Category Archives: Rubenstein Renovation

The Great November Flood: Almost Back To Normal

For those playing along at home you will remember that we were flooded a few weeks ago due to a construction incident. Today we are almost back to normal. Our new floor was laid, waxed and buffed this week. Yesterday and today we got the supplies back in the supply room.

supply room restocked
Supply room restocked.

Clockwise from upper left: The brand new shiny floor was quickly utilized by Marco, Todd and Jim from LendLease. They put our shelving back and helped move the large heavy supplies back on the shelves. Thanks guys!

I finished putting away the smaller supplies this morning. The upside to this incident is that we got to get rid of a lot of stuff we didn’t need and freed up some space. We just need to get the floors cleaned and we will be back to normal. Sort of…

Photo 2 (2)
The temporary photo doc and dirty room combo.

In the next few days they are tearing down a wall in the photo doc room in order to remove the old elevator shaft. We have had to set up our photo doc station in the dirty room until that room is rebuilt and a new floor put down. It’s a tight squeeze but at least it is temporary. The hoe-ramming of bedrock on the other side of our wall starts on Monday. If you come see us, please be patient, we may not hear the doorbell on the first ring.

Water, Water Everywhere

Construction crew helps remove supplies.
Construction crew helps remove supplies.

Our Facebook and Twitter followers will know that we had a construction-related water leak in the lab last week that effectively closed our services except for responding to emergencies or rush requests. We were extremely lucky that no one got hurt and no collections got damaged thanks to the quick action of the lab staff.

The leak occurred in our photo documentation and supply rooms. The construction crew had to cut out the baseboards to get air into the walls. They also pulled up the cork floor in the two rooms to facilitate drying. We have had several industrial dehumidifiers and blowers going since last Wednesday but the cork floor is still wet in places. Hopefully it will be dry enough by next week to get the repairs underway.

Besides the noise, the worst part has been the fact that all of our photo equipment and supplies had to be evacuated to the main lab. It’s a bit maze-like trying to get around the room, and finding supplies is a hunt-and-peck endeavor. Conservation work continues but it has slowed down considerably and will remain so until our space is back to normal. We ask for everyone’s patience while we work through the recovery.

supplies in lab 3
Panorama shot of supplies in main lab (click to enlarge).

The big lesson I learned is that it takes a village to respond and recover from even a small disaster. The construction company has been extremely helpful in coordinating the dry-out. Our colleagues in the Digital Production Center helped with the initial response. Staff from Shipping & Receiving were on hand to help vacuum water. Housekeeping has helped move trash. There are many more to thank for coming to our aid. We were lucky, it could have been much worse. And I now have clean, dry socks in my disaster kit.


Finishing A Three-Year Long Project: Priceless!

papyri afterLong time readers will remember that almost three years ago we embarked on a project to rehouse our papyri collection. It began with an idea and a prototype in 2010. When the renovation project was announced, we had to begin in earnest. That was in February 2012. This week we labeled the boxes and I’m calling the project done!* You can see more images from this project on Flickr.

This project was particularly interesting for the lab, it was the first real collaborative, large-scale boxing project that we attempted. Everyone in the lab helped with different stages of boxing.

  • Grace imaged the papyri for the labels
  • Tedd made the labels
  • Jennifer managed the supplies
  • Jennifer cut down pieces of board and Volara foam before boxing day (or we had our students to do it)
  • Everyone in the lab assembled the packets on boxing day
  • Jennifer and Beth met with Rubenstein Technical Services and Research Services staff to discuss how we would label the boxes
  • Jennifer made labels for the new boxes, and she and I put on the new labels this week.

It really was a team effort, and I am so proud of the Conservation staff for getting it done on time and on budget. They look great, and by all accounts Rubenstein staff have used them with great success.

I gave a tip at this year’s AIC Book and Paper Group Tip Session on this project. The presentation, housing instructions and picture label instructions are all available online.

*We have some data clean up to do, but that will be done shortly. “Close enough for conservation,” as my chemistry teacher used to say.

1091 Project: Portrait of the Student Technician

1091 graphicThis month on the 1091 Project we discuss an essential part of almost every conservation department, student technicians. Without our students we could not keep up with the sheer amount of materials that come to the lab. This week is spring break, so I can’t show you pictures of our wonderful students, KellyNoel, Kaiti and Jessica (on loan from ERSM for a project), but I can tell you about the work they do and what we look for in a good student assistant.

Students in the lab do a lot of boxing, pamphlet binding and CoLibri covers.
Student work, finished and in-process.
Student Workflows

Our students start out learning how to bind pamphlets, make simple enclosures, create CoLibri book jackets, make pockets and do simple repairs such as tip ins, cut pages, and binding musical scores. They also help with the tracking and physical moving of materials.

If the students have the abilities and interest they can  learn more complicated repairs and enclosures. These might include recasing or rebacking books, or making four-flap or corrugated clamshell boxes for fragile materials. We have had a couple students who stayed for several semesters and because they had the skills and interest, they were able to learn multiple conservation rebinding techniques and cloth-covered clamshell boxes.

Newspaper project
Newspapers ready for boxing.

We currently have students helping specifically with renovation projects. These students are primarily getting the newspapers ready to go to the Library Service Center. This involves jogging brittle paper into place, fitting the bindings into pre-made boxes, and making spacers in the boxes so the brittle papers don’t shift around during transit. This is a very labor intensive, dirty and repetitive project but all of our students are working hard to meet our fast approaching deadline.

What We Look When Hiring Student Technicians

Most of our students are undergraduates, but every now and then we hire a graduate student. We of course like it if they have state or federal work study, but that isn’t a requirement. We prefer to get the right student with the right skills regardless of their funding. Occasionally we will get a UNC-SILS student who wants to intern with the department and we will work with them to develop a project that fulfills their school requirements but also helps us move our department forward.

There are basic job requirements that are listed in all of our positions including being able to use sharp instruments and large binding equipment safely, lifting heavy boxes and moving full book trucks, and being able to work in a potentially dusty or moldy environment.

Beyond that, what I look for when I interview students is the ability to learn quickly and be productive, to work independently but to know when to ask questions, and to have a good attitude and work well with a diverse staff. It is rare that we find students who have bookbinding experience, so I look for interests or past work history that involve eye-hand coordination and attention to detail. It might surprise you that gamers have very good eye-hand coordination, students with musical backgrounds are excellent at following instructions, and research science students are amazingly skilled at detail-oriented work. If you are a student, you don’t need to be a crafty person or an art major to work here. We can teach you the skills you need to be successful if you have the ability to learn the craft.

Let’s head over to Parks Library Preservation to read about their students.

1091 Project: Today In The Lab

We have been so busy with renovation projects that we forgot that today was a scheduled 1091 post. Instead of a long, thoughtful expose on a current conservation topic, Melissa and I will share some images of what is happening in our labs today. Think of it as a glimpse behind the scenes.

Parks Library and Preservation Underground will be back next month with another riveting 1091 post. Thanks as always for reading, and be sure to click over to Parks Library Preservation to see what is happening in their lab today.

Clockwise from upper left: large phase boxes drying under bricks, ledger bindings being rehoused, the lab (everyone’s at lunch!), making four-flap boxes, Lilly Current Lit books getting CoLibri covers.

Bonus pic: Look what showed up in my mailbox! A wonderful, home-made pop-up note to thank me for some consultation I did for someone whose cat damaged some of their papers.

Can I use the word “squeeeee!” in a professional post?


Ledger Finds: Mechanical Bindings

Written by Erin Hammeke, Special Collections Conservator

Some of my favorite bindings in the ledger collection are the mechanical bindings. These bindings are feats of engineering, with metal components and moving parts! They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles.

This item from the Erwin Mills collection is notable for its size and mechanics. The text is laced through the side and then the yellow straps serve to hold the covers on. A tensioning system, built into the covers, allows the distance between the boards to expand or contract as additional text paper is added or removed. So neat!

This ledger from the Cannon Mill collection has a metal spine piece, as well as corduroy sides – an endearing and favorite covering in 19-20th century ledgers. Many of the mechanical and account book bindings were trademarked and have manufacturing information pasted to the front pastedown, as shown in this item.


Ledger Finds: Long Stitch Bindings

Written By Erin Hammeke, Special Collections Conservator

This will be one of a series of blog posts on some of the neat bindings we’ve discovered in the bound manuscripts. Our Conservation team has been going through the collection of over 6,000 ledgers, item by item, in an effort to prepare them for move to the Library Service Center as a part of the Enabling Project. As we wrap them up, we felt it would be nice to share some of the gems that we come across along the way.

The bound manuscripts derive from a number of different collections. Many of them have personal content, such as scrapbooks, daybooks and diaries. Most of them appear to be business records, account books, and ledgers. Even though this collection as a whole is in poor condition, it has been interesting to see how many bindings have been carefully preserved and repaired by their previous owners during their working life. A number of bindings with deteriorated leather covers have been covered in canvas wrappers, oftentimes with hand-stitching at the turn-ins.

Shown here are two bindings from a batch of about 30 items from the William Clark Grasty Papers(1788-1906). This collection of records documents “three generations of general merchants of Pittsylvania Co., Va. Business interests included a general store, a tavern, a blacksmith shop, a simplified type of banking, and the keeping of a post office.”

These early 19th century bindings are notable because of their simple and beautiful handmade canvas covers. The text pages were sewn in by hand through the covers with a long-stitch sewing style. These items were likely considered essential to this business’s daily workings 200 years ago. Sadly, it is difficult to imagine a business keeping their records in a binding such as this today.


Enabling Project: Swirl Books

We are finding many challenges in preparing our materials for the upcoming move. Erin Hammeke, Special Collections Conservator, shares the following find from her work as the project coordinator for the ledger project.

Stock ledger on the shelf.

As part of the enabling project we are working in our ledger collection to prepare these materials for the move. The Mooresville Mill manufactured cotton, wool, and synthetic fabrics in Mooresville, North Carolina, from the late 19th century to the mid-20th. When the company’s stocks were sold back, they were cancelled and glued onto the stubs bound into a ledger book. The stock certificates were also glued in, leaving the book with a fore edge 2-3 times the thickness of the spine. We started calling these ‘swirl books’ because of their exceptional shape. These items really seem more akin to sculpture than book bindings.

We consulted with the head of collection development in the Rubenstein Library and we agreed that treatment would be too time-consuming of an option before the move. We decided to house the swirl books as they were. Needless to say, these items posed unique shelving and housing challenges to us.

Our technician, Tedd Anderson, bravely met the challenge. For each ledger, Tedd created a wedge to accommodate the shape of the original so that they would fit  inside a custom phase box. They can now be shelved safely and are protected from further damage. These will go in our conservation treatment request database for future treatment.

phase box insert
A wedge compensates for the shape of the ledger.
finished boxes
Finished boxes on the shelf.

Enabling Project: The Ledgers (with guest star William Morris)

As part of the Enabling Project we have reached the ledgers section. Our ledgers contain just about any type of western-style binding (sewn, posts, mechanical, etc.)  and binding material (leather, cloth, corduroy) you can imagine. They can be very small, or so big they require two people to carry them.

Erin is the project leader on these (pictured here with some of the ledgers). We are reviewing the condition of each ledger to determine whether it needs an enclosure to keep it safe during the move. Our options for enclosures include a Tyvek envelope, customizing a pre-made box, or making a custom enclosure or wrapper.

One of our favorite collections so far is the Sir Thomas Wardle Papers (fyi, William Morris collaborated with Sir Thomas!). These ledgers contain ink and pigment recipes as well as testing observations. One page in particular caught my attention for its cochineal information. You might recall that cochineal has been in the news lately.

This ledger is number F-6862, “Absorption Spectra of Indian Dyes, 1886, Leek, Staffordshire, England.” The binding was made by William Clemesha, Printer, Stationer, and Account Book Manufacturer.

This ledger is a prime example of what we mean when we say that in addition to the contents, the bindings themselves may contain valuable information. Not only do the binder’s tickets tell us something (who made it, where and when), but the way these are put together and the materials the binder used also tells us something about the manufacturing norms of the stationer, textile, leather and paper industries at a particular time and place.

I could go on and on about the treasures we are finding in our ledgers!  There are more images on Flickr, please take a look. You might also be interested in the Rubenstein Library’s images  and their blog posts about the renovation project. We are engaged on all fronts in preparing our collections for the upcoming move.



Enabling Project: Starting the E’s (aka the bound monographs)

Rubenstein Renovation Prep The first Enabling Project underway is to review the bound monographs that are housed across five floors of stacks to determine if they are in good enough condition to move without causing damage.

Our student assistants are reviewing each book to find broken or loose sewing, loose or detached boards or spines, detached pages, etc. If it has any of these things they put in an envelope or set it aside if it needs a custom enclosure because it is too heavy or big to fit in an envelope.

Jennifer, the project manager for this section, then goes through each section after the students have finished and looks for any missed items. She is moving the books that need boxing to a holding area so we can bring them down in manageable batches. Jennifer is also our registrar and supply manager, so she is pulling double duty these days as the enabling project is bringing so much work into the lab (thanks Jennifer!!).

Rubenstein Renovation PrepWe chose Tyvek envelopes because they are inexpensive, flexible, and can be easily sealed. Each envelope will have the item’s bar code and a label that says “return to conservation after use.” It will then be sealed so that the contents (and any loose parts) stay safe for the move.

We commonly use envelopes for items that need a minimum amount of protection or for items that have loose or missing parts that need to be kept together until we can repair them. When a book in an envelope is called for by a patron, the envelope is opened and the item sent to conservation after the patron is done with it. At that point we will review it for repair or a new enclosure.

See our web sites for more on Mr. Rubenstein’s gift to the library, current renovation news, and more images on Flickr.