New Exhibit: What’s missing from your video history?

Written by Liz Milewicz, Ph.D, Head of Digital Scholarship and Production Services. Exhibit curated by Liz Milewicz and Winston Atkins, Preservation Officer.

Calling up my favorite Bert and Ernie sketches on YouTube makes it seem like there’s no problem with accessing my video history. But a brief glance behind the institutional curtains of digital preservation casts a cloud on how often I’ll be able to revisit such happy scenes.

Audio-visual materials’ rapid deterioration (relative to print media), its wide adoption for commercial and personal use, and the range of formats and playback equipment that rose and fell around analog videotape, have profound implications for preserving those pieces of our 20th century history that were captured on videotape.

“Generation Loss,” a new exhibit that I’ve co-curated with Winston Atkins, Preservation Officer, presents just a few of the many videotape formats introduced during the 20th century and collected in Duke University Libraries, as well as the signs of their deterioration and the factors that contribute to their loss. Because some of these signs are only visible when the tape is played, much of this loss goes unseen and unknown until someone tries to play the tape. The video display in this exhibit demonstrates some of common signs of audio-visual deterioration.

The exhibit is open during regular Perkins/Bostock hours. We are located on the Lower Level (same level as the Link), by Perkins Room 023.  Come and have a look!

Pumpkinhead Bears, Dragons and Dracula – Oh My!

Murray Ghost Waiter
Are you being served?

The Edwin and Terry Murray Collection of miniatures, aka The Most Fun Project In The Lab Ever, came in recently for enclosures. These lead figurines come from various role-playing games including Dungeons and Dragons. Over on Devil’s Tale you can read more about the processing of this collection.

The miniatures arrived in a variety of boxes as if the boys and girls had just finished playing with them. Opening the boxes felt like Christmas morning, I couldn’t wait to see what was inside. I think everyone in the lab got tired of me saying “Look at this one!” every five minutes but I couldn’t help it.

Murray original boxes
Murray miniatures as they came to the lab.

The figurines range in size from less than an inch to ten or more inches. You would think that these would be fairly robust being metal, but lead is soft and a lot of them are very fragile. Many have been painted and we know for sure some were painted by the Murray brothers themselves.

The figurines needed protection from rubbing against each other and plenty of cushioning to keep them from jostling around. They are also very heavy as a collection, so they needed to be boxed in a way that they could be lifted without throwing out your back.

Murray figurine
Wrapping each figurine.

My strategy was to wrap each in tissue and place them in modular artifact boxes. Each tray has twelve compartments, and each compartment holds on average four to six figurines depending on their size. The very large figurines were put into custom-built trays. I did my best to keep like-themed characters together so people interested in animals or dragons or warriors should be able to find what they are looking for. Admittedly, users may find this system cumbersome but if these start receiving very high use, I can revisit my boxing decision in consultation with Research Services.

There are many, many pictures on our Flickr site that shows more of the boxing process and some of my favorite characters including the above mentioned Pumpkinhead Bear and many, many dragons (my favorite creatures of all). Be sure to check out the skeletal dragon, she has amazing detail and is so very fragile. She also has a broken wing but it is there with her in her box.

After boxing (left) and before (right).

I’m a little sad to see these leave the lab because it was so much fun to work on. But I know that they are now well protected and will be there for anyone to use in the future, maybe even me.




May Day: Occupy Your Disaster Plan

May Day Heritage PreservationHappy May Day! Today, we will be welcoming the coming of spring by dancing around the May Pole and celebrating International Workers Day. Since May Day is also the traditional day to prepare for an emergency in your cultural institution, we will also be making sure we are ready in our library.

Disasters often strike with little or no warning. Waiting until a water pipe bursts or a hurricane hits is not a disaster plan. 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. Pick one, any one, just do something to prepare for an emergency today.

Do One Thing

  • Download the new 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 and the Salvage Wheel. The combo is on sale through May 31st for $25.95, that’s less than the member rate! This is an excellent resource 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? [I still haven’t replaced my respirator, bad conservator!]
  • Review your emergency phone tree. Are the correct people listed and the phone numbers still correct? For those of you in the 919 area code, put a reminder in your document that you now need to dial the 919 area code for local numbers.
  • Review your plan. What’s missing or needs updating? You don’t have to make 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.
  • 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.

Thanks to Heritage Preservation and their efforts over the years to raise awareness of the need for disaster planning and recovery training in cultural institutions. Be sure to check out their home page, and friend them on Face Book.

Now…back to the dancing.

1091 Project: Digitization and Conservation

Welcome to this month’s 1091 Project wherein Parks Library Preservation and Preservation Underground talk about how we collaborate with our respective digitization programs.

Where Digitization Happens

At Duke Libraries digitization happens in three departments:

  1. Winston Atkins, head of the Preservation Department, advises on and coordinates preservation reformatting projects for both born digital collections and analog materials (especially non-print materials such as moving image).
  2. The staff in the Digital Production Center (DPC) is part of the Digital Scholarship and Production Services Department headed by Liz Milewicz. DPC digitizes print, manuscript and A/V materials for both library-driven projects and individual patron requests. They use a variety of imaging hardware in their workflow, choosing the appropriate one based on the size, condition and type of material they are imaging.
  3. Internet Archive has one operator and overhead-scanning equipment on site to digitize print materials from special collections.

Conservation Services works to some extent with all three of these workflows to be sure our materials are safe and in good condition for imaging.

Louisa Whitman letter, before treatment
Louisa Whitman letter before digitization and conservation treatment.

Project Evaluation Prior To Imaging

We review projects under consideration for digitization to be sure the materials are stable enough for reformatting. We meet with DPC and library staff to look at the collection (or a representational portion of it if it is very large) to determine what kind of materials they are, what their condition is, and what treatment may be needed prior to digitization.

Treatment Before And After Imaging

Our main concern is that damaged materials are stabilized prior to reformatting so they can be handled without further deterioration. The most common problems that we treat before imaging include:

  • page tears or losses
  • mis-folds or detached pieces of fold-outs
  • loose or detached pages
  • old repairs (if they obscure text)
  • uncut pages
  • old Mylar encapsulations sealed with tape

We don’t normally fix binding problems such as loose or missing spines or boards until after imaging if the book can be handled carefully as is. But if we feel a book should be repaired first, we will consult with the librarians and decide on a treatment plan prior to sending it to DPC.

After imaging we will do any repairs or put those items into our repair request database to do at a later date. We will also provide a custom enclosure for anything that is fragile or needs protection, just as we would for any other treatment in the lab.

Removing old, taped encapsulations.

An example of a pre-imaging workflow is the ongoing broadside project. Decades ago it was standard practice to tape the edges of the broadsides to protect them from tearing (we obviously don’t do that anymore). Over the years, the adhesive has made the paper very brittle, yet it is still sticky. DPC cannot image through Mylar so the old, double-stick tape encapsulations must be removed. Because of time and resource limitations we do not remove the old tape, but we do repair any heavily damaged broadsides with paste and Japanese tissue so that they are in one piece and readable. When DPC is finished with them, we re-encapsulate the taped broadsides with our ultrasonic welder so that they do not stick to other broadsides in the folder (no more tape!).

Collaboration During Imaging

The Internet Archive is scanning an incredible number of items every day. The most often requested repairs for this workflow is cutting pages that were never cut by the publisher, or reattaching a loose page. We try to turn these around quickly to keep this workflow moving, especially if it is a patron request.

Sometimes a page or fold-out will get torn or come loose during scanning or a book is discovered to have uncut pages. DPC will bring it next door and we will quickly turn these repairs around so we don’t hold up their workflow.

Imaging Ethiopic scrolls.

Sometimes the materials themselves pose a handling challenge and we will help physically handle the books or manuscripts during imaging. Digitizing the Ethiopic scrolls is a good example of this sort of collaboration. Because these vellum scrolls were so long they could not be imaged in one shot, and they were so tightly wound that they  would roll up on their own if not weighted down.We had to devise a method to hold sections of the scrolls open while also allowing us to unroll and re-roll as we digitized.


As you can imagine there is a huge volume of materials being imaged every day here in the basement of the library. Because there is so much going through DPC and Internet Archive, we simply cannot review every binding or manuscript page prior to imaging. We work very closely with the staff to be sure that they know what sort of damage to look for, how to handle fragile materials, and when to ask for assistance. We want them to feel that they have the information they need to safely handle materials, and in turn we trust their judgment to know when they should come next door to see us. I think we have a really good working relationship in this way.

Please visit Parks Library Preservation to see how they collaborate with digital projects.

Welcome To Our New Staff: Tedd Anderson

Our new technician, Tedd Anderson, joined Conservation Services in March. He was hired to help with the Enabling Project, which means his days are spent mostly making custom enclosures. Tedd started in March and has already made almost 400 boxes! I’ve promised him some other work in support of the renovation project, too, just to mix things up a little.

I always ask our new staff to tell me about a favorite conservation project. Here’s Tedd’s favorite:

 While working for the Northwestern University Library Conservation Lab I had the pleasure of working on many Chicago history related documents.  One book that sticks in my mind doesn’t have to do so much with the treatment but what I found within the pages of the book.

I was rebinding a catalog of the 1893 Colombian Exposition (The Chicago World’s Fair) when I found a five leaf clover within the pages.  I have never found a five leaf clover in my life, let alone within the pages of a book from the 19th century.  It had obviously been there a very long time.

I’ve become very interested in the history of Chicago since then (this interest spurred on with a reading of Erik Larsen’s “Devil in the White City”) and like to imagine that this five leaf clover was found amongst the sprawling greens constructed for the Exposition in the Summer of 1893.

Tedd holds a BFA in Painting from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Illinois). While at university, Tedd worked for the UI-UC conservation lab and he was a teaching assistant for book artist Bea Nettles. Tedd most recently worked at Northwestern University’s conservation lab in Chicago. We are so happy he has made his way south and east to join us here in Durham. Welcome to the team Tedd!

Edible Book Festival Roundup

Girl With A Pearl Onion
Girl With a Pearl Onion by Lori Nofziger

Our Seventh Annual Edible Book Festival was a success! In case you were unable to attend the event, images of the entries are now available on our Flickr Page. The silent auction of the entries raised over $350 $400 for the DUL Memorial Fund in honor of Helene Baumann.

Thanks to all who entered, attended, bid and voted for their favorites!

The Winners By Popular Vote Are:

Most edible: Game of Scones by Linda McCormick
Least edible: Four Fish (savory) by Beth Doyle
Punniest: A Tone Mint by Meghan Lyon
Entry that looks like a book: The Hunger Games by Angela Bryant
Best in Show: The Hunger Games by Angela Bryant

Edible Book Festival In The News:

Duke On Demand video.

Herald Sun coverage.

Duke Today announcement.

Word has it that we were on the news yesterday (perhaps WRAL?), but I haven’t found a link. If you saw it, and can find a link for me, please leave it in the comments. Thanks!


Seventh Annual Edible Book Festival Is Near!

Warren PeaceWe are less than a week away from the Seventh Annual Edible Book Festival. We will be celebrating on Monday, April 2, from 2pm-3:30pm in the Gothic Reading Room.

If you will be bringing an entry, please do so by 1:30pm so we can take its picture and get it entered into our online database for electronic voting.

Edible or not, every entry will be eligible for bidding in the silent auction to benefit the Duke University Libraries Helene Baumann Memorial Fund. If you are interested in participating in the silent auction, stop by the registration table for your secret identity when you arrive.

Winners in each of our voting categories will be announced around 3pm. Auction winners will be announced around 3:15, and then the eating can begin!

If you need some inspiration for your entry, visit our Flickr page and the International Edible Book Festival.

Enabling Project: Starting the E’s (aka the bound monographs)

Rubenstein Renovation Prep The first Enabling Project underway is to review the bound monographs that are housed across five floors of stacks to determine if they are in good enough condition to move without causing damage.

Our student assistants are reviewing each book to find broken or loose sewing, loose or detached boards or spines, detached pages, etc. If it has any of these things they put in an envelope or set it aside if it needs a custom enclosure because it is too heavy or big to fit in an envelope.

Jennifer, the project manager for this section, then goes through each section after the students have finished and looks for any missed items. She is moving the books that need boxing to a holding area so we can bring them down in manageable batches. Jennifer is also our registrar and supply manager, so she is pulling double duty these days as the enabling project is bringing so much work into the lab (thanks Jennifer!!).

Rubenstein Renovation PrepWe chose Tyvek envelopes because they are inexpensive, flexible, and can be easily sealed. Each envelope will have the item’s bar code and a label that says “return to conservation after use.” It will then be sealed so that the contents (and any loose parts) stay safe for the move.

We commonly use envelopes for items that need a minimum amount of protection or for items that have loose or missing parts that need to be kept together until we can repair them. When a book in an envelope is called for by a patron, the envelope is opened and the item sent to conservation after the patron is done with it. At that point we will review it for repair or a new enclosure.

See our web sites for more on Mr. Rubenstein’s gift to the library, current renovation news, and more images on Flickr.

We Call It “Enabling”

Conservation Services StaffWe are embarking on a new phase of renovation that will focus on the David. M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. This work will bring new environmental controls, beautiful study and event spaces, and expanded exhibit areas to create a space worthy of a world-class library. It’s very exciting but there is a lot of work to do before construction can begin.

First we must move the entire special collections library (collections and people) to make way for construction. It is no small feat to move a library and it involves not only Rubenstein staff but many people from across the library including Conservation Services. The project to prepare and move the collections is called the “Enabling Project.” Over the next year we thought we would share a little bit about what we are doing as Enablers.

Last fall conservation staff conducted several surveys of key stack areas that helped determine the human and budgetary resources needed to prepare the physical collections for the move. We have developed a timeline for major projects, assigned conservation staff members as project managers, and hired four students and one new technician to help with the work (more on our new technician soon). I’m keeping a list of “known knowns” as items are found in the stacks that will need our help before they move. I also have a list of “known and unknown unknowns” because the stacks are sometimes a mysterious place and things are lurking in corners that we know we will have to deal with at some point.

There is much more happening behind the scenes that won’t make it to the blog. Conservation staff is working very closely with Rubenstein staff to help ensure our collections are safely moved to swing space, and eventually moved back into the new space. I’d like to express a very hearty thank you to all the staff, students and volunteers in Conservation for their hard work. This will be an extraordinary year for us as we juggle the Enabling Project on top of our normal repair workflows. Our flexibility and patience will surely be tested over the next several months, but I know we have a strong team and we will get the job done. I am so proud of each and every one of you!

Duke University Libraries Preservation