This 1546 German translation of Pedanius Dioscorides‘ pharmacopeia, titled Kreutterbuch (literally “plant book”), has been through quite a lot.
The sewing of the existing binding was broken, the extensive paper repairs at the gutter have been eaten through by insects, many of the leaves are detached, and it has extensive staining from water damage. Pictured above is the pulled textblock, with each section separated by wide paper flags to help me keep everything organized.
Washing can be beneficial for paper in this condition by reducing staining, removing harmful products of degradation, and improving pliability of the sheet. The benefits of aqueous treatment come with a lot of risks, though. In addition to removing unwanted substances, washing can extract the original sizing. The sheet’s dimensions, surface texture, and color can be altered as well. Washing can adversely affect the inks and other applied media, so extensive testing ahead of time is essential for determining what will and won’t come out in the wash.
After lots of discussion with the curators and spot testing, the decision was made to move forward with washing this book. The pages were vacuumed and surface cleaned to remove any soiling on the surface. After a series of baths in preconditioned deionized water, there is a significant reduction in staining and much improved legibility of the text. While in the bath, it is also very easy to remove the broken paper guards at the spine edges/folds to allow for new paper guards prior to rebinding.
It’s also nice to see people in person, and to be more present with this side of the library. Technical services can often feel overlooked because it is literally behind the scenes and in another building than the main library. But books wouldn’t get to the shelf without the hard working tech services staff!
What do you do over at Smith?
Today I got a note about pests in Rubenstein Technical Services. While there I looked at some collection materials that had complicated housing needs, downloaded environmental data, and sorted through some circulating materials that I sent back from Conservation. Of course no day as a middle manager is complete without at least one meeting so I attended that.
My work days at Smith allow me to focus on our documentation including updating our collections disaster plan, and writing new workflow documentation for our environmental monitoring program. I am also a short walk from the Lilly Library and the Music Library. On Smith days I can walk over to collect environmental data, or consult with the librarians on East Campus if they have questions for Conservation.
But one of the best parts about working here is that I get a sneak peek at the materials headed to Conservation like this truck of music scores ready for pamphlet binding.
I also spied these three volumes of “Suave Mechanicals” ready for Conservation’s Official Reference collection in the lab. Our reference collection has grown over the years and has books on everything from coptic bindings to blueprints and electronic media.
Our very own Erin Hammeke has an essay in Suave Mechanicals v. 6. Erin, Chela Metzger from UCLA, and Alexander L. Ames from The Rosenbach, wrote an essay on the history of Anabaptist bookbindings titled “The Faith that Binds: Swiss Anabaptist Devotional Bookbindings in Early America.” I cannot wait to read this. The rest of volume 6 looks pretty darned good, too.
For more inside scoops on what happens at Smith Warehouse look no further than “Signal Boost,” the official blog of DUL Technical Services and Rubenstein Library’s blog “The Devil’s Tale.”
Taking a Break
Preservation Underground will be on hiatus until the new year. It is time to rest, recharge, and enjoy the season. We wish all of you a peaceful and healthy holiday, and a very happy new year. We will see you in 2021.
Mutilated books often come to Conservation for repair. We don’t normally like to talk about it, because no one wants to admit that it happens. It does, and it happens in almost every library. Luckily it doesn’t happen often. This week we had a book sent to us from the Stacks Maintenance unit. On the shelf it doesn’t look very damaged. The head is a bit torn, and it would normally go into the commercial binding workflow.
The real problem was exposed when we opened the book. It was missing about 3/4 of the text block. All the pages had been cut out with what looks to be an X-acto or similar tool.
Before we did anything we needed information. We went to the stacks to look around. This book is shelved well above eye level on the top shelf. There were some paper fragments on the floor. We looked at the items around this one to see if other books were also vandalized but we didn’t find any further damage. Our next step was to ask some questions to determine if we could figure out what to do.
Putting on our Mr. Holmes hat
First we looked at the circulation record and determined that it had not circulated since 2013. That means the damage could have been done any time in the last seven years. More information was needed.
Next we talked to the Director of Security and Facilities to determine how often the stacks are swept, trying to figure out if this might be new damage or old. The stacks have been closed to patrons since March, it is unlikely that this was done during that time as our Security personnel are very good at their jobs.
We then talked to the Stacks Maintenance Supervisor. Amazingly one of their Student Assistants was working in that area and discovered the book was missing pages. The paper bits fell on the floor when she removed the book from the shelf. She took it back to Shelf Maintenance where staff looked at the item record. There were other copies available, and as we also noticed, they determined it hadn’t circulated in seven years. So they sent it to us for evaluation, which is the standard workflow for items like this.
What did we learn?
First, there is no way to determine if this was new or old damage. It is very unlikely that this was done in last nine months because of the Covid-19 lock down. This could have been on the shelf in this state for a very long time. There is just no way to definitively tell when this happened.
Finally, and most importantly, we learned that our system works. Our colleagues in Stacks Maintenance have a big job. Beyond re-shelving books they alert us to environmental issues such as leaking pipes, and they find damaged books when they are returned or at the shelf like this one. They are on the front lines when it comes to the preservation of our collections. We are so thankful for them and their student assistants.
Conservation routinely replaces missing pages. However, we normally cap that at ten pages per book. Beyond that number and we want Collection Development to review it, so we will send it to them for evaluation. Both Conservation and Stacks Maintenance will continue watching the area but we are fairly certain this is a singular incident.
I recently finished repair on these two double folio volumes, concluding a multi-year project. I performed dry cleaning and page repair, in- situ sewing repair, board reattachment, leather rebacking, and leather corner repair. Working on two volumes this size and weight (35lbs each) proved to be both an engineering challenge and a physically demanding project. I came up with some solutions for a few of the challenges presented while treating these very large volumes that I’ll share here.
This two volume set by the architect Owen Jones documents the decorative surfaces at the Alhambra Palace in Grenada. The texts are most well-known for their beautiful, large-scale color lithographic plates.
The volumes were bound in half-style bindings with green sheepskin covering and marbled paper sides and endleaves. The boards were detached and the sheepskin was in poor condition, with many tears and large losses. We decided to remove all of the leather up to the gold tooled areas. After attaching the boards with the use of many clamps (my favorite tools!), and prepping the spine with sufficient linings and sham bands, it was ready for covering.
I selected goatskins for the new leather and calculated that I would need three skins to cover both volumes’ spines and large corners. I dyed them to match the original – another challenge when working at this scale!
The sheepskin remnants were very thick, and did not take well to paring down and thinning. I was worried about having a smooth transition between the old and new leathers where they overlap. I realized I needed to pare the new leather to accommodate the old, but I didn’t want to lose the strength or dyed color of the hair side of the new goatskin. A piece from our Scharf-Fix that I’ve never used before provided the perfect solution. The kit comes with assorted roller sizes and we’ve only really ever used the full size (28mm) for edge paring.
Using one of the smaller rollers (13mm) along the meeting edges of the leather allowed me to take a step out of the flesh side that could accommodate the thick sheepskin remnants. I used the full-sized roller to clean up the stepped bevel by working it perpendicularly and off the edge.
During covering, I worked this bevel in with my bone folder creating a precise step for the original leather to sit into and making for a flush transition.
After adding new stamped leather spine labels, I created sleds that the heavy bindings can be moved on, hopefully protecting the covers from damage from being dragged across reading room table tops.
Have you discovered other uses for the variously sized Scharf-Fix rollers? What are your tips for repairing oversized and heavy bindings? We’d love to know!
It’s annual statistics time! As you can imagine Covid-19 struck a blow to our productivity in terms of conservation work. We have all been busy working from home improving documentation, learning new skills through online resources like the ICON Together At Home Webinar Series, and the Guild of Bookworkers generous online offerings during the spring, and of course we are all Zoom masters now.
FY2020 by the Numbers
609 Book repairs
671 Pamphlet bindings
8 Treatments: Other (objects, textiles, etc.)
154 Flat Paper repairs
4,956 Protective enclosures
419 Disaster recovery
4 Exhibit mounts
216.5 Hours in support of Exhibits (meetings, treatment, installation, etc.)
129 Digital preparation repairs
36.25 Hours in support of Digital Projects (meetings, consultations, handling, etc.)
43% of production was for Special Collections
57% of production was for Circulating Collections
80% of work was Level 1 [less than 15 minutes to complete; 4,298 items]
17% of work was Level 2 [15 minutes – 2 hours to complete; 925 items]
3% of work was Level 3 [2 – 5 hours to complete; 146 items]
0% of work was Level 4 [more than 5 hours; 31 items]
Our enclosure workflow is still the largest percentage of output. This trend will continue once the enabling work for the Lilly Renovation Project begins. We hope that will start this fiscal year, but budgetary constraints due to Covid-19 may see that work put on hold temporarily.
We had three awesome students this year: Selena, Leah, and Ally. Just before we were sent home our pre-program volunteer, Mackenzie, started working with us. Unfortunately, we are not able to bring any of them back this fall due to Covid-19 restrictions but we are looking forward to that possibility in the spring.
We surpassed a quarter million items coming through the lab this year. With FY2021 we are now at 268,696 items through the lab since 2002. It’s an amazing feat. I am so proud of our staff, students and volunteers that help make Conservation happen at DUL.
As part of the planning process for the Lilly Library renovation, Beth was invited by librarian Kelly Lawton to consult on moving and storing the artwork. I had previously helped plan moving and storing paintings from the Gothic Reading Room during the Rubenstein Library renovation so Beth asked me to come along. The great people over at Lilly Library had already made an inventory of the artwork in their building so we had a solid idea of what we needed to manage.
I have been in Lilly Library dozens if not a hundred times over my 7 years working at Duke. They hold some of my favorite collections (DevilDVDs, graphic novels, and art books). But like most people I just never spent much time looking closely at the artwork that makes up the wonderful atmosphere of Lilly. However, I had gotten to know the Gothic portraits really well during the Rubenstein renovation. I had to find wall space throughout Perkins to hang them all temporarily while the Rubenstein building was under construction and most of them ended up in staff office spaces. I had the portrait of H. Keith H. Brodie keeping me company in my cubicle area. So I was surprised when I saw thumbnail pictures of a couple paintings in the Lilly artwork inventory that I was certain were actually up in the Gothic reading room. I actually ran up two flights of stairs to the Gothic to be certain I wasn’t losing my marbles and yes, those portraits were upstairs exactly where I remembered them.
A C1 bus ride over to East Campus and I walked into Lilly Library only to have deja vu all over again. The same portraits were in Lilly too.
It’s not surprising that Duke University would have multiple portraits of prominent Duke family members, but it was a little surprising to find that the library had multiple copies of the same portrait reported to be by the same artists. This required research! I mean, I work at a library, of course my response to any mystery is to do research.
An article in the Duke Chronicle from November 4, 1925 details the acquisition of a Washington Duke portrait by John Da Costa from the Duke family with plans to hang it in a parlor in the East Duke Building. Interestingly this article is right next to an article about construction of the Lilly Library building. The next trace of the Da Costa Washington Duke portrait comes from a 1929 letter from the Frank C. Brown papers where it is listed among paintings that need to be varnished.
In the University Archives Art and Artifacts records there is an inventory of portraits in the University library (now Perkins Library) from 1943 that lists a portrait of Washington Duke by Da Costa and Benjamin Duke by Wiltschek. But another inventory from 1957 of the Women’s College Library (now Lilly Library) also list the portrait of BN Duke by Wiltschek. So there have been duplicate Dukes for decades!
I finally came across an undated note about a J.B. Duke portrait painted by Da Costa that indicated Doris Duke had the original but that additional copies by the artist were in the Board of Trustees room and in Perkins Library. There is no date on this note so it’s hard to fit into the timeline but based on some other clues I suspect it was from sometime in the 1970s. Importantly, it does verify that John Da Costa made multiple copies of at least one Duke portrait.
It was Assistant University Archivist Amy McDonald that shed light on the big key detail about these portraits. She recognized the paintings as being copied from photographs not painted from life. Check out the photos in our collections. They look very familiar.
It makes me wonder how many other duplicate Dukes might be out there. In my research I found at least one other JB Duke portrait by Da Costa at Rough Point, the Rhode Island mansion of Doris Duke. I also found a reference to another BN Duke portrait by Wiltschek that hung in the East Duke Parlor but I haven’t had a chance to go over and check if it’s still there. Perhaps I’ve been passing more Da Costa Washington Dukes and Wiltschek B.N. Dukes around campus and never even noticed.
This letterpress book has been on our shelf for a very long time, too long admittedly. Mea Culpa. Letterpress books can be challenging. This one has paper as thin as Kleenex (TM) and as brittle as any mid-century newsprint. The iron gall ink has degraded and taken the substrate with it, leaving lots of tears, holes, and losses.
James Redpath was the Head of the Haitian Bureau of Emigration in Boston. I would tell you more about these letters but you literally cannot turn a page without breaking something. After a lot of consideration and consultation with Rubenstein Library we have decided the best thing to do with this item is digitize it so researchers can actually use it without destroying the original.
But before we can digitize it we need to flatten out some of the heavy creases to uncover the writing, and do some very minor stabilization so we can turn the pages without tearing off chunks of text. The goal is digitizing, not a full treatment. This book will still have page tears and losses when it leaves Conservation, but putting in hundreds of hours of conservation time to repair every tear, sinking letter, or loss isn’t practical or feasible. We want to get it ready for the camera, and help our camera operators handle it as safely as possible while they are turning the pages.
It feels good to have digitization in our toolbox as a way to increase access to this item. It will go from completely unusable to readable. What better outcome for a primary resource that is so fragile?
Caring for library collections often requires experimentation and ingenuity. In supporting the needs of library programs or researcher requests, we are regularly confronted with unusual objects or condition issues that have no obvious treatment solution. When you happen upon a novel or particularly effective approach to these complex treatments, it’s always nice to share what you have learned with your colleagues!
This week, the Conservation Services staff were treated to some tips in treating very large books and broken wooden boards by senior conservator Erin Hammeke. Hint: Both involve the liberal and creative application of clamps.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
These seven weeks have flown by. One more to go. We are really impressed with how much work Garrette has accomplished so far.
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.
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 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.
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!