Category Archives: Conservation

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.

Farewell Phebe!

lab staff and Phebe
(L to R) Beth Doyle, Henry Hebert, Phebe Pankey, Rachel Penniman, Sara Neel. Not pictured: Mary Yordy and Erin Hammeke

Today is the last day for Phebe Pankey, our HBCU Library Alliance/University of Delaware Winterthur intern.  The past two months have flown by. We have thrown a whole semester’s worth (maybe more) of information at Phebe in eight weeks. She has learned a lot of new skills and has applied those skills to projects in the lab.

Some of the skills she has learned include:

  • Minor book repairs in the circulating collections
  • Minor paper repairs in support of the Section A digitization project
  • Custom enclosures including 4-flap boxes, corrugated clasmshell boxes, and CoLibri covers
  • Humidification and flattening of rolled plans from the Sarah P. Duke Gardens drawings and designs collection
  • Condition survey of the Bobbye S. Ortiz Papers
  • Mold removal
  • Photographic and written conservation documentation
  • Selection for conservation for general and special collections
  • Disaster planning and recovery of bound books
  • Environmental monitoring
Coptic binding
Phebe’s Coptic Binding model.

Henry taught Phebe how to sew a Coptic binding. Isn’t her first book beautiful? Phebe completed 494 repairs and custom enclosures during her internship. She completed work for the general collections including Perkins Library, Music Library, and Lilly Library. She also completed 119  repairs for Rubenstein Library  in support of our digitization project to scan the collections in “Section A.”

A big shout out to Kelly Wooten, Research Services and Collection Development Librarian in the Sallie Bingham Center, for hosting a show and tell of artist books. These really made an impression on Phebe, who is an art major. It’s great to see someone get inspired by our collections and our people.

We also scheduled tours all over the library and across the greater Raleigh-Durham-Greensboro areas. Some of these were:

  • Rubenstein Library stacks tour
  • Duke Libraries Technical Services tour
  • Duke Libraries Library Service Center tour
  • UNC Chapel Hill special and circulating conservation labs
  • NC State Archives conservation lab
  • Etherington Conservation Services
  • HF Group (commercial bindery)
  • NC State University Preservation Department
HBCU Library Alliance interns Miranda Clinton (L) and Phebe Pankey (R)
HBCU Library Alliance interns Miranda Clinton (L) and Phebe Pankey (R)

As we wrapped up this week we were lucky to have lunch with Miranda Clinton who is a student at NC Central University. She interned at the Library of Congress. We asked her to lunch to hear about her experience. Sounds like she had an amazing time there.

If you want to look back at some of the other work Phebe did, here are the blog posts:

HBCU Library Alliance Internship Announcement

Welcome Phebe

Poster Assessment

Internship Update

Tooling Workshop

Everyone in the lab helped Phebe learn new skills. Thanks to Erin Hammeke, Rachel Penniman, Mary Yordy, and Sara Neel for being so giving of your time and expertise. Thanks to everyone at Duke Libraries for being supportive of Phebe and generous with your time. Thank you to all the organizations that gave us tours. It’s always educational to see other labs and how they compare to ours. Thanks to the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation for awarding us a grant to help support this internship. And a big thank you to all the student interns who made the first year of this program successful. We can’t wait to see where you all go next.

 

FY 2018 By The Numbers

It’s that time of year again when we report our annual statistics to our administration. We thought we would share these with you, too.

1,093 Book Repairs (down 38% from last year)
1,066 Pamphlets (down 38%)
1,392 Flat Paper (down 87%)
5,975 Protective Enclosures (down 15%)
66 Disaster recovery
8 Exhibit mounts (down 64%)
746 hours of time in support of exhibits (includes meetings, treatment, installation, etc.) (up 452%)
1,002 items repaired for digital projects (down 90%)

38% of total work was for Special Collections
62% of total work was for Circulating Collections

74% of work was Level 1 [less than 15 minutes to complete]
23% of work was Level 2 [15 minutes – 2 hours to complete]
3% of work was Level 3 [more than 2 hours to complete]

Looking at the three year trend you can see the impact of two things. First, we had a steep decline in paper repairs because last fiscal year we were working on a mass digitization preparation project (dark red line). Those numbers skewed our stats for FY2017. In February, Tedd Anderson resigned as our conservation technician, and Mary Yordy reduced her hours. You can see their impact on the stats. Tedd did the majority of custom enclosures (green line) for Rubenstein Library. And both Tedd and Mary repair general collections materials (light red line). We  had a huge exhibit project this fiscal year that included a lot of complicated and time consuming repairs. You see a marked decrease in the percentage overall of items repaired for Rubenstein Library, but there was a marked increase in length of time we spent on those repairs. So the percentage is down, but the number of Level 3 repairs are up.

Not Everything Is A Statistic

We hope you enjoy looking back at the year that was FY2018 as much as we did. We can’t wait to see what FY2019 brings.

Welcome Our New Staff Member: Sara Neel

Sara Neel
Sara Neel, Senior Conservation Technician

Please help us welcome our newest staff member, Sara Neel. Sara recently graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in Art History and a minor in French (which has already come in very handy).  Sara worked in the KU Libraries Conservation Lab from 2015 until graduation this year. She has studied abroad in Italy and France;, and recently gave a paper at the Missouri Western State University & The Albrect-Kemper Museum of Art Second Annual Undergraduate Art History Symposium titled “The Assembly of the Tejaprabha Buddha: Removal, Restoration, and Religious Reduction.”

So far this week she has gotten her bench in order, helped edit some lab manual documents, learned to make corrugated “pizza-box” enclosures, and discovered that the Parking Office is really far away from our building. We are so happy she is here!

Welcome To Our New Intern: Phebe Pankey

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.

Phebe works with Conservation Specialist Rachel Penniman on humidification of paper.

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!