Category Archives: 1091 Project

1091 Project: The Plain Brown Wrapper Edition

1091 graphicThis month on the 1091 Project we highlight those materials that come to the lab that some would say are explicit or offensive and shouldn’t be in a library, but in the context of our collections they are important materials that deserve the same attention as any other. These materials cross multiple academic themes including political science, art and art history, religion, social science, etc. I am a firm believer in collecting these things because they are an important window into our culture and society. Yet if a VIP tour is coming through the lab, I don’t necessarily want to have them out on the bench.

Some materials in the Human Rights Archives fit this description because those fighting against human rights often use hate speech and violence to express their viewpoint. We recently worked on a collection of materials from a deceased member of a certain fraternal hate organization. This collection included his membership card and several group photographs from conventions of the membership. These pictures are not dissimilar from what a group picture taken at a library convention looks like, except of course for the clothing they are wearing, which is rather distinctive. These materials are unsettling to me not in content per se but in the their ordinariness.

Last month Grace worked on preparing the Musee de Horreurs for digitization and exhibit. This collection of political caricatures was published in 1889-1900 in response to the Dreyfus Affair. While many of these materials are disturbing to see, they contain information that, in the context of the collection, sheds light on many aspects of French society at the turn of the 20th century. As objects they are beautifully rendered and printed, as social commentary they are incredibly effective albeit quite offensive.

Musee de Horreurs
Treatment image of one print from the Musee de Horreurs.

For the past few months we have been making enclosures for the Sallie Bingham Center’s Drewey Wayne Gunn and Jacques Murat Collection of Gay American Pulps. These materials date primarily from the 1970’s and were printed on low quality paper with very cheaply produced paperback bindings. The content, though sexually graphic, makes sense in the context of the Bingham Center’s collection and is very valuable to researchers. We are not boxing these materials because of what they are but because, like any other brittle paperback, they need enclosures to keep them protected on the shelf and during transportation.

gunn collection
Volumes in the Gunn collection before boxing (above) and after (below).

HOM provides us with a lot of extraordinarily graphic material that is also historic and very educational on many levels. I think my favorite items that have been in the lab recently are the medical flap books. Erin worked on these to get them ready for exhibit, and her treatments generated what we like to call, “the best before treatment image ever.”

Witkowski, “Human Anatomy and Physiology” pt. 7; before treatment (verso).

Context is everything but we can still have a sense of humor about the collections we encounter! Let’s see what materials Parks Library Preservation is working on that are similar to these.

1091 Project: Portrait of the Student Technician

1091 graphicThis month on the 1091 Project we discuss an essential part of almost every conservation department, student technicians. Without our students we could not keep up with the sheer amount of materials that come to the lab. This week is spring break, so I can’t show you pictures of our wonderful students, KellyNoel, Kaiti and Jessica (on loan from ERSM for a project), but I can tell you about the work they do and what we look for in a good student assistant.

Students in the lab do a lot of boxing, pamphlet binding and CoLibri covers.
Student work, finished and in-process.
Student Workflows

Our students start out learning how to bind pamphlets, make simple enclosures, create CoLibri book jackets, make pockets and do simple repairs such as tip ins, cut pages, and binding musical scores. They also help with the tracking and physical moving of materials.

If the students have the abilities and interest they can  learn more complicated repairs and enclosures. These might include recasing or rebacking books, or making four-flap or corrugated clamshell boxes for fragile materials. We have had a couple students who stayed for several semesters and because they had the skills and interest, they were able to learn multiple conservation rebinding techniques and cloth-covered clamshell boxes.

Newspaper project
Newspapers ready for boxing.

We currently have students helping specifically with renovation projects. These students are primarily getting the newspapers ready to go to the Library Service Center. This involves jogging brittle paper into place, fitting the bindings into pre-made boxes, and making spacers in the boxes so the brittle papers don’t shift around during transit. This is a very labor intensive, dirty and repetitive project but all of our students are working hard to meet our fast approaching deadline.

What We Look When Hiring Student Technicians

Most of our students are undergraduates, but every now and then we hire a graduate student. We of course like it if they have state or federal work study, but that isn’t a requirement. We prefer to get the right student with the right skills regardless of their funding. Occasionally we will get a UNC-SILS student who wants to intern with the department and we will work with them to develop a project that fulfills their school requirements but also helps us move our department forward.

There are basic job requirements that are listed in all of our positions including being able to use sharp instruments and large binding equipment safely, lifting heavy boxes and moving full book trucks, and being able to work in a potentially dusty or moldy environment.

Beyond that, what I look for when I interview students is the ability to learn quickly and be productive, to work independently but to know when to ask questions, and to have a good attitude and work well with a diverse staff. It is rare that we find students who have bookbinding experience, so I look for interests or past work history that involve eye-hand coordination and attention to detail. It might surprise you that gamers have very good eye-hand coordination, students with musical backgrounds are excellent at following instructions, and research science students are amazingly skilled at detail-oriented work. If you are a student, you don’t need to be a crafty person or an art major to work here. We can teach you the skills you need to be successful if you have the ability to learn the craft.

Let’s head over to Parks Library Preservation to read about their students.

1091 Project: The Good, The Bad, the Past Repairs

1091 graphic

This month on the 1091 Project we discuss old repairs, when to remove them and when to leave them alone. Sometimes the decision to undo an old repair is an easy one, sometimes not, and sometimes it really is a conundrum because there are valid arguments to be made on both sides. Let’s look at some recent items that have been brought to our attention, and be sure to check out Parks Library Preservation’s post.

Old Repairs: The Good

A “good” repair is one that is sympathetic to the original object in both form and function. It may not be immediately obvious that something has been fixed, but it shouldn’t be so transparent that it hides the fact that damage occurred. In a perfect world, a trained eye would catch it upon close inspection, but the lay-person might not realize it unless you pointed it out.

prior repair
Fugitive Sheet: Prior repair on lower right corner of sheet. Note the in-painting of the printed border.

bleau atlas
Bleau Atlas, prior fill also has new media applied to fill in the map.

The repair on the lower right corner of one of our Fugitive Sheets (top left) is a prime example of a good repair. The color of the newly incorporated paper matches the existing paper very well, and the border was even simulated to provided as to not disturb the eye with a break in the printing.

You can see a similar repair in one of our Bleau Atlas volumes (top right). Here you can see a well-crafted fill that includes the application of new media to fill in the illustration where that information was lost. We may not do that level of infilling today, but you cannot deny it is an effective repair that if removed may effect the way the object is interpreted.

Old Repairs: The Bad

Taped binding
A DIY repair that does more harm than good.

I think nothing says “bad repair” like packing tape. We’ve talked about this before, but it is good to reiterate that self-adhesive tape of almost any kind is very damaging to books and can be difficult to remove.

Because of the damage these sorts of tapes cause, it easy to decide to remove the tape and give the book a more sympathetic and reversible repair.




spine repair
An old library repair done with “book tape” with infilled title.

“The Open Polar Sea” is the sort of prior repair that makes it a little more difficult to decide what to do. This repair was clearly done with care and it is still holding. It is not reversible and will likely result in some scarfing when/if we remove it.

The real issue is how much time do we spend undoing these repairs? There are so many in our stacks. If the repair is holding up and not causing further damage, is it better to spend our limited time and resources on these knowing that they ultimately will do damage to the book, or do we work on items that are in more immediate danger of losing materials if they are not repaired? I tend to lean towards the latter, but the argument is worth having, and the decision changes based on a lot of factors (ye olde “value, use, risk, resources” discussion).



Old Repairs: The Past (With Provenance)

The four pictures below represent prior repairs that we would likely not choose to remove because they are

  • well executed
  • not significantly harming the original
  • still functioning as repairs
  • traditional to a time or type of material
  • tell a significant story about the life of the object

If one of these repairs were to fail, then we would address the problem in a more modern way, that is by using stable methods and materials that would not harm the original materials either physically or chemically, that would be visually sympathetic to the original structure and components, and would be reversible later if the repair failed.

Ethiopic MS 5_3
Ethiopic codex with damaged board, repaired by sewing the two halves together.

ethiopic scroll
Ethiopic scroll, repaired traditionally by stitching the two sides of the tear together with heavy sewing thread.

leather book repair
Leather patches carefully stitched to the binding to repair a damaged spine.

Ethiopic MS 30_2
Tear in the leather is carefully sewn back together. This may have been done at the time of binding to make a usable piece of leather, rather than repaired later as a result of damage.

Deciding on removing an old repair is both objective and subjective. The decision is based on your knowledge of the physical and chemical nature of the original materials as well as the repair materials. It also helps to know the collection and the provenance of the item. Luckily we have great working relationships with all our curators and together can make sound treatment decisions when we come across these sorts of quandaries.

1091 Project: From Art To Eyeballs

1091 graphicThis month on the 1091 Project we are highlighting the non-book, non-paper items that come to the conservation lab for evaluation and rehousing. In our collections we have the usual amounts of prints, drawings, paintings and various other kinds of artwork. But we also have hanks of famous-people’s hair, pink felt dragons, christening gowns, weather vanes, plaster death masks, roll-playing figurines, shaving mugs, poison arrows…you name it, we likely have it. We have several items in the lab right now that fall into this category.

In The Lab For Enclosures

Our History of Medicine Collection provides endless challenges including these hand-blown glass eyeballs. They are so lovely and delicate, and a little creepy (the eyes seem to follow you like the Picture of Dorian Grey).

glass eyes
Glass eyes from the History of Medicine Collection.

Also from HOM is this 18th Century screw-barrel microscope in a shagreen (skate skin) case. We just started making these nifty picture-labels for objects that we put in boxes. It is a quick way to identify what should be in the box, and if the item isn’t in the box, you know what to look for.

Screw barrel microscope in shagreen case from the History of Medicine Collection.

Also in the lab is this Memento Mori, a lovely and delicate ivory carving of a contemplative skeleton who we have nicknamed “Jack.”

memento mori
Ivory memento mori.

HOM isn’t the only collection with fascinating non-book items. Check out this wonderful U.S. patent model of a continuous cigarette rolling machine dating from 1876. It is about two feet long and one foot high, and all the moving parts work.

cigarette rolling machine
Continuous cigarette rolling machine patent model.

If you are interested in seeing previous boxing projects, you can check out our Flickr page. Be sure to head over to Parks Library Preservation to see what amazing things they have in their lab.

1091 Project: Let’s Celebrate!

1091 graphic This month on the 1091 Project we are celebrating the end of the year and all of our accomplishments. Each lab celebrates in a different way. Parks Library Preservation has an in-house training session. We…eat.

Our lab’s tradition this time of year is to have a departmental lunch at the Nasher Museum of Art, our beautiful campus museum. They have a wonderful, sunny building and great exhibits. It is a real treat to stop repairing things for a while and share a meal, catch up with each other, and look at some wonderful exhibits.

I would like to take this time to express my unending gratitude to the staff, students and volunteers in Conservation for working so hard over the past year, as they always do. I am impressed and amazed at the amount of work we have done this year in support of the renovation project. Thanks everyone. I am very lucky to work with such a wonderful, talented group of people.

lab lunch
Left to right: Mary, Tedd, Grace, Beth, Martha, Erin, Meg and Jennifer. Thanks team for a productive and fun 2012!

To all of our readers, thank you for reading our blog this year, we look forward to sharing more of our work with you in 2013. Have a happy, healthy and prosperous holiday and new year. Be sure to read what Parks Library Preservation is doing to celebrate the season.


1901 Project: A Lab With A View (Or Not)

This month on the 1091 Project we take a look at our physical lab spaces, how they are set up and how our location impacts our work. The Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab is located on Lower Level 1 of Perkins Library, Room 023. We share this level with The Link, Digital Production Center (DPC), Preservation, and Shipping and Receiving.

When you enter the lab you will see that the work benches are aligned along the left wall; the large equipment such as the board shears, job backer, cloth roll storage and standing press are in the center of the room; the washing sink, clean-up sink, flat file storage, rolling work table, ultrasonic polyester welder, and sorting shelves are to the right. We have several rooms within the space including a “dirty room” with fume hood, sink, Kwikprint and work table; the department head’s office; a store room for supplies; and a photo documentation room. This space opened in 2008 and was purpose-built as a conservation lab as part of the Perkins Project. You can see a virtual tour on Flickr, and there is a video near the end of this post.


One of the challenges in designing the layout of the lab was the fact that we have several large columns in weird places around the room that cause bottlenecks in the flow of traffic through the space. Since these columns are holding up the building, we had to work around them to arrange the space to accommodate large equipment and the need to move materials through the room.

Another challenge is navigating full book trucks through so many self-closing doors. If I could wave a magic wand and go back in time, I would invent the automobile ask for doors that open automatically in response to motion or the wave of your foot. The doors would also be wide enough to easily accommodate a truck of large, flat objects or supplies.

What Works

Having the benches in a row encourages interaction between the staff. Being close to each other allows for easy collaboration and discovery, it’s easy to ask for opinions or to see what projects everyone is working on. It also allows for a more flexible space as you can use an empty bench behind you as a temporary landing space if you need to.

lab staff working

The separate spaces for the dirty room and photo documentation room allows that work to happen away from the main lab. For example, when someone is vacuuming mold in the fume hood, or taking pictures of their objects in the photo documentation room, the noise and visual disturbance is reduced and makes for a happier workplace.

One of the benefits of the renovation was getting upgrades in ergonomic equipment and features. We have a cork floor that is easier to stand on all day, sit-to-stand benches that raise and lower at the push of a button, and special chairs (designed for dental hygienists) that are comfortable and supportive when you have to sit for long periods. We also have daylight balanced lights, which not only helps in color matching but are brighter and more cheerful to be under (in my opinion) when you have no windows in your space.

On Being In The Basement

Being in the basement has its disadvantages and advantages. We have to push carts through several doors, around many corners, and into an elevator to retrieve materials from the stacks. Driving book trucks safely around obstacles like these can be tricky.

People also find it difficult to find the lab on this floor. Unfortunately there are two rooms on this level with the same room number (one in Perkins Library and one in the adjoining Bostock Library). Bostock 023 is a computer training room, so we often have students ringing our doorbell expecting the lab to be their classroom. I tell students applying for jobs, “If you can find the lab, you have cleared one hurdle to being hired.”

The biggest advantage to being in our space is…our space. In our previous location our supplies were on pallets on the floor in a public hallway that went through the middle of our two work rooms. The photo documentation setup was in my office, which was difficult for everyone. We had no room for a fume hood or washing sink. We now have a physical space that allows us to provide a higher level of service and to work more efficiently. I quickly shot a video of our lab early this morning before everyone arrived. Sorry about the wobbly picture but you get the idea of what the space looks like.

The best thing about our space is that it is a gem in the crown of our renovated library. Our lab, the staff and the work they do have become one of the highlights of library tours. It is really fun to invite people “behind the scenes” to show off the great people I work with and the amazing things they do for the collections. Thanks for visiting us. Be sure to head over to Parks Library Preservation to read about their space!

1091 Project: Interview With A Conservator

This month as part of the 1091 project we are presenting an interview with our paper conservator, Grace White. Regular readers will remember that Grace joined the staff last year. Since then, she has worked on a variety of things including some very, very large WWI posters; she curated an exhibit on the tools of the trade; and has helped with a lot of the renovation prep, including the papyri rehousing project. Grace also writes the quarterly “What’s In The Lab” series for the Devil’s Tale.

In this interview, Grace discusses what she does, how she came to the conservation profession, her favorite treatment as well as her favorite tool. Check out our other staff interviews from our “10 Years, 10 People” series, and be sure to click over to Parks Library Preservation for their interview!

1091 Project: Today In The Lab

We have been so busy with renovation projects that we forgot that today was a scheduled 1091 post. Instead of a long, thoughtful expose on a current conservation topic, Melissa and I will share some images of what is happening in our labs today. Think of it as a glimpse behind the scenes.

Parks Library and Preservation Underground will be back next month with another riveting 1091 post. Thanks as always for reading, and be sure to click over to Parks Library Preservation to see what is happening in their lab today.

Clockwise from upper left: large phase boxes drying under bricks, ledger bindings being rehoused, the lab (everyone’s at lunch!), making four-flap boxes, Lilly Current Lit books getting CoLibri covers.

Bonus pic: Look what showed up in my mailbox! A wonderful, home-made pop-up note to thank me for some consultation I did for someone whose cat damaged some of their papers.

Can I use the word “squeeeee!” in a professional post?


1091 Project: Master Studies Workshop: Conservation of Transparent Papers

This month on 1091 we take you to Iowa State University Libraries to the home of Parks Library Preservation! In July both Melissa and I had the opportunity to take a master class in conserving transparent paper with Hildegard Homburger, a conservator in private practice in Berlin, Germany.

Presented by the Friends of the American Institute for Conservation and hosted by Iowa State University Libraries Preservation Department, this class brought together a mix of mid-career and advanced paper and book conservators from museums, libraries and private practice. The sessions combined lecture and hands-on instruction and allowed plenty of time for practice and asking questions.

Our instructor, Hildegard
Hildegard Homburger, instructor, demonstrating tear repairs.

Hildegard is an expert at conserving these materials and is a generous instructor. On day one we covered the history and manufacture of transparent papers including its unique chemistry. In the practical session we learned to mend tears and losses with aqueous adhesives and how to humidify, dry and flatten these papers to minimize distortion. I think we are all converts to the hard-soft sandwich! On day two we learned mending with synthetic adhesives, how to dye mending papers and how to line fragile transparent papers with Japanese tissue.

During the sessions Hildegard shared not only tips and techniques, but discussed previous projects and how she would do them differently now compared to several years ago. That very much impressed me. We all continue to learn throughout our careers, and it’s easy to forget that what we know now is a result of years of practice and evolving knowledge. Sharing her experiences, and walking us step-by-step through her thought process helped broaden our understanding of how to approach these papers in particular as well as our work in the larger sense.

I tend to think of transparent papers as being mainly architectural tracings, but artists have used transparent papers for printmaking and drawing, and I have seen similar papers in medical flap books and 19th century copy books. Because of its manufacturing process, transparent paper can be tricky to work with. It is very thin, often brittle, very reactive to moisture, and of course transparent so you don’t want to use repair techniques that would make it opaque. I now feel much more comfortable and capable of working with the transparent papers in our collections.

Beth (left) and Kim Nichols practicing heat set repairs with a variety of synthetic adhesives.

For more images from the workshop check out the Iowa group’s Flickr page.  The Smithsonian also hosted two sessions of this workshop and Nora Lockshin has posted about their sessions. Tahe Zalal attended the second session at Iowa State and posted photos.

Don’t forget to head over to Parks Library Preservation to read about Melissa’s experience. Thanks to Hildegard, AIC, Iowa State University and all the participants for making this a wonderful experience.


1091 Project: Making Treatment Decisions

This month on the 1091 Project we talk about how we make treatment decisions. Treatment decisions are based on a conservator’s experience with materials, knowledge of treatment options, and understanding of the object as it relates to the collection.

Treatment Goals

Conservators must balance the item’s value to the collection, how and how much it has been or will be used, and to what extent the binding and its contents are at risk for further loss or damage. For any item in the lab we have a few overarching treatment goals:

  • Save as much of the original as possible
  • Use reversible repair methods as much as possible
  • Use high quality repair materials and adhesives
  • Repairs should not be stronger than the weakest part of the original
  • Create a sympathetic repair that does not obscure the fact that it was done (conservation vs. restoration)
  • The repair should facilitate use of the item

From there we ask:

  • Can we do it?
  • Should we do it?
  • How should we proceed?

There is an entire chapter to write just about this section, but let’s move on to the process of making a treatment decision for one book from our general (circulating) collections workflow.

Condition Review

Transactions of the Zoological Society of London, volume VI (London, 1869)

This book came to the lab because someone used packing tape to repair the damaged spine. The fragile leather binding tore off the book as a result.

The binding is a hollow-back binding in quarter leather with tight joints. The leather is weakened and failing; the marbled papers over the boards are abraded; the corners are worn; the spine and boards are off the text block; and the spine has been heavily taped with fresh packing tape, the carrier and adhesive are present, and the adhesive is very sticky.

The text block is made with wove paper and is borderline brittle and oversewn; the paste downs and flyleaf have detached; the spine adhesive and linings are intact; the sewing is intact except for the first and last few pages; the printer’s ink is stable; there are foldouts, some of them are misfolded with damaged edges; several pages at the front and back have multiple tears.

Treatment Options

Can we do it?
The two biggest problems with this book are the tape and the oversewing. If removed, the adhesive on the packing tape will take the fragile, thinly-pared leather with it resulting in a time consuming repair. Oversewing creates a very inflexible spine that restricts the opening and puts tremendous stress on the first few pages, resulting in breaks at the bound edge that are difficult to repair because of the stitching. The fastest, most economical and most practical option may be to replace the binding, but the oversewing will continue to be problematic.

The borderline brittle paper worries me. Because they are stronger than the substrate, repairs can provide a breaking edge for brittle paper. Although this paper is slightly brittle, it still has some flexibility. I think we can repair the page tears and fold-outs but it will take a lot of time.

Should we do it?
The information in this book is likely more valued than the binding by researchers. This book has only five circulations on its record. I could check with the biology librarian whether this may be a faculty favorite, it seems likely that it is.

The new binding and paper repairs will take an estimated 3-4 hours of bench time. I have one technician for the entire general collections workflow (5+ million books). Is this one book worth repairing three or four others that may have higher circulation records? Good question.

We can defer the treatment until its next use. All the parts are here, and though the boards and some pages are detached the book can be carefully used. We could make a protective enclosure (about 15 minutes of time) and put it back as-is if we think that its future use is likely not going to be high.

How should we proceed?
Readers, what do you think? Weigh the issues and options and leave your thoughts in the comments. Head over to Parks Library Preservation to find out how they make decisions.