Category Archives: Uncategorized

When the Paper is too Nice

There’s something special about a book made with handmade paper. You don’t come across it too often in general collections, but, when you do, you want to take extra good care of it. This week a beautiful example of this arrived at the lab in the form of The Poems of Sappho, printed in 1910. As you can see in the images below, the book was in rather rough shape. I could tell it would be the perfect candidate for a new case. This means I would need to make new covers for this book.

Upon opening it, I immediately noticed the lovely deckled edges of the paper and what appeared to be a watermark.

A watermark is an image or design that is impressed into the paper during the papermaking process. This is easier to see when you hold the paper up to a light like so.

The main purpose of a watermark is to identify the papermaker; however, this watermark goes even further and tells us where the paper was made as well. In this case, the paper was handmade in Italy by a group called “The PM co”, which could possibly refer to The Paper Mills Company.

Saving this paper and the vital information on it is going to be my priority as I treat this book. This should be relatively straightforward, but what happens when two of these pages have been glued to the covers?

Preserving the Paper

When the book was bound, the pastedowns were made with the first and last sheet of the textblock of the book rather than using a separate decorative paper.

In order to make a new case for a book, I have to remove the old covers.  I must lift the original handmade paper from the front and back boards to retain it. This can be done by taking an exceptionally thin metal spatula and running it back and forth under the paper to loosen and separate the paper from the covers.

This can be a tricky and time-consuming process if the paper is old and brittle, or if the paper is well adhered to the covers and doesn’t want to come off. Luckily, both pages cooperated with me and I managed to remove the covers without damaging the paper.

A lot of the original board material had to be lifted along with the paper, so the next step is to remove that material from the pages. Leaving it on would make it nearly impossible to neatly reattach the pastedowns when I made a new case for this book. So, I removed as much as I could mechanically before moving onto the rest of the treatment.

With the brand-new case complete, the book and it’s handmade paper are better protected and ready to be handled.

Makers and Fixers All Over Campus

Staff from the Conservation Lab were featured in a very nice piece on Duke Today about the various repair shops around campus: https://today.duke.edu/2022/08/fixers-anything-duke

It’s a really wonderful peek into some of the extremely specialized work that goes into supporting buildings, collections, and services at Duke. Some of the facilities maintenance is more visible in the summer, when classes are out and campus is a little less crowded- but it is nice to read about the different types of skilled labor that are happening behind the scenes. We appreciate the opportunity to share!

Preservation Week 2022 Is Here!

There is so much great programming this week as we celebrate Preservation Week 2022. We are rounding up some of the notices we have seen, if you have an event you would like to share, please add it in the comments.

ALA Preservation Week has two scheduled webinars this week that are free to attend:
  • “How to Implement Sustainability in your Facility” on April 26th at 1-2pm Central Time. “In a time when sustainability and saving energy is imperative to slowing down climate change, institutions and organizations must become more aggressive when it comes to saving energy. There are a number of sustainable energy saving strategies that collecting institutions can implement, however, these strategies require knowledge of the facility that houses the collection as well as a strong data monitoring program. “
  • “Digital Preservation’s Impact on the Environment” on April 28th at 1-2pm Central Time. “Digital content is created and collected by everyone, not just libraries and archives. Keeping digital content viable requires not only energy use, but also refreshing the digital storage media and technologies. This webinar will explore the energy consumption and e-waste generated in current preservation infrastructures and actions, and review the environmental impact embodied in the full lifecycle of these infrastructures. It will include recommendations for actions and policies to mitigate digital preservation’s impact on the environment.”
  • Follow ALA Preservation Week on Instagram and tag your posts  #PreservationWeek22
  • Check out ALA’s Preservation Week resource page. 
The Library of Congress has an awesome lineup of free webinars this week.
  • Fragments, Discovery and Creating Knowledge Using state-of-the-art, non-invasive examination techniques, Preservation Research and Testing Division (PRTD) staff are collaborating with other library staff to learn more from the material/physical aspects of the Library’s collections. PRTD has been taking non-invasive portable instruments to special collection reading rooms to work with curators and to add value to our collections by answering curatorial and researcher questions. Working with Marianna Stell in Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC) we have been exploring 12th to 16th century parchment “fragments” to expand our understanding of historic parchment and inks. Additionally, we are also looking at contemporary paper and inks as we work to better understand “at-risk” components of modern collections.
    Monday April 25, 11am. Speaker: Dr. Fenella France, Chief, Preservation Research and Testing Division
    Register Here!
  • Preserving the Legacy of Robert Cornelius and Other Daguerreotypes in the Prints & Photographs Division Daguerreotypes are amongst the earliest photographic records and the Library holds over 800 of these images, including the iconic daguerreotype self-portrait of Robert Cornelius made in October or November of 1839. Ms. Wetzel will provide a brief history of the development of the daguerreotype, an introduction to the work of Robert Cornelius, and explain how her research project on this subject has led to a recent acquisition and generated the current focused effort to preserve the daguerreotypes at the Library.
    Tuesday April 26, 11am. Speaker: Rachel Wetzel, Senior Photograph Conservator
    Register Here!
  • Preservation Digitization Program OverviewThe Preservation Services Division performs a wide variety of reformatting including brittle books, foreign newspaper digitization, as well as tangible media capture and forensics. This presentation will include a brief discussion of each reformatting, plus a sample of online collections.
    Wednesday April 27, 11am. Speaker: Aaron Chaletzky, Head, Reformatting Projects Section
    Register Here!
  • Moving Collections to an Off-Site Facility: Key Things to Keep In Mind This presentation will provide a top level overview of the issues to keep in mind if a library decides to move a portion of their collections to an offsite facility. Key topics include selection of materials for transfer, identification of the offsite facility, shelving schemas, transportation of materials, retrievals and governance policies.
    Thursday April 28, 11am. Speaker: Cathy Martyniak, Chief, Collection Management Division
    Register Here!
  • Fiscal and Organizational Sustainability for Preservation Programs Hear how the Library of Congress Preservation Directorate plans for and maintains its preservation programs. These include a series of reorganizations, completed in 2017 and 2021, and an ongoing series of cost studies. These studies examine total costs of major service areas and support scenario planning around pay and non-pay activities. These combined efforts help to make sure the Preservation Directorate will be able to respond to changes: in immediate requirements and across strategic planning cycles, while making progress on long-term and large-scale preservation needs.
    Friday April 29, 11am. Speaker: Jacob Nadal, Director for Preservation
    Register Here!
Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts
  • “You Don’t Have to be Special to Use Special Collections” is on April 26th at 2pm Eastern Daylight Time.  What can archives and special collections offer an “unaffiliated” and curious public? Join us for a webinar with Independent Historian and Writer Lucie Levine, for a discussion on how any interested person might make use of collections.
Newburyport Public Library 
  • The Library put together two online videos discussing preserving personal collections. These are “Archival Supplies and Storage” and “Archival Storage and Handling Tips.”
Yale University Libraries Preservation Department
  • Need a LibGuide for Preservation Week. Here it is. The “Stressed about pests” looks really good.
Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission (RIHPHC) and the Rhode Island Advisory Commission on Historical Cemeteries
  • RI Historical Cemeteries Awareness and Preservation Weeks programming is free but filling fast. Learn about historic cemeteries or volunteer for a cleanup. There are plenty events to sign up for, check out their calendar.

Books Can be Deceiving

As someone who repairs books for a living, the idiom “don’t judge a book by its cover” can have a much more literal meaning than expected. I’m regularly encountering books that seem to need only one kind treatment from the outside, but then have more problems than I realized on the inside. This can be a bit frustrating when you’ve mentally prepared yourself for one kind of project and instead find yourself tackling more than you had planned for. Even so, it is especially satisfying to finish a treatment on a book that you felt was going to be complicated. In today’s blog, I’ll be sharing my most recent encounter with a book that I misjudged.

The Problem

The Perkins Library has a great number of collections of Arabic books like the ones you see below.

These books are especially striking due to the eye-catching uniformity of their spines. Outside of how aesthetically pleasing they are, there is an added benefit to the fact that all the books are identical in design. Take a look at this collection of books below. Do any of them look different than the rest?

If you happened to notice the fourth book from the left in particular, then you can see what I meant earlier by “an added benefit”. Thanks to the collections precise design, it’s all the more obvious when something isn’t quite right.

In this case, this poor book seems to have been crushed under something as well as torn along the spine. We certainly can’t leave the book to be handled by patrons in this state, so back to the lab it goes.

At this point, I had assumed the only problem I was dealing with was the crushed spine of the covers/textblock. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t realize that this book had been through more than just some extreme pressure. Right as you open the book to its title page, you’re greeted by discolored paper and some significant black speckling. The spotting continues a good 20 or so pages.

These are the tell-tale signs that not only did the book get wet at some point, but mold had made itself at home here as well.

Now, luckily this isn’t a terrible amount of mold to be dealing with. However, it does mean I have to add several more steps to my treatment before I can tackle the original issue of the crushed spine.

The Solution

Let’s say there hadn’t been any mold in this book. What would my treatment have looked like?

First, I would remove the covers so I could assess the damage done to the spine of the textblock. Once I had addressed that, I would prepare the textblock as I normally would for a recase. Finally, I would repair the covers by making a new spine piece to replace the damaged one, and reattached the textblock to the case.

Now, I will have to remove all of the mold first before I can start anything else.

Based on the dry and powdery consistency of the mold, I can tell that it is no longer active and can be safely cleaned by hand. To do so, I used a soot sponge to manually clean the mold and debris off of every page.

You can see the immediate difference before and after using the sponge on the old mold, both on the pages and the sponge itself.

The soot sponge is mostly likely also picking up dirt and dust on the pages as well, but regardless it’s clear the book needed a good cleaning.

Now that the textblock is free of the residual mold, I can finally get to the treatment I had planned at the start. This book will be back on the shelves and ready for patrons in no time!

Stapled Instead of Sewn

When you look at how books are generally made, you’ll find that a majority of them are either sewn with thread, glued together as individual sheets, or occasionally bound with a combination of sewing and commercial glue.

On rarer occasions, a book will be stapled together. As luck would have it, one of these books recently came across my bench in need of a new cover. At first glance, you can’t immediately tell the difference between a stapled book and a sewn book.

It’s not until you open the book up and look at the gutter of one of the signatures that you might be able to see whether the book is stapled or not.

An opened book revealing the gutter of the pages where a staple can be seen.

It’s even easier once you’ve taken the cover off and can look directly at the spine of the textblock. As you can see in the images below, there are staples running through a significant portion of the signatures of this book.

Now, in a perfect world where I have all the time and patience I could want, I might remove the staples, mend any damage to the signatures in the process, sew the book back together, and then make a new cover. In this case, such an approach would be too labor intensive and time consuming. As the only senior conservation technician charged with maintaining the general collections, I cannot devote that much time to one book when I might have as many as 25 other books also waiting to be treated.

Considerations

With binding structures like this, the treatment decisions tend to boil down to preserving the provenance of the object vs choosing to rebind the book for greater longevity. In this blog post by Peter D. Verheyen in 2011, it’s evident that these wire bindings are a curious part of the history of bookbinding. Since they’re unusual, and since our goal is to conserve as much of the original item as possible, one might think that saving the original binding would be the obvious choice.

But how do technicians in general collections conservation (such as myself) reconcile keeping as much of the original object intact when we also have to prioritize making sure that the book can withstand regular use from patrons? If the staples in the binding had been so rusted that they were breaking whenever I opened the book, I would most likely take a more involved approach to the treatment of this book. An example of such a treatment would be adhering a cotton cambric to the spine and sewing through it along with the textblock, which you can see an example of in this paper by our very own Beth Doyle.

Luckily, in this case, both the paper and the staples were in good enough condition that a secondary treatment wasn’t necessary. However, it could be argued that perhaps I should have gone ahead with the more complex treatment just in case the staples failed in the future. In the end, these are the dilemmas we face in general collections conservation.

Treatment

I decided that the best course of action would be to clean the spine of its original lining and glue and replace it with a strong Japanese tissue adhered with wheat starch paste. By doing so, the spine is stabilized and strengthened while the staples are also given additional support. This reduces the potential damage that could occur from future use and repeated opening and closing of the book.

A picture of the stapled textblock post spine cleaning being held in a hand. The spine and staples are protected with a thin Japanese tissue, so you can still see the staples.

With the textblock now in a stable state, I could prepare a new case for the book. The original case had already failed and since the original materials were too fragile to keep using, it didn’t make sense to try and reuse the case. Instead, I made an inset on the front board in order to preserve the original cover material. If you’d like to learn more about the book, you can find the catalog record here.

The “Disaster Wiggle” Redux

Remember our post from May 2020 that introduced “The Disaster Recovery Wiggle?” The Wiggle is back for an encore!

I am working on a large collection of paper and photographic records that were recently acquired. These were stored in a wet garage and came to us damp and actively moldy. Pro tip: don’t store your papers in a wet garage.

I divided the records into packs containing 3-4 folders each, wrapped them in plastic, labeled them well, and put them in the freezer. Each package contains a group of photographs and/or documents that should fit into the fume hood for easy drying. Time warp to almost a year later and I am ready to get these thawed and cleaned.

Remember Freezer Friday? It’s also back. This project takes up the top two shelves.
Step 1: Thawing

I remove one package at a time from the freezer and spread the documents out in the fume hood to thaw. The contents are carefully spread out so that the original order can be maintained. When the pages can be carefully separated, I remove the rusty fasteners.

The metal fasteners have no structural integrity left.

This is a good time to remind conservators that they really should keep their tetanus vaccine up to date.

Step 2: Drying

Many of the packages had too many papers in them to all fit on the deck of the fume hood. I had to figure out a way to expand the available surface area for drying without inhibiting air flow. I figured there must be a way to recreate the double-decker drying we set up in May of 2020 (again with the time warp) but with more airflow.

A diffuser panel makes a great second tier drying rack.

We use diffuser panels as a base in humidity chambers because they are sturdy, but have holes in them that allow moist air to move through the paper. I thought, “Why not reverse the process?” I grabbed a panel, propped it on some supports, and voila! A double-decker fume hood drying rack.

With the double-decker drying rack in place, I needed to be sure the air flow was constant at the top and bottom. I cut two pieces of newsprint, grabbed a couple of Plexi Glas weights, and fashioned a “flag” that could wave in the breeze if it was sufficiently windy. Will it wiggle?

The top rack wiggles!

The top rack had no problem with air flow. But the space below was smaller. Will it wiggle, too?

The bottom wiggles, too!

It does! With the flags gently waving I felt that the air drying could commence.

Step 3: Vacuuming

I’m leaving each package in the fume hood for at least two days to thoroughly dry before vacuuming. Once cleaned, I will re-folder the documents and repeat with the remaining 19 packages in the freezer.

More info on preservation your collections

For more tips on preserving personal collections, see our “Preservation Week: 10 Tips for Your Collections” series.

Tips 1-2: Environment and Enclosures
Tips 3-5: Handling, Display, Facsimiles
Tips 6-7: Disasters and Non-paper collections
Tips 8-10: Preservation/Access, Informed purchasing, DIY repairs

 

 

Adopt A Book: The Perfect Gift

Looking for the perfect gift for the winter holidays? Look no further. Donating to the Duke Libraries Adopt-a-Book program not only helps the Library preserve its collections, it makes a great gift for family or friends. Donations are also calorie-free and don’t take up closet space! We have a few new items up for adoption, and a few other titles that are worthy of adoption that have been on the list for a bit.

These three volumes of Don Quioxte have remarkable edge paintings that are still quite vibrant.

three books with edge paintings of castles
Castles galore!

This collection of four titles are all in excellent condition but need custom enclosures to keep them that way. Matthew Alexander Henson‘s A Negro Explorer at the North Pole recounts his 1909 voyage to the North Pole with Robert Peary, where he may have been the first to reach the geographic North Pole. This voyage was one of seven voyages to the Arctic where he served as a navigator and craftsman for Peary.

A collection of classics.

Still in need of adopting are two sets of bindings by H. McLanahan. These may all be written by Bernard Shaw, but the McLanahan bindings are what make these books stunning.

These are so expertly crafted and beautiful.

If you are feeling really generous, there are the beautiful and stunning elephant folio Birds of American by John James Audubon. These bindings are huge, and three are in need of repair. A true statement gift!

Strapping a double elephant folio Audubon.

There are plenty more available for adoption. See our website for the complete list and benefits of adoption. If you can’t decide on a particular item, let us decide with a “Adopt a Box: Conservator’s Choice.” We always have great stuff in the lab that needs attention. We will choose something wonderful for you.

Preservation Underground will be on hiatus until January so that we can rest, recharge, and spend time with our families over the holidays. We hope to see you in 2022. Thanks for reading!

MacGyver-ing the Big Books

Oversized books come with a lot of handling and treatment challenges. Just moving and opening them can be physically demanding and former owners may not have had a good place for storage. This atlas of London street maps from 1799 measures approximately 26″x22″. Prior to acquisition, it had been rebound in a modern limp leather binding and, in attempt to make it easier to transport or store, had been folded vertically in half. The leather became very chemically degraded and the outward-facing rear cover was torn off.

I’ve spent the last several months piecing the broken, brittle maps back together and now it is ready for some new covers. We’ve written on Preservation Underground before about boxing some of the biggest bindings in the collection and treatment of double folios. As in those cases, a lot of the specialized equipment we have in the lab is too small for books of this size. At times like these, you just have to put on the appropriate theme song, channel Richard Dean Anderson, and gather up all the clamps in the lab.

Resewing a book on raised cords requires that some tension be put on the sewing supports. We typically employ a sewing frame to hold them in the correct position during this process, but even the large wooden one we have in the lab is a bit too short. Luckily we have a very long, rigid metal ruler and uniform wooden press blocks to take its place.

I will be constructing a new binding with rigid boards for this atlas similar to another copy in the collection, and that requires some rounding and backing of the textblock spine. This process is traditionally done with a flat-faced hammer, in a lying press or job backer. The textblock spine is actually composed of compensating guard strips of flexible paper, to which the maps have been mounted. This allows me to reshape the atlas textblock safely. These guards also made the sewing process much easier, as I could just sew through them instead of a full-sized folio.

Our job backer is, again, about 4″ too short for this book to fit inside – so I attempted to recreate one with press boards and deep-throated C-clamps.

It had to be clamped to the table to allow me to tap with a wooden block between the raised bands and shape the spine. I had to adjust the center clamp as I moved from head to tail, then flip the entire contraption to get each side.

It ended up being fairly effective. With some temporary working boards laced on, you can see the gentle round and small textblock shoulder that is formed.

The atlas will get endbands and a strong linen spine lining before the final board attachment. The laced on, rigid boards will provide the protection and strength that such a large book requires. Although I’m sure those clamps will be needed again before it is finished.

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