1091 Project: A Day In The Life Of The Conservation Lab

Welcome to our first 1091 Project post, a new effort in collaborative blogging!

1,091 is the number of miles between Ames, Iowa and Durham, North Carolina. Ames is the home of Iowa State University and our colleagues who write Parks Library Preservation. On the third Friday of each month, we will pick a topic and write about that topic from our own perspectives to highlight the similarities and differences between our programs. Our hope is that we will learn from each other and spark conversation between us and between our readers. If there are topics you are interested in hearing about from us, please leave them in the comments box.

The Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab is located on the lower level of Perkins Library. We work on both general (circulating) and special (non-circulating) collections. Our program has one full time technician to work primarily on general collections, plus 0.5FTE student assistants and two volunteers to help her. Three conservators and one technician work primarily on special collections materials. And there is me, the head of the Conservation Services Department. That makes six full time staff, two volunteers and our student assistants all working diligently to maintain our collections. Last fiscal year we repaired over 2,800 items from the collections and made over 8,500 custom enclosures.

1091 Project: A Day In The Life Of The Conservation Lab

A typical day begins at 8am with the collection of the damaged books from Circulation, with a stop in Shipping & Receiving to pick up books sent over from the branches or from Perkins technical services. These are brought to the lab and each item’s bar code is scanned to change it’s process status to “in preservation.” The books are sorted by the type of repair or enclosure they need and put onto our shelves. This allows staff to  pull several books needing the same repair. By working in batches our repair procedures are more streamlined and efficient, and the work turns around faster.

When the Rubenstein Library opens at 9am, we will collect any damaged items that were used in the special collections reading room. We will also pick up any special collections items sent over from Rubenstein Library’s technical services department for enclosures or pre-shelving repair needs. We will transfer these items to the lab and enter them into our Lab Log, which is a list of all the special collections materials that are in Conservation. The conservators will write a condition report for each item, then they will meet with the curators to discuss treatment options and agree on what will be done. Once they sign off on a treatment, digital photographs will be taken before treatment begins, and again after treatment. These will be filed with the written treatment documents when the items are returned to the library.

If today is Boxing Day, everyone in the lab will work on making custom enclosures for special collections. Boxing Day is great for your statistics since you create several boxes in one day, but it can be challenging to remain productive while the board shear is occupied or someone else has the corner rounder. It’s a good exercise to figure out how to remain productive while waiting for equipment, and it’s amazing how much prep work you can do while you wait.

As department head, my time is spent planning, managing the budget and staff, and gathering information, or as I call it, “keeping the wheels on the Conservation bus.” Every now and then I get to work at the bench, but it’s never as much time as I would like. My day is usually spent meeting with colleagues to find out how we can improve our services, and developing new initiatives and strategies to ensure our services are aligned with the Library’s strategic plan and direction. I may attend a lot of meetings, but I find this “strategery” to be rather fun and challenging. We are on the verge of some new and exciting initiatives that I can’t wait to roll out.

Other things our staff may be doing on any given day include helping our Exhibits Coordinator install an exhibit, working with the Digital Production Center to repair materials before imaging, and working with the Head of Preservation to record insect activity or environmental conditions in the library. And if it is April 1st, we will be holding our annual Edible Book Festival. Many of us also contribute to the profession by publishing research, presenting at conferences, and actively participate on state- and national-level committees. You can find more images from the lab on our Flickr page and you can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

That’s our typical day, let’s see what is happening over in Ames at Parks Library Preservation. [link is now working 1/20/12 1:52pm]

The end of a productive day

Quick Pic: Frightening Finds

Nothing quite gets you thanking your lucky stars that you live in the 21st Century as working with the History of Medicine Collection in the David M. Rubenstein Library.

We have been helping to retrofit the boxes containing historic medical instruments in preparation of our move to swing space for the next phase of renovation.

We had a good time playing a game I call, “what in the world is this thing  and what body part does it apply to?” Depending on your “ick” tolerance it can be a fun game. Do you want to take a guess at what this is?

Conservation Technician Position Announced

Conservation Tech, Library Assistant

(1 Year Term Appointment)

Under the general supervision of the Head of Conservation, creates custom enclosures and performs minor treatments for the repair and rehousing of special collections materials. S/he works with members of the Conservation Services Department to prepare materials for moving items off site and to temporary swing space as part of the Perkins renovation project.

For a complete job description and instructions for applying, click here.


It Takes A Village To House A Village

The Doris Duke Archives recently sent us this “Tiny Thai Village” for boxing. Read about its history on The Devil’s Tale.

The TTV came in a small box with all of the models inside. Obviously a box half the size of a Twinkie would disappear in the stacks and make access difficult. While these models aren’t fragile per se, they are delicate and the little houses had no real protection.

Our goals for the final housing were three-fold

  • The new enclosure had to be big enough to go to the stacks
  • Each little house needed its own compartment for safety and security
  • You needed to be able to lift out each model with your giant fingers

Experimental Box-making
I thought this would be easy, but it took a lot of trial and error to figure it out. I grabbed a standard Metal-Edge box meant to house cabinet cards and started experimenting. Here’s what I did:

  • Created a tray with a compartment for each house
  • Built up the inside so that the models would be level with the top of the box
  • Inset the original box so it was at the same level as the models
  • Lined the lid with Volara to provide a cushion should they get shaken
  • Labeled the box with big “Fragile-Do Not Tilt” labels

The Final Box
While each model can still move around in its compartment, they don’t knock into each other and you can still get your fingers in to take them out. You can also quickly tell if one is missing since each compartment should be occupied.

Although I would likely do something a bit different if I were asked to house this again, I think this enclosure achieves the goals and will provide more protection than the original box.

Last Minute Gift Ideas

With contributions from Winston Atkins, Preservation Librarian

Never fear, your secret holiday helper is here! We have for you some last minute gift ideas for Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa or New Year’s.

Heck, these make great hostess gifts, thank-you gifts, or birthday gifts, especially if someone’s birthday falls smack dab in the middle of all of these holidays (ahem).

Gifts under $20

Gifts to $50

Gifts to $100

Gifts over $100

The usual disclaimer: Listing does not imply endorsement of any product or vendor.

Happy 2nd Birthday To Us!

Today our blog turns two years old! In the spirit of Thanksgiving we wish to thank all of our readers and colleagues for helping us make this blog successful. It’s been a great two years filled with weird and wonderful things.

Our birthday wish? to continue to bring you more news and views from the Lower Level, and to engage our readers in more conversations.

What kinds of posts do you like to read? What don’t you know about our work that we can highlight? What drives you to respond to a blog post? Oatmeal spice cake left over from yesterday’s feast counts as a fiber-filled breakfast item, right?

Image from “Two African Trips With Notes and Suggestions on Big Game Preservation in Africa,” by Edward North Buxton (1902). This item is in the lab so that we can fix the large fold-out map that accompanies the text.

What’s In The Lab: Peeling Eyeballs!

By Erin Hammeke, Conservator for Special Collections

The History of Medicine collections continue to delight us in Conservation as we work to stabilize some of the most-used items. I just finished repairing Bartisch’s Ophthalmodouleia, das ist Augendienst:…, a work on Ophthalmology printed in 1583.

This item was recently featured in the exhibit, Anamated Anatomies. In addition to depicting some interesting and seemingly painful eye treatments and surgeries of the 16th century, the book contains two pages of hand-colored anatomical flaps.

I repaired a page that depicts the anatomy of the eye in layers. Like many of the flap books we have examined, the flaps were fragile and showed signs of damage from use. The eyeball flaps had received several previous repairs, including a fairly early shellac seal repair.

For this treatment, I removed one of the previous repairs that was poorly placed and causing damage to the outer flap, and I re-repaired it using tissue and wheat starch paste. I also stabilized the remaining flaps and flattened mis-folds using a light application of wheat starch paste.

Quick Pic: Stick A Flag On It

We have these blue flags that our colleagues can use to alert us to damaged books. They are intended to be placed inside the damaged book and, or taped onto a bin if you have a bunch of things to send to the lab. They aren’t supposed to be taped TO the books themselves.

The lesson here is that care and handling training is never done. People forget, they get in a hurry, or they just plain don’t think things through. I’m sure the person that taped this flag to these books didn’t intend harm, they just didn’t think that tape could harm book covers.

Maybe this was a new student assistant and we haven’t caught them yet with our indoctrination care and handling training. To the Bat Mobile! We have work to do!!

Duke University Libraries Preservation