On this day in 2009 our blog was born! Looking back, we have accomplished quite a lot here over those 11 years. We are rapidly approaching our 500th post. It seemed fitting to celebrate by highlighting our eleven most popular stories or “quick pics” from the lab:
I was a bit surprised to see that three of the top posts are from this calendar year. With the disruption to everyone’s work over the last 9 months, it has been a little more challenging to keep to our usual publishing schedule. But with everyone spending more time at home these days, I guess that also means more folks are looking for something to read. Welcome to our new readers and a huge ‘thank you’ to long-time followers who have stuck with us! Here’s to another 11 years of preservation stories, coming to you from the library basement. Have a safe and restful holiday.
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.
We get pretty excited about labels in the Conservation Services department, as evidenced by this post, and this one. Apart from spine labels, we frequently add signage to our enclosures to provide information about what’s inside and how it should be handled.
We often add picture labels to the outsides of our enclosures, particularly those containing fragile objects. We find these labels cut down on browsing and give and idea of what’s inside.
Picture labels can be created fairly quickly by capturing at relatively low resolution and under normal lighting conditions. We photograph items on a white background in our digital photographic documentation studio. Using the levels adjustments in Photoshop, select the white eyedropper and then select the white background. This usually causes the background to disappear and makes for a cleaner looking label.
We add in handling information specific to the item, such as HANDLE WITH GLOVES or CAUTION: SHARP!
We also print of sheets of small labels with common handling concerns, such as CONTAINS GLASS, FRAGILE, HEAVY. This makes for quick and easy labeling of boxes that otherwise wouldn’t get a special photo label.
We’ve even had luck playing with clip art to make some useful handling labels.
Sometimes you need a simple and specific way of demonstrating how to handle an item, and narrative text or clip art just won’t cut it. We’ve had some luck creating infographic style labels using this process:
Take a high resolution photo of the action/item you’d like to have pictured in your infographic label.
In Photoshop, open your image and create a new layer on top of the image.
On the new layer you’ve created, trace the elements with a drawing tool. Working at 100% or higher, and using the smoothing settings will help to improve any jagged or rough-looking lines in your drawing.
Copy the layer with the drawing and paste it onto a new blank canvas with a white background. Make any final adjustments to your drawing, keeping in mind that it doesn’t have to be perfect.
Reduce the size of your drawing without reducing the file quality. Most of these images will not be printed out very large, so pick a label size, such as 2 x 4” and resize the drawing so it fits on that label. You will find that most imperfections in the drawing will not be noticeable when the drawing is resized.
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.
Each spring for the last couple of years, I’ve traveled up to the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library to teach a workshop on blind and gold tooling to students in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC). The workshop provides a very basic introduction to all the tools and materials that have historically been used to decorate bindings and allows the students to try some of the techniques for themselves. We also use the time to examine bindings from the library’s collection, looking closely at tool marks and other evidence, to determine how they were produced.
With in-person instruction suspended this semester, we decided to try a modified version of the workshop via the popular video conferencing platform Zoom.
I had to change a lot about how I would ordinarily approach this workshop, since I usually provide paper hand-outs and bring a number of physical samples for students to examine. I was able to get around some of this by using the screen-sharing feature to display images of specific tools and diagrams of important concepts during the lecture portion of the workshop. I also shared links to specific bindings in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Bindings Image Collection, so that each student could zoom in or navigate around the image on their own. Resources like this were a helpful stand-in for bindings from the Winterthur Library’s collection.
But what if you have an item on-hand which you would like your participants to examine more closely? My laptop’s webcam is thankfully good enough to show a fair amount of detail, but it can be a little tricky to orient the object in front of the camera so that your room lighting shows the surface characteristics. It might also be impossible to hold the object upright enough to view in frame.
I’ve seen some enterprising examples of detachable webcams mounted to headbands or task lights to create document cameras, but my webcam is not detachable. It turns out there is a simple way to turn your smartphone into a secondary, hand-held camera! Unfortunately, I figured this trick out too late for my own workshop – but maybe it can be useful for other folks doing instruction remotely. This trick requires you to first install the Zoom mobile app.
I start by scheduling a Zoom meeting and then either add the invitation to my calendar or email it to myself for quick access later. The meeting is launched on the primary device (in my case, a laptop) and the video and sound are set up. Instruction proceeds as usual until the hand-held camera is needed. At this point, tap the meeting link on a mobile device to join. When the meeting has launched in the mobile app, select “Join with Video” and then tap “Cancel” when asked to join audio. I learned the hard way that you will get some rather unpleasant feedback and echoing if you have audio going on two devices at once.
At this point your meeting participants will be disoriented by your competing video feeds (and maybe by your disheveled quarantine hair), but these feelings will pass.
Tap the button at the top left of your mobile device’s screen to switch to the rear-facing camera. You should ask your audience to find and “pin” the video feed for your mobile device, so that it occupies the majority of the screen when they switch to the “speaker view”.
Now you can easily move your mobile device around the object during your instruction session. When you don’t need the second camera anymore, simply leave the meeting on that device. Obviously this setup will put some additional load on your home network and internet connection, but it has worked well enough in my experiments to get the job done. This method will probably also work on other video conferencing platforms, but I have not attempted it.
With so many people developing and participating in online instruction right now, I’m sure others are finding new and helpful ways to use the technology we might already have at home. What tools or tips have you found useful in your work from home situation?
Here Rachel is showing a chart of the Triboelectric series (right before we all remembered we could just share screeens 🙂 ). It’s nice to be able to connect with colleagues so easily, despite everything that is going on.
The library loans a large number of items from various collections to other libraries and museums each year for exhibitions. The typical loan agreement is for a small number of items (usually less than 10), but occasionally we get a loan request that is much larger. It is important to document the condition of each object that is borrowed, and we do this by creating a condition report. Condition reports document any pre-existing conditions of a collection item (or lack thereof) and help to establish the responsible party for any future damage. A good report allows anyone handling the object to check and compare the condition of the item as it is packed and moved between destinations.
There are no standards for the length or format of a condition report. For many years, our reports have taken the form of a simple text document that includes an object’s identifying information, a brief description, and notes about any condition issues. In addition to the report, we take photographs of the object and save them to a networked drive.
This form has served us well until now, but in the next year we are facing some much larger loans. We began to wonder if there was a way to more quickly and accurately document the condition of an item, while still maintaining good record keeping practices. In recent years, a number of conservators have developed methods for adding photographs and digital annotations to their condition reports. With the increased functionality and reduced cost of portable touch-screen devices, the time seemed right to experiment with new documentation methods.
At the most recent AIC Annual Meeting, I attended a talk by Katrina Rush, Associate Paintings Conservator at the The Menil Collection, on digital condition reporting using Apple devices. While the method she presented appeared viable for our needs, we needed to use hardware and software that could be fully supported by our IT department. We recently acquired a Surface Book 2, which combines the versatility of a laptop and a tablet in one Windows device. The accompanying stylus allows the user to precisely annotate images and the portability means that we can bring it along with the items as they travel. The attached camera could be useful for documenting the item outside the lab.
I began designing a new condition report template in Microsoft OneNote. This program allows us to include all the same information from the old form, as well as insert and annotate images. There are also some handy time-saving features like working checkboxes and timestamps. I have included an example of an item documented with the new form here.
At this stage in development, I am conducting “trial runs” with the new form and device. So far I have not been timing myself, but completing the report seems to go very quickly. For much larger loans, I have successfully tested workarounds using “mail merge” to generate the tables of bibliographic data for many items at once. I’ve found it very easy to fill out the fields and to drag and drop images into the form. While the drawing tools are extensive, it would probably be helpful to develop a standard legend of specific colors to describe common condition issues. Exporting the report to a more preservation-friendly file format (like PDF) is easy enough, but can require some adjustments to keep page breaks from splitting an image.
As this new documentation method gets more use, we will likely continue to adapt it. In the coming months I hope to share some of the lessons we learn and the resulting workflows on this blog.
As part of the Rubenstein Library Renovation Project a few years ago, the Special Collections Hallway Gallery was enlarged and rebranded as the Rubenstein Photography Gallery. The 67′ by 25′ space features a different collection from the Archive of Documentary Arts every few months. Because it still functions as a primary route through the building, the gallery provides an inviting environment for visitors to experience the library’s photographic collections.
We have been monitoring the environmental conditions within the space continually since it reopened in 2015. Although the temperature stays very stable in the building throughout the year, we do see some fluctuation in the relative humidity (RH) for the gallery. In the coldest winter months, public spaces tend to become very dry because of the heating systems. The question has been lingering in our minds: what are the environmental conditions that the artwork is experiencing inside the frame? Last fall, a small working group from Conservation, Exhibitions, Preservation, and the Archive of Documentary Arts gathered to design a simple experiment to try and answer this question.
As part of this experiment, we wanted to not only measure the temperature and RH within our normal frames, but see if there was something simple we could do to buffer any changes to those conditions. While there are many options available to change the conditions inside a frame, we determined the easiest (and cheapest) option would be to seal frame contents in a relatively impermeable package.
Framed photographs in our galleries include several components inside each frame. The glazing of our frames is a UV-filtering acrylic. Beneath that is a window mat cut to the size of the artwork. The print is mounted to another piece of mat board underneath. At the back of the package is a piece of corrugated board made of white plastic (polypropylene). We hypothesized that by taping the outside edges of this “package” of material with polypropylene tape that the air exchange inside the frame could be significantly reduced and therefore reduce the change in RH. We decided to set up two identical frames for comparison, one with a sealed package and one without.
We acquired two HOBO MX2300 Temp/RH dataloggers with external sensors and I set to work fitting them into two of our standard gallery frames.
The datalogger sensor is much thicker than the art that usually goes inside one of these frames, so I had to build up the thickness of the package with several layers of mat board. I created a central stack of mat board with a window cut to fit the sensor. I chose not to use full sheets of mat board for a couple of reasons:
We have a lot of small scrap pieces already and I didn’t want to waste materials.
Frame packages typically only have one full mat board sheet and window mat inside. Adding five or more full sheets to the package seemed like a lot of additional material, which might act as added RH buffer.
The rate of change between the two frames was the important variable. As long as each package was constructed with the same quantity of material inside, we should be able to get a representative comparison.
An inkjet print with a cut mat and the glazing was placed on top of the sensor. The sensor cable was passed through a hole cut in the corrugated plastic, allowing me to mount the logger to the back of the frame. The contents were all stored in a stable 45% RH environment for several weeks before installation. With the package all together, I sealed up the outer edges as well as the hole in the plastic backing with clear tape. The sealed package was then placed inside the metal and wood frames.
We installed our sealed and unsealed experiment frames in the gallery in early December 2017, along with a new show. The frames were mounted on a small wall, next to the window to our reading room, so as to be less of a distraction from the rest of the exhibit and to be in close proximity to the data logger which monitors the gallery space.
The inkjet prints we included in each frame had a short description of the experiment so that curious patrons would understand the the purpose of their unusual positioning.
After five months, we took the frames down and compiled all the environmental data. In the graph below, the gallery conditions are marked in grey, the unsealed frame is marked in yellow, and the sealed frame is marked in blue. Temperature values are displayed on the left, while RH values are displayed on the right.
The data confirms that the space maintains temperature very well, staying right around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The RH in the gallery space does bounce around quite a bit throughout the winter months, fluctuating between around 50% and 20%. Late January 2018 seems to have been particularly volatile.
We were very surprised at how well each frame responded to the conditions in the gallery. Even inside the unsealed frame, we see a significant smoothing out of the RH graph: the over 30 point spread of the gallery RH is reduced to around 12% change in the unsealed frame and the contents did not drop below 30% RH. The sealed frame package performed very well, with only about 6% overall RH change in 5 months.
While the methodology of this experiment does have flaws, it is an inexpensive and adaptable approach to measuring environmental conditions. We can be reassured that our normal framing practices protect prints from drastic changes, even in the most volatile months. We can also take the relatively simple and cost-effective step of sealing the frame package to provide additional protection for more sensitive materials. This experiment has raised questions of how other methods, such as sealing the frame package differently or adding pre-conditioned board, might compare. It is likely that our investigations will continue, so that we can make the best choices for our collections.
Late last week our lab hosted a 3-day workshop, taught by Jennifer McGlinchey Sexton, on Tools and Techniques for UV / Visible Fluorescence Documentation. Colleagues from libraries and museums around the country joined three DUL staff members to learn about the necessary equipment and to develop practical skills in capturing UV/visible images for use in conservation.
A great deal of the discussion centered around equipment. We looked at several kinds of UVA lamps that are currently on the market and talked about the filtering necessary on both lamps and cameras to reduce infrared and visible light. We also went over some methods for testing the quality of the lamp.
Capturing UV/visible images can be challenging and while standards have been widely adopted in recent years for conservation imaging under normal illumination, the same is not so true for UV documentation. Jennifer described several workflows for setting the white balance and selecting the best camera exposure settings using either home-made or standardized fluorescent color targets.
We had converted both our normal photo-doc space and the “dirty room” (our mold remediation and chemical storage space) into imaging work spaces, so the workshop participants were able to break up into two groups and practice. It was very useful to have two spaces and enough equipment that everyone could try the process several times and ask questions.
This workshop was a great opportunity to learn exactly how to add UV/visible to a conservation program’s documentation capabilities. It gave the participants a grounding in both the functionality of the equipment and a framework for consistently producing high quality images. For the Duke library staff who participated, this workshop also added some perspective to the work we have done in the last year or so with Multispectral Imaging.
We are so thankful to Jennifer McGlinchey Sexton for teaching, to Tess Bronwyn Hamilton for assisting, and to FAIC for sponsoring such a great experience!
Conservator Erin Hammeke has been working with History of Medicine Curator, Rachel Ingold and SMIF Research and Development Engineer, Justin Gladman to facilitate the scanning of our 22 ivory manikins using a High Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography Scanner (Micro CT scanner). These high resolution 3-D scans allow us to see internal components of the manikins, thoroughly document them and their component parts, and also to create 3D printed models to allow for unfettered access and handling of surrogate manikins by patrons. So far, we have imaged over half of the collection of 22 manikins to date over 7 imaging sessions.
Conservation’s support for this project has been a team effort. First we researched the safety of the process for ivory and component parts. Then we thought through the logistics of ensuring their physical safety and security during imaging. Over the past year, Conservation Specialist, Rachel Penniman has been carefully boxing each of the manikins in terrific custom padded artifact boxes (see Quick Pic: Boxing Near-Naked Ladies) to assist with their safe transport to the SMIF facility on campus. After transport to SMIF, Erin unpacks the manikins and removes their parts before securely wrapping them in low density material to support the manikin during the 20-30 minute scan. Thanks to Beth for sewing custom foam supports for this project!
Smaller, removable internal organs are imaged in separate scans to enable an adjustment to the scanning resolution and isolation of the component parts in the digital scan and 3D print.
This photos shows some of the ways in which Erin strapped and supported a manikin with a loose arm during scanning, as well as still images from the scan that show internal metal fasteners and repairs that are not visible upon external examination.
And here is an example of a 3D print of one of our solid manikins showing fantastic detail.
Keep an eye out for a more in depth Duke News story about the project by science writer Robin Smith, PhD.