On a gloomy Los Angeles morning earlier this week, I rode a driver-less tram up to the Getty Center to attend a one day seminar on Microfade Testing (MFT).
Speakers from institutions around the world discussed how they have been using this technology in recent years to support exhibits programs and make informed decisions about safely displaying cultural heritage material. The seminar concluded with demonstrations of several designs of MFT equipment, like the system pictured below.
It was such a delight to talk with other conservators about how they are using technologies like this in their own institutions. While I was able to learn a great deal about the application and some limitations of MFT, many questions remain about how we might successfully implement it here at Duke. In the meantime, the seminar highlighted some research opportunities that we can begin pursuing with technology we already have on hand, like multispectral imaging.
Conservation Services is often called upon to create appropriate housing and storage solutions for over-sized textiles in our collections. This very large and currently uncataloged item from the Robert Hill Collection is a recent example.
After some deliberation, the decision was made to store this item rolled on a hollow tube. Our housing method is fairly straightforward: We started with a piece of unbleached cotton muslin, cut larger than the banner in all dimensions, placed on a work surface of assembled tables. The banner was placed in the center. A rigid tube, about 5″ in diameter and wrapped in high quality paper, was placed at one end of the muslin (as pictured above). These tubes are constructed of blue/grey barrier board, with neutral pH adhesive, and have passed the Photographic Activity Test. They are available through several suppliers like Gaylord or University Products. With a person at each end of the tube, we slowly rolled the muslin and banner together, being careful to smooth out any distortion or creases as we went. The bundle was then loosely tied up with twill tape.
If dust was a concern in the storage space, we might also wrap in an additional layer of clear polyester. We will likely add a tyvek label attached to the twill tape (for example) when cataloging is complete. STASHc (Storage Techniques for Art, Science & History Collections) is a great online resource for potential solutions for housing more cumbersome collection materials, and methods similar to ours can be found there.
By Rachel Pennimen, Senior Conservation Technician
The Rubenstein Library holds a growing collection of political ephemera including many political pins. Over time the library has received multiple additions to the collection and expects to continue collecting more of these items in the future. The collection arrived in batches with a variety of different inconsistent housing methods. At first, conservation had been creating custom built trays with individual spaces for each button as seen in this Duke Today video.
This approach resulted in a really nice custom enclosure for a group of buttons, but was time consuming to create by hand and inconvenient when just one or two new buttons would need to be added to the collection.
After a meeting with Rubenstein Library curatorial and technical services staff to assess the state of the entire collection and discuss goals for the future of the collection I started researching housing options. I remembered seeing a method for housing buttons by pinning them on to foam covered boards but many of our buttons didn’t have their backing pins and there was no way to number individual items using that system. I had also seen a method for housing small artifacts that looked like it could be promising with a little modification.
Now we house each button using a clear 4″ x 5” zip top, virgin polyethylene bag with a 40 point tan barrier board stiffener inside. The bags are either 4 mil or 6 mil so they are strong and provide some cushion. I cut the barrier board to be small enough to easily slip in and out of the bag and I round the corners so they don’t fray or poke through the plastic bag. The pins aren’t attached to the stiffener backing but it provides structure and support for the different sized items. The top of the stiffener can be labeled with an item identification number if needed. Then the bags can either be housed flat in trays or upright in shoebox style archival boxes.
This method makes it easy to house large numbers of buttons quickly and is easy enough for technical services staff to assemble these housings themselves. When one or two new buttons arrive to be added to an existing collection, they can easily be bagged and filed in place in an existing box. It is also still easy for researchers to flip through a box and look at each button without having to handle the actual item. So far we’ve been really happy with this solution and I imagine it could be adapted for housing other small ephemera collections in the future.
By Rachel Pennimen, Senior Conservation Technician
This copy of Hilda Vaughan’s ‘A Thing of Nought’ was sent to the conservation lab to have a box made to protect the fragile dust jacket and cover. The illustration and lettering printed directly on the front board is visible through a transparent, blue tinted plastic dust jacket that is itself printed with the title and author’s name.
Unfortunately the poor quality plastic of the dust jacket has not aged well. Small pieces of the plastic dust jacket were in danger of flaking off with every movement and could hardly be handled safely. In order to keep the dust jacket on the book but still allow for handling of the item, Curator Andy Armacost had the idea of using a dust jacket protector similar to the type sometimes used on our general collections items. This traditional style of dust jacket cover has a Mylar front and a paper backing that wrap around the dust jacket to protect it from wear.
This would have the benefit of completely surrounding the plastic dust jacket and preserving all of its parts while allowing it to stay in place on the book and be handled. The trouble is that the paper backing on this kind of product would obscure what was printed directly on the book’s cover. So I attempted to create my own dust jacket cover where the paper backing was printed with a copy of the original boards.
I tried black and white photocopies of the cover on white paper and colored papers. They gave a similar idea of the original cover design, but I was really hoping for something more detailed and accurate.
I tried again using our photodocumentation setup to take a color photograph of the cover but when I printed out the image the color didn’t match the original at all.
Senior Conservator Erin Hammeke had previously used a tool developed by Victoria Binder to make a color accurate printed reproduction for use in an exhibit so I decided to look into that. Victoria’s article in Topics in Photographic Preservation entitled ‘Digital Fills for Photographs with Glossy Surfaces’ discusses using the Action feature in Photoshop to automatically make variations on settings like midtone color, exposure, and saturation in an easily printable contact sheet. I wasn’t looking to create a fill for a photograph, but color matching a printed image to an original was exactly what I needed. By using Victoria’s Actions Set I could easily print contact sheets with up to 15 variations on a single page, and pick the one that looked closest to the original without wasting reams of paper.
I adjusted my image in Photoshop according to the best results from the contact sheets. The printed photograph gave all the detail of the appearance of the original board decoration and the adjustments made the color an almost perfect match when printed.
The original plastic dust jacket was placed over the printed reproduction of the book cover and a piece of Mylar was folded around both. When the jacket assembly is put on the book the visual effect is very similar to the original.
Because the cover isn’t attached in any way to the book, a researcher can simply unfold the jacket assembly and view the original book cover decoration beneath.
I’m so happy with how this project turned out. The original plastic dust jacket is much easier to handle safely, the original appearance of the item is retained, and all of the parts can still be kept together.
This month on the 1091 Project we are talking tours. I recorded eight official tours so far this fiscal year. These included tours for library donors and prospective donors; the Library Council, a group of faculty that meet with the library’s Executive Group during the school year; and most recently to the Alumni Association during the annual Alumni Weekend. That tour consisted of about 20 people, but we have had as much as twice that on large tours.
We also give a lot of informal, spur of the moment tours that don’t make it to the “official” record. These tours are generally for new staff and interns, faculty and visiting scholars, and other interested individuals. This year we gave a tour for artist Bea Nettles, and Henry Wilhelm, of Wilhelm Imaging Research, and John Baty, a conservation scientist. Wilhelm and Baty also toured LSC and DPC.
Tours are an important development tool. They are also a chance to educate people about the work we do, why the work is important and how it relates to the mission of the Library. I love to see people’s faces light up when they realize that you can wash paper or resew a book and make it whole again. Of course the best part is showing off our highly skilled and talented staff.
I know some labs include tours in their yearly stats. I report our big tours in our fiscal year report, but I don’t record every tour we give. I would love to hear your experience with documenting tours and/or how you report tours to your administration in your year-end reports.
Hurricane season officially started June 1st and runs through November 30th. Today the first named storm, Andrea, hit the North Carolina coast as a tropical storm and its rain stretched into Durham. We are supposed to get over four inches of rain, and yet we are still in a moderate drought. Go figure.
With all this rain it’s a good time to talk about disaster preparedness. There are many free apps for Android, iPhone and Blackberry devices that would be useful in a disaster.
The Red Cross has several mobile apps, including ones that will track weather warnings including hurricanes, flood advisories and tornado warnings. They also have apps for earthquakes, first aid, wildfires, and a shelter tracker. All useful information when you need it.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has developed a mobile app with maps, recovery and safety tips, and information on building a disaster kit. It also has interactive lists for storing your emergency contact list and meet-up locations.
Heritage Preservation has created a mobile app based on its popular Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel. It outlines the steps to take in a disaster from “safety first” to “documentation,” and includes recovery information based on the type of materials effected. While the actual wheel seems more useful, this first version is pretty good and would be helpful if your paper copy floated away.
Of course all of these work best if you have power for your phone. You might consider putting a hand-cranked emergency radio/cell phone charger. I’m putting two of these on my Amazon wish list, one for my disaster kit at work, one for home use.
Digital Forensics, Emulation, and the
Art of Restoration
Who: Ben Fino-Radin When: Wednesday, April 24, 4:00 p.m. Where: Perkins Library, Room 217 (Click for map) Contact: Winston Atkins (firstname.lastname@example.org) This event is free and open to the public.
In 1991, from a basement in lower Manhattan, contemporary artist Wolfgang Staehle founded The Thing, an electronic Bulletin Board System (BBS) that served as a cyber-utopian hub for NYC-based artists integrating computers and into their creative practice.
The Thing emerged at a moment when contemporary artists were coming to grips with personal computers and the role they played in visual art. The BBS, which began as a temporary experiment, grew to become an international network of artists and ideas. Then the World Wide Web emerged and in 1995 Staehle abandoned the BBS for a web-based iteration of The Thing. The cultural record of these crucial early years, inscribed on the platters of the hard drive that hosted the BBS, was left to sit in a dusty basement.
Fast forward to 2013. Digital conservator Ben Fino-Radin reached out to Staehle to investigate the state of the BBS. Did the machine that hosted The Thing still exist? Could the board be restored to working order?
For scholars interested in the intersection of art and technology, the ability to investigate the contents of the BBS and observe its original look and feel would help flesh out the history of the emergence of personal computers and visual art. Unhappily, it was discovered that the computer that hosted The Thing BBS was at some point discarded.
Join Ben Fino-Radin on Wednesday, April 24th, to discuss the process of digital forensics, investigation, and anthropology involved in the process of restoring The Thing BBS from the scattered bits and pieces of evidence that managed to survive, and how this story serves as a case-study in the need for a new model of digital preservation in archives.
About the Speaker
Ben Fino-Radin is a New York-based media archaeologist and conservator of born-digital and computer-based works of contemporary art. At Rhizome at the New Museum, he leads the preservation and curation of the ArtBase, one of the oldest and most comprehensive collections of born-digital works of art. He is also in practice in the Conservation Department of the Museum of Modern Art, managing the Museum’s repository for digital assets in the collection, as well as contributing to media conservation projects. He is near completion of an MFA in digital arts and MS in Library and Information Science at Pratt Institute. He holds a BFA in New Media from Alfred University.
“Help Wanted: You Can Help Keep Our Collections In Good Condition” focuses on what our patrons can do to keep our books on the shelf and usable for everyone. The exhibit is intended to support reinforce the information we present at our annual Care and Handling training, which will be scheduled for late September or early October.
The exhibit is open during regular library hours. It is located just outside the Conservation Lab, Room 023, Perkins Lower Level 1.
Come see the banana book in person. There is another little surprise in there, too.
Audio-visual materials’ rapid deterioration (relative to print media), its wide adoption for commercial and personal use, and the range of formats and playback equipment that rose and fell around analog videotape, have profound implications for preserving those pieces of our 20th century history that were captured on videotape.
The exhibit is on Perkins Lower Level 1, outside the Digital Production Center, near room 023. Open during library hours.
Welcome to the 1091 Project, a collaborative blogging endeavor between the conservation labs at Duke University Libraries and Iowa State Libraries. Today we are highlighting the kinds of training we do that supports the long-term preservation of our materials.
Care and Handling Training
Conservation Services provides training in both informal and formal ways. We are often contacted by Technical Services for advice on proper handling or housing procedures for fragile materials. Sometimes we get a call from the reading room requesting our help to show a patron how to turn fragile pages or unfold brittle documents.
Conservation offers annual Care and Handling sessions for staff and student assistants. We usually offer multiple sessions in multiple locations to catch as many people as possible. For those unable to attend we put PDF’s of the handouts and Power Point slides on our intranet site (Duke NetID required).
In these sessions participants learn how to identify damaged materials and what the process is to send them to Conservation. We also demonstrate proper handling techniques such as shelving spine down, how to safely remove books from the shelf, and packing book trucks and mail bins for transport. Because of the current renovation projects we may not be able to offer on-site training this year. To that end, I’ve updated our handouts and Power Point presentations and will make sure student supervisors know where to find them.
We are investigating the use of short videos as a fresh and fast way to get information to our patrons, staff and students. This is our first video in the series. What do you think? What sorts of videos would you want to see or show to your patrons?
We do a lot of other training, too:
We train our Conservation student assistants and volunteers on how to repair materials and make enclosures.We couldn’t be successful without them!
We train ourselves, too. Each month before our staff meeting we hold a Tips Session. If we discover a neat tool, or come up with a creative solution to a problem, we demonstrate it to the entire lab staff. These session are fun, fast and foster a lot of conversation and brain storming.
Let’s go see what training Parks Library Preservation does. Please share your training regimen or ideas for videos in the comments.