on display alongside the mural-sized woodblock print by Jacopo de’ Barbari.

Map of Venice from Civitates Orbis Terrarum.

The Nasher exhibit runs from September 7th until the end of this year. If you did not have a chance to see the Barbari print during the Glory of Venice show at NCMA, this is another good opportunity. The sheer size and detail of the piece is just incredible. The exhibit will also feature interactive multi-media displays produced through multi-disciplinary and collaborative research at the Wired! Lab at Duke.

All Done

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.

The tape saga continues…

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.

Tape Removal (During Treatment)

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.

Quick Pic: Tape!

(Before treatment)

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.

Happy Little Skeleton

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.

Easter Bunnies

Today is Good Friday and we happen to have our three-volume octavo edition of Audubon‘s Quadrupeds of North America in the lab to get some stabilizing repairs and enclosures. The first volume of the set is absolutely teeming with prints of hares and rabbits and this seems like an auspicious day to share them. Audubon’s Quadrupeds first appeared in three folio volumes (under the title “The Vivaparous Quadrupeds of North America”) between 1845 and 1848. The first octavo edition was published by John James Audubon’s sons (John W. and Victor) following his death in 1851. Initially both editions were issued in parts. You can view full a full digitized version of this book here.

Merit Badge Workshop

On a recent rainy Saturday afternoon, eight Cadette-level Girl Scouts from three troops around Durham traveled to the Rubenstein Library on West Campus to complete the requirements for their book arts merit badge. The idea for this workshop was given to me by Todd Pattison, a conservator at the Northeast Document Conservation Center, who has been organizing a similar workshop with other Boston-area conservators for several years.

Girl Scouts making books

Staff from Conservation Services took turns leading instruction for three different book structures, including a single-section sewn pamphlet, a 4-hole stab binding, and a flag book. To streamline the instruction time, we had assembled kits ahead of time for each student. These included all the materials for each book, pre-cut to size, and the various tools that they would need. We also developed a few simple jigs to make some complicated tasks, like scoring accordion folds or marking sewing stations, a little easier.

three simple bindings

As the scouts used simple hand tools to make each binding, they learned the names of each part of the book and how printed pages can be folded down and trimmed to make the book pages.

Book kits

The highlight of the workshop was the time at the end, in which each girl could decorate her flag book with colored paper, stickers, and markers.

Stickers on flag book

We used the occasion to tour the group around the building and talk about the mission and daily operations of a special collections library. We also brought them down to the conservation lab, so they could learn more about how our department supports the various libraries on campus and to see some of the specialized equipment that we use. This workshop provided a good outreach opportunity for an age group that we rarely see on a college campus. In addition to providing a welcoming introduction to special collections, hopefully the experience also brought some awareness to the possibilities of a career in librarianship or conservation.

Scouts with their bindings