One of the silver linings of business travel being suspended for the foreseeable future is that so many conferences have gone virtual this year. This has provided a number of opportunities to experience the meetings of professional groups outside my usual repertoire. This week I’ve been really enjoying the International Mountmakers Forum. The organization has been very generous to record and upload the talks to Youtube.
Mounting objects for exhibition can be very challenging, and I have learned about new materials and techniques this week that could be used in the gallery spaces in our library.
The success of virtual conferencing during that pandemic gives me hope that this kind of programming will remain available, even when the world has returned to normal. Conferences are an essential fundraising opportunity for many professional organizations, and there can be financial disincentives for the organization in making content too freely available. At the same time, there are many professionals working in cultural heritage institutions or in private practice who do not have access to funding for professional development and are cut off from the debates and interactions that happen at these meetings. I’ve been very impressed with the way our professional organizations have adapted in the last year and I look forward to continued innovation and greater inclusion using these same systems in years to come.
It’s a hard to believe, but over a year ago now I posted about our new method for documenting collection material going on loan. I’ve learned a lot about the technology in that time and would like to share some of those lessons, in case others are considering adopting the method. While the system I described back then did work well to document the necessary information on a compressed schedule, ultimately some of the tools present problems for reformatting and long-term digital storage of the reports.
In my previous post, I outlined some of the benefits of using Microsoft OneNote for generating reports:
Full access to the software is included in our institution’s Office 365 license.
It seamlessly works with other Microsoft products, like Excel, which we often use to manage collection metadata for projects.
Annotation of images can be done right inside the application. When off-site, it was very quick to photograph objects using the Surface Book’s camera and make drawings directly in the report.
Organization of pages and visually managing the workflow is easy. I applied a standard naming convention to each report and then organized them into sections based on their status within the project. Kind of like a Kanban board.
While creating and using documentation inside OneNote worked well, getting that same information out without disruption presents a bit of a problem. I think a lot of these issues stem from the way the application handles page layouts and images inside pages.
A new page defaults to an “auto” size, which is essentially a standard page width with infinite length. This allows you to create a document of whatever size you need and, at first, seems pretty great.
When the page is exported as a PDF or printed, the application inserts page breaks as needed. Sometimes this works out, but more often I found that the images are broken up.
My first thought for resolving this was to set the page size as standard letter and carefully lay out the report to fit within the margins of each sheet. Surprisingly though, a “page” within OneNote can’t contain multiple “sheets”. When your report gets longer than the standard 11″ of page height, the content just starts to move off into a grey void.
When you convert this page to a PDF, page breaks are inserted in the same way they would be for an “auto” sized page. I’m puzzled why the application was designed this way.
Another major problem I found was that the horizontal position of the image tends to shift slightly left when the the page is exported or printed (see examples above). The is extremely frustrating, when you’ve taken great care to put your annotations in specific locations and I could not find a way to fix it. Unlike a lot of other Office products, the image and overlaid annotations can’t be grouped in OneNote. I have found two workarounds for this problem after the report is converted to a PDF:
Luckily, the annotations remain in the same position to one another. If the image isn’t split by a page break, I was able to use Adobe Acrobat Pro DC to edit the PDF and just slide the underlying image back into place under the annotations.
If the image was split by page breaks, I found it quicker to use the Snipping Tool in Windows to copy the image and annotations out of OneNote in the correct orientation and save them as a single JPG. I would then delete the fragmented image and annotations out of the PDF report with Acrobat Pro and replace them with the snipped image.
Obviously, these workarounds come with the additional cost of an Adobe (or other PDF editor) license.
In light of these issues, how will my approach to loan documentation change in the future? Some key aspects will remain the same. For example, the Surface Book 2 performs very well for writing the report and creating accurate image annotations. I also think the overall design of the form was good.
A major change will be to annotate images in a separate application and save them as a derivative image file. This will take some additional time to set up on the front end, but will create fewer issues further down the pipe. I have created a draft template in Adobe Photoshop, which contains my photo documentation of the item and a standard annotation key in separate layers. The automation tools within Photoshop could be used to create batches of these annotation-ready images for large numbers of loan items at once.
For future loans, I will also retire Microsoft OneNote from the workflow. It is important that we be able to easily convert our documentation to PDF and print a hard copy for preservation purposes. OneNote’s export problems, particularly for annotated images, require a lot of time and effort to correct on the back end. The useful features, like check boxes and timestamps, are not an equal trade off. What software will replace it? I don’t know for certain yet, but it will definitely be a word processing application where content stays in position during printing and export! Microsoft Word will probably be fine, but we could also probably use Google Docs. I think the composing application matters less with the annotations saved in a single image file.
Tomorrow is your last opportunity to visit an exhibition of select items from the Lisa Unger Baskin collection at the Grolier Club. This exhibition opened at the beginning of December 2019 and has received a great deal of attention from media outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, Smithsonian Magazine , and New England Public Radio (just to name a few). We have been so pleased to hear all the positive feedback and see images of the Grolier’s ground floor gallery packed with visitors. Many of our staff put a great deal of work into making this exhibition happen, and, as we prepare to travel back to New York to pack up, I thought it would be fun to share some of the “behind the scenes” photos of installation.
The week after Thanksgiving, a team of Duke Library staff braved sleet and snow to begin our installation at the Grolier Club. We arrived to a brightly lit exhibit gallery and lot of carefully packed collection material on temporary work tables. We had five days to install five hundred years of women’s history – and it was going to be a busy week.
After a short huddle and review of our work plan, we broke up into two teams and dove right in. The first team was assigned the task of unpacking all the signage and large reproduction images that would be hung at the tops of the case walls and in the gallery alcoves.
After locating each hanging piece and placing them in the appropriate exhibit case or location, the process of actually hanging began. Some objects, like the life-size reproduction suffrage banner (pictured below), required a special platform so that staff could safely access hanging hardware above the wide table case vitrines.
As the hanging continued, Lauren Reno, Head of Rare Materials Cataloging at Duke, and I began the process of unpacking and checking the condition of over 200 collection items that would be going on display. Each object needed to be accounted for, unwrapped, and reviewed for potential changes in condition. Last summer I wrote about our new method for documenting exhibit loans. I was able to run some small field tests last fall using the new method and computing hardware, but this was the first time it had been employed for such a large loan and with such a time crunch. The new documentation system performed very well and we were able to finish condition reporting ahead of schedule. I plan to share more about the documentation system in future blog posts.
With the hanging complete and each item unpacked and checked off, it was time to sort out the exhibit supports. Yoon Kim had spent many months fabricating the custom cradles, upright angles, or support boards needed to safely support the wide variety of collection materials. During packing, we affixed small labels printed with the item’s Aeon transaction number to the underside of each piece of the support. Using a wire frame diagram of each case layout, it was easy to assemble each book cradle and place it in the correct location inside the exhibit case.
At this point the teams converged to begin mounting each item to it’s support and installing them inside the correct exhibit case. Objects were secured to their mount using polyester or polyethylene strapping.
While we were all working to ready the physical materials, Grolier staff were setting up the large digital display, which would rotate a gallery of images from the collection. Despite the crowd of tables and equipment on the floor of the gallery, you could really see the exhibition beginning to take shape.
Sometimes because of the weight distribution of an item, a cradle needed to be attached to the glass shelves or metal case decks. In those situations, we were able to use stacks of neodymium disc magnets to secure the cradle. The printed exhibit labels were also attached to the case backs and label rails with small magnets.
With all the items in place, we began the final step of lighting the space. Going case by case, we took light readings at each object and then added, removed, or adjusted LEDs to an appropriate level. It is such a challenge to achieve lighting that is bright enough for visitors to clearly see an object and is also appropriate for the light sensitivity media or photographic materials; however, after many rounds of review and tweaks, we were finally ready!
Even though we had already exhibited this same collection of items at the Rubenstein Library in early 2019, this somehow felt like a totally different exhibit. It required a great deal of planning and preparation to travel and install a loan of this size at a partner institution and we all learned so much throughout the process. In the end, I think all that work really shows in the final product and I’m glad that we were able to contribute to the mission of our institution by sharing and bringing awareness to a small sample of the cultural heritage we look after.
The folks in the Rubenstein Exhibits department are currently hard at work, putting the finishing touches on the exhibition “Five Hundred Years of Women’s Work: The Lisa Unger Baskin Collection“. This exhibition provides a glimpse of the diversity and depth of the Baskin collection, revealing the lives of women both famous and forgotten and recognizing their accomplishments. Items from the collection will be on display in the Biddle exhibit suite until June 15, 2019.
The Conservation Services Department has contributed hundreds of hours of work in support of both this exhibit and the wider Baskin collection for the last few years. To highlight some of the behind-the-scenes efforts undertaken by our staff, we have put on our own small exhibit featuring conservation treatments and custom enclosures for the items on display upstairs. If you happen to be in the library, possibly attending one of the many public events surrounding the Baskin exhibition, we invite you to stop by this exhibit case as well. The case is located on Lower Level 1 of Perkins Library, across from the Conservation Lab entrance (Room 023).
Today I traveled over to the Nasher Museum of Art to install an item from the Rubenstein Library for the upcoming Portrait of Venice exhibit. A hand-colored map of Venice from Georg Braun‘s 1572 edition of Civitates Orbis Terrarum (below) will be on display alongside the mural-sized woodblock print by Jacopo de’ Barbari.
The Nasher exhibit runs from September 7th until the end of this year. If you did not have a chance to see the Barbari print during the Glory of Venice show at NCMA, this is another good opportunity. The sheer size and detail of the piece is just incredible. The exhibit will also feature interactive multi-media displays produced through multi-disciplinary and collaborative research at the Wired! Lab at Duke.
Our new exhibit focuses on how a book is made “from the ground up.” In the exhibit you will see examples of binding structures dating from the 4th Century C.E. to the 21st Century C.E. Also in the display is a selection of tools used by bookbinders, and an overview of how a book is made.
The exhibit is open during regular library hours. It is located on the first lower level of Perkins Library, just outside the Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab (Perkins Library 023). Please stop by and let us know what you think.
The installation was very similar to our workflow here at Duke. We had already constructed custom book supports for each volume using a clear, inert plastic resin called PETG. After unpacking everything, I was able to simply position each volume on its cradle and secure the pages at the opening with clear polyester strapping.
Once the books and labels were all correctly placed inside, museum staff stepped in to install the vitrines.
The curators and museum staff at NCMA were so great to work with and I really enjoyed being part of a collaborative effort between cultural institutions from around The Triangle. I haven’t shared any images of the paintings that will also be on display, but I was able to get a peek at many of them. They are absolutely incredible! The show will be on display from March 4th – June 18th and I would encourage you to go visit if you are in the area.
Before coming to Duke, each drawing had been mounted to foam-core board with double-sided tape and then shrink-wrapped. I can see why this packaging method was done. While it does reduce the risk of mechanical damage from handling and shipping, the tape and sealed package are not the most stable environment for long-term storage. Curators and conservators always assess items with our Exhibitions Coordinator before they go on display. Because the items going on exhibit needed to come out of their shrink wrap anyway, the team made the decision to rehouse the whole collection.
I was able to carefully cut and remove the shrink wrap from each package. The few drawings with friable media (like pastel or charcoal) actually have it applied to the back of the thin drawing paper, so there was little risk of disruption from the static charge of the plastic film. I was able to separate each drawing from the backing board by heating a very thin metal spatula with a hot air pencil and passing it between the drawing and the tape carrier, however, residual adhesive still remained on the verso of the drawing and needed to be removed prior to rehousing (image below, left).
The double-sided tape appears to have been applied fairly recently and had not yet penetrated the paper or crosslinked. I was able to remove it without disturbing the paper fibers by gently rolling the adhesive off with a crepe eraser (image above, right).
These drawings will now be stored in either clear polyester L-sleeves or paper folders, depending upon the drawing media. The collection had been placed into two metal edge boxes, but removing the foam-core backing has significantly reduced the required storage space. We can now fit them all into one box. While the shrink wrap package probably seemed like a good idea at the time, I am glad we were able to rehouse the drawings before they were visibly affected by it.
It’s hard to say what a typical day in the conservation lab might be, or what skills you will need when you show up for work in the morning. What makes library conservation challenging is that you need to know about not only books and paper objects, but paintings, art on paper, furniture, sculpture, indigenous and folk art, photographs, analog and digital A-V materials, media of all kind from the dawn of mark-making, etc. The list of what we need to know is endless because libraries and archives collect broadly, and the conservation needs of these collections can be complex. This list doesn’t even cover the parts of library conservation that include budgeting, planning, managing people, environmental monitoring, attending meetings, and all those things that keep the Conservation program running smoothly.
Yesterday I was reflecting on the life of a collections conservator as were doing some out-of-the-ordinary work. I was asked to write condition reports for the three portraits in the exhibits suite. I’m not a paintings conservator, but I do know how to look at an object and describe its condition in enough detail that someone can understand the state of that object now, and determine if any changes occurred in the future. I found the Canadian Conservation Institute’s excellent reference materials online regarding evaluating paintings to be very helpful in my evaluation. I have also collected condition data on the two historic pieces of furniture in that room. I didn’t find a CCI document on writing condition reports for furniture, but they do make available a lot of furniture care and handling information. We have no paintings or furniture conservators on staff, but my skills are such that I can describe them for our records and help facilitate their conservation should the need arise.
When they were ready to go back on the wall, Henry Hebert from Conservation, and Ben Bridgers from Exhibits, rehung the portraits.
This morning, we helped put the book collections on the shelves that line the exhibits suite. It took about an hour and a half and eight people to finish the job. The exhibits suite is now ready for the weekend’s events.