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conservation stabilization and treatment of historical documents, such as humidification and flattening, surface cleaning, and mending tears;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.
On a recent rainy Saturday afternoon, eight Cadette-level Girl Scouts from three troops around Durham traveled to the Rubenstein Library on West Campus to complete the requirements for their book arts merit badge. The idea for this workshop was given to me by Todd Pattison, a conservator at the Northeast Document Conservation Center, who has been organizing a similar workshop with other Boston-area conservators for several years.
Staff from Conservation Services took turns leading instruction for three different book structures, including a single-section sewn pamphlet, a 4-hole stab binding, and a flag book. To streamline the instruction time, we had assembled kits ahead of time for each student. These included all the materials for each book, pre-cut to size, and the various tools that they would need. We also developed a few simple jigs to make some complicated tasks, like scoring accordion folds or marking sewing stations, a little easier.
As the scouts used simple hand tools to make each binding, they learned the names of each part of the book and how printed pages can be folded down and trimmed to make the book pages.
The highlight of the workshop was the time at the end, in which each girl could decorate her flag book with colored paper, stickers, and markers.
We used the occasion to tour the group around the building and talk about the mission and daily operations of a special collections library. We also brought them down to the conservation lab, so they could learn more about how our department supports the various libraries on campus and to see some of the specialized equipment that we use. This workshop provided a good outreach opportunity for an age group that we rarely see on a college campus. In addition to providing a welcoming introduction to special collections, hopefully the experience also brought some awareness to the possibilities of a career in librarianship or conservation.
Last month, Senior Conservator Erin Hammeke shared her treatment of a caoutchouc binding, which incorporated a clamshell enclosure with integrated cradle. There are many items in the collection that can benefit from an enclosure like this (henceforth referred to simply as a “cradle box”): books which require a restricted opening to reduce the risk of further damage, collection material that is used frequently, or items that are exhibited at library events outside the reading room. Our History of Medicine Collection has several items which meet these criteria and everyone in the lab was interested in learning how to make a cradle box. This week we dedicated a boxing day to this project, which served both as a training exercise and supports use of the collection.
While several variations on structure are described in publicly available resources (see the AIC Wiki), we decided to all just stick with Jeff Peachey’s design. The benefits to this design are that the cradle fits the book very well and is attached to the box, so you don’t have to worry about it being removed and getting lost. We could also rely on Erin’s previous experience and help each other through the more complicated steps!
Construction begins by measuring the book at the intended opening angles to determine the sizes of the individual parts of the cradle. As with measuring for exhibit cradles, it’s much easier to prop the boards up with cushioned weights before taking measurements.
Then those pieces are cut from Davey board…
… and covered in book cloth. The cradle is essentially constructed in two pieces, which are attached by a cloth spine piece. The image below shows the interior of one cradle side during covering (left), including the adhered ends of cloth tape that allow the user to lift up the cradle (right).
Once the cradle is complete, the book is placed inside and the entire sandwich is measured for the clamshell box. The box is constructed in the usual way, but the right side of the cradle is attached to the interior of the smaller tray near the spine.
It was a lot of fun to approach learning this enclosure design as a group. If one of us hit a roadblock or did not quite understand the next step in the instructions, we could all talk it through together. Over the course of the day, we developed new techniques for completing steps or learned from each other’s mistakes. And, more importantly, now six more books from the collection will have cradles with them wherever they go!
While we are always trying to maintain an awareness of new techniques and materials for conservation through the literature, sometimes it can take a while to experiment and actually put them to use. Recently, I have finally gotten around to trying my hand at making and applying cast acrylic films for book repair; a technique which I had originally seen presented by Grace Owen-Weiss and Sarah Reidell at the Library Collections Conservation Discussion Group of AIC back in 2010 (See the Book and Paper Group Annual Vol 29, p. 92). Using a silicone mold, a blend of acrylic gels, and a paper or textile support, one can employ this technique to create a thin, reversible repair material that matches both the color and texture of the object.
This bound serial came into the lab several months ago, exhibiting some splitting of the leather at the joints and corners. Luckily the boards were still firmly attached, so it just needed some minor, stabilizing repairs to reduce the potential for further damage or loss. There is a lot of variation in the color of the red leather, either from light damage (evident on the marbled paper on the back board), pollution, or handling, which gave me the opportunity to make several different samples of film to match the various colors.
Bookbinding leathers come in such a variety of grains and surface textures, so I started by making a silicone mold with two different grains. The brown leather on the left is a piece of goatskin from Harmatan, while the black piece on the right is actually fake leather from an old backpack. These were adhered to a piece of davey board, placed in the bottom of a bristol board tray, and then the 2-part mold material was poured over the top.
Interestingly enough, the fake leather grain was a better match for this book. After applying the acrylic mixture to the mold, a thin Japanese paper support is applied on top. After drying, the film can be peeled away from the mold. Sarah Reidell has a really wonderful bibliography on her website, where you can find step-by-step instructions for creating the acrylic films, so I won’t go into more detail here.
This technique produces a repair material that is quick and easy to apply, but visually blends much better than a toned Japanese paper repair. There are so many opportunities for experimentation using this technique, with the support materials, the application methods of the acrylics, and textures of the molds. I’m very excited to add this to our stable of techniques that we can employ here in the lab.
Every now and then we take some time to practice new techniques we learn at conferences and workshops. At the 2015 AIC Annual Conference, Erin learned how to use an airbrush and how it could be applied to conservation. Last week she showed us what she learned, and gave us all time to practice with the airbrush. Erin has experimented with tide line removal and tissue toning with the airbrush. We brainstormed other ways we could use this method, too, including consolidation and perhaps spot washing on the suction platen. Have you used an airbrush in your lab? Let us know in the comments how and to what effect.
This post is only slightly off topic, but it is preservation related of a kind. Our University Archivist and myself went over to Duke Hospital to take part in a compression-only CPR class today. This session focused on what to do if an adult or teenager collapses due to cardiac arrest.
We learned the proper way to apply compressions following the “three C’s.”
Check to see if the person is conscious
Call 911; and if there is an AED in your building, ask someone to get that, or get it yourself
Compressions at at least 100 beats per minute
If you need help keeping the 100 beats-per-minute rhythm, the American Heart Association has put together a Spotify list of music with the perfect beat to do CPR compressions. We also learned how to use an Automated External Defibrillator or AED, which led me to wonder if the library has one. I’ve sent an email to our building security manager to find out.
There is a very brief video by the American Heart Association that demonstrates the compression-only CPR technique.* You do not need to be certified to do this method of CPR, and it does not involve checking for a heart beat, sweeping the mouth, or providing breaths.
At the beginning of the class we were asked to share this information with eight people, and ask them to share as well. Consider yourself part of my eight people. Now go and share!
Colleagues from across the country came to the Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation lab for this event. We had people from California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, New York, Minnesota, and of course several from the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area (Duke, UNC Chapel Hill and the NC State Archives). Some work in university libraries and archives, others in private practice, and some in other types of organizations. It was a great mix of experiences and perspectives.
This workshop was geared toward mid-career conservators who already have a fundamental understanding of materials and solvents, experience in evaluating the condition of materials, and experience in making treatment decisions. The goal was to give paper and book conservators hands-on experience working with various historic and modern photographic processes and to get us more comfortable in doing so.
Gawain and Jennifer are very generous teachers. They use a good mix of demonstration, hands-on practicums and lectures to get the information across. We were also able to work with samples of actual photographs, which helped move theory into practice. We learned about removing silver mirroring, removing photos stuck to glass, attaching and removing heat set tissue, and various methods of mechanical and chemical surface cleaning. We also discussed disaster recovery, mold removal, humidifying and flattening, housing options, and general mending.
We participated because so much of our photographic collections are valued primarily for their informational content, not their artistic value (although that isn’t always the case). Therefore, they do not rise to the level that would trigger sending them out for treatment. Yet, some of our photos need more treatment than simply housing. I think we all came away with a better understanding of what we can do even though photographs are not are area of expertise.
What I value most about last week is the camaraderie of professionals learning from each other; meeting new colleagues and working with long-time friends; being treated professionally by people outside your specialty; learning skills that would otherwise be difficult to learn; and walking away knowing more about when you should and shouldn’t undertake treatment. I also enjoyed the parts that began with the caveat, “You would never do this with real objects, but watch what happens when you do!”
Last day of class and we are knee deep in attaching and removing various heat set tissues. We removed them mechanically with a variety of implements, and attempted to remove them chemically with varying success. I have a feeling some of these were successful only because they haven’t been sitting in an attic or outbuilding for 50 years. Maybe some artificial aging of the samples is in order.
Thanks to the Nasher Museum for lending us their heat set press. We wouldn’t have been able to do any of the last day without it.