Category Archives: Conservation

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.”

Quick Pic: Total Eclipse

We couldn’t let this moment go by without participating. We put all our conservation skills to work making DIY viewers at the last minute.

Krispy Kreme eclipse doughnuts
The day started with Krispy Kreme eclipse doughnuts.
Eclipse Party!
The eclipse would hit its best here around 2:44pm.
conservation dept., eclipse
Tedd and Beth with their DIY viewers. Tedd wins for elegance, a well made tube-style viewer. Beth wins for best basic design (a pin hole in a piece of blue/white board).
Tedd's DIY eclipse viewer
Tedd’s viewer was beautifully designed.
Beth's DIY viewer
The pinhole worked pretty well, too.
Beth's DIY viewer
The view was confirmed by Tedd’s viewer as well as through special glasses.
The eclipse is over.

The best part was being surrounded by people gathering in peace in the name of science, and watching an amazing celestial event. Everyone was sharing viewers and glasses, talking with strangers, having fun, learning things, sharing a moment. A brief glimpse of the best of humanity.

 

FY 2017 By The Numbers

It’s the end of the fiscal year and time to write reports. We had a very productive year. The only metric we track that didn’t increase this year was mold removal. It’s difficult to be sad about that.

FY2017 Statistics

1,625 book repairs (up 90% due to a very large acquisition project)
1,735 pamphlets bound (up 40%)
11,007 flat paper repairs (up 390% due to a very large digitization project)
7,018 protective enclosures (up 23%)
1,333 disaster recovery (down 56%)
22 exhibit mounts created (up 47%)
135 hours of time in support of exhibits (includes meetings, treatment, installation, etc.)
339.25 hours in support of digital projects (includes meetings, treatment, evaluation, etc.)

66% of total work was for Special Collections
34% of total work was for Circulating Collections

82% of work was Level 1 [less than 15 minutes to complete]*
17% of  work was Level 2 [15 minutes – 2 hours to complete]
1% of  work was Level 3 [more than 2 hours to complete]

Looking at a graph of the past few years of production you can see the impact that digital projects have had on our work (mostly working on archival collections, aka “flat paper repairs”). This trend is likely to continue.

FY cumulative totals*This number is skewed from past years due some very large projects that needed a lot of minor repairs.

Not Everything Is A Statistic
  • We gave tours to 121 people last year.
  • We created a new Sewn-Board Workflow for fine-press bindings in our circulating collections.
  • We had a wonderful pre-program volunteer who worked with us for almost a year to learn more about library conservation and treatment.
  • We worked with library colleagues to set up the new multi-spectral imaging equipment; and worked with campus resources to CT-scan some objects in the History of Medicine Collection.
  • We hosted a “preservation of digitally printed materials” workshop taught by Daniel Burge, Senior Research Scientist at IPI.
  • We helped to research and procure two new freezers for disaster recovery.
  • Occasionally we stopped to do some fun activities and learn new things.

There Will Be Rusty Nails

Conservation is often asked to take archival documents out of frames. This process can be tricky due to the myriad ways framers put things together. It can be a bit like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates…you never know what you are going to get. As you take the frame apart layer by layer, you hope that nothing is stuck to the glass or adhered to acidic cardboard. A lot of times you don’t get that lucky. The thing is, you never know until the very end…

 

As I am pulling rusty fasteners from these frames I am reminded that everyone working in the lab really should have their tetanus shot up to date. In addition, you really shouldn’t work with rusty nails and framer’s points without protecting your hands. Don’t be like me.* I’ve asked Rachel to put cut-resistant  Kevlar (R) gloves on our next supply order.

*Yes, I have a broken finger. Even so, conservation work must go on.

All Done

When I shared an image of a tape-laden document last month, I was still in the process of treatment. That treatment wrapped up a few weeks ago and here are the final results:

While the results are not that aesthetically pleasing, the document is now stable. All the oxidized tape is off and the staining has been significantly reduced. I knew there were several significant losses going in, but I did not realize  just how much of the center fold was gone until all of the tape was removed. Rather than attempting to infill the areas of loss with shaped pieces of toned Japanese paper, the entire sheet was encapsulated in clear polyester.  This reduced the overall treatment time, while still allowing the item to be used and handled safely.

The tape saga continues…

Last month I posted a picture of a tape-laden item from the NC Mutual Life Insurance Company Archives. Progress on this collection is slow and steady, but I thought it would be fun to share a during treatment photo of tape removal and stain reduction.

Tape Removal (During Treatment)

Pressure sensitive tape had been applied over this horizontal tear. Above the tear, the tape carrier has been removed. The paper below the tear has been treated with solvent and washed to remove the remaining adhesive and staining. Treatment has greatly improved the text legibility and will prevent further darkening of the paper support. Next, thin Japanese paper mends will be applied to rejoin the pieces.

Quick Pic: Tape!

(Before treatment)

This week I’m working on a small collection of newsprint and other printed publications from the NC Mutual Life Insurance Company Archives. This set of materials has been closed to patrons due to some pretty obvious condition issues that make handling risky, but represent some of the few remaining copies of publications from this important organization. This issue of The North Carolina Mutual from August 1903 is, by far, the worst in regard to the amount of pressure sensitive tape that has been applied. I’ve spent the last couple of days just removing tape carriers and reducing adhesive. So far I’ve encountered five (!!) different kinds of tape, all layered on top of one another, in what I’ve started calling a “tape lasagna”.  In some places, the original paper support is gone – there is only a hardened bundle of tape.

I’m assuming this item once lived in a 3-ring binder and over time became more and more damaged at the vertical fold and horizontally across the sheet as the pages were turned. I can imagine that over the last 100 years many different custodians took it upon themselves to repair this document and just reached for whatever tapes they had nearby. The earliest (i.e. lowest) tape layer has a glassine carrier, which has darkened a little. Fabric tape was then applied over this to reinforce the binder holes punched along the spine fold. The third layer is tape with a cellophane carrier, which has oxidized and turned dark yellow. Here and there I have found what appears to be a polyvinylchloride film tape and, finally, some more modern cellulose acetate tape at the very top of the heap. I have had to employ a number of different techniques to release each kind of tape, including heated tools, poultices, and solvent chambers. Removing those repairs will take a considerable chunk of time, and some yellow staining still remain. For now, at least, this project feels like a combination of an archaeological dig of office supplies and a jigsaw puzzle.