Category Archives: Technology

Digital Fills to the Rescue!

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.

Slim-Fold Book Jacket Covers, University Products

 

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.

Photocopy on white paper, photocopy on cream paper, and original cover

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.

Printed color photograph and original cover

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.

Printed photograph before color correction, after color correction, and original cover

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.

Interior of the jacket assembly around original cover

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.

Final dust jacket assembly next to original cover

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.

Custom Cord

I have been trying to catch up on some reading lately and just finished a wonderful collection of essays titled Roger Powell, the Compleat Binder.  If you are interested in early manuscripts, I would definitely recommend that you give it a read – but one article in particular provided an excuse for some fun experimentation with broader book binding and book conservation application.

Robert Espinosa published a paper on a rigid board, laced structure for potential use as a conservation rebinding in the early 1980s, and a heavily revised version of this article appears in Roger Powell. In this second version, Espinosa expands upon his discussion of hand spun sewing supports.

Fiber to Cable
(Illustration by Jane Dalrymple-Hollo)

Sewing supports are just one of many components in a sewn binding that can influence the action of a book, as illustrated in Tom Conroy’s excellent article The Movement of the Book Spine. Choosing the right combination of sewing supports, sewing structure, and spine linings can make a big difference in the resulting binding. We keep a selection of commercially-made linen cord on hand, but sometimes, when creating a new binding or replacing a damaged sewing support, they don’t quite meet the needs of the book. I decided to give Espinosa’s method a try.

The process starts off with a length of 18/3 Coats Barbour linen thread, tied together at the ends and doubled to create a length of four threads. I have stretched that piece over two needles in the image below to hopefully illustrate the starting configuration.

Pre-Cord Thread

I dampened the thread a bit to soften some of the sizing and make it more flexible. I needed something to hold one end firmly while the other was twisted, so I just looped one end over a wall-mounted cabinet door handle. Next I tightened a small screw hook into the chuck of a cordless drill. Drill with HookNow I just needed to figure out which direction to twist. Since the thread I was using has an “S” twist, the cord (or hawser-laid rope) would need have a “Z” twist. With one loop of the threads over the cabinet handle and the other over the hook of the drill, that meant it the drill should turn counter-clockwise (or in the “reverse” setting). Even going pretty slowly, I was able to wind approximately 3 feet of cord in about 10 seconds.

Cord Comparison

The result is about half the diameter of the smallest 4-ply cord we have on hand and frays out nicely. Using this method, one could create a custom cord to any specification simply by adjusting the thickness or number of strands of the starting thread.

Quick Pic: Hidden Writing

MssUV

Some recent acquisitions are in the lab this week for rehousing. We thought it would be interesting to peak at this small piece of illuminated parchment under ultraviolet light and a palimpsest became clearly visible.  You never know what information may be hidden under normal lighting! For more  examples, see previous posts on Preservation Underground and Bitstreams on multispectral imaging.

Tool Time: Lifting and Scraping

tooltime_banner2

Conservators can be a bit obsessive when it comes to hand tools. Not only must a tool be well suited to perform a specific task, but it must also be ergonomic. If a stock tool is not quite right for the job, I may modify it or just make the tool that I need from scratch. Making or adapting tools does not have to be time consuming or expensive, and some of my favorite tools are quite simple.

For example, I find myself doing a lot of lifting and scraping in my day-to-day work. Original binding material may need to be lifted or damaged paper may have small scarf tears that need to be manipulated. Scraping may be an effective method for mechanically removing accretions, desiccated adhesive, or old lining material. The following three examples are my favorite tools for these tasks, which I have either modified, fabricated, or purchased.

The Casselli 6 1/8″ micro-spatula is great for lifting very thin material, like paper. The size of the spatula ends and thin, flexible steel make it perfect for a lot of small tasks.

Casselli micro-spatula
Casselli micro-spatula

Two modifications have really improved the working properties of this tool for me: shaping the rounded edge and making the center handle thicker. I have left the pointy end of my spatula unmodified, but I added a single bevel to the rounded end with 3M micro-finishing film abrasive to make it more like a blade. This allows me to get the tool underneath very thin material. The unmodified octagonal handle is fine for quick work, but really becomes tiresome on the pads of my index finger and thumb after lengthy use. I used a common material known as Elastack (by Sutton Scientifics, Inc.) to increase the circumference of the handle and make it more comfortable to hold. Elastack is available in two levels of softness and is very quick to apply or re-wrap to adjust the shape of a tool.

The Casselli is not robust or sharp enough for lifting heavy material (such as leather), so for those tasks I will often switch to a lifting knife. I made this small lifting knife from a 1/2″ Starrett hacksaw blade a few years ago in a workshop with Jeff Peachey and use it just about every day.

Small lifting knife
Small lifting knife

The total time to make this tool was less than an hour and the material cost is quite low. After grinding the teeth off of the hacksaw blade and rough shaping the round edge using a belt sander, the final sharpening was done by hand. The handle is just thick horse butt leather cut to shape and adhered with PVA. Because the high-speed steel makes sharpening fairly quick, I find myself more likely to resharpen this knife than others in my collection made from harder steel.

A recent acquisition that I have been experimenting with lately is this micro-chisel made by Shanna Leino. With a bit of stropping, it is incredibly sharp and I find that it can do certain tasks better than a scalpel.

LeinoMicrochisel

One method of mechanically removing a solid, brittle accretion is to press a blade vertically, very close to the edge of the layer and break it off (Ashley-Smith, 1992, p. 30). Of course there are many variables to consider on whether this is a safe or effective method to employ, but in cases where I have been able to use it, the micro-chisel works wonders. I suspect that it will also come in handy the next time I am creating a model of a wooden board binding, particularly for shaping the sewing support channels.

I really enjoy experimenting with different hand tools and applying simple modifications to improve them. What is your favorite hand tool?


Ashley-Smith, J. (1992). Science for conservators: Volume 2 cleaning. London: Museums and Galleries Commission. 

Preservation Underground On Instagram

Our loyal followers will know that we contribute content to the Duke University Libraries Instagram page. Instagram allows us to post visual content quickly and is fun to use. It also reaches a different audience than our other social media sites.

Recently I’ve started using Instagram’s new video function to experiment with creating training videos. The app allows videos up to 15 seconds in length. It is a challenge to get your information across clearly and succinctly in such a short period, but not impossible. Mission accepted!

shelf
Using Instagram to record short training videos.

With the help of Amy at The Devil’s Tale, we created a short instructional on how to properly remove books from the shelf without harming the head caps or tearing a fragile spine. You can access that video here: http://instagram.com/p/juFiE6gw3q/

As a first attempt I think it works. The audio is a little faint, but then again we were in the middle of the stacks so I didn’t want to talk very loudly. I have some other topics to try. If it works, we may be able to move some of our care and handling training to an online version, which would catch more student assistants and new employees, especially those that work the late and weekend shifts.

If you are on Instagram, you can follow “dukelibraries” to see our posts. If you don’t use the app, you can find our posts on the Instagram website. There are a lot of libraries on Instagram, I encourage you to find and follow them. Are you using Instagram for your department? Let us know in the comments.

There’s An App For That

I am always on the hunt for useful tools. The other day I had a large number of books and I needed to record the bar codes and transfer them into an excel file. I don’t have a laptop at work, but I do have an iPad. I searched the app store and found “Bar-Code.” It looked like it would do what I needed so I downloaded it. Within a couple of minutes my project was underway.

First, I scanned each bar code with the iPad camera:

photo 1

Each bar code is scanned as an image and is transcribed on the right-hand column.

photo 2

When you are done, you have the choice of what to do with the data. I chose to email the list to myself so I could put it easily into an Excel file.

photo 3

Using this app beat writing down all the bar code numbers and retyping them into a spreadsheet when I got back to my office. It saved a lot of time. The free version, which I used, does not save the data once you email it. I believe the paid version of this particular app will allow you to save your data.

I think this app, or a similar one, could be very useful during a disaster situation when you needed to track items going offsite for freezing. You could scan each item going into a crate, then send each crate’s inventory to yourself as an email. I think I would make each crate a separate email in case the network or app crashed unexpectedly. I would hate to record hundreds of bar codes then have the network crash or an email not go through for some reason.

What apps have you found useful in your preservation or conservation duties and how have you used them? Please share ideas in the comments section.