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FY2021: By The Numbers

It’s annual statistics time! As you can imagine Covid-19 influenced our stats for this year.  I don’t think any of us anticipated we would spend the first few months of the fiscal year working exclusively from home, and when we did return it was on a staggered schedule to avoid too many people in the lab at the same time.  That said, we did get a lot done. While treatment numbers are down as expected, we did get a lot of training, conference attendance, and administrative work done from home.

FY2021 Statistics

409 Book repairs
503 Pamphlet bindings
0 Treatments: Other (objects, textiles, etc.)
410  Flat Paper repairs
1,293 Protective enclosures
300  Disaster recovery
2 Exhibit mounts
48 Hours in support of Exhibits (meetings, treatment, installation, etc.)
443 Digital preparation repairs
23.25 Hours in support of Digital Projects (meetings, consultations, handling, etc.)

41 % of production was for Special Collections
59 % of production was for Circulating Collections

62.2% of work was Level 1 [less than 15 minutes to complete;  1813 items]
34.2% of work was Level 2 [15 minutes – 2 hours to complete;  998 items]
3.2% of work was Level 3 [2 – 5 hours to complete;  94 items]
0.3% of work was Level 4 [more than 5 hours; 10 items]

This is the first year that we added a Level 4 treatment (5+ hours). This differs from the old ARL/ALA Preservation Statistics where Level 3 (3+ hours) was the longest hourly bucket you could put treatments into. We felt this didn’t give us enough of an idea of how very lengthy treatments fit in to our overall output.

Creating custom enclosures has always been a large percentage of our yearly output. This year the total percentage of work that were enclosures was 44%, very close to the historical percent average. With the Lilly Renovation Project ramping up again, we expect to see larger numbers in this category for the next couple of years.

Other Things We Did Last Year

It Takes a Village to Clean the Floors

This week was a very busy week in Conservation. We had the floors cleaned and sealed. “Easy enough,” you say? It literally took one week, a moving company, the flooring company, Facilities, Housekeeping, Facilities and Distribution Services, and of course a lot of work from Conservation staff.

Phase 1: Move half of all the things!

Before the equipment could be moved, lab staff had to shift all the books onto carts, label all the equipment and furniture, move sensitive equipment like the encapsulator, etc. Once that was done, the movers came and shifted half the lab to one end.

Half the lab is moved to allow for cleaning.

The fun part was uncovering the floors that have never seen light. This is what the cork looked like when it was installed in 2008!

The darker cork is not stained. The lighter color is from light exposure over the years.

Even with the light differences you can really see how the cleaning and sealing has improved the look of the floors. They feel so much better, too.

The cleaned and sealed floor (top of image) and the floor before cleaning (bottom of image).
Phase 2: Move all the things to the other side of the room!

Once the first half of the cork floors were cleaned, all the furniture and equipment had to move to the opposite side of the room.  We decided not to move heavy things like the two board shears and the flat files.

The board shear stands alone awaiting the floor cleaning.

Mid-week we helped move some paintings. We also worked on several projects that were not located in the lab including some work for the Lilly renovation  and helping in Technical Services with some boxing.

On the move.
Phase 3: Move all the things back, then move some more things!

Lastly, the floors in the store room and photo documentation room got cleaned. To facilitate that work we moved what we could out of those rooms into the lab.

Carefully moving furniture onto the newly cleaned floors.

Those floors are now nicely cleaned thanks to Housekeeping. They have never looked this shiny even when they were new!

Look how shiny it is! Let’s not walk on them yet.

We are so happy to have this work done. We know it took a lot of coordination and time, and the disruption was real for all the departments involved. Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen!

 

 

Quick Pic: Exhibits Incoming!

Despite the library (and campus in general) feeling very quiet and empty this past year, there has actually been a lot going on. Library exhibits are no exception and there are currently two really wonderful shows up and available by appointment in the building. Plans are already underway for bigger and more exciting events in the fall. This very large and sturdy crate containing a loan for an upcoming show just arrived this week.  Stay tuned for more details!

Quick Pic: So Many Sticky Notes

We have all seen sticky notes peeking out the edge of bindings. I have to say, I’ve never seen them put completely inside a book. It’s almost like they didn’t want to use a pen, pencil, or highlighter. Thanks for that at least.

So. Many. Sticky notes. Luckily this paper isn’t very brittle or this would be much worse.

A plea from the underground, if you put sticky notes in a library book, kindly remove them so the next patron can read without distraction.

Mondays Are Hard Enough

You know the feeling when you get to work on a Monday intending to get stuff done because last week was one of those weeks? You get your tea, settle in, open your email…

library shelving under a ceiling leak
At least it was a slow drip.

So much for that morning to-do list…

books on a shelf with water dripping on them
Drip. Drip. Drip.

As disasters go we were lucky. This HVAC joint must have slow-dripped all weekend, or at least a portion of it. Some items were soaking wet, but most were damp or even dry.

Jovana sorting wet books
Jovana sorts the dry, damp, and very wet books.

We removed 157 books from the shelf for evaluation, 23 were wet or damp. We were able to set out 18 of these to air dry in the fume hood (remember the wiggle!). Five went into the freezer.

books drying in the fume hood
Books drying in the fume hood. A few went to the freezer.

The books in the fume hood were dry enough to put into the press on Tuesday. The items in the freezer will be monitored for the next few weeks. When they (and we) are ready to dry, we will get those done and back to the shelf.

Access and Delivery Services, Security and Facility Services, Stacks Maintenance and Retrieval, Duke Housekeeping, and Duke Facilities, all helped with this small water event. We appreciate having so many eyes and hands to help!

Sewing Models: Pandemic Edition

By Mary Yordy, Senior Conservation Technician

At the beginning of the quarantine, practical arrangements to retain connectivity to my desktop at work and forge other forms of digital connectivity with my workplace kept me busy. I researched questions about surface contamination of books and paper, I cleared out and organized files and reviewed hundreds of informative links and tutorials I’d neglected to study in my usual routine, wherein I’m juggling the day-to-day demands of my bench work against the influx of digital resources. But weeks became months, and I am used to seeing the results of a day’s work mounting up in the book press or filling shelves. Though I was diligent in my hours at home, after around six weeks I needed to produce something tangible, and I wanted it to be relevant to the life of the lab.

Work runs along a fulcrum from past to future that is understood collectively and concretely. Without that, it’s hard not to suspect we have become shadow boxers. How do we create assets for a post-epidemic future we cannot fully know? How do we make decisions about value and use without knowing what the future holds or when it will start? Luckily for me, the perfect project appeared under my fingertips late one night, going through my files at home: “Sewing Samples–2006.” Preserved within it were the beginnings of a project that related to the early history of the lab, one had the potential to provide knowledge to future workers in our craft.

The file held a collection of cards made during one of the early in-house workshops Beth Doyle taught for the three technicians on staff at the time: me, Rachel Ingold, and Diane Sutton. Beth taught us basic and more complex sewing methods, stitches and knots used in bookbinding. Recalling that day, sitting around an old library table in the 2006 lab, threw the impressive developmental span of Duke Library Conservation in sharp relief.

Sewing sample cover

In addition to the samples sewn that day on index cards, there was a nearly complete set of the stitches sewn onto black paper folia in the folder. I had never completed this more advanced solo project based on Beth’s original workshop. The idea was to make something visually appealing, complete, and inclusive of additional visual information to orient a beginner to the application of the stitch in 3-dimensional structures.

Left side fully open according fold sewing sample book.

 

Inside front cover with stab binding and other sewing samples.

 

Stab binding cards.

Stitch sample cards made in the course of workshops work well as memory prompts for people who have already learned them. However, for beginners, the flattening of the sewing process onto a card and the need to infer structural information can make them a little baffling. I had come across this file once or twice before and verified that it was a worthy goal.  But mid-quarantine, the project felt like more than that: it was like an arc from the beginnings of the lab, through this time of mass uncertainty, to the future gaze of someone beginning to learn bookbinding.

Caterpillar sample card.

 

I finished sewing all of the samples on the face of black folia, located other visual information needed to design inserts for each folio, and built a gate-format accordion album in a hard case to hold them all.  There are 8 spaces on the back of the fold outs so additional samples can be added–there are always more stitches to learn.

Caterpillar sample card (inside).

Digital Project Prep in the Time of Quarantine

Like many other libraries we are pushing to get as much material digitized and online for fall term instruction as possible. Conservation, however, is not yet back on site but our services are still needed. I came in this week to work on some items that needed humidifying and flattening, and to do some quick repairs to get these camera ready.

removing rusty staples
Removing rusty staples.

This collection had a lot of rusty staples that needed removal.

testing media
Testing solubility of media.

There are several Western Union telegrams and other correspondence that were crumpled and torn that are too fragile for imaging. These had a variety of media that looked suspect including early mimeographs, stamp ink, copy pencil, and other writing inks. These were tested prior to humidification.

humidifying crumpled paper
Humidifying chambers.

Even though the media was somewhat sensitive to water it felt OK to humidify these as long as I kept watch over them to make sure there was no media migration. I started with one telegram to see how it responded to humidification. When that went well the remaining items were put into the chamber for a few hours to relax. They were then dried under felts overnight.

Since these were very modern materials we decided to use our home-made heat set tissue for the repairs. These were stabilized and sent over to the Digital Production Center for imaging today.

It feels good to be working in the lab again, although a bit strange to be here with no one else around. Hopefully soon it will be safe enough to bring more of the Conservation staff back to the lab. Until then we will have to see each other in Zoom.

zoom tip
Zoom tip: Create a face near the camera to talk to so you don’t stare at yourself all of the time.

We Call Them “Naked Bindings”

It’s #WorldBookDay today and we are highlighting some books that have come through recently from Technical Services.

There seems to be a new trend in publisher’s bindings: the exposed-spine binding. We call them “naked bindings” because they lack part of their cover. There’s even a subject heading for this kind of binding called “Backless Bindings (binding).”

Born naked…not ready for the shelf.
Similarities and Differences

There are a few things they have in common:

  • Folded signatures
  • Sewn-through-the-fold
  • Adhesive layer on spine
  • Very flexible spine, opens flat

Variations include:

  • Papers are either calendered or not
  • Thread color can be single color or multi-color
  • Adhesive layer can be very thin (almost invisible) to very thick; sometimes unevenly applied
  • Covers are commonly chip board or binders board, but some are a heavy paper much like a paperback.
  • Cover attachments seem to be either tipped onto the first and last flyleaf, or a doublure attachment. Occasionally you find one that has a doublure with a sewn-on binders-board cover (this must be the “Mercedes of Exposed Spine Bindings”)

One commonality: these are very weak bindings especially those with tipped-on covers, loose sewing, and unevenly applied adhesive.

The Best of the Bunch

It feels like publishers and/or authors simply choose this style of binding because it feels edgy.  But when this style of binding is chosen thoughtfully, it can really work. The best of this batch has to be “Hilos Libres: el textil y sus raíces prehispánicas, 1954-2017 = free threads : textile and its pre-Hispanic roots, 1954-2017” by Sheila Hicks. This books was, “Published on the occasion of the exhibition held at Museo Amparo, Puebla, from November 4th, 2017-April 2nd, 2018.”

Why does this binding work for this book? The book is about a textile exhibit. The exposed threads, multi-colored thread choice, and loose threads on the front cover all relate in some way to the textiles highlighted in the text block and textile artistry.

Nice thread choice.

 

Lovely loose ends on the front cover.

 

Happy little sewing in the middle of a section.

The covers are fully adhered to a doublure, and that section is sewn onto the textblock. This creates a very stable and secure cover attachment. Overall it is a solid binding whose design connects to the contents of the book.

Straight Out of Coptic

These are obviously machine-sewn edition bindings but they hark back in my head to Coptic bindings with a nod towards the Sewn Board Binding originally designed by Gary Frost (which itself gives nod to Coptic bindings).

Coptic binding models.

These exposed spine bindings lay really flat because they don’t have all those pesky spine linings to control the opening. They are very vulnerable to rough handling because the binding has no protection and the board attachment is really weak.

Everyone Gets an Enclosure

This group of “Backless bindings” will have custom four-flaps created to protect the bindings. If these were special collections items we might consider a “peekaboo” box that allows the spine to be seen on the shelf. But since these are in the circulating collections, we will give them a standard four-flap enclosure or corrugated clamshell box. These provide a bit more protection from handing and reduce light exposure.

Happy #worldbookday everybody!

Look it Up! The Encyclopedia Britannica 11th Edition

By Mary Yordy, Senior Conservation Technician

Encyclopedia Britannica Eleventh Edition adverstisement
1913 advertisement for the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition from Penny’s Poetry Pages.

Unlike millions of old reference works in declining bindings, the 11th Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, published in 1910, has a following. Veneration of this edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica spans beyond libraries and the antiquarian book trade into popular culture.  A. J. Jacobs writes about it in his book The Know-It-All, and Hans Koning, powerhouse of New Left thought, published an eloquent meditation on the world view reflected in its pages. It is discussed as THE GREAT 11th EDITION, listed alongside the works of Heidegger, Camus, and Fukuyama as one of the 100 most important non-fiction works of the 20th Century. Two websites are devoted to 11th Edition fandom. There is even a fingernail polish.

People who praise the 11th Edition Encyclopedia Britannica point to the illustriousness of the contributors, the profusion of beautifully written biographical entries with odd, sometimes questionable details (Pedro I of Portugal disinterred his dead mistress and placed her remains on the throne of the queen, Potemkin died “…in consequence of eating a whole goose in one sitting,” etc., etc…) or the detailed, illustrated accounts of manufactures, engineering, and natural history. But the veneration of this work is more diffuse and more adoring than these particularities account for. Hans Koning writes:

“The world of the Eleventh Edition was at the zenith of those ‘encyclopedic’ prerequisites, rationality and positivism. All of humanity appeared to be on the threshold of being totally understood, described, improved, and then perfected, through the logic of Anglo-American institutions and thought…it was the high point of the Enlightenment, doomed to end when the lamps went out all over Europe in the fatal summer of 1914.”

Page on bookbinding from Encyclopedia Bryitannica
Our favorite Encyclopedia Britannica chapter.

Kelly Lawton of Lilly Library had come across a single volume I repaired in the early 2000’s and asked Beth Doyle if it could be used as a model for repair of the remaining numbers in their original bindings. This repair had retained the section sewing and the boards but replaced the badly degraded leather spine and heavy, brittle end sheets. My goal had been to make it robust enough to be handled as part of the circulating collection without unduly sacrificing original components. Fortunately, the technician, the end sheet paper and the black book cloth involved in the process that produced that successful repair were still available to create a matched set.

Within the week a large bin arrived and the project began. I used a combination of poulticing and manual manipulation to remove the degraded leather on the spines and the pastedowns on the inside of the covers. This was perhaps the biggest mess I have ever made in the lab, and required a thorough cleaning of tools and work surfaces each night.  There were piles of degraded leather crumbles and dust, globs and slurries of poultice, all haunted by the distinctive odor of old animal hide adhesive. Poultices had to be watched closely because some of the remaining leather glued to the back still contained green pigment that jeopardized the section backs of sheer white ‘India paper.’

Books repaired and boxed, ready for quality control.
Repaired and new housings…ready for shelf.

 

repapaired Encyclopedia
Repaired and ready for its next reader.

Once all 14 volumes were clean, backed and fitted with new end sheets, I reused the original embossed covers in a case structure and filled my press with the newly cased Encyclopedia Britannica volumes.