Category Archives: Conservation

Intern Update: Getting It Done

It’s been a really busy two weeks for Garrette.  Her last day is next Friday, so we are trying to finish up projects and fit in any last minute training that we can.

Garrette has been working with the TRLN Disaster Interest Group team leads to research shared disaster recovery agreements, updated our training presentation, and has sent out a survey to TRLN libraries. The survey will help us understand our training needs and our readiness should disaster strike one of our consortium members.

Garrette attended the TRLN Annual Meeting last week. The meeting always starts with an inspiring speaker. This year the keynote was Dr. Louise Bernard, Director of the Museum of the Obama Presidential Center. Dr. Bernard discussed the thought processes behind designing the Obama Presidential Center and showed some preliminary site drawings. Her vision for this building and its programming is ambitious and on a scale not seen with other presidential libraries.

Garrette with Dr. Louise Bernard, Director of the Museum
of the Obama Presidential Center

We toured several conservation labs this week. We appreciate our colleague’s time and energy. It’s always fun to visit other labs and talk with conservators about their space and what they are working on. Not pictured is our visit to the N.C. Archives conservation lab. Emily Rainwater toured us through her space. We geeked out a little in their disaster supply room.

Garrette with Kesha Talbert, Associate Paper Conservator, Etherington Conservation Center (Browns Summit, NC).

 

Jennifer French, Objects Conservator, Garrette, and Paige Meyers, Textile Conservator, North Carolina Museum of History (Raleigh, NC).

Today we did a tabletop disaster recovery demo. Garrette and Kelli Stephenson, Coordinator in Access and Library Services, set up a recovery area for items that got wet in our imaginary pipe leak. They set up items for air drying, and prepped several for the freezer. We also learned how water soluble yellow highlighter can be.

Garrette and Kelli working on wet books and papers.

 

Garrette and Kelli get wet books into the freezer.

Garrette has also been spending a lot of time in the Lilly Locked Stacks identifying items that need enclosures. This building will be renovated soon, and we need to prepare the medium-rare materials for moving offsite during construction.

Flagging fragile items for enclosures.

Garrette is working on her final presentation that will cover what she did this summer. She is finishing up  work for digital imaging prep and the Ortiz posters. She is also learning how to make corrugated-clamshell boxes this week.

Garrette repairing posters from the Ortiz collection.

These seven weeks have flown by. One more to go. We are really impressed with how much work Garrette has accomplished so far.

Welcome to Our New Intern: Garrette Lewis-Thomas

Our new intern, Garrette Lewis-Thomas, has arrived and we couldn’t be more thrilled. Garrette is our second HBCU Library Alliance conservation intern. Like last year, she will spend eight weeks with us learning everything from minor repairs to making heat set tissue to preparing materials for digitization.

Garrette is a student at Fisk University where she is studying psychology and sociology.  She works at the John Hope and Aurelia E. Franklin Library assisting the Access Services Desk. Her interest in John Hope Franklin fits in well with our collecting areas and we are excited to work with the Rubenstein John Hope Franklin Center to find some projects for her to work on.

Garrette folding boxes.

Day 1

The very first thing we did is take Garrette to a job talk by a candidate who applied for a library position. She got to see first hand what a job interview looks like in an academic library. The interview was at another location on campus, so she also got to learn how to get across campus during the summer on the bus. Day 1 was a little chaotic but it all worked out. She got a tour of a part of campus that we didn’t expect would happen on Day 1. It is a good reminder that not everything goes as planned.

Day 2

Day 2 brought another problem…something smelled terrible in the lab. It’s still unclear what the problem is or where it is coming from. Because we couldn’t be in the lab for any length of time we decamped to the Disaster Supply Room next door. We took the CoLibri machine in along with the newly-arrived shipment of vendor-supplied corrugated boxes. Garrette spent the day covering New & Noteworthy books and folding boxes. In the afternoon we hopped the bus to East Campus and toured through the Music Library and the Lilly Library. Lesson learned: there is always something to do to be productive even when you can’t get to your bench.

Day 3

It still smells in the lab, but it is getting better. Current theory: something dead is in the tunnels below the building and there isn’t anything we can do about it. We are airing out the lab and doing our best to ride this out. Garrette is  working on minor repairs and enclosures. We started the day in the Disaster Supply Room, but have moved back into the lab with all the fans running and doors open. Garrette has already proven to be very flexible, adaptable to change, and eager to learn. We can’t wait to see what the summer holds for her and for us.

Thanks to our supporters

These HBCU Library Alliance internships would not be 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. A big thanks to 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,  Garrette!

A Tool That Sucks On Purpose

We love getting new equipment. In fact, we celebrate Equipment Day on April 9th each year. This is the day that the book presses and board shear arrived from Germany in 2003, almost a year after Conservation became a unit.

Fast forward 16 years and we are still giddy about getting new equipment. A couple weeks ago we received our brand new suction table from Museum Services. It was the best of all the gift-receiving-holidays rolled into one. Big boxes, some assembly required, and a button to push to make it move. Awesomeness in three crates.

The crates arrive!

Included inside were the base, table, dome lid, vacuum unit, humidifier, and an airbrush. It also included really great assembly instructions.

One crate unpacked, two to go.

The table has a removable lid and an electric tilt function. These will come in handy if we have to move it inside the dirty room to do major solvent treatments. It also adjusts from a very low to a very high height, which means anyone can use it safely and comfortably.

Plug it in and take it for a tilt.

The table is assembled and ready for its first project. We plan on doing some refresher training later in the year. Until then we are resisting using the arm holes in the dome as an arena for epic thumb fights.

Ready to go.

A Fleet of Futons–Yours for the Making

Book futon in use.
Book futon in use.

I first heard about book futons in graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin. It may be that the futon originated there. I am unsure of their provenance but I am fairly certain the conservators at the Harry Ransom Center made book supports of various kinds and likely futons were in the mix.

Making Futons

My first memory of finding instructions for making futons was in Book Displays: A Library Exhibits Handbook by Anne C. Tedeschi (Highsmith Press, 1997). Her depiction of how to make a futon was pretty good, but there were things about her futons that I wanted to change. So I embarked on a mission to make my own version. I even recruited my mother, an expert seamstress, to help. We have made a lot of futons over the years.

A fleet of futons ready for use in the Rubenstein Library.

Together we perfected our methods and ultimately wrote our own instructions for constructing three sizes of futons.  You can access a PDF of our futon instructions here. This PDF includes sewing instructions, laundering information, and an illustrated guide on how to use them. The instructions should be easy to follow if you have a basic understanding of sewing or quilting. Feel free to email me if you have questions.

What’s So Great About A Futon?

What I like about the book futon is they are:

  • Fairly easy to construct, especially for those that have quilting or sewing experience
  • Inexpensive to make. Craft stores often have sales or issue coupons for 40-50% off fabric and batting.
  • Easy to use, and easy to teach patrons to use
  • Highly customizable
  • Machine washable

We use futons in the reading room, the conservation lab, the classroom, and even for temporary exhibits and show-and-tells. Do you know the history of the book futon? Have you made your own futons? Share your futon story in the comment section.

Working on Women’s Work

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.
Treatment documentation on display in exhibition case
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).

It Came From The Bowels

I work where?

I wish I had a dollar for every time a writer used the word “bowels” to describe a library or archive. At best it conjures an image out of The Raiders of the Lost Ark. Boxes haphazardly put down anywhere on the floor just waiting for some researcher to miraculously stumble upon the one box they need to complete their research. At worst, well, I won’t finish that thought.

Yeah, it’s exactly (not) like this.

How did we get here?

Margaret Sartor and Alex Harris recently published “Where We Find Ourselves–the Photographs of Hugh Mangum 1897-1922.” They are also the curators of an exhibit of Hugh Mangum’s photographs on display now at the Duke University Nasher Museum of Art (through May 19, 2019).

The New Yorker recently published a review by Sarah Blackwood (February 14, 2019) that once again trots out the familiar trope of materials disgorged from the “bowels” of the library, saved from certain obscurity or worse. The kerfuffle started with this description of the provenance of the collection:

They were rescued once, in the nineteen-seventies, only to be relegated to the back-yard greenhouse of Mangum’s nephew; they were rescued again, in the nineteen-eighties, when they were donated to Duke University. As recently as 2013, more boxes of negatives turned up, this time from the bowels of special collections and marked “discard.” The negatives have passed through the hands of family members, neighborhood activists, local photographers, librarians, archivists, and scholars.

Where to even begin unpacking this quote?

Deteriorated glass plates with dirt and paper stuck to them.

First, while we do not recommend storing family records in a chicken coop one could argue that “benign neglect” kept these important documents and images from the landfill. My guess is these plates were handed down through the family, perhaps put aside and forgotten. But for whatever reason the family did not throw them in the trash bin. As vaguely alluded to in the article eventually other people realized the importance of these plates and actively decided to find a permanent repository for them.

The original Hugh Mangum Collection came to Rubenstein Library in 1986 (now part of the Archive for Documentary Arts). Additional materials were discovered and added to the Mangum collection in two rounds. The latest came around 2013. I believe these were the ones found in the chicken coop/barn mentioned in the New Yorker article.

Paper stuck to glass plates.

These “chicken [expletive]” plates as Blackwood describes them came to Conservation sometime around 2016. The plates were very dirty, gritty, and many had paper stuck to them. We cleaned about 250 of these glass plates in house and sent several to the Northeast Document Conservation Center for more in-depth treatment. Henry Hebert, Special Collections Conservator, even consulted with and helped install a few of the Mangum plates at the Nasher. The Digital Production Center digitized this collection a few years ago including the 2013 addition. The people in Digital Collections and Curation Services worked on the metadata and building the website. The collection is available online and is worth looking at. The images are amazing.

People from collection development, technical services, research services, conservation, and the digital production center all played their part in making sure this collection was described, housed, and preserved so that Sartor and Harris could write about them and curate their exhibit. I won’t even start on how many Nasher staff worked on the exhibit.

Why words matter

Look, I get it. Authors need to write compelling narratives and simply finding materials already described and housed in a library isn’t very interesting to most people. Story trumps details, which can get lost or worse willfully ignored. But herein lies the problem with using “from the bowels of special collections.” There is a lot of hidden labor in libraries and archives. People more eloquent than I have written about this issue. We talk a lot in Technical Services about how we can best tell our stories because what we do is often invisible to the public. Our day-to-day work isn’t sexy or glamorous. Most days are made up of very routine and frankly boring work (hello mold removal!). The work also takes its toll physically and often emotionally. Don’t even get me started on salaries in a female-dominated education-related profession. That is why it is hurtful when our work is ignored to make the story sound more miraculous than it is.

At least Sartor acknowledges (pp 157-158) many of the people that had a hand in making this collection, book, and exhibit a reality. She appropriately thanks Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator, who spearheaded the conservation project. Except Sartor uses another sad trope, “magic,” to describe the conservation of these materials. As if the conservation of these plates weren’t done by a collective of highly skilled people but rather by the wave of a magic wand. Poof! Conservation Managed! Erin, Henry, Rachel Penniman, and Emma Kimmel, then our intern, spent many hours painstakingly cleaning and housing all those plates.

Mangum housed in the (not bowel-like) stacks.

The hero of this story is not the creators of this book and exhibit (although these are wonderful). The heroes should  be the people behind the scenes working really hard every day to collect, describe, house, digitize, preserve, shelve, and retrieve collections so that when their user appears these collections can be pulled from the shelf and handed to them (hello Ranganathan!). The fact that you can walk into a library or archive, request something, and a few minutes later it shows up on your table feels like magic. I assure you it is not.

As I write these thoughts we are preparing for the grand opening of “Women’s Work,” our first exhibit of materials from the newly acquired Lisa Unger Baskin Collection. This collection focuses on women in publishing, art, medicine, literature, society, and so much more. It helps uncover work that is often unseen, unacknowledged, or simply ignored. I wish Blackwood would have taken some time to acknowledge the hard work so many have done to make sure that the Mangum collection didn’t fade into obscurity. At least Blackwood seems to be listening to the archivists on Twitter. Maybe she realizes now that repeating the phrase “it came from the bowels” is demoralizing to those of us who work behind the scenes to make our amazing collections usable now and in the future.

Thanks to Kate Collins, Rubenstein Library Research Services Librarian, for speaking up about the Mangum Collection in response to Blackwood’s review, and for sending me a link to Blackwood’s response on Twitter.

Beth Doyle is the head of the Conservation Services Department and the Leona B. Carpenter Senior Conservator at Duke University Libraries. She can be reached via email at <b.doyle@duke.edu>.

10 year Challenge: The Lab Edition

“The 10 Year Challenge” is a current meme making its way across the interwebs. Whether it is a harmless bit of fun or some brilliantly concocted bit of AI facial recognition training is hard to say. But what the heck, we will play along with The Lab Edition.

About ten years ago we were nearing the end of the Perkins Project. We moved out of Perkins in January 2007 to Trent Hall, the former nurses dorm on the medical campus. Preservation occupied one hallway of the dorm. We shared the hallway with the Preservation Officer, the Bindery Unit, and the Digital Production Center. Conservation had two rooms for the lab, and one dorm room for the Collections Conservator’s office.

Trent Hall was an adventure. It allowed us to learn another side of campus and we logged a lot of steps in going back and forth to meetings in Perkins. We evicted one bird (just like in our old space), had a Chinese restaurant one floor down, and the lab had beautiful windows. The space was cramped, but we made it work.

Trent Hall lab (L) and the Verne and the renovated Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab (R).

In August 2008 we moved back to the renovated Perkins Library and into the Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab. The newly renovated space was large, bright, and chock full of ergonomic furniture and specialized conservation equipment. What a difference it was from Trent and our old original lab space. Ten years later it feels like we have been here forever, yet some days if feels like we just got here. We are so thankful for the Roberts family and their support of our lab. That support has enabled our program to grow in incredible ways. We look forward to what the next ten years will bring.

A Century of Face Cream

Over the past year, I’ve looked at a lot of print advertisements for Pond’s cosmetic products. Hundreds of them at least, maybe even thousands.  The ads promote the properties of “Extract Cream”, “Cold Cream”, “Vanishing Cream”, lipstick, tissues, foundation – you name it! They span over 100 years, with the earliest printed in 1884 and the most recent from the mid-1990s. The work of well known photographers, such as Edward Steichen or Baron de Meyer, appear in some of the ads.

Ponds magazine ad, 1927

So what is the cause of this cosmetic ad obsession?

Many familiar with the Duke’s Rubenstein Library are also familiar with the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History. One of the largest collections within the Harman Center is the selected collections of the J. Walter Thompson Company (JWT), a long-running advertising agency that has worked with many well-known American companies. The JWT collection includes a large number of domestic advertisements for the Chesebrough-Ponds company and the materials had a number of condition issues that made handling difficult for researchers and sometime dangerous for the ads. It became necessary to go through the collection, item by item, and stabilize or rehouse items as needed.

If you are curious about the name of the collection, here is a little history: Pond’s Cream was originally invented by Theron T. Pond in 1846. The original product included extracted witch hazel and was called “Golden Treasure”,  but was shortly renamed to “Pond’s Extract”. The Chesebrough Manufacturing Company was founded in 1859 by Robert Chesebrough as an oil business which produced a petroleum jelly product called “Luxor”, eventually known as “Vaseline”. Chesebrough Manufacturing Company and Pond’s Creams merged in 1955, but were acquired by Unilever in 1987.

The collection is stored in 22 metal-edge boxes, and each box contains many folders. Some of the folders were too small for their contents and the advertisements were susceptible to sliding around as the box was handled. These small folders were replaced with a size that fit the box exactly to reduce the likelihood of damage during transport and shelving.

Multiple folders in a box, some folders are different sizes

Each folder contains many magazine or newspaper advertisements, all different sizes and printed on different papers. They were likely retained by JWT as “tear sheets” and many are mounted to heavy black cardstock.  Some of those black cardstock pages have many advertisements mounted in layers.

Many items per folder, sometimes many items per page

The black paper mounts include hole punches and remnants of textile tape, suggesting they were once the pages of large scrapbooks or albums and were disbound and cut down before entering the library’s collection. The advertisements printed on newsprint have become very brittle. The larger sheets were folded down to fit on the album page and many of them have cracked along the folds.

Some advertisments are printed on very brittle newsprint, with broken folds

Items in this condition were repaired along the folds with thin Japanese paper, toned to match the newsprint. They were refolded along the original creases (now reinforced) and placed in clear polyester envelopes to protect them from further damage as researchers page through the folder.

Before and after images of repaired and refolded newsprint.
Before and After repairing and refolding

Unfolded and unmounted newsprint ads were fully encapsulated in clear polyester, using our ultrasonic welder.

Some brittle items were just encapsulated
Before and after encapsulation

The adhesive mounting many of the advertisements to their album pages has failed. Several of them were remounted or repaired with pressure sensitive tapes, which have since oxidized and discolored the paper. Sometimes the tape adhesive had crept out from under the cellophane tape carrier and was causing the ad to stick to its neighbors. These taped items were treated by removing the tape carrier and reducing the adhesive to prevent further sticking. Unfortunately, stain reduction was outside the scope of this project.

Many items had yellowing pressure sensitive tape, which had to be removed.
Before and after tape removal.

Some of the ads that were detaching from their mounts had not come away completely. As a result, it was very easy for them to tear or to have parts torn off during normal use. The example below is pretty typical, where just the top-left corner is still attached to the cardstock mount. I was able to repair scarf tears, rejoin the separated parts, and/or re-adhere the page to the mount with wheat starch paste.

Before and after images of damaged advertisements, lifting from mounts, and after repairs.

Many hours have gone into stabilizing and addressing the housing needs of this collection. While the treatment has been fairly low-tech and the decisions straightforward, the results go a long way to making this advertisement collection more usable in the reading room.

 

Quick Pic: Women’s Work

Women’s Suffrage sign and pin cushion

Several items came down for boxing this week. These two items are from the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection. The top is a metal “Votes for Women” sign in a delightful bluebird design. Below are two sides of a small sampler pin cushion that is stitched on the finest linen ground I’ve seen.

These objects represent two aspects of women’s work. The work of the hand, that was/is often taught as a useful life skill. And the work of women as full citizens of their country…the work of standing up for your rights and exercising your right to vote. The Baskin Collection is full of objects like these and it is a real thrill and honor to have them come to the lab for custom enclosures.

See one. Do one. Teach one.

By Rachel Penniman, Conservation Specialist

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.

Rachel Penniman

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.

A sample of true parchment (left) versus ‘parchment paper’ (right) through the microscope
A sample of true parchment (left) versus ‘parchment paper’ (right) through the microscope

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.

Stretching a parchment document after humidification
Stretching a parchment document after humidification

Last week I had the opportunity to pass on some of those skills to North Carolina Museum of History Object 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.

Parchment document with planar distortion.
Photo credit: Jennifer French

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.

Humidification chamber in action
Humidification chamber in action

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).

Parchment document in weighted blotter stack

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.

Flattened parchment document
Photo credit: Jennifer French

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.