Twenty years ago when I started working at Duke we had a “morgue” of broken books. This is where damaged books came, and sat, until they could be repaired. Most of these were very brittle or nearly so. To clear the space for work benches and tables, we decided to tie books up with cotton tying tape and insert a flag requesting the book back if it was used.
Today, we got one back!
The flag is two sided. The front alerts the patron to the fact that the binding is fragile. It also asks Circulation to return to book to Conservation after use.
The back explains how to photocopy a fragile book. I created this flag using images from our colleagues at the University of Kansas libraries. Unfortunately the link to that page no longer exists.
It’s fun to see a 20-year-old, low cost and easy solution actually working. The book came back and now we will address it either by repairing the brittle leather cover, or boxing it to keep the detached covers with the text block. This item has been scanned by the Internet Archive, so boxing may be the answer since there will be digital access to it.
Quite a bit has been written on this blog over the years about caring for Duke’s sizable papyri collection, so many of our readers will be familiar. For those who may not know about it, the collection was digitally imaged back in the early 1990s and the images are publicly available for research. The Duke Papyrus Archive is a very helpful and well-used resource, but sometimes we get requests to reimage fragments from the collection. It may be that the resolution of the images in the archive is too low for a researcher’s needs, or there is a request to use multispectral imaging to see if additional information can be made legible.
As we have mentioned before, each papyrus fragment is stored between two pieces of glass, which are taped around the edges. This housing solution allows the extremely fragile fragments to be safely and easily handled in the reading room, but it does pose some challenges for imaging. Our digital production staff are able to adjust the lighting environment to reduce reflections from the glass, but the glazing package also needs to be very clean both inside and out. Any dust, stray fibers, or residue are clearly visible in the high resolution images we produce. Prior to reimaging, each fragment is examined to determine if any cleaning or additional intervention is required.
Some of the taping on the glass packages is starting to show some wear and tear. White paper tape was used to seal the glazing for many of the fragments and the adhesive may have become desiccated and failed, or the paper carrier may be splitting. Sharp glass corners or edges may also be untaped and exposed.
Re-imaging is a good opportunity to remove the fragment from its glazing, clean the package, remount the fragment, and reseal the package with higher quality materials. The process is pretty straightforward. To begin, the tape is sliced open on all edges with a scalpel and the top piece of glass is carefully lifted away.
Next the papyrus fragment is removed by very gently sliding it off of the bottom glass sheet onto a piece of clean Bristol board. The surface of the board is very smooth, so papyrus fibers along the edge of the fragments do not catch. The fragment may actually be composed of several loose pieces, so I always do a few little test lifts at the edges of the piece with a microspatula first to get a sense of the fragment’s condition. Luckily, this fragment is all in one piece. I like to note the orientation of the fragment in pencil at the corner of the board, just as a reminder when I go to reassemble the package. The fragment is placed in a temporary enclosure for safety and set aside.
The adhesive of the paper tape is water-soluble and comes off of the glass pretty easily. After mechanically scraping off the tape carrier with a scalpel blade, the glass is placed in small plastic tray filled with filtered water so that any remaining residue will soften and can be scrubbed off. I finish cleaning the glass with a 1:1 ethanol and deionized water solution and buff the surface with a cotton pad. To keep it as clean as possible it’s important to clean any working surfaces beforehand and wear gloves.
With the glass clean and dry, it’s time to transfer the papyrus fragment back. The papyrus fragment is aligned on the lower glass and secured to it using very small pieces of pre-made remoistenable repair tissue (see Baker 2010 for instructions on making the remoistenable paper). When the mounting strips are dry, the upper sheet of glass is placed on top and the edges are taped with Filmoplast SH linen tape. I like to double-up the taping at the corners of the package to ensure that every edge is completely covered.
In the years before the Rubenstein Library renovation, these glass packages were rehoused in uniform rigid portfolios with cut foam padding. Each portfolio has a picture label and small groups of them are stored together in metal edge boxes for easy retrieval. You can see images and read about that rehousing project here. These portfolios are still functioning very well, so the cleaned and retaped glazing package is placed back in it’s custom portfolio and box before being transferred to the digital production center.
Conservation Services has been working closely with staff from our Digital Production Center this week to train in the operation of our new multispectral imaging equipment and learn about image processing. During the calibration and testing of the machine we took the opportunity to re-image the illuminated manuscript leaf which I posted on back in the summer. The palimpsest is so clearly legible in these new photos! We are very excited by the possibilities that this new imaging equipment opens for learning more about our collection materials.
This week we worked with Craig Braeden from Rubenstein Library and Zeke Graves from the Digital Production Center to test a cleaning workflow for moldy reel-to-reel audio tapes we recently received from Haiti.
Conservation doesn’t have expertise in cleaning magnetic media, so this was a chance to learn more about these materials and to do some cross training.
The method is simple enough. While the tape is running you gently hold a piece of Pellon to the tape to remove the mold. What is more difficult is learning to evaluate the tape to be sure it isn’t too fragile for this treatment, holding the tape with just enough pressure to clean it but not too much to damage it while it is moving through the deck, and watching for splices. Craig brought over an old deck and we set it up in the fume hood in Conservation. Zeke helped clean and repair the tape when we encountered previous splices.
It has been a very busy week in Conservation. We are neck-deep in helping with the move of the special collections to swing space. The flat files moved this week, which was a very big job indeed. Everyone in the lab has been helping either with the physical move, preparing materials for transport, or providing security as the materials are shifted to swing space.
The last complicated portion of the move project for us is to finish preparing the newspapers in both the special collections stacks as well as the older Perkins stacks. Erin is the project manager for the Rubenstein newspapers and has been working closely with Tedd, our student assistant Kelly Noel, and with Rubenstein staff to get the fragile volumes ready to move. Tedd just surpassed his 3,200th box! Considering how big some of these newspaper boxes are it is a testament to his ability to “get it done!”
The papyri project is moving forward. We have almost finished boxing the “regular sized” items. This week we pulled the oversized papyri. Everyone in the lab has been helping to create new enclosures for this collection. It is hard to believe this project started one year ago this month. We have already received very positive feedback on our housing strategy, and that always feels good.
Meg has been working on getting the next batch of items ready for exhibit. Her projects involve a lot of tape removal and subsequent stain removal. This is a fairly laborious process. Not only will these materials be more aesthetically pleasing for the exhibit, they will be repaired in a much more sympathetic and stable manner.
Grace has been working on a lot of scrapbooks lately. The one she finished this week had a lot of fold-outs that were mis-folded and damaged. It took a lot of patience to get through it, but it is now ready for its binding to be repaired. She finished several projects last week, so this week she is starting on new ones. One is particularly fabulous, but we will save that for future post.
Jennifer has been working double time pulling materials for Tedd and keeping track of all the work we are doing for the renovation project. As our registrar she keeps our lab log accurate, and for that we are all eternally grateful. We also got a batch of materials in from the Digital Production Center (DPC) that needed attention, so she has been doing a lot of paper repair this week. Erin has also been repairing items and getting them ready for digitization. She has been working closely with Josh Hager, who works on the Content, Context and Capacity project, to repair some manuscripts that were stuck together. They now look great and are ready for imaging.
Mary completed this really interesting serial set of circa 1830-40’s French plays. They were in terrible shape when they came in. She rebound them using the Princeton 305 technique, which is fantastic option for tight-joint bindings. Mary also presented two Care and Handling training sessions to student assistants in Circulation. She trained about two dozen students on proper handling methods and what materials they should set aside for Conservation.
Me? I’ve been helping move the flat files, I finished prepping the Gothic Reading Room materials, I’ve worked on all sorts of “management-y” things (emails, paperwork, receipts, etc.). I did some mold removal on one box of J.B. Matthews papers and have four more to go (in this batch…there are dozens to do). Basically I tried to keep the wheels on the conservation bus turning for one more week as my staff gets all this amazing work done. I am very lucky to be surrounded by such talented and dedicated people.
Welcome to this month’s 1091 Project wherein Parks Library Preservation and Preservation Underground talk about how we collaborate with our respective digitization programs.
Where Digitization Happens
At Duke Libraries digitization happens in three departments:
Winston Atkins, head of the Preservation Department, advises on and coordinates preservation reformatting projects for both born digital collections and analog materials (especially non-print materials such as moving image).
The staff in the Digital Production Center (DPC) is part of the Digital Scholarship and Production Services Department headed by Liz Milewicz. DPC digitizes print, manuscript and A/V materials for both library-driven projects and individual patron requests. They use a variety of imaging hardware in their workflow, choosing the appropriate one based on the size, condition and type of material they are imaging.
Internet Archive has one operator and overhead-scanning equipment on site to digitize print materials from special collections.
Conservation Services works to some extent with all three of these workflows to be sure our materials are safe and in good condition for imaging.
Project Evaluation Prior To Imaging
We review projects under consideration for digitization to be sure the materials are stable enough for reformatting. We meet with DPC and library staff to look at the collection (or a representational portion of it if it is very large) to determine what kind of materials they are, what their condition is, and what treatment may be needed prior to digitization.
Treatment Before And After Imaging
Our main concern is that damaged materials are stabilized prior to reformatting so they can be handled without further deterioration. The most common problems that we treat before imaging include:
page tears or losses
mis-folds or detached pieces of fold-outs
loose or detached pages
old repairs (if they obscure text)
old Mylar encapsulations sealed with tape
We don’t normally fix binding problems such as loose or missing spines or boards until after imaging if the book can be handled carefully as is. But if we feel a book should be repaired first, we will consult with the librarians and decide on a treatment plan prior to sending it to DPC.
After imaging we will do any repairs or put those items into our repair request database to do at a later date. We will also provide a custom enclosure for anything that is fragile or needs protection, just as we would for any other treatment in the lab.
An example of a pre-imaging workflow is the ongoing broadside project. Decades ago it was standard practice to tape the edges of the broadsides to protect them from tearing (we obviously don’t do that anymore). Over the years, the adhesive has made the paper very brittle, yet it is still sticky. DPC cannot image through Mylar so the old, double-stick tape encapsulations must be removed. Because of time and resource limitations we do not remove the old tape, but we do repair any heavily damaged broadsides with paste and Japanese tissue so that they are in one piece and readable. When DPC is finished with them, we re-encapsulate the taped broadsides with our ultrasonic welder so that they do not stick to other broadsides in the folder (no more tape!).
Collaboration During Imaging
The Internet Archive is scanning an incredible number of items every day. The most often requested repairs for this workflow is cutting pages that were never cut by the publisher, or reattaching a loose page. We try to turn these around quickly to keep this workflow moving, especially if it is a patron request.
Sometimes a page or fold-out will get torn or come loose during scanning or a book is discovered to have uncut pages. DPC will bring it next door and we will quickly turn these repairs around so we don’t hold up their workflow.
Sometimes the materials themselves pose a handling challenge and we will help physically handle the books or manuscripts during imaging. Digitizing the Ethiopic scrolls is a good example of this sort of collaboration. Because these vellum scrolls were so long they could not be imaged in one shot, and they were so tightly wound that they would roll up on their own if not weighted down.We had to devise a method to hold sections of the scrolls open while also allowing us to unroll and re-roll as we digitized.
As you can imagine there is a huge volume of materials being imaged every day here in the basement of the library. Because there is so much going through DPC and Internet Archive, we simply cannot review every binding or manuscript page prior to imaging. We work very closely with the staff to be sure that they know what sort of damage to look for, how to handle fragile materials, and when to ask for assistance. We want them to feel that they have the information they need to safely handle materials, and in turn we trust their judgment to know when they should come next door to see us. I think we have a really good working relationship in this way.
Welcome to part three of our Preservation Week video roundup. Today, some videos on preserving digital content. If you have favorite videos on this topic, please let us know about them in the comments section.
Team Digital Preservation always brings humor to the complicated issues of digital preservation. Tune in for their wacky, yet insightful, adventures.
Abby Smith Rumsey recently gave a lecture at Yale University titled “But Storage is Cheap…Digital Preservation in the Age of Abundance.” Well worth the time to view, and thanks to Yale for posting their Preservation Lecture Series videos online.
The Library of Congress presents basic issues of preserving digital content in this short video. Great for the non-preservation professional audience.
The Library of Congress talks to teens about longevity of digital media. We all need to do more to reach out to youth to get them interested now. Have you had success with this dear reader?
Just for fun: What would the help desk have looked like back when books were the new technology?
Recently Alex from the Digital Production Center came by to ask if I could fix a cassette tape. The tape broke while they were digitizing it, and they just needed it to hold together long enough to record Side B. I know a lot about the chemical and physical make-up of magnetic tapes, but I have never had to actually fix one before.
Librarian skills activate! I searched the professional literature and the internet to no avail. There are a lot of DIY articles on the web, but we try to hold ourselves to a higher standard in our lab whenever possible. I finally called a friend who actually does this for a living.
Hannah Frost, Manager of the Stanford University Media Preservation Lab, walked me through how to repair the tape and assured me that I had the skills necessary to do it correctly. In the end the repair took less than ten minutes, and now I know how to do this the next time it happens.
The thing about working in a library is that we collect everything from the usual stuff like paper and skins but we also have poison arrows, glass plate negatives, hair, textiles, paintings, glass eyeballs and magnetic media. I can’t tell you how important it is for a library conservator to create a large network of friends and colleagues who specialize in areas that are not your own. Sooner or later you will find yourself working on something completely different and unknown, and you need to know who to call. Thanks Hannah, I owe you a drink at the next AIC conference.
We are currently digitizing our broadside collection. Before they go to the Digital Production Center, Conservation must prepare them by removing the old encapsulations and making sure they can be handled. There is additional information on this project over at the Digital Collections Blog.
A visitor exploring one of the Duke Libraries’ digital collections is probably too engrossed in the content to think very much about how the collection got there. In fact, each digital collection is the product of a collaboration of eight to ten staff from several library departments who work together in a cross-functional team. The team begins each new project with a workplan and proceeds through a series of steps that culminates in the collection’s public launch.