Category Archives: Announcements

Happy Birthday Devil’s Tale!

Doris Duke and her trusted steed, posted by Devil’s Tale in honor of Ms. Duke’s 100th birthday.

Today we pause to wish our sister blog a very happy birthday! Devil’s Tale, the blog of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, turns four years old today.

Over the last four years the bloggers of Devil’s Tale have brought to light not only our collection gems, but the hard work it takes to acquire, describe, arrange and preserve the collections in our care.

Their first post set in motion a series of events including the inception and naming of Preservation Underground. Together, we have created innovative blogging ideas including the What’s In The Lab series and our simultaneous blogging posts (one object, two perspectives, posted on the same day). Our enthusiasm for social media led us to start the Social Media Users Group, a grassroots effort to learn how to best use and leverage our social media endeavors.

Happy birthday friends! We hope there is some cake somewhere in an approved eating-area of the library for you today.

Great Expectations and Saying Farewell (For Now)

jenniferJennifer Blomberg, senior conservation technician, is leaving Duke today to become the Head of the Collections Management Branch in the Division of Archives and Records in the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

Jennifer started in conservation in February 2011. While working at Duke she completed her Masters of Library and Information Science with a specialization in Archives, Preservation and Records Management from the University of Pittsburgh School of Information Sciences.

Her many accomplishments include organizing and streamlining our supply inventories and ordering processes, serving as our registrar for special collections materials coming to and leaving the lab (no small feat!), and most recently helping update the library’s disaster plan.

She has cleaned 1,622 items of mold, spent 260 hours installing exhibits, made 149 exhibit cradles for weird things like crocodile skulls and herbarium specimens, and repaired or made enclosures for over 9,000 items from special collections.

Jennifer is our resident specialist in making enclosures for NBO’s, non-booklike objects from the collections. Some of the items she has boxed include a gravestone, death mask, giant papier-mâché puppet, weathervane and World War II Japanese ceremonial swords.

We are sad to see her go, yet excited to see Jennifer start her professional career as a preservation librarian. Congratulations Jennifer, we will miss you and wish you all the best in your new job.

Help Save Timbuktu Manuscripts

Today we received the following email from Debra Hess Norris, Director of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. She has given me permission to re-post her email in its entirety. Please consider re-posting  or linking to this information so that we can spread this widely, time is of the essence.*

Dear Friends,

In the last two days I have exchanged multiple emails with Stephanie Diakité  (see her bio below) who worked tirelessly in 2012 with others to evacuate 300,000 manuscripts from Timbuktu in the midst of  civil war.

These medieval African documents are a living testimony of the highly advanced and refined civilization in sub-Saharan Africa. They cover diverse subjects, including mathematics, chemistry, physics, optics, astronomy, medicine, Islamic sciences, history, geography, governance, legislation and treaties, jurisprudence and literary and artistic subjects, including poetry, music and even culinary arts.

contents of footlocker
Contents of a footlocker of evacuated manuscripts in a safehouse in Bamako

Subsequent to  evacuation to the south, the manuscripts were crammed in metal chests used for their transport and continued mobility. The chests are heavy and the manuscripts risk immediate physical damage as they are tightly packed, without additional housing. The rains will start later this month and many fear these irreplaceable documents risk immediate degradation, including permanent deformation and mold.

Efforts are underway to raise urgently needed funds and supplies as these documents must be protected from humidity and further damage.

Stephanie and the people of Mali need our help. Now.  Her video is compelling.

The German government, in collaboration with the Gerda Henkel Foundation, will support the conservation of 20,000 manuscripts.  280,000 manuscripts remain to be housed in archival-quality boxes buffered with silica gel to trap humidity. The work will be done in the safehouses under the protection of nightfall by members of the library families.

To raise funds and to build awareness and support, Stephanie and her colleagues have launched a world-wide initiative entitled T-160K Timbuktu Libraries in Exile. To date, more than 400 contributors have shown their support for implementation of this emergency conservation strategy through direct donations.

I hope you will join me and others in helping to save these ancient African manuscripts for the world. A donation of $30 will rehouse one manuscript. Together, we can do much more!  Donations must be received by June 20, 2013.  

Many, many thanks and with best regards, Debbie

Information About The Conservators

Stephanie Diakité, JC-JD/MBA/Phd is an attorney and a poverty eradication institutional development specialist working in more than 40 countries in sub-Saharan Africa through her firm, Dintl, and a book artist and book and paper conservation specialist.  She has extensive program and funding management experience and has provided services to some of the most important multilateral and bilateral, private sector, and philanthropic donors working in Sub-Saharan Africa (see her website for a selection of organizations Dintl has worked with). 

She has trained hundreds of generational artisans back to book arts and book conservation in northern Mali.  She has designed, developed and delivered socio-economic development programming based on indigenous scholarship and revised legislation protecting the rights of stakeholders in indigenous knowledge in Mali, all ECOWAS and African Union member states.

abdel kader
Abdel Kader in his family library before it was evacuated from Timbuktu

Abdel Kader Haidara is the generational curator of one of the most important libraries of manuscripts in Timbuktu and founder of SAVAMA DCI, an association of private Timbuktu libraries committed to public access. SAVAMA DCI has extensive program implementation experience and has successfully managed grants from organizations ranging from the Ford Foundation to bilateral aid agencies (see the SAVAMA DCI website for a selection of organizations SAVAMA DCI has partnered with).  He was awarded an honorary Doctorate from the University of Lyon for his work in support of the Timbuktu Manuscripts.


*The usual disclaimer: The views and policies herein do not reflect those of Duke University or Duke University Libraries.  Duke University and Duke University Libraries do not endorse any individuals, websites or programs referred to herein.

Event: Digital Forensics, Emulation, and the Art of Restoration

By Winston Atkins, Preservation Officer

Ben Fino-Radin

Digital Forensics, Emulation, and the
Art of Restoration


Who: Ben Fino-Radin
When: Wednesday, April 24, 4:00 p.m.
Where: Perkins Library, Room 217 (Click for map)
Contact: Winston Atkins (
This event is free and open to the public.

In 1991, from a basement in lower Manhattan, contemporary artist Wolfgang Staehle founded The Thing, an electronic Bulletin Board System (BBS) that served as a cyber-utopian hub for NYC-based artists integrating computers and into their creative practice.

The Thing emerged at a moment when contemporary artists were coming to grips with personal computers and the role they played in visual art. The BBS, which began as a temporary experiment, grew to become an international network of artists and ideas. Then the World Wide Web emerged and in 1995 Staehle abandoned the BBS for a web-based iteration of The Thing. The cultural record of these crucial early years, inscribed on the platters of the hard drive that hosted the BBS, was left to sit in a dusty basement.

Fast forward to 2013. Digital conservator Ben Fino-Radin reached out to Staehle to investigate the state of the BBS. Did the machine that hosted The Thing still exist? Could the board be restored to working order?

For scholars interested in the intersection of art and technology, the ability to investigate the contents of the BBS and observe its original look and feel would help flesh out the history of the emergence of personal computers and visual art. Unhappily, it was discovered that the computer that hosted The Thing BBS was at some point discarded.

Join Ben Fino-Radin on Wednesday, April 24th, to discuss the process of digital forensics, investigation, and anthropology involved in the process of restoring The Thing BBS from the scattered bits and pieces of evidence that managed to survive, and how this story serves as a case-study in the need for a new model of digital preservation in archives.

About the Speaker

Ben Fino-Radin is a New York-based media archaeologist and conservator of born-digital and computer-based works of contemporary art. At Rhizome at the New Museum, he leads the preservation and curation of the ArtBase, one of the oldest and most comprehensive collections of born-digital works of art. He is also in practice in the Conservation Department of the Museum of Modern Art, managing the Museum’s repository for digital assets in the collection, as well as contributing to media conservation projects. He is near completion of an MFA in digital arts and MS in Library and Information Science at Pratt Institute. He holds a BFA in New Media from Alfred University.

Find Out More

Ben Fino-Radin:

The Thing:


  • Rhizome is dedicated to the creation, presentation, preservation, and critique of emerging artistic practices that engage technology.” (from the Rhizome mission statement)

Florence: Days of Destruction (A Film by Franco Zeffirelli)

Written by Winston Atkins, Preservation Officer

Monday, 20 February 2012 at 2:00-4:00 p.m.
Perkins Library, Room 217 (Free and open to all)

Please join us for a showing of “Florence: Days of Destruction,” Franco Zeffirelli’s rare documentary of devastation to the city of Florence, Italy, and the art and cultural history in its museums, archives, and churches. This copy of the film, part of the University of Maryland Libraries’ collections, is one of very few in existence.

"Mud Angels" save artwork from floods.

When the Arno River overflowed its banks on November 4, 1966, it overwhelmed Florence, Italy, one of the world’s great cultural centers. Franco Zeffirelli, busy editing “The Taming of the Shrew,” quickly assembled a crew to document the damage suffered by a city filled with historic architecture, art, books and archives. His film, narrated by Richard Burton, reportedly raised $20 million for the relief effort. Those efforts culminated in an international rescue and salvage effort that fundamentally changed approaches to the preservation of cultural property.

Bryan Draper, the University of Maryland Libraries’ Collections Conservator, will host this showing. He will also display a collection of printed materials relating to the Florence Flood and its aftermath.

Co-sponsored by the Duke University Libraries’ Conservation Services and Preservation Departments.

Image from CultureGrrl.

Last Minute Gift Ideas

With contributions from Winston Atkins, Preservation Librarian

Never fear, your secret holiday helper is here! We have for you some last minute gift ideas for Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa or New Year’s.

Heck, these make great hostess gifts, thank-you gifts, or birthday gifts, especially if someone’s birthday falls smack dab in the middle of all of these holidays (ahem).

Gifts under $20

Gifts to $50

Gifts to $100

Gifts over $100

The usual disclaimer: Listing does not imply endorsement of any product or vendor.

Happy 2nd Birthday To Us!

Today our blog turns two years old! In the spirit of Thanksgiving we wish to thank all of our readers and colleagues for helping us make this blog successful. It’s been a great two years filled with weird and wonderful things.

Our birthday wish? to continue to bring you more news and views from the Lower Level, and to engage our readers in more conversations.

What kinds of posts do you like to read? What don’t you know about our work that we can highlight? What drives you to respond to a blog post? Oatmeal spice cake left over from yesterday’s feast counts as a fiber-filled breakfast item, right?

Image from “Two African Trips With Notes and Suggestions on Big Game Preservation in Africa,” by Edward North Buxton (1902). This item is in the lab so that we can fix the large fold-out map that accompanies the text.

Happy Second Birthday Devil’s Tale!

From the Gamble CollectionHappy Belated 2nd Birthday to our sister blog The Devil’s Tale. On October 8, 2009, TDT began their quest for blogging superstar-dom.

Reading The Devil’s Tale is a great way to connect to our special and archival collections as well as to our staff members. TDT’s posts (yeah Amy!) are insightful, educational and often humorous. Yes, librarians do have a sense of humor!

Without The Devil’s Tale, how would you know what new collections have come in? Or what  curious things the staff has found?

We know you want to know more about such things as gangrene and hair, don’t you? Yes you do! Surf on over to The Devil’s Tale and see what’s happening in the wild world of the Rubenstein Library.


Image “Two Betties” from the Sydney D. Gamble Photograph Collection, Rubenestein Library.

The Nominations Are….

This is the time of year to start thinking about nominating your favorite preservation and/or conservation librarian for one of the several awards available from the ALA-ALCTS Preservation and Reformatting Section (PARS). There are several available, summed up over on PCAN and listed with other awards over on the ALCTS awards website.

I want to highlight the newest PARS award and ask for your help in getting the word out to students, new preservation librarians, and to preservation programs and their faculty. The Jan Merrill-Oldham Professional Development Grant rewards the recipient with cash to help defray the cost of attending the ALA Annual Conference.

Throughout her career Jan championed new professionals and supported them by providing internships and jobs. She willingly and quickly took many new professionals, myself included, under her wing and taught them the importance of the work and why preservation matters to the greater academic world and, indeed, to society itself.

We stand on very tall shoulders and would not be successful today without the help of many, many people. What I have found in this profession is a large cadre of very smart, very dedicated and very supportive people who are more than willing to give you their time and advice. Jan is one of these people and I owe her a great number of things. Even now, more than a decade into my career, Jan continues to inspire me and provides her thoughts and advice when I need it.

Jan is humble and shies away from the limelight. But I’m here to say that she is a gem, one of those people that in decades to come we will stand and tell our stories of how Jan helped us through the tough times and supported us through our successes. Please help honor Jan by getting the word out on this new award.

Full disclosure: I am one of two authors of the PCAN blog; I was an intern for Harvard College Libraries with Nancy Schrock (another person to whom I owe so much), worked for Jan and Pamela Spitzmueller (yet another mentor) in the Weissman Preservation Center at Harvard, and I and two other librarians developed the JMO Award.

Instruments of Torture (Our New Exhibit is Up!)

By Grace White

“Tools of Conservation” showcases some of the tools we use in book and paper conservation.  Small items such as scalpels, brushes and bone folders are displayed, as well as materials like Japanese paper and sewing threads.  It would have been impossible to fit a full size press in the display case, so a miniature version is presented alongside some tiny creations (since I love miniatures).  A digital display lets viewers see the tools in use.

Reviews so far have been positive, including “They look like medieval torture instruments!”

The exhibit is open during regular Perkins/Bostock hours. We are located on the Lower Level (same level as the Link), by Perkins Room 023.  Come and have a look!