In conservation there are so many different materials to learn about and each one has specific and unique properties that can impact how we approach a treatment. It’s impossible to know everything about every material. So any opportunity to cross-train or broaden a skillset can allow a conservator to better manage a wider range of objects.
About a year ago I had the opportunity to attend Sheila Siegler’s Parchment Conservation workshop offered by the International Preservation Studies Center. It was a weeklong intensive on the history and preparation of parchment, parchment identification, and various treatment techniques.
We often get items made from parchment in our lab and I was especially interested in learning more about treatment methods for this finicky material. In the workshop I learned new methods for flattening and drying and came back to the lab eager to put those new skills to use.
Last week I had the opportunity to pass on some of those skills to North Carolina Museum of HistoryObject Conservator Jennifer French. She had a parchment document in her collection in need of flattening and was looking for advice on how best to manage it. Our lab has previously collaborated with NC Museum of History when Textile Conservator Paige Myers visited our library to provide advice about a silk banner in our collection and we were happy to return the favor. I took a field trip over to Jenifer’s lab and we got to work.
The document was very cockled and uneven making it difficult to handle and house. Using a vapor chamber we created a high humidity environment to soften the parchment and ease out some of those wrinkles. While the parchment humidified we prepared our materials for drying. The humidification was a slow process so we had plenty of time to talk shop, sharing tips and tricks for an assortment of other treatments.
Once the parchment had been humidified for many hours the larger wrinkles were relaxed and it was much flatter already. We transferred the document to dry between felts and blotters under plenty of weight (those heavy conservation books come in handy).
A little over a week later Jennifer checked on the document and found it had flattened considerably. It still has some areas of minor undulation but it’s so much better, and more than good enough to be handled and rehoused.
For now the parchment will stay under weights until Jennifer and I meet up again to create an enclosure that will ensure the parchment stays safe and flat in the museum’s storage.
This kind of cross-institutional collaboration on projects was not only great fun but a rare opportunity for hands on information sharing and skill building. As conservators we get by with a little help from our friends.
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!
Today is the last day for Phebe Pankey, our HBCU Library Alliance/University of Delaware Winterthur intern. The past two months have flown by. We have thrown a whole semester’s worth (maybe more) of information at Phebe in eight weeks. She has learned a lot of new skills and has applied those skills to projects in the lab.
Some of the skills she has learned include:
Minor book repairs in the circulating collections
Minor paper repairs in support of the Section A digitization project
Custom enclosures including 4-flap boxes, corrugated clasmshell boxes, and CoLibri covers
Photographic and written conservation documentation
Selection for conservation for general and special collections
Disaster planning and recovery of bound books
Henry taught Phebe how to sew a Coptic binding. Isn’t her first book beautiful? Phebe completed 494 repairs and custom enclosures during her internship. She completed work for the general collections including Perkins Library, Music Library, and Lilly Library. She also completed 119 repairs for Rubenstein Library in support of our digitization project to scan the collections in “Section A.”
A big shout out to Kelly Wooten, Research Services and Collection Development Librarian in the Sallie Bingham Center, for hosting a show and tell of artist books. These really made an impression on Phebe, who is an art major. It’s great to see someone get inspired by our collections and our people.
We also scheduled tours all over the library and across the greater Raleigh-Durham-Greensboro areas. Some of these were:
Rubenstein Library stacks tour
Duke Libraries Technical Services tour
Duke Libraries Library Service Center tour
UNC Chapel Hill special and circulating conservation labs
NC State Archives conservation lab
Etherington Conservation Services
HF Group (commercial bindery)
NC State University Preservation Department
As we wrapped up this week we were lucky to have lunch with Miranda Clinton who is a student at NC Central University. She interned at the Library of Congress. We asked her to lunch to hear about her experience. Sounds like she had an amazing time there.
If you want to look back at some of the other work Phebe did, here are the blog posts:
Everyone in the lab helped Phebe learn new skills. Thanks to Erin Hammeke, Rachel Penniman, Mary Yordy, and Sara Neel for being so giving of your time and expertise. Thanks to everyone at Duke Libraries for being supportive of Phebe and generous with your time. Thank you to all the organizations that gave us tours. It’s always educational to see other labs and how they compare to ours. Thanks to the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation for awarding us a grant to help support this internship. And a big thank you to all the student interns who made the first year of this program successful. We can’t wait to see where you all go next.
As custodians of cultural heritage, we are always trying to learn more about the collections within our care. We see many leather bindings come through the lab for treatment that have been decorated in some way. Tooling of leather bindings can be quite complex, and it can be difficult to get a sense of the skill or time required to create those kinds of decorations without trying it for oneself. One afternoon this week, we all gathered together to learn some of the basic techniques for blind and gold tooling by hand.
At the most basic level, tooling is accomplished by pressing a heated metal tool into a dampened leather surface. Only a few pieces of equipment are required: brass tools set in wooden handles, a heat source, a cooling pad, a sponge, and suede for cleaning the face of the tool. The process is not complicated, but there are a lot of variables to consider and it takes a great deal of practice to get the right results.
After a short demonstration of making simple lines, everyone got to try it themselves on plaquettes (small pieces of binder’s board, covered in vegetable tanned goatskin). Most of us drew inspiration from the common decorative styles from the 18th century book trade, making concentric panel designs with tooled flowers at the corners.
With some blind lines in place, we each tried some gilding. A shellac-based solution called “fixor” is painted into the tooled lines and allowed to dry. Then, working on a leather cushion, sheets of gold leaf are cut down to size.
If all the previous steps in the process were done correctly, the gold sticks in place and looks very clear and bright. If it doesn’t go so well – then you just start over and try it again.
Becoming proficient at finishing takes many thousands of hours of practice, so we couldn’t really develop much skill in just a few hours. But there is something valuable in just trying a craft for oneself. Not only can you learn more about the kinds of marks or characteristic changes that occur when it all goes wrong, but you develop a deeper appreciation for craft done well.
As part of her 8 week summer internship, we’ve been trying to give Phebe some experience in the different kinds of collections care activities that Conservation Services regularly undertakes. This week, we took a break from enclosures and treatments to talk about collection assessment.
The Rubenstein Library holds a collection of papers from Bobbye S. Ortiz, which includes several folders of eye-catching 20th century activism posters from around the world. This collection has seen increased use recently from undergraduate classes and exhibits. As parts of the collection have been called down to the reading room, we have become aware of some condition and housing issues. This seemed like a good opportunity to both introduce condition assessments and prioritize the needs of an increasingly popular set of library materials.
After talking through the kinds of data that we would need to collect in order to develop treatment workflows for the collection, we built an assessment tool using Google Forms. The form feeds data into a shared spreadsheet with each submission. We have found entering information into a form to be a little more user-friendly for an item level assessment than trying to directly fill in a row on a spreadsheet. It also allows us to easily make use of controlled vocabulary, so that the data can be effectively sorted later.
With our assessment instrument in-hand, we gave it a test run through 15 or so of the posters in the collection. As part of this process, we could go through each question in-depth, and show specific examples of object characteristics that we intended to capture with the form. Pretty quickly we realized that we needed to add a field or change the format of fields, but the tool makes that very easy to do.
There are over 100 posters in this collection, but Phebe has been making good progress over the last couple of days. When the assessment is complete, we can coordinate with the curators and Rubenstein staff to plan systematic rehousing or conservation treatment for the items that need some sort of intervention.
We collectively realized yesterday that we are close to hitting the half-way point of our first HBCU Library Alliance Summer Internship. How did that happen so quickly? I guess time flies when you are having fun!
In the last few weeks, we have continued introducing our intern, Phebe, to common materials and repair techniques that we use to maintain library and archives collections. For example, she has been contributing to the digitization prep workflow by dry cleaning manuscripts and performing simple paper mends with Japanese paper and wheat starch paste, as well as heat-activated, pre-coated Japanese papers that we make in-house.
We have spent some time outside of the lab, touring different library departments in order to show how conservation supports wider library initiatives. Touring the Digital Production Center and speaking with the staff has helped to put the digitization prep workflow into better context. Winston Atkins, our Preservation Officer, also came by this week to give an overview of collections care activities, like environmental monitoring, integrated pest management, and disaster planning and response.
With so many great cultural institutions in the Triangle, we have been able to introduce Phebe and our new staff member Sara to a number of other conservators in the area. In addition to visiting the special collections conservation lab at UNC-Chapel Hill, we organized an informal conservator meet up here in Durham. Our colleagues in the area work with very different collections, such as museum objects, paintings, and musical instruments. We don’t get to see them as much as we would like, so this was a great excuse for everyone to gather together.
This week the Conservation Services Department was joined by our first ever HBCU Library Alliance Summer intern, Phebe Pankey! Duke is one of five library conservation labs participating in this program to host an eight-week internship in preservation and conservation this summer.
Phebe is a junior at Winston Salem State University and has been involved in libraries most of her life through volunteering and community activities. She is excited to learn more about conservation and this internship is a way to continue developing and expanding her library skills.
Phebe has jumped right into the lab workflows, learning to construct some of the quicker enclosures like CoLibri sleeves and 4-flap boxes. She has also been gaining experience with basic paper treatments, like humidification and flattening.
At the conclusion of the eight weeks, interns are expected to take some of the skills they have learned back to their home institution to implement a library preservation project, building on the success of their summer experiences with an opportunity to perform meaningful work preserving significant HBCU library collections at their institution.
These internships would not have been possible without the help of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the University of Delaware College of Arts and Science, the Department of Art Conservation at the University of Delaware, and the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library (DE). Thanks also to Debbie Hess Norris and Melissa Tedone at the University of Delaware. We also wish to thank the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation for supporting this internship.
We will continue sharing more about this internship as it progresses, but for now: Welcome to Duke, Phebe!
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.
HBCU undergraduate students interested in the humanities, arts, and sciences will have the opportunity to learn and practice hands-on library preservation skills during this full-time, eight week internship under the mentorship of professional conservators and library staff at a host site. Successful internship candidates will demonstrate a strong interest in libraries and archives and an attention to detail, as well as interest and academic success in history, the arts, and/or the sciences.
Interns will work on a range of possible projects, including:
surveying the condition of library collection materials;
conservation stabilization and treatment of historical documents, such as humidification and flattening, surface cleaning, and mending tears;
environmental monitoring; and/or
constructing custom storage enclosures for fragile archival materials.
Interns will then use their new expertise to implement a library preservation project designed in collaboration with their mentor and their home institution’s library staff, building on the success of their summer experiences with an opportunity to perform meaningful work preserving significant HBCU library collections at their institution.
The five (5) participating host sites are:
American Philosophical Society Library
The American Philosophical Society Library is a national center for research in the history of the sciences, early American history, and Native American ethnography and linguistics. The Conservation Department provides complete collection care, ranging from preventive care to single-item treatment, for all books, manuscripts, photographs, and works on paper and parchment held by the Library – numbering 350,000 bound volumes , 13 million manuscript pages, and 250,000 images.
Duke University Libraries, Durham, NC
Duke University Libraries (DUL) is committed to diversity in its patron communities, services, collections, staff and spaces. One of its guiding principles is to build, maintain, and provide access to an international and multilingual collection, representing the broadest possible spectrum of cultures, ideas, and information. Significant collections include the University Archives, the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture, the Human Rights Archives, and the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History & Culture. The core mission of the Conservation Services Department is to ensure that library materials can be used by patrons both now and in the future.
The Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin, TX
The Ransom Center is an internationally renowned humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin. Its extensive collections provide unique insight into the creative process of writers and artists, deepening our understanding and appreciation of literature, photography, film, art, and the performing arts. The Center’s Preservation and Conservation Division provides a full range of preventive and conservation treatment options for the long-term care of its collections.
Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, Wilmington, DE
Winterthur Library collections promote the interdisciplinary study of American material culture, including art, architecture, decorative arts, and everyday life, dating from colonial times into the twentieth century. Its resources include printed books and serials; trade and auction catalogs; manuscripts, diaries, letter books, and family papers of artists, craftspeople, and merchants; design and architectural drawings; historic photographs; printed ephemera; a large collections of modern photographs; and institutional archives. Winterthur’s Library Conservation Lab is located within a larger Conservation Department with additional specialties in paintings, textiles, objects, furniture, works of art on paper, and scientific research and analytics.
Yale University Library, New Haven, CT
The Gates Conservation Laboratory at the Yale University Library opened in the fall of 2015 and is home to the conservation and exhibitions services program for the Yale Library’s collection of 14 million books, manuscripts, archival documents, photographs and artifacts, held in 16 libraries or collections on campus. The lab is staffed by a team of four conservators, four technicians, and one exhibits program manager, who provide expertise in book, parchment, paper and photograph conservation for both circulating materials and rare, special collections. The collections of the Library, especially those of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, document much of the human record, from Egyptian papyri to early Civil War photographs, and archives of writers, artists, and musicians of the Harlem Renaissance to those of student organizations on the Yale campus.
Loyal readers will remember that back in the spring Henry organized a workshop designed to meet the Girl Scouts Cadet Book Artist Badge. We presented another workshop last week with Henry as instructor and Beth helping out. Henry demonstrated three bindings: Pamphlet stitch, 4-hole stabbed binding, and a flag book. He also presented a brief overview of the library and of conservation.
We had a lot of creative young women in this class. When one of them brought out their own glue-gun, we knew we were going to see some wonderful things. We weren’t disappointed. We want to thank troop leader Astria Wilson from Duke Hematologic Malignancies & Cell Therapy for the opportunity to spend the day sharing our love of bookbinding.