Category Archives: Conservation

Microfade Testing Seminar

On a gloomy Los Angeles morning earlier this week, I rode a driver-less tram up to the Getty Center to attend a one day seminar on Microfade Testing (MFT).

Seminar room showing title screen for Microfade Testing Public Seminar

Speakers from institutions around the world discussed how they have been using this technology in recent years to support exhibits programs and make informed decisions about safely displaying cultural heritage material. The seminar concluded with demonstrations of several designs of MFT equipment, like the system pictured below.

Microfade testing equipmentIt was such a delight to talk with other conservators about how they are using technologies like this in their own institutions. While I was able to learn a great deal about the application and some limitations of MFT, many questions remain about how we might successfully implement it here at Duke. In the meantime, the seminar highlighted some research opportunities that we can begin pursuing with technology we already have on hand, like multispectral imaging.

Nothin’ But Net

by Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator for Special Collections

We recently treated and housed a collection of 19th century photo albums documenting travels in China by Charles Davis Jameson. Most of the albums had very degraded leather covers that we treated by consolidating with Klucel G, making Mylar wrappers for some, and simply housing in protective enclosures for others. One accordion album posed a particular challenge with its shaped wooden boards and silk covering. The silk cover was shattering and had become completely detached from the front board. We decided to make a wrapper for the loose front cover and house it in an enclosure with the book.

Before treatment photo of photo album front cover.

The back cover, however, was still extant but very tenuously attached.

Before treatment photo of photo album with original silk cover cover shattered and separating from the wooden board, making it vulnerable to damage during handling. We wanted to find a quick and simple solution to stabilize the rear covering and decided to use a lightweight Nylon netting, toned with acrylic, and wrapped around the silk covering and wooden board to contain and protect it.

Photo album after treatment photo showing back cover with acrylic toned nylon netting wrapped around pillow-shaped board and adhered to material cut to the size of the inside cover.

After treatment detail image of nylon netting over album boards.

The netting was adhered to a Mylar insert, cut to the size of the front cover with 3M ATG transfer tape. A leaf of archival paper that matched the tone and quality of the album paper was adhered with double-stick tape on top, sandwiching the netting between layers of archival material and protecting the facing photograph from abrasion from the netting.

After treatment photo showing netting wrapped around back covered and adhered to a Mylar insert; a sympathetic archival paper is adhered on top of that.

The netting is stretched over the pillow-shaped wooden board and the cut end of the Nylon is left open at the board hinge. We were very happy with this quick and easy solution.

See ‘Ya Later Tedd


Good luck Tedd!

It is a bittersweet day in Conservation. Tedd Anderson has decided to leave the lab and we just won’t be the same. Tedd has been with Conservation for six years. He was hired to help with what we called “The Enabling Project.” This was work we did to help prepare the Rubenstein Library for renovation. It required a lot of boxing. So much boxing.

Once that project was over, Tedd continued to make custom enclosures for Rubenstein. He also treated materials from the general collections, and he helped with preparing special collections materials for digitization. In his time here almost 20,000 items crossed his bench. Many of those things needed custom enclosures. Tedd could make a box for just about anything. Cigarette rolling machine? Sure. Suitcase? Yep. A typewriter? No problem. He even made a pretty awesome eclipse viewer to watch last year’s solar eclipse.

Tedd also contributed to this blog. He wrote about the very large boxes he made for our four-volume Audubon set. He also wrote about designing and making enclosures for the very small books in our miniature collection.

We will miss Tedd’s sense of humor, his dedication to all things boxing, and his artistic doodling during staff meetings. So long Tedd. We wish you well and look forward to hearing about your next big adventure.


HBCU Library Alliance Summer 2018 Library Preservation/Conservation Internship Program

Applications due February 19, 2018
For more information please visit:

HBCU undergraduate students interested in the humanities, arts, and sciences will have the opportunity to learn and practice hands-on library preservation skills during this full-time, eight week internship under the mentorship of professional conservators and library staff at a host site. Successful internship candidates will demonstrate a strong interest in libraries and archives and an attention to detail, as well as interest and academic success in history, the arts, and/or the sciences.

Interns will work on a range of possible projects, including:

  • surveying the condition of library collection materials;
  • conservation stabilization and treatment of historical documents, such as humidification and flattening, surface cleaning, and mending tears;
  • historical research;
  • digitization projects;
  • environmental monitoring; and/or
  • constructing custom storage enclosures for fragile archival materials.

Interns will then use their new expertise to implement a library preservation project designed in collaboration with their mentor and their home institution’s library staff, building on the success of their summer experiences with an opportunity to perform meaningful work preserving significant HBCU library collections at their institution.

The five (5) participating host sites are:
  1. American Philosophical Society Library
    The American Philosophical Society Library is a national center for research in the history of the sciences, early American history, and Native American ethnography and linguistics. The Conservation Department provides complete collection care, ranging from preventive care to single-item treatment, for all books, manuscripts, photographs, and works on paper and parchment held by the Library – numbering 350,000 bound volumes , 13 million manuscript pages, and 250,000 images.
  2. Duke University Libraries, Durham, NC
    Duke University Libraries (DUL) is committed to diversity in its patron communities, services, collections, staff and spaces. One of its guiding principles is to build, maintain, and provide access to an international and multilingual collection, representing the broadest possible spectrum of cultures, ideas, and information. Significant collections include the University Archives, the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture, the Human Rights Archives, and the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History & Culture. The core mission of the Conservation Services Department is to ensure that library materials can be used by patrons both now and in the future.
  3. The Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin, TX
    The Ransom Center is an internationally renowned humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin. Its extensive collections provide unique insight into the creative process of writers and artists, deepening our understanding and appreciation of literature, photography, film, art, and the performing arts. The Center’s Preservation and Conservation Division provides a full range of preventive and conservation treatment options for the long-term care of its collections.
  4. Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, Wilmington, DE
    Winterthur Library collections promote the interdisciplinary study of American material culture, including art, architecture, decorative arts, and everyday life, dating from colonial times into the twentieth century. Its resources include printed books and serials; trade and auction catalogs; manuscripts, diaries, letter books, and family papers of artists, craftspeople, and merchants; design and architectural drawings; historic photographs; printed ephemera; a large collections of modern photographs; and institutional archives. Winterthur’s Library Conservation Lab is located within a larger Conservation Department with additional specialties in paintings, textiles, objects, furniture, works of art on paper, and scientific research and analytics.
  5. Yale University Library, New Haven, CT
    The Gates Conservation Laboratory at the Yale University Library opened in the fall of 2015 and is home to the conservation and exhibitions services program for the Yale Library’s collection of 14 million books, manuscripts, archival documents, photographs and artifacts, held in 16 libraries or collections on campus. The lab is staffed by a team of four conservators, four technicians, and one exhibits program manager, who provide expertise in book, parchment, paper and photograph conservation for both circulating materials and rare, special collections. The collections of the Library, especially those of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, document much of the human record, from Egyptian papyri to early Civil War photographs, and archives of writers, artists, and musicians of the Harlem Renaissance to those of student organizations on the Yale campus.




That is One Flat Hat

By Rachel Pennimen, Senior Conservation Technician

Recently a researcher notified the Rubenstein Library staff that there was a hat with a pin in an envelope inside the manuscript box containing the James McGowan papers. A hat in an envelope?

Open records box with folders inside.
This box doesn’t look like it would contain a hat

Yes, a hat! Indeed there was a very smashed, Civil War era, silk hat in that box.

Before treatment image of flattened hat.
That is one flat hat

It looked more like roadkill than apparel. I found a photograph of a soldier wearing a similar looking hat in the same collection.

Portrait of Civil War soldier in uniform, wearing a hat.
This hat doesn’t look nearly as flat

I used a humidification chamber to slowly add moisture to the fabric until it became more flexible. Then I was able to add a little padding at a time to reshape the hat. Once the hat was the correct shape I removed it from the humidification chamber and let it slowly return to ambient humidity with the padding still in place.

Hat in humidity chamber
Hat in humidity chamber, on foam support.
Humidification chamber sitting in sink.
Humidification chamber

In order to maintain the shape of the hat I made a pillow of non-woven, spunbound polyester fabric that will stay inside of the hat when it returns to storage. The pillow will provide support for the hat and the polyester has a very smooth surface that won’t catch on the fragile silk fibers.

After treatment photo of reshaped hat
This looks more like a hat

I made a custom box to house the hat and created more pillows to provide support and cushion.

Hat in cushioned box with reproduction of photo.

Included in the enclosure are a copy of the photograph from the collection and a pocket for the metal pin. A very special thanks to the keen researcher who noticed this item and brought it to our attention.

Rolled Textile Storage

Conservation Services is often called upon to create appropriate housing and storage solutions for over-sized textiles in our collections. This very large and currently uncataloged item from the Robert Hill Collection is a recent example.

After some deliberation, the decision was made to store this item rolled on a hollow tube. Our housing method is fairly straightforward: We started with a piece of unbleached cotton muslin, cut larger than the banner in all dimensions, placed on a work surface of assembled tables. The banner was placed in the center. A rigid  tube, about 5″ in diameter and wrapped in high quality paper,  was placed at one end of the muslin (as pictured above). These tubes are constructed of blue/grey barrier board, with neutral pH adhesive, and have passed the Photographic Activity Test. They are available through several suppliers like Gaylord or University Products. With a person at each end of the tube, we slowly rolled the muslin and banner together, being careful to smooth out any distortion or creases as we went. The bundle was then loosely tied up with twill tape.

If dust was a concern in the storage space, we might also wrap in an additional layer of clear polyester.  We will likely add a tyvek label  attached to the twill tape (for example) when cataloging is complete. STASHc (Storage Techniques for Art, Science & History Collections) is a great online resource for potential solutions for housing more cumbersome collection materials, and methods similar to ours can be found there.

Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?

By Rachel Pennimen, Senior Conservation Technician

Not actual collection buttons, just some of the many buttons we have in the lab.


The Rubenstein Library holds a growing collection of political ephemera including many political pins. Over time the library has received multiple additions to the collection and expects to continue collecting more of these items in the future. The collection arrived in batches with a variety of different inconsistent housing methods. At first, conservation had been creating custom built trays with individual spaces for each button as seen in this Duke Today video.

Here is another example from the Terence Mitchell Collection of Tobacco Related Ephemera of the kind of tray we were creating for the buttons.

Mitchell Tobacco Collection

This approach resulted in a really nice custom enclosure for a group of buttons, but was time consuming to create by hand and inconvenient when just one or two new buttons would need to be added to the collection.

After a meeting with Rubenstein Library curatorial and technical services staff to assess the state of the entire collection and discuss goals for the future of the collection I started researching housing options. I remembered seeing a method for housing buttons by pinning them on to foam covered boards but many of our buttons didn’t have their backing pins and there was no way to number individual items using that system. I had also seen a method for housing small artifacts that looked like it could be promising with a little modification.

Now we house each button using a clear 4″ x 5” zip top, virgin polyethylene bag with a 40 point tan barrier board stiffener inside. The bags are either 4 mil or 6 mil so they are strong and provide some cushion. I cut the barrier board to be small enough to easily slip in and out of the bag and I round the corners so they don’t fray or poke through the plastic bag. The pins aren’t attached to the stiffener backing but it provides structure and support for the different sized items. The top of the stiffener can be labeled with an item identification number if needed. Then the bags can either be housed flat in trays or upright in shoebox style archival boxes.

This method makes it easy to house large numbers of buttons quickly and is easy enough for technical services staff to assemble these housings themselves. When one or two new buttons arrive to be added to an existing collection, they can easily be bagged and filed in place in an existing box. It is also still easy for researchers to flip through a box and look at each button without having to handle the actual item. So far we’ve been really happy with this solution and I imagine it could be adapted for housing other small ephemera collections in the future.

Digital Fills to the Rescue!

By Rachel Pennimen, Senior Conservation Technician

This copy of Hilda Vaughan’s ‘A Thing of Nought’ was sent to the conservation lab to have a box made to protect the fragile dust jacket and cover. The illustration and lettering printed directly on the front board is visible through a transparent, blue tinted plastic dust jacket that is itself printed with the title and author’s name.

Unfortunately the poor quality plastic of the dust jacket has not aged well. Small pieces of the plastic dust jacket were in danger of flaking off with every movement and could hardly be handled safely. In order to keep the dust jacket on the book but still allow for handling of the item, Curator Andy Armacost had the idea of using a dust jacket protector similar to the type sometimes used on our general collections items. This traditional style of dust jacket cover has a Mylar front and a paper backing that wrap around the dust jacket to protect it from wear.

Slim-Fold Book Jacket Covers, University Products


This would have the benefit of completely surrounding the plastic dust jacket and preserving all of its parts while allowing it to stay in place on the book and be handled. The trouble is that the paper backing on this kind of product would obscure what was printed directly on the book’s cover. So I attempted to create my own dust jacket cover where the paper backing was printed with a copy of the original boards.

I tried black and white photocopies of the cover on white paper and colored papers. They gave a similar idea of the original cover design, but I was really hoping for something more detailed and accurate.

Photocopy on white paper, photocopy on cream paper, and original cover

I tried again using our photodocumentation setup to take a color photograph of the cover but when I printed out the image the color didn’t match the original at all.

Printed color photograph and original cover

Senior Conservator Erin Hammeke had previously used a tool developed by Victoria Binder to make a color accurate printed reproduction for use in an exhibit so I decided to look into that. Victoria’s article in Topics in Photographic Preservation entitled ‘Digital Fills for Photographs with Glossy Surfaces’ discusses using the Action feature in Photoshop to automatically make variations on settings like midtone color, exposure, and saturation in an easily printable contact sheet. I wasn’t looking to create a fill for a photograph, but color matching a printed image to an original was exactly what I needed. By using Victoria’s Actions Set I could easily print contact sheets with up to 15 variations on a single page, and pick the one that looked closest to the original without wasting reams of paper.

I adjusted my image in Photoshop according to the best results from the contact sheets. The printed photograph gave all the detail of the appearance of the original board decoration and the adjustments made the color an almost perfect match when printed.

Printed photograph before color correction, after color correction, and original cover

The original plastic dust jacket was placed over the printed reproduction of the book cover and a piece of Mylar was folded around both. When the jacket assembly is put on the book the visual effect is very similar to the original.

Interior of the jacket assembly around original cover

Because the cover isn’t attached in any way to the book, a researcher can simply unfold the jacket assembly and view the original book cover decoration beneath.

Final dust jacket assembly next to original cover

I’m so happy with how this project turned out. The original plastic dust jacket is much easier to handle safely, the original appearance of the item is retained, and all of the parts can still be kept together.

Quick Pic: Losing Information

By Erin Hammeke

We have two incunabula in the lab that illustrate the effects of unsympathetic rebinding, a practice that has played an unfortunate role in the history of repair and maintenance of bookbindings. Both of these texts were printed in the early days of printing, in the year 1501.

(Above) Grãmatica Nocolai Perotti… was printed in Cologne and still sports an early wooden board binding with blind tooled, tawed-skin covering and brass clasp. This binding may have been its original binding or was likely made not too long after the text’s printing. The insides of the wooden boards display manuscript waste fragments and an untrimmed text. Despite a large loss to a portion of the textblock, the binding remains functional and protected by an enclosure and careful handling.

(Above) Baptistae Mantuani poetae oratorisq[ue]… printed in Strasbourg in the same year, faced a very different fate and was rebound in the 20th century in a buckram-covered case binding with modern endpapers. The pages appear to have been pressed very flat, removing all type impression; the textblock has been oversewn; and the pages have been trimmed so much that marginalia has been cut.

Examples like these remind us of the value of the original and what information may be lost when we make things “new and improved.”