Artistry in A Book of Colombian Poetry

Spanish is not my native language. Luckily, I can read it well enough to appreciate this compelling and solemn work by the Columbian poet Francia Elena Goenaga. The cover image does not reveal much about the nature of the book. However, the title reads “Babiuscas Para Niños Muertos Que No Pueden Dormir”, which translates to “Lullabies For Dead Children That Can’t Sleep”.

The title sets a tone that is quite somber. This is further highlighted by the subheading on the title page, which reads “Para los niños Colombianos que han sufrido violencia y sus madres”. This translates to “For the Colombian children who have suffered from violence and their mothers”.  As dedications go, this is a specific and sentimental one. It inspires one to be pensive as they delve deeper into the book and read the poetry within.

Accompanying said poetry are a set of 14 illustrations that create an intriguing  juxtaposition with the text.

 

 Colorful studies of various dead birds appear throughout the book in striking detail. There is something to be said about comparing the visual of something dead to something sleeping. And since this is a book of “lullabies” in the form of poems, I find the choice to combine them with these illustrations remarkably provoking.

When a book this delicate and artistic come across my bench, I want to treat it delicately as well. As you may have noticed, this book was not originally bound.

It is too risky to send a book like this to the stacks since pages could be lost. The best solution for a book like this is to sew it into a pamphlet binder. Now our patrons can request this book and enjoy its artistry safely.

A close up on the sewing inside and the final product.

Stamps in Your Library Passport

On Tuesday, Libraries Assembly put together a really great passport event for staff to learn more about the different departments and groups within our organization. Eighteen groups volunteered to set up a table with information and activities:

  • Adopt-a-Highway Team
  • Center for Data and Visualization Sciences
  • Conservation Services
  • Data and Reporting Learning Group
  • DivE-In Council
  • Divinity Library
  • East Campus Libraries  (Lilly and Music)
  • Family History and Genealogy Research Guide and the Genealogy@Duke Team
  • Ford Library (Business)
  • Knitting Club
  • Law Library
  • Libraries Assembly
  • Libraries Summer Camp
  • Medical Center Library and Archives
  • Munch & Mull Digital Scholarship Group
  • Where in the World am I from (International Area Studies)

We were there to distribute our new bookmarks, branded buttons, and instruct visitors in simple pamphlet binding.

The library staff who attended were given a passport with space for each group to stamp (or in our case draw a little doodle in highlighter). They were then able to enter their completed passport for prizes in a raffle.

It was a really great way to spend an hour and interact with our peers. We have welcomed many new staff over the last year, so it was nice to meet some of the new folks. It was also a great opportunity to catch up with colleagues from all of the different libraries around campus. Hopefully this will become an annual event!

An Artist Book in a Conservation World

Here at Duke University Libraries, we’re fortunate to have a stunning collection of artist books from all over the world. Just like a regular book, artist books can come in a range of shapes and sizes. Some, however, come in more unusual shapes than most, which in turn can pose some interesting conservation questions.

One such book is the “Oubey: Mindkiss” book.

The Art

As you’ve probably noticed, this is not simply a book. “Oubey: Mindkiss” is made up of a sculptural slipcase containing five separate books.

Each book is devoted to the work of t late artist Oubey and is organized by the medium of the work or the time period the work was made.

 

The piece is clearly a work of art in itself. This is all the more evident by the fact that it has won multiple awards for its design. However, there are features of this item that have to be addressed from the view of a conservator, rather than one of an artist.

The Concerns

For one, the sculptural top of the slipcase consists of shapes and edges that are noticeably sharp. Pair that with the hard plastic material it’s made of, and you have an item that is bound to do some damage.

I am mostly referring to the damage the slipcase would do to any object placed beside it, but honestly this slipcase could probably hurt your hands as well if not handled carefully.

One of many pointy bits

If this item were to sit as is on a shelf next to other items as normal, there is no way the stiff plastic edges wouldn’t eventually catch, snag, or tear the item beside it.

 

Another common problem with slipcases is how easily the books within them can fall out. These books are no exception due to the slippery, metallic material they are covered with. That combined with the equally slippery plastic case means the books have an especially high risk of sliding around.

Additionally, the plastic of the slipcase might be doing damage to the books inside of it over time. Although the books are still reflective and metallic (I provided proof in the following photo), if you look at the covers more closely you can see many horizontal scratch marks across the surface of each cover.

Still a decent mirror

This observation is more of an assumption than a proven fact, but my guess is that these scratch marks are the result of the repetitive in and out motion of the books when they are removed or inserted in to the slipcase. The books fit rather snugly into the case, so they could be rubbing up against the inside whenever they move.

So, what can a conservation specialist do?

The Conclusion

Unfortunately, I can’t fix the issue regarding the covers of the books. Even if I knew how of a way treat metallic coatings (which I certainly don’t), something would still have to be done about the material of the slipcase rubbing up against the covers in the first place. An extreme solution would be to refrain from taking the books out of the slipcase at all, but then future readers would lose access to a significant portion of the information this item has to offer.

On a more positive note, something can be done about the nature of the slipcase. Luckily that solution is simple. We just make a box for it.

Does it feel a bit like hiding away a piece of art? Sure. However, as a library, one of our priorities is maintaining our collections while providing access to them. Making a box will protect our collections while also insuring that “Oubey: Mindkiss” is safer to handle for future patrons. And that’s a win for everyone.

Hot Property

By Rachel Penniman, Conservation Specialist

Back in early 2020 Henry gave a little peek into a project I was working on. When four architectural drawings of the Benjamin N. Duke House on 5th Avenue in New York City were acquired by the Rubenstein Library they were removed from their frames in order to incorporate them into the Semans family papers. After the drawings were removed from their frames the staff in the Rubenstein Library Technical Services department found they had been mounted directly onto a non-archival foam-core backing. The drawings were sent to Conservation to see if we could remove the poor quality board.

Drawing mounted to foam core before treatment.

 

These drawings were created by a reproduction process called aniline printing which was used in the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s and is identifiable by the distinctive green background color and blueish-black lines. These prints are not on paper but on drafting cloth; a cotton or linen fiber fabric that is heavily starched and rolled to give a smooth surface. Aniline prints fade quickly with exposure to light and are sensitive to heat, humidity, alkalinity, and a number of solvents including alcohols. The starches and additives in the drafting cloth can also be very sensitive to heat and water, and the acidic process of aniline printing degrades the cloth over time making it fragile. So my toolbox of conservator tricks to remove the backings was really limited: no heat, no humidification, and few safe solvents.

I could tell there was another layer between the foam core board and the architectural drawing but it was hard to tell what was going on back there. The backing board was attached with long 2” wide strips of a very sticky, waxy adhesive. I managed to separate the board by hand, lifting it away with a thin spatula and discovered something I have never seen before.

Back of drawing after foam core removed and contact paper revealed.

The entire back of every drawing was covered with big sheets of cream colored, self-adhesive plastic like you might use to line your kitchen shelves. It’s commonly called contact paper, though there’s nothing paper about it. The plastic used in these products is usually polyvinyl chloride which degrades very quickly and destructively over time so it needed to be removed before it caused further damaged to the drawings. Although the adhesive on this product is weak in order to allow you to lift and reposition it during installation on a kitchen cabinet, the drafting cloth was too fragile in many places to just peel it away. I needed to find a way to more gently remove the contact paper but my options were limited. After a lot of solvent testing and experimentation I found that timed application of a small vapor chamber of solvent would soften the adhesive on the contact paper enough to gently lift it away without leaving an adhesive residue behind and without damaging the print or the drafting cloth.

Contact paper being removed with solvent chambers in a fume hood with a pile of removed contact paper on the right.

Working slowly across each drawing I softened the contact paper backing and gently peeled it away to reveal lots of self-adhesive tape had also been applied directly to the back of the drawing. This object was like an onion: full of layers! Some of the tape came off along with the contact paper but the rest I removed with a small spatula and a crepe eraser. I then repaired the tears with a very thin, green toned archival paper. Whoever put the tape down was heavy handed and I often found there were no tears or damage beneath the tape at all.

Many pieces of tape revealed below the contact paper during treatment.

 

The same area with all the contact paper and tape removed and new archival mending in place.

This treatment was a good example of how sometimes less is more. Whoever applied hundreds of inches of tape, layers of contact paper, and huge areas of sticky adhesive to attach foam core backing board surely thought they were helping to protect a valued item. Instead they created a mess that took weeks to undo.

 

Diagram of the many layers in cross section.

 

Front of drawing after treatment completed.

 

Back of drawing after treatment completed.

The best part about removing all of those layers was revealing a manufacturer’s mark printed in pale purple ink on the back that reads:

Copied by
Peerless Blue Print Company
122 East 14th
New York
Phone 168-18th

This mark helps us to date when and where these drawings were created and would have been lost if all those layers weren’t removed.

Manufacturer’s mark previously covered by all the layers.

The property shown in these historic architectural drawings has recently been restored and is now on the market. The 8 bedroom, 10 bathroom, 20,000 square foot home which is directly across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art can be yours for just $80 million. Hopefully it’s not also held together with tape and contact paper.

https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/1009-5th-Ave-New-York-NY-10028/143156846_zpid/

 

Handsome Residences of Durham

by Rachel Penniman

We recently got this 1881 map of Durham in the lab and spent time comparing old streets and buildings to what’s currently on those locations.

We were especially interested in the large plot of land on Dillard Street owned by Julian Carr. The map shows many little winding paths on the property.

We wondered if it was a park or a cemetery, but no, it was just a huge personal estate. We found some great information on the Open Durham website including pictures of the beautiful original homes built on that site.

https://www.opendurham.org/buildings/waverly-honor

Waverly Manor (Courtesy Durham County Library, via Open Durham)

The original large homes are long gone, replaced by a number of commercial buildings in the 1920s, then a surface parking lot in 2008, and now a large hole in the ground.

A mixed-use development is currently planned for the block. Likely not as handsome as some of the previous structures, but at least a residence once again.

Hogarth Gets a Spa Day

For the last few months, I have been working on cleaning and stabilizing a very large (25″ x 19″) and fascinating book.

This binding contains a collection of  83 engravings, in various sizes, by William Hogarth (1697 – 1764). This item was formerly owned by Frank Baker (1910-1999), a faculty member at Duke. Hogarth was an English artist known best for his satirical works depicting morality and  social criticism. These works were first executed as paintings and then sold as engravings by subscription. The prints are remarkable and capture so many small details of English life in the 18th century. Interestingly, Hogarth’s work was so widely pirated that he fought to obtain copyright protection and the Copyright Act passed by Parliament in 1735 is known as the Hogarth Act.

In order to make these prints available to patrons, the book needed quite a bit of cleaning and mending. Several of the pages at the front and back were detached.

Before and after surface cleaning

The paper was so covered in surface grime that your fingers would become black from just turning pages, so I spent several weeks just surface cleaning everything. The resulting change was pretty dramatic.

With the tears along the edges mended, and the loose sheets reattached, this items is a little less daunting and safer to handle.

Many of the prints are large enough that they are simply sewn into the binding, but the smaller prints are mounted at the corners to larger sheets. Some of the smaller prints had become detached. Only a few of the prints in the volume have hand-applied color like plate 5 from ‘A Rake’s Progress‘ (above).

Loose prints were reattached with wheat starch paste.

During my initial review, I thought that the first  of four plates in the Election series was torn along the top (or gutter of the binding).

Upon closer inspection though, I discovered that the Election plate was whole – this torn stub was from something else.

Dr. Baker’s typewritten inventory doesn’t list another print in this location and the numbers penciled on each page aren’t interrupted, so it seems like this one has been missing for quite a while. Looking at the details of exposed wooden rafters that are depicted, this fragment could be from one of Hogarth’s more famous works, “Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn”.

It is hard to know for sure, but we will be noting the fragment’s location in the catalog record.

Apart from mending and reattaching the prints themselves, I also spent some time flattening the original interleaving. The binder had included sheets of thin, laid paper by affixing them to the verso of each leaf using dots of red wax. The interleaving had become very badly creased, torn, and in some cases was missing entirely.

During treatment, I flattened and repaired the interleaving as much as possible. New loose interleaving sheets were  added for the openings where original interleaving was missing or had major losses.

The top engraving above, titled “Tailpiece, or The Bathos”, is Hogarth’s last engraving, published just eight months before his death. It depicts the figure of Time exhaling his last breath among ruins. In the advertisements for this print that ran in the St James’s Chronicle for April 14, 1764, Hogarth wrote that it should “serve as a Tail-Piece to all the Author’s Engraved Works, when bound up together”.

The previous owner who had these prints collected and bound honored Hogarth’s wishes.

More Big Boxes

We have been on a Big Book Box roll lately. Last week you read about a boxing project for two large “boxed withs” (is that a real term in library land?). This week we bring you another multi-piece set that posed some challenges. “Whatever You Say, Say Nothing,” by Gilles Peress, consists of three books, two boxes, and a canvas bag. You can read more about this project and watch an interview with the author at Steidl Books.

Three books, two boxes, and a canvas bag on a table.
Prepare for boxing!

Artist books are often a challenge for shelving in library stacks. Rarely are they shelf-ready due to their materials or construction. How do you shelve a bag full of books? Do you separate the pieces for easier shelving and retrieval? Or box them all together to keep the items together? Did we mention this weighs a total of 27.5 pounds?

Time to box the boxes and bags.

We decided to take the boxes out of the canvas bag, and box all the parts in one enclosure that will include a label warning of the weight of the object. This makes it easier to shelve, and easy to put back together in its original form when it is used or exhibited.

All together now…

Now we need to find a bigger bin to send this over to Lilly Library. If your library has this title, let us know how it went to the shelf. We would be really interested in hearing about it.

 

We’re Going to Need a Bigger Box

After my recent dabbling in miniature book work, I felt it was only appropriate to switch things up and work on something large.

These two sizeable sets of East Asian books were exactly what I was looking for. Occasionally a set like this would be broken down into its individual books. However, since each set came with a unique cloth enclosure, they were cataloged as one whole item.

Therefore, I will treat each set as a single unit.

So, What is the Treatment?

I am glad that we are keeping the original enclosures, however it makes my job trickier. The current case doesn’t provide enough protection as it is. Even just a gentle push is enough to slide the books out of the enclosure, which could cause unwanted damage to the books in the set.

The best treatment option is to make each set a new box. That way the entire unit will be safer whenever it is transported or handled.

Normally this wouldn’t be anything new, but boxing something this tall is a first for me. The thickest books I’ve worked with were typically four or five inches thick as most. On the other hand, these two sets are a whopping nine and eleven inches tall.

Due to their size, a normal clamshell box is no longer an option. If I applied their dimensions to our usual clamshell design, the box would not fit on the sheets of E-Flute board that we have in the lab. The best solution to this problem is to make a telescoping box instead, which is made of two parts (an interior piece and a lid) instead of one.

How Do You Make Such a Large Box?

Even with this alternative design I had to make some adjustments. The book sets were large enough that they still didn’t quite fit on the boards. This meant I had to change how I transferred the design onto the board.

Who would’ve thought 30″x40″ was too small?

To make the majority of the box fit, I made all my measurements from the center line of the board edge. This method allows me to fit all the critical parts of the box on the board.

With all the important marks made I can now crease the board, make the necessary cuts, and assemble the interior piece of the box.

The lack of board is more apparent once the box is put together.

Luckily the solution is a simple one. All I need is a piece of scrap E-Flute (which we have plenty of) to fill the gap in the side wall.

 

Once that is complete, I made the lid of the box. I measured this piece the same way I did before in order to be as economical as possible with the board.

After that I just had to repeat the process for the second set of volumes.

Now these massive sets are ready to go! Too bad they’re still just as heavy though.

The Banana Book Returns!

Longtime readers will remember the banana book, one of the best worst things that has come to the lab over the last 20 years. It has made its return to the Preservation Exhibit Case in our new exhibit, “SOS–Save Our Stuff: How you can help preserve library collections.” The exhibit is viewable during regular library hours on Lower Level 1, outside the Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab (Perkins 023).

The banana book is just one of several uniquely damaged items on display. Want to see what happens when you use sticky notes? Or attempt DIY book repairs? Come on down!

Our new exhibit is up!

 

This little case of horrors is a companion exhibit to “The Library Uncovered: Behind the Scenes with Collections Services in the Jerry and Bruce Chappell Family Gallery. This exhibit pulls back the curtain to show the hidden work that it takes to get library materials ready for the shelf or online.  To see more blog posts about this exhibit, please visit one of these posts.

A Tiny Press Calls for a Tiny Book

The Library Uncovered: Behind the Scenes with Collections Services

A Different Kind of Exhibit

The Library Uncovered: Behind the Scenes with Collections Services

As mentioned last week, staff in the Collections Services division have been creating a “behind the scenes” look at the work we do to get books to the shelf. The exhibit is now up! Come see a selection of the work we do to make sure the book you need is on the shelf when you need it.

The Library Uncovered: Behind the Scenes with Collections Services
Exhibit dates: December 19, 2022 – June 4, 2023
Location: The Jerry and Bruce Chappell Family Gallery
Opening reception: January 10, 2023, 3:00 pm EST (light refreshments served)

We captured a few in-process installation photos to pique your interest. The exhibit is open to the public during regular library hours.

Meg installing the wall graphics.

Archway graphics!

The animations are live!

Say hello to our little friend in the disaster case.

WHAT CAN YOU SEE IN THIS EXHIBIT? 

The cases in this exhibition highlight interesting items from the collection that represent some of the work we do:

  • Watch a slideshow to see how materials travel through Collections Services
  • Discover what languages are represented in our collections
  • See a map of where our resources come from

This exhibit is brought to you by Duke University Libraries Collections Services. The exhibit team includes:

  • Heather Baker, Metadata & Discovery Strategy
  • Sara Biondi, Monograph Acquisitions
  • Bethany Blankemeyer, Electronic Resources & Serials Acquisitions
  • Beth Doyle, Conservation Services
  • Jovana Ivezic, Conservation Services
  • Elena Feinstein, Collection Strategy & Development
  • Rich Murray, Resource Description
  • Jacquie Samples, Metadata & Discovery Strategy

The exhibit team wishes to thank:

  • Meg Brown, Exhibition Services
  • Michael Daul, Assessment and User Experience Strategy
  • Dracine Hodges, AUL for Collections Services
  • Janelle Hutchinson, Communications
  • Yoon Kim, Exhibition Services
  • Eric Monson, Center for Data and Visualization Sciences
  • Aaron Welborn, Director of Communications

Duke University Libraries Preservation