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!

Blast From the Past

Twenty years ago when I started working at Duke we had a “morgue” of broken books. This is where damaged books came, and sat, until they could be repaired. Most of these were very brittle or nearly so. To clear the space for work benches and tables, we decided to tie books up with cotton tying tape and insert a flag requesting the book back if it was used.

Today, we got one back!

book tied with string
The Methodist Hymn Book

The flag is two sided. The front alerts the patron to the fact that the binding is fragile. It also asks Circulation to return to book to Conservation after use.

The back explains how to photocopy a fragile book. I created this flag using images from our colleagues at the University of Kansas libraries. Unfortunately the link to that page no longer exists.

It’s fun to see a 20-year-old, low cost and easy solution actually working. The book came back and now we will address it either by repairing the brittle leather cover, or boxing it to keep the detached covers with the text block. This item has been scanned by the Internet Archive, so boxing may be the answer since there will be digital access to it.

New Outfits for Sailors

Sometimes an object comes through the lab in an enclosure which is not good for long term preservation, but still has artifactual value and should be retained with the item. In these cases, we have to get a little creative in fabricating a new housing that will keep all the parts together in a safe and intuitively usable package.

two prints of female sailors

A set of early 19th century hand-colored engravings arrived here recently, featuring portraits of the same female sailor on land and at sea. The paper was quite brittle and showed some staining, surface soiling, and insect damage. The prints had been housed in matching wooden frames which were slightly too small. The edges of the prints had been folded around the backing boards to fit, and some of those folded edges had snapped off.

front and back of empty picture frame before rehousingIt was clear that the frames were not a safe place for the prints to live, but they are important to the history of the object and need to be housed together. Time to make some new outfits for these sailors.

After deframing, both frames and prints were cleaned to remove any surface dirt. The prints were humidified in a chamber and flattened to remove the creases around the edges. The loose fragments of the “shore” print were reattached using a thin Japanese paper with re-moistenable adhesive we make in-house. interior of mated print, showing full encapsulation and photo corners

The brittle paper requires some additional support for safe handling and the media isn’t flaking, so each print was fully encapsulated in clear polyester film. The prints and frames would need to live inside the same box without rattling around, so I cut window mats and assembled portfolios with tyvek tape for the hinge. Each print was mounted inside with polyethylene photo corners, so that it can be easily removed if a researcher wants to examine the verso.

The frames also got some new housing in the form of a padded tray. Each tray features tabs at the head and tail so that they can be easily lifted out of the box. The foam is notched under the tab to accommodate the metal ring at the top of each frame, but also so that the frame can be safely tipped out of the tray.

wooden frame in padded tray

The trays and mats were made to the same size so that they can be neatly stacked inside a  clamshell box. Labels on the outside of the box indicate that it should be stored flat on the shelf and warn anyone retrieving the item that it contains glass.

Completed enclosure with mats and framesI like to go back and check on rehoused items like this after they have received some use to ensure that the new enclosures are functioning well.

Making Delrin Tools

Regular readers of Preservation Underground know that we spend a lot of time thinking and talking about tools. The variety and sometimes repetitive nature of our work requires a great many of them and we regularly experiment with new designs or materials to find implements that are more effective or ergonomic. Tool collecting can also be a little addictive.

A bone folder was probably the first bookbinding tool I ever purchased and remains one of the most used items at my bench. I’ve acquired or made many folders over the years of different shapes, sizes, and materials (like Teflon, metal, or nylon) and was amused to read that Jony Ive included a bone folder in his list of top 12 tools. It’s also the only reasonably priced tool on that list.

We have been using Delrin lifters in the lab for a few years now and Delrin folders have been growing in popularity in the bookbinding and conservation community, so I have been interested in making one. Luckily, during the pandemic, Rachel Penniman was able to attend a virtual workshop taught by Jeff Peachey on making Delrin and bamboo tools. We were able to set aside some time recently so that she could share what she learned in the workshop and we could all try making our own.

Delrin is a Dupont product that has a number of helpful properties for conservation work. It has a low coefficient of friction, but is stiffer than Teflon. It exhibits chemical and fatigue resistance and can also be very flexible when shaped to a thin tip. Peachey has written a great deal about the advantages of delrin folders and lifting tools.

The material can be purchased in a variety of sheets and bars, so there are many options for creating tools of different shapes. We started the day by looking at existing tools from our personal collections to discuss the features that we like or don’t like and how we might be able to make a better version from the Delrin stock.

Some of our starting tool blanks.

Delrin is easily shaped with cutting tools or abrasives and doesn’t come with the same health risks as shaping Teflon. A facemask and proper ventilation should still be deployed to avoid inhaling the dust.

Pictured above: box cutter, file, cabinet scraper, wooden bench hook, various grit sandpaper.

We were lucky to have good weather, so we set up an outside work space by the library loading dock. Views of the nearby Chapel were a bonus.

Shaping takes some time, so it was helpful to have clamps and wooden bench hooks on hand to support the work in progress.

Can we call this a Delrin “preform”?

After sawing, filing, scraping, and sanding for a few hours, we had produced a number of new tools. The nice thing about this material is that if you don’t like the shape you have produced, you can always shave it down some more or cut off the end and start again.

Now that I’ve gotten a feel for working with Delrin, I’m looking forward to experimenting with some larger, more rigid tools.

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!

Miniature Screens

The internet loves things in miniature, and books are no exception. We’ve previously written about miniature figurines, photo albums, and other books – but today I’d like to add miniature screens to the mix. Recently this wonderful little book came into the lab for boxing: Japanese Screens in Miniature; Six Masterpieces of the Momoyama Period.

The Momoyama Period (1573–1615) was a time of great social change and constant warfare in Japan. A growing interest in the outside world and the introduction of European firearms contributed to new styles in both architecture and art. Large folding screens, covered in gold leaf and ornately painted, became an important decorative element inside the large fortresses built during this period.

The set of six small screens (~ 6″ tall) comes in a textile-covered wrapper and includes a short introduction with some historical context.

Each screen is six panels, mounted on board and folded in accordion style. A paper label with the title, artist, and date is adhered to the verso. The hinges are a little stiff, so I had to use some small weights to hold the screens open wide enough to image.

It is such a satisfying tactile experience to open each screen and unfold these delightful images. You just get the sense of how incredible the original objects must be, standing approximately 60″ tall with so much gilding.

North Korea as Seen Through Stamps

Stamp collecting, often associated with philately (or the study of stamps), is a hobby that has been around since the first postage stamp was issued by Britain in May of 1840. Since then, stamp collecting has been one of the world’s most popular hobbies, resulting in the production of over 400,000 different types of stamp by the year 2000.

Many of the stamps produced are from smaller countries seeking to bring in much needed revenue, which they achieve through the printing of limited run stamps specifically for stamp collectors. One such country happens to be North Korea. This fact came to my attention when a collection of North Korean stamp albums arrived at our lab.

The collection of stamp albums stacked on top of one anotherThe collection consists of five stapled pamphlets and two bound books, all full of loose stamps in need of securing.

The stamp albums that are pamphlets spread out on a flat surface.

A top down view of the the stamp albums that are in book format.

I will mention that it is unclear whether these are actually functional stamps or just coated paper made to look like stamps. There is no noticeable adhesive on the backs of them, and even a UV light analysis and our ordering specialist couldn’t get us any closer to a conclusive answer.

Regardless, we couldn’t risk all of these stamps being lost or stolen. I had to find a way to contain them all so that patrons could access these albums without leaving the fate of these stamps to chance.

How do we treat these items?

Each of these albums is made up of pages containing several small slips of mylar with the bottom edge adhered to the actual page.

A hand pulls back one of the mylar slips and also bends one of the loose stamps away from the page.

Within each of these slips sits either a single stamp or multiple stamps, which varies from page to page.

A page from one of the stamp albums showing an assortment of stamps focused on North Korean fine art.

A page from one of the stamp albums showing an assortment of stamps focused on North Korean natural landmarks.

Although the stamps don’t necessarily fly about or out of the slips as you flip through the pages, it’s obvious that they aren’t exactly going to just stay in place over time.

So, what is the solution here?

Since these mylar slips were already at my disposal, it made the most sense to use them to my advantage. After applying a thin bead of wheat starch paste to the top of each stamp, I tipped each stamp into the mylar and made sure the bottom of the stamp was placed as far down into the slip as possible.

Two photos side by side. The photo on the left shows a brush being used to apply wheat starch paste to the top edge of the back of a stamp. The photo on the right shows the stamp being placed back into its mylar slip and adhered to the page.

This way the stamp is secured in place without having to glue up the entire back of the item, and the mylar acts as a catch for the bottom of the stamp so that they can’t be pulled out as easily. With the stamps now safely secured, these albums are ready for a closer look at their contents.

How do we interpret these items?

These albums seem to be geared towards foreigners and tourists. Of the seven albums here, three contain text in Korean, Chinese, and English, one contains text in just Korean and English, and the other three contain text in just Korean and Chinese. Seeing as none of these are written only in Korean, it can be assumed that these albums were not intended solely for Korean audiences.

A page from one of the stamp albums showing a larger sheet that is perforated to hold multiple stamps. The stamps depict images of Kim Il-sung, various antique cars, and a music score. There is also accompanying text in Korean and in English.

As you have also probably noticed, these stamps cover a wide variety of subjects as well. It seems as though you can find a stamp on just about anything if you really wanted to. This is probably for the benefit of appealing to as many collectors as possible who might only collect certain kinds of stamps.

A page from one of the stamp albums showing an assortment of stamps focused on Kim Jong-il meeting with various international leaders.

The world of stamps is quite intriguing, especially considering how they can become vehicles for propaganda. Are you a stamp collector or a philatelist (someone who studies stamps)? Leave a comment with your thoughts on this collection if you are, and leave a comment even if you aren’t! We’d love to hear what you think about our new addition to the Perkins Library. If you’d like to find these items in our catalog, you can click any of these links.

Our New Golden Devil

We had the opportunity to order some additional brass type for our Kwikprint hot foil stamping machine recently, thanks in huge part to donors to our Adopt-a-Book program.  The additional sizes of type will give us more options when we need to make labels for new bindings, rebacked spines, or enclosures.

Along with the type, we were also able to get a small custom die of the reading devil who adorns the roof of the von der Heyden Pavilion – and it looks pretty amazing.

Reading devil, stamped in gold. Now that it’s in the machine and heated up, I will be spending the next hour looking around the lab for anything that I can stamp. The back of my Moleskine notebook was the first thing to go.

moleskin notebook stamped with reading devil

Now no one’s office supplies are safe! What should we stamp next?

Duke University Libraries Preservation