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. 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).
As part of the Rubenstein Library Renovation Project a few years ago, the Special Collections Hallway Gallery was enlarged and rebranded as the Rubenstein Photography Gallery. The 67′ by 25′ space features a different collection from the Archive of Documentary Arts every few months. Because it still functions as a primary route through the building, the gallery provides an inviting environment for visitors to experience the library’s photographic collections.
We have been monitoring the environmental conditions within the space continually since it reopened in 2015. Although the temperature stays very stable in the building throughout the year, we do see some fluctuation in the relative humidity (RH) for the gallery. In the coldest winter months, public spaces tend to become very dry because of the heating systems. The question has been lingering in our minds: what are the environmental conditions that the artwork is experiencing inside the frame? Last fall, a small working group from Conservation, Exhibitions, Preservation, and the Archive of Documentary Arts gathered to design a simple experiment to try and answer this question.
As part of this experiment, we wanted to not only measure the temperature and RH within our normal frames, but see if there was something simple we could do to buffer any changes to those conditions. While there are many options available to change the conditions inside a frame, we determined the easiest (and cheapest) option would be to seal frame contents in a relatively impermeable package.
Framed photographs in our galleries include several components inside each frame. The glazing of our frames is a UV-filtering acrylic. Beneath that is a window mat cut to the size of the artwork. The print is mounted to another piece of mat board underneath. At the back of the package is a piece of corrugated board made of white plastic (polypropylene). We hypothesized that by taping the outside edges of this “package” of material with polypropylene tape that the air exchange inside the frame could be significantly reduced and therefore reduce the change in RH. We decided to set up two identical frames for comparison, one with a sealed package and one without.
We acquired two HOBO MX2300 Temp/RH dataloggers with external sensors and I set to work fitting them into two of our standard gallery frames.
The datalogger sensor is much thicker than the art that usually goes inside one of these frames, so I had to build up the thickness of the package with several layers of mat board. I created a central stack of mat board with a window cut to fit the sensor. I chose not to use full sheets of mat board for a couple of reasons:
We have a lot of small scrap pieces already and I didn’t want to waste materials.
Frame packages typically only have one full mat board sheet and window mat inside. Adding five or more full sheets to the package seemed like a lot of additional material, which might act as added RH buffer.
The rate of change between the two frames was the important variable. As long as each package was constructed with the same quantity of material inside, we should be able to get a representative comparison.
An inkjet print with a cut mat and the glazing was placed on top of the sensor. The sensor cable was passed through a hole cut in the corrugated plastic, allowing me to mount the logger to the back of the frame. The contents were all stored in a stable 45% RH environment for several weeks before installation. With the package all together, I sealed up the outer edges as well as the hole in the plastic backing with clear tape. The sealed package was then placed inside the metal and wood frames.
We installed our sealed and unsealed experiment frames in the gallery in early December 2017, along with a new show. The frames were mounted on a small wall, next to the window to our reading room, so as to be less of a distraction from the rest of the exhibit and to be in close proximity to the data logger which monitors the gallery space.
The inkjet prints we included in each frame had a short description of the experiment so that curious patrons would understand the the purpose of their unusual positioning.
After five months, we took the frames down and compiled all the environmental data. In the graph below, the gallery conditions are marked in grey, the unsealed frame is marked in yellow, and the sealed frame is marked in blue. Temperature values are displayed on the left, while RH values are displayed on the right.
The data confirms that the space maintains temperature very well, staying right around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The RH in the gallery space does bounce around quite a bit throughout the winter months, fluctuating between around 50% and 20%. Late January 2018 seems to have been particularly volatile.
We were very surprised at how well each frame responded to the conditions in the gallery. Even inside the unsealed frame, we see a significant smoothing out of the RH graph: the over 30 point spread of the gallery RH is reduced to around 12% change in the unsealed frame and the contents did not drop below 30% RH. The sealed frame package performed very well, with only about 6% overall RH change in 5 months.
While the methodology of this experiment does have flaws, it is an inexpensive and adaptable approach to measuring environmental conditions. We can be reassured that our normal framing practices protect prints from drastic changes, even in the most volatile months. We can also take the relatively simple and cost-effective step of sealing the frame package to provide additional protection for more sensitive materials. This experiment has raised questions of how other methods, such as sealing the frame package differently or adding pre-conditioned board, might compare. It is likely that our investigations will continue, so that we can make the best choices for our collections.
In conservation there are so many different materials to learn about and each one has specific and unique properties that can impact how we approach a treatment. It’s impossible to know everything about every material. So any opportunity to cross-train or broaden a skillset can allow a conservator to better manage a wider range of objects.
About a year ago I had the opportunity to attend Sheila Siegler’s Parchment Conservation workshop offered by the International Preservation Studies Center. It was a weeklong intensive on the history and preparation of parchment, parchment identification, and various treatment techniques.
We often get items made from parchment in our lab and I was especially interested in learning more about treatment methods for this finicky material. In the workshop I learned new methods for flattening and drying and came back to the lab eager to put those new skills to use.
Last week I had the opportunity to pass on some of those skills to North Carolina Museum of HistoryObject Conservator Jennifer French. She had a parchment document in her collection in need of flattening and was looking for advice on how best to manage it. Our lab has previously collaborated with NC Museum of History when Textile Conservator Paige Myers visited our library to provide advice about a silk banner in our collection and we were happy to return the favor. I took a field trip over to Jenifer’s lab and we got to work.
The document was very cockled and uneven making it difficult to handle and house. Using a vapor chamber we created a high humidity environment to soften the parchment and ease out some of those wrinkles. While the parchment humidified we prepared our materials for drying. The humidification was a slow process so we had plenty of time to talk shop, sharing tips and tricks for an assortment of other treatments.
Once the parchment had been humidified for many hours the larger wrinkles were relaxed and it was much flatter already. We transferred the document to dry between felts and blotters under plenty of weight (those heavy conservation books come in handy).
A little over a week later Jennifer checked on the document and found it had flattened considerably. It still has some areas of minor undulation but it’s so much better, and more than good enough to be handled and rehoused.
For now the parchment will stay under weights until Jennifer and I meet up again to create an enclosure that will ensure the parchment stays safe and flat in the museum’s storage.
This kind of cross-institutional collaboration on projects was not only great fun but a rare opportunity for hands on information sharing and skill building. As conservators we get by with a little help from our friends.
This week the Conservation Services Department was joined by our first ever HBCU Library Alliance Summer intern, Phebe Pankey! Duke is one of five library conservation labs participating in this program to host an eight-week internship in preservation and conservation this summer.
Phebe is a junior at Winston Salem State University and has been involved in libraries most of her life through volunteering and community activities. She is excited to learn more about conservation and this internship is a way to continue developing and expanding her library skills.
Phebe has jumped right into the lab workflows, learning to construct some of the quicker enclosures like CoLibri sleeves and 4-flap boxes. She has also been gaining experience with basic paper treatments, like humidification and flattening.
At the conclusion of the eight weeks, interns are expected to take some of the skills they have learned back to their home institution to implement a library preservation project, building on the success of their summer experiences with an opportunity to perform meaningful work preserving significant HBCU library collections at their institution.
These internships would not have been possible without the help of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the University of Delaware College of Arts and Science, the Department of Art Conservation at the University of Delaware, and the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library (DE). Thanks also to Debbie Hess Norris and Melissa Tedone at the University of Delaware. We also wish to thank the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation for supporting this internship.
We will continue sharing more about this internship as it progresses, but for now: Welcome to Duke, Phebe!
Duke Today has a new story out about the collaborative work that staff from Conservation, the Rubenstein Library History of Medicine Collection, and the Shared Materials Instrumentation Lab are doing to house, scan, and eventually 3-D print our ivory manikins. Check out the story here. And watch this very cool video of the process.
Loyal readers will remember that back in the spring Henry organized a workshop designed to meet the Girl Scouts Cadet Book Artist Badge. We presented another workshop last week with Henry as instructor and Beth helping out. Henry demonstrated three bindings: Pamphlet stitch, 4-hole stabbed binding, and a flag book. He also presented a brief overview of the library and of conservation.
We had a lot of creative young women in this class. When one of them brought out their own glue-gun, we knew we were going to see some wonderful things. We weren’t disappointed. We want to thank troop leader Astria Wilson from Duke Hematologic Malignancies & Cell Therapy for the opportunity to spend the day sharing our love of bookbinding.
The installation was very similar to our workflow here at Duke. We had already constructed custom book supports for each volume using a clear, inert plastic resin called PETG. After unpacking everything, I was able to simply position each volume on its cradle and secure the pages at the opening with clear polyester strapping.
Once the books and labels were all correctly placed inside, museum staff stepped in to install the vitrines.
The curators and museum staff at NCMA were so great to work with and I really enjoyed being part of a collaborative effort between cultural institutions from around The Triangle. I haven’t shared any images of the paintings that will also be on display, but I was able to get a peek at many of them. They are absolutely incredible! The show will be on display from March 4th – June 18th and I would encourage you to go visit if you are in the area.
We realized we needed some sort of large cart to better move folders from the stacks to the reading room when we expanded our flat file storage to include super-oversized file drawers. After some investigation we settled on the “U-boat.” This custom cart was first introduced to me by Michele Hamill, Paper and Photograph Conservator in the Digitization and Conservation Services Department at Cornell University Library.
The cool thing about its design is the three-tiered storage system. The base is tall enough for a standard archival records box, the middle has a concave section to transport large folders, and the top is a large flat space to place oversize flat boxes. The best part? The top is removable! Once I saw it, I wanted it.
Today was the first opportunity for Conservation to really put the U-boat to use in moving oversize materials. We had to move three super-oversized folders from the lab to the third floor stacks. These folders are about 75 inches long and 50 inches wide, so we brought down the U-boat to transport them.
Once the folders were on the cart, we placed a large tube in the middle to stabilize the contents and keep the folders from slipping or folding over. Three of us escorted the cart upstairs to the stacks. Two people steered while one cleared the way and opened doors.
The U-boat was custom made for us by G.S. Manufacturing . It arrived fully assembled and ready to go. While this is the first time I’ve used the U-boat, I often see it in use in the stacks for oversized flat boxes. Is it wrong to fall in love with a cart? Because I believe I have.
Recently we contracted with object conservator Susanne Grieve Rawson to work on some objects from the History of Medicine Collection. These are being prepared for exhibit in the renovated Rubenstein Library.
Rather than sending her the objects as you normally do when you contract conservation services, Susanne came to the Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab to do the work.
Susanne started the first day evaluating the condition of the objects with Rachel Ingold, History of Medicine Collection curator, and Meg Brown, Exhibits Coordinator. Her examination included looking at a few of the objects under UV light.
She also met with Rachel and Andrew Armacost, Head of Collection Development in the Rubenstein Library, to discuss the condition of the items and potential treatment options.
Susanne brought an amazing kit of tools with her. We geeked out a little, asking her questions about the special tools and supplies she had. It was a fun and educational to have an outside contractor working in the lab. We learned a lot from each other. I hope we have this opportunity again.
This post is only slightly off topic, but it is preservation related of a kind. Our University Archivist and myself went over to Duke Hospital to take part in a compression-only CPR class today. This session focused on what to do if an adult or teenager collapses due to cardiac arrest.
We learned the proper way to apply compressions following the “three C’s.”
Check to see if the person is conscious
Call 911; and if there is an AED in your building, ask someone to get that, or get it yourself
Compressions at at least 100 beats per minute
If you need help keeping the 100 beats-per-minute rhythm, the American Heart Association has put together a Spotify list of music with the perfect beat to do CPR compressions. We also learned how to use an Automated External Defibrillator or AED, which led me to wonder if the library has one. I’ve sent an email to our building security manager to find out.
There is a very brief video by the American Heart Association that demonstrates the compression-only CPR technique.* You do not need to be certified to do this method of CPR, and it does not involve checking for a heart beat, sweeping the mouth, or providing breaths.
At the beginning of the class we were asked to share this information with eight people, and ask them to share as well. Consider yourself part of my eight people. Now go and share!