The Iceman Floweth

Last April we got our new freezer delivered. The first thing we did with it was to set up a table-top disaster situation* so our intern and new staff member could gain experience working with damp and wet books.

Sara (L) and Phebe (R) prepare items for the freezer.

 

Phebe (L) and Sara (R) recovering wet books.

That was back in July 2018. The books have been in the freezer since. This week I remembered them as I was working on this year’s internship schedule, so I went to get them out of the freezer. When I opened the door I saw this:

That is an official stalactite.

At some point a part broke, allowing the water drain to malfunction and create this frozen waterfall inside the freezer. The freezer was two weeks out of warranty (of course) but the awesome people at Fisher Scientific waived the repair fee, sent a repair person, and it is now fixed.

Lesson learned

If you don’t have a clear-glass door on your freezer, put a reminder on your calendar to look inside once in a while. We will now check inside the freezer once a month as part of our monthly staff meeting agenda.

 

*No actual library books were harmed during this experiment. 

May Day: Workers Unite to Update Your Disaster Plan

May Day 2019Happy May Day! Today is not just for dancing around the maypole and celebrating International Workers Day. May Day is also the traditional day to prepare for an emergency in your cultural institution. Are you ready?

Today we invite you to do one thing to prepare for an emergency. If you don’t know where to start, we have some ideas for you below and in previous posts. Put 15 minutes on your calendar and pick one thing to do today.

Do One Thing
  • Download the Heritage Preservation Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel iPhone app on your iPhone. It’s free!
  • If you don’t have a smart phone, buy a copy of the Field Guide to Emergency Response (Supplements here) and the Salvage Wheel (English) (Salvage Wheel in Spanish). Both the book and wheel are on sale. $25 buys you both.  These are excellent resources to help you get your disaster plan together and to respond to any emergency in your collections.
  • Check your disaster kit. Do you need to restock or replace anything? Do you have a pair of warm socks in there? Do your emergency clothes still fit? [trust me…you want to know this ahead of time]
  • Review your emergency phone tree. Are the correct people listed and the phone numbers still correct? If you don’t have a phone tree, make one today. List those critical people who need to be contacted first to get a recovery going. That might include the director, the communications director, the person who has the power to buy supplies on the spot, and a few people who can start the recovery process. It can be as simple as that. The Pocket Response Plan from the Council of State Archivists is a great customizable template and it fits in your pocket.
  • Review your disaster plan. What’s missing or needs updating? Are there people listed that don’t work there anymore? Have the phone numbers changed? You don’t have to make all of those changes today, but make an appointment on your calendar to do it…then DO it!
  • If you are not the one responsible for disaster planning or recovery in your institution, find out who is and ask for a copy of the disaster plan. And remember, if it is in electronic form, be sure to print out a copy and take it home. The internet doesn’t work when the power is out and cell phone towers are down.
  • Find local and state disaster resources. The Alliance for Response is a coordinated effort to provide training and information at the state level. Current networks include North Carolina. The American Institute for Conservation has several emergency planning guides and templates. 
  • And don’t forget you need a plan at home, too. The Red Cross has some good information on how to put a disaster kit together for your home and family and templates in English and Spanish to  help you create a family disaster plan.

It feels good to get that done, doesn’t it? Now, off to the maypole.

Sharing Our Work With Alumni

Last Friday was the start of a full weekend of activities for alumni as part of Duke Reunions and the library was a popular destination for those visiting campus. A few of us in Conservation Services were able to participate in some of the events and share our work.

Naomi Nelson, Director of Duke's David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, speaks about the Lisa Unger Baskin Exhibit.In the morning, Rachel Penniman and I partnered with some of our colleagues in Research Services, Technical Services, the Digital Production Center, and Exhibitions to talk about all the behind-the-scenes work that went into preparing the items currently on display from the Lisa Unger Baskin collection.

Henry Hebert, Conservator for Special Collections, speaks about the Lisa Unger Baskin Exhibit.Each speaker took a few minutes to describe their role in bringing the exhibition to life. Rachel and I discussed how we assessed and treated all of the items selected for imaging and exhibition, giving an overview of general principles of conservation treatment and some of our workflows.

Rachel Penniman, Conservation Specialist, speaks about the Lisa Unger Baskin Exhibit.Over the course of an hour,  the audience was able to learn more about the complex work that goes into cataloging, preserving, and documenting the items that the library makes available for scholarship.  The event was very well attended and we even had time at the end to speak with some of the alumni and answer questions.

In the afternoon, Beth Doyle and I brought some of the new items for adoption up to the Biddle exhibition suite to share with visitors of the exhibition.

Beth Doyle, Leona B. Carpenter Senior Conservator and Head, Conservation Services Department, speaks to alumni about the Adopt-A-Book program.Many of the people who stopped by to talk with us had very personal connections with the items we had on the table.  Several alumni commented that, even as students, they had regularly come to the library to see the “double elephant folio” copies of The Birds of America. The first editions of Tolkien were also a huge hit. We even had some items adopted on the spot!

Henry Hebert, Conservator for Special Collections, speaks with alumni about the Adopt-A-Book program.

It’s easy to get absorbed in the day-to-day challenges of supporting library projects and collections, but it is very rewarding to climb out of the basement once in a while to talk about our work with members of the campus community. I am reminded of how engaged both current and former students are with this university and their fondness for the library.

Big Birds, Dragons, and Gardens…Oh My!

Just in time for graduation and Mother’s Day we have new items available for “adoption” through the Duke University Libraries Adopt-a-Book program.

Just added are titles such as Game of Thrones…

The Lord of the Rings trilogy…

A group of wonderful titles centering on women and children…

An awesome grouping of Octavia Butler first editions…

And if you are in the mood for some really big birds, three of the Audubon elephant folios are still available for adoption. Who doesn’t fall in love with these books when you see them?

To adopt the conservation of any of these, go to our Adopt-a-Book page and simply click on the big blue button of your choice.

Why adopt?

You help Duke Libraries preserve their collections so that these titles are available to researchers and patrons for a long time. Best of all, because you receive an electronic bookplate acknowledging your gift, you don’t have to find space for a three foot book on your book shelf. Marie Kondo would approve.

A Tool That Sucks On Purpose

We love getting new equipment. In fact, we celebrate Equipment Day on April 9th each year. This is the day that the book presses and board shear arrived from Germany in 2003, almost a year after Conservation became a unit.

Fast forward 16 years and we are still giddy about getting new equipment. A couple weeks ago we received our brand new suction table from Museum Services. It was the best of all the gift-receiving-holidays rolled into one. Big boxes, some assembly required, and a button to push to make it move. Awesomeness in three crates.

The crates arrive!

Included inside were the base, table, dome lid, vacuum unit, humidifier, and an airbrush. It also included really great assembly instructions.

One crate unpacked, two to go.

The table has a removable lid and an electric tilt function. These will come in handy if we have to move it inside the dirty room to do major solvent treatments. It also adjusts from a very low to a very high height, which means anyone can use it safely and comfortably.

Plug it in and take it for a tilt.

The table is assembled and ready for its first project. We plan on doing some refresher training later in the year. Until then we are resisting using the arm holes in the dome as an arena for epic thumb fights.

Ready to go.

Duke’s Collections Inspire Book Art

We have written here a few times about teaching bookbinding skills to local Girl Scouts so that they can get their Book Arts Badge (Post 1 and Post 2) . In addition to learning about preservation activities of cultural institutions, the workshop participants learn about the components of a book, and make three different book structures. Having done this workshop a couple of times, we thought it would be nice to change up some of the types of books that we make. Luckily, the recently acquired Lisa Unger Baskin Collection provided an object of inspiration: this movable book.

See full item description in the online exhibit.

Also known as a metamorphosis or harlequinade, this item was made by Elizabeth Winspear, possibly a young woman of New England, in 1799. The book is composed of a single sheet, folded in an accordion style to form 4 panels. Each panel has a flap at top and bottom. The manuscript text and drawings tell a story using biblical figures and mythical beasts, ending with a kind of memento mori. The reader is instructed by the text to turn leaves up or down to see the transformation.

Although this item was made entirely by hand, the text and imagery are a very faithful representation of the genre. Examples of these movable books can be found from both Europe and North America, dating from the 17th to 19th centuries – and the story is remarkably consistent. See for example, this version printed in England in 1650.

The beginning, progress and end of man. (outside)
(inside) London, Alsop for T. Dunster, 1650. The British Library

I’ve said before that the most popular part of our Book Arts Badge workshop is the last hour or so, in which the scouts have time to decorate their books.  This type of movable book seemed like the perfect format to let the scouts unleash their creativity. After talking about Elizabeth Winspear’s book and showing them how to make the folds, we let them design their own metamorphoses. Here are some examples:

(Click each image to enlarge)

The scouts had a lot of fun with this structure and we really enjoyed seeing what they could do with it. It is amazing how an item produced by a young woman hundreds of years ago can inspire young women today to create book art of their own. Watching students interact with and respond to items from the library’s collection really brings the importance of preservation of cultural heritage into focus. We will definitely make more books like this in our future workshops.

If historical movable books are a topic of interest, you can see more examples of metamorphoses like this one at Learning as Play, hosted by Penn State University. Jacquiline Reid-Walsh has also written a book on the subject, titled Interactive Books: Playful Media Before Pop-Ups (2018). You may be interested in another genre of movable books, anatomical flap books, with many examples from Duke’s collection featured in this online exhibit. Highlights from the Baskin Collection are currently on display until June of this year in the Biddle exhibit suite,  located just inside the main entrance of Perkins Library.

A Fleet of Futons–Yours for the Making

Book futon in use.
Book futon in use.

I first heard about book futons in graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin. It may be that the futon originated there. I am unsure of their provenance but I am fairly certain the conservators at the Harry Ransom Center made book supports of various kinds and likely futons were in the mix.

Making Futons

My first memory of finding instructions for making futons was in Book Displays: A Library Exhibits Handbook by Anne C. Tedeschi (Highsmith Press, 1997). Her depiction of how to make a futon was pretty good, but there were things about her futons that I wanted to change. So I embarked on a mission to make my own version. I even recruited my mother, an expert seamstress, to help. We have made a lot of futons over the years.

A fleet of futons ready for use in the Rubenstein Library.

Together we perfected our methods and ultimately wrote our own instructions for constructing three sizes of futons.  You can access a PDF of our futon instructions here. This PDF includes sewing instructions, laundering information, and an illustrated guide on how to use them. The instructions should be easy to follow if you have a basic understanding of sewing or quilting. Feel free to email me if you have questions.

What’s So Great About A Futon?

What I like about the book futon is they are:

  • Fairly easy to construct, especially for those that have quilting or sewing experience
  • Inexpensive to make. Craft stores often have sales or issue coupons for 40-50% off fabric and batting.
  • Easy to use, and easy to teach patrons to use
  • Highly customizable
  • Machine washable

We use futons in the reading room, the conservation lab, the classroom, and even for temporary exhibits and show-and-tells. Do you know the history of the book futon? Have you made your own futons? Share your futon story in the comment section.

Working on Women’s Work

The folks in the Rubenstein Exhibits department are currently hard at work, putting the finishing touches on the exhibition “Five Hundred Years of Women’s Work: The Lisa Unger Baskin Collection“. This exhibition provides a glimpse of the diversity and depth of the Baskin collection, revealing the lives of women both famous and forgotten and recognizing their accomplishments. Items from the collection will be on display in the Biddle exhibit suite until June 15, 2019.

The Conservation Services Department has contributed hundreds of hours of work in support of both this exhibit and the wider Baskin collection for the last few years. To highlight some of the behind-the-scenes efforts undertaken by our staff, we have put on our own small exhibit featuring conservation treatments and custom enclosures for the items on display upstairs.
Treatment documentation on display in exhibition case
If you happen to be in the library, possibly attending one of the many public events surrounding the Baskin exhibition, we invite you to stop by this exhibit case as well.  The case is located on Lower Level 1 of Perkins Library, across from the Conservation Lab entrance (Room 023).

It Came From The Bowels

I work where?

I wish I had a dollar for every time a writer used the word “bowels” to describe a library or archive. At best it conjures an image out of The Raiders of the Lost Ark. Boxes haphazardly put down anywhere on the floor just waiting for some researcher to miraculously stumble upon the one box they need to complete their research. At worst, well, I won’t finish that thought.

Yeah, it’s exactly (not) like this.

How did we get here?

Margaret Sartor and Alex Harris recently published “Where We Find Ourselves–the Photographs of Hugh Mangum 1897-1922.” They are also the curators of an exhibit of Hugh Mangum’s photographs on display now at the Duke University Nasher Museum of Art (through May 19, 2019).

The New Yorker recently published a review by Sarah Blackwood (February 14, 2019) that once again trots out the familiar trope of materials disgorged from the “bowels” of the library, saved from certain obscurity or worse. The kerfuffle started with this description of the provenance of the collection:

They were rescued once, in the nineteen-seventies, only to be relegated to the back-yard greenhouse of Mangum’s nephew; they were rescued again, in the nineteen-eighties, when they were donated to Duke University. As recently as 2013, more boxes of negatives turned up, this time from the bowels of special collections and marked “discard.” The negatives have passed through the hands of family members, neighborhood activists, local photographers, librarians, archivists, and scholars.

Where to even begin unpacking this quote?

Deteriorated glass plates with dirt and paper stuck to them.

First, while we do not recommend storing family records in a chicken coop one could argue that “benign neglect” kept these important documents and images from the landfill. My guess is these plates were handed down through the family, perhaps put aside and forgotten. But for whatever reason the family did not throw them in the trash bin. As vaguely alluded to in the article eventually other people realized the importance of these plates and actively decided to find a permanent repository for them.

The original Hugh Mangum Collection came to Rubenstein Library in 1986 (now part of the Archive for Documentary Arts). Additional materials were discovered and added to the Mangum collection in two rounds. The latest came around 2013. I believe these were the ones found in the chicken coop/barn mentioned in the New Yorker article.

Paper stuck to glass plates.

These “chicken [expletive]” plates as Blackwood describes them came to Conservation sometime around 2016. The plates were very dirty, gritty, and many had paper stuck to them. We cleaned about 250 of these glass plates in house and sent several to the Northeast Document Conservation Center for more in-depth treatment. Henry Hebert, Special Collections Conservator, even consulted with and helped install a few of the Mangum plates at the Nasher. The Digital Production Center digitized this collection a few years ago including the 2013 addition. The people in Digital Collections and Curation Services worked on the metadata and building the website. The collection is available online and is worth looking at. The images are amazing.

People from collection development, technical services, research services, conservation, and the digital production center all played their part in making sure this collection was described, housed, and preserved so that Sartor and Harris could write about them and curate their exhibit. I won’t even start on how many Nasher staff worked on the exhibit.

Why words matter

Look, I get it. Authors need to write compelling narratives and simply finding materials already described and housed in a library isn’t very interesting to most people. Story trumps details, which can get lost or worse willfully ignored. But herein lies the problem with using “from the bowels of special collections.” There is a lot of hidden labor in libraries and archives. People more eloquent than I have written about this issue. We talk a lot in Technical Services about how we can best tell our stories because what we do is often invisible to the public. Our day-to-day work isn’t sexy or glamorous. Most days are made up of very routine and frankly boring work (hello mold removal!). The work also takes its toll physically and often emotionally. Don’t even get me started on salaries in a female-dominated education-related profession. That is why it is hurtful when our work is ignored to make the story sound more miraculous than it is.

At least Sartor acknowledges (pp 157-158) many of the people that had a hand in making this collection, book, and exhibit a reality. She appropriately thanks Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator, who spearheaded the conservation project. Except Sartor uses another sad trope, “magic,” to describe the conservation of these materials. As if the conservation of these plates weren’t done by a collective of highly skilled people but rather by the wave of a magic wand. Poof! Conservation Managed! Erin, Henry, Rachel Penniman, and Emma Kimmel, then our intern, spent many hours painstakingly cleaning and housing all those plates.

Mangum housed in the (not bowel-like) stacks.

The hero of this story is not the creators of this book and exhibit (although these are wonderful). The heroes should  be the people behind the scenes working really hard every day to collect, describe, house, digitize, preserve, shelve, and retrieve collections so that when their user appears these collections can be pulled from the shelf and handed to them (hello Ranganathan!). The fact that you can walk into a library or archive, request something, and a few minutes later it shows up on your table feels like magic. I assure you it is not.

As I write these thoughts we are preparing for the grand opening of “Women’s Work,” our first exhibit of materials from the newly acquired Lisa Unger Baskin Collection. This collection focuses on women in publishing, art, medicine, literature, society, and so much more. It helps uncover work that is often unseen, unacknowledged, or simply ignored. I wish Blackwood would have taken some time to acknowledge the hard work so many have done to make sure that the Mangum collection didn’t fade into obscurity. At least Blackwood seems to be listening to the archivists on Twitter. Maybe she realizes now that repeating the phrase “it came from the bowels” is demoralizing to those of us who work behind the scenes to make our amazing collections usable now and in the future.

Thanks to Kate Collins, Rubenstein Library Research Services Librarian, for speaking up about the Mangum Collection in response to Blackwood’s review, and for sending me a link to Blackwood’s response on Twitter.

Beth Doyle is the head of the Conservation Services Department and the Leona B. Carpenter Senior Conservator at Duke University Libraries. She can be reached via email at <b.doyle@duke.edu>.

Duke University Libraries Preservation