Tag Archives: Caring for your collections

When the Paper is too Nice

There’s something special about a book made with handmade paper. You don’t come across it too often in general collections, but, when you do, you want to take extra good care of it. This week a beautiful example of this arrived at the lab in the form of The Poems of Sappho, printed in 1910. As you can see in the images below, the book was in rather rough shape. I could tell it would be the perfect candidate for a new case. This means I would need to make new covers for this book.

Upon opening it, I immediately noticed the lovely deckled edges of the paper and what appeared to be a watermark.

A watermark is an image or design that is impressed into the paper during the papermaking process. This is easier to see when you hold the paper up to a light like so.

The main purpose of a watermark is to identify the papermaker; however, this watermark goes even further and tells us where the paper was made as well. In this case, the paper was handmade in Italy by a group called “The PM co”, which could possibly refer to The Paper Mills Company.

Saving this paper and the vital information on it is going to be my priority as I treat this book. This should be relatively straightforward, but what happens when two of these pages have been glued to the covers?

Preserving the Paper

When the book was bound, the pastedowns were made with the first and last sheet of the textblock of the book rather than using a separate decorative paper.

In order to make a new case for a book, I have to remove the old covers.  I must lift the original handmade paper from the front and back boards to retain it. This can be done by taking an exceptionally thin metal spatula and running it back and forth under the paper to loosen and separate the paper from the covers.

This can be a tricky and time-consuming process if the paper is old and brittle, or if the paper is well adhered to the covers and doesn’t want to come off. Luckily, both pages cooperated with me and I managed to remove the covers without damaging the paper.

A lot of the original board material had to be lifted along with the paper, so the next step is to remove that material from the pages. Leaving it on would make it nearly impossible to neatly reattach the pastedowns when I made a new case for this book. So, I removed as much as I could mechanically before moving onto the rest of the treatment.

With the brand-new case complete, the book and it’s handmade paper are better protected and ready to be handled.

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!

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.

Stapled Instead of Sewn

When you look at how books are generally made, you’ll find that a majority of them are either sewn with thread, glued together as individual sheets, or occasionally bound with a combination of sewing and commercial glue.

On rarer occasions, a book will be stapled together. As luck would have it, one of these books recently came across my bench in need of a new cover. At first glance, you can’t immediately tell the difference between a stapled book and a sewn book.

It’s not until you open the book up and look at the gutter of one of the signatures that you might be able to see whether the book is stapled or not.

An opened book revealing the gutter of the pages where a staple can be seen.

It’s even easier once you’ve taken the cover off and can look directly at the spine of the textblock. As you can see in the images below, there are staples running through a significant portion of the signatures of this book.

Now, in a perfect world where I have all the time and patience I could want, I might remove the staples, mend any damage to the signatures in the process, sew the book back together, and then make a new cover. In this case, such an approach would be too labor intensive and time consuming. As the only senior conservation technician charged with maintaining the general collections, I cannot devote that much time to one book when I might have as many as 25 other books also waiting to be treated.

Considerations

With binding structures like this, the treatment decisions tend to boil down to preserving the provenance of the object vs choosing to rebind the book for greater longevity. In this blog post by Peter D. Verheyen in 2011, it’s evident that these wire bindings are a curious part of the history of bookbinding. Since they’re unusual, and since our goal is to conserve as much of the original item as possible, one might think that saving the original binding would be the obvious choice.

But how do technicians in general collections conservation (such as myself) reconcile keeping as much of the original object intact when we also have to prioritize making sure that the book can withstand regular use from patrons? If the staples in the binding had been so rusted that they were breaking whenever I opened the book, I would most likely take a more involved approach to the treatment of this book. An example of such a treatment would be adhering a cotton cambric to the spine and sewing through it along with the textblock, which you can see an example of in this paper by our very own Beth Doyle.

Luckily, in this case, both the paper and the staples were in good enough condition that a secondary treatment wasn’t necessary. However, it could be argued that perhaps I should have gone ahead with the more complex treatment just in case the staples failed in the future. In the end, these are the dilemmas we face in general collections conservation.

Treatment

I decided that the best course of action would be to clean the spine of its original lining and glue and replace it with a strong Japanese tissue adhered with wheat starch paste. By doing so, the spine is stabilized and strengthened while the staples are also given additional support. This reduces the potential damage that could occur from future use and repeated opening and closing of the book.

A picture of the stapled textblock post spine cleaning being held in a hand. The spine and staples are protected with a thin Japanese tissue, so you can still see the staples.

With the textblock now in a stable state, I could prepare a new case for the book. The original case had already failed and since the original materials were too fragile to keep using, it didn’t make sense to try and reuse the case. Instead, I made an inset on the front board in order to preserve the original cover material. If you’d like to learn more about the book, you can find the catalog record here.

Preservation Week: 10 Tips For Your Collections (pt. 4)

Tip 8: Access and Preservation Go Together

A great amount of ink has been spilled when it comes to the “dilemma” of “preservation vs. access.” I, however, think access and preservation depend on each other for success. If items are not used, how do you know what condition they are in? Without access, digital files can become corrupt or disappear without notice. Friends, it’s two sides of the coin. Some tips to improve access and thus promote preservation:

Provide who/what/when/where for photos and documents.
You can write on the back of photos or documents lightly with a pencil, or take a digital image and add the information to the digital file. Be sure to put these in a safe location, or transfer the files regularly.


Inspect items regularly
Take things out occasionally and inspect them for mold and insect activity. Be sure they are clean and have no damage.

Organize and identify items
Label enclosures adequately so you know what is inside. This will also reduce rumaging through boxes to find what you need.

Give displayed items a rest
Rotate displays to give items a break from being out, and to show off other items. This gives you a chance to inspect items regularly, too.

Document your documents
Document items for insurance purposes should disaster strike (describe valuables and take pictures of them, perhaps part of a home inventory).

Tip 9: Be An Informed Consumer

There is a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to preservation information and conservation instructions. You need to be an informed consumer when you are searching the web or watching television. There are some excellent online resources out there that offer solid advice including these:

Library of Congress Preservation Directorate
Northeast Document Conservation Center
Conservation Online
National Archives and Records Administration
Lyrasis
American Institute for Conservation
ALA Preservation and Reformatting Section
National Archives of Australia
British Library’s Collection Care Department

Tip 10: Leave the Repairs to the Professionals

Sure, you can tape book pages together or attempt DIY book repair, but if your collection is valuable to you sentimentally or monetarily, it is best to consult a professional conservator. A good conservator will give you a range of options from an enclosure to full treatment and should be able to discuss with you, in plain English, what your choices are and how they will affect your material. Do not be afraid to ask questions. We conservators love to talk business. We also love to talk food…but that is a completely different blog post.

Thanks For Reading

We hope you have enjoyed our Preservation Week blogging. If you have learned something new or taken any advice, we would love to hear from you on what you did to protect your personal collections.

Preservation Week: 10 Tips For Your Collections (pt. 3)

Tip 6: Be Prepared For Disasters

We wrote about disaster preparedness for our May Day post. You should have a plan for yourself and your family in case of an emergency. And you should have one for your collectibles in case they are also affected. We won’t list all the resources from our May Day post, but here are some that address personal collections.

Library of Congress “Preserving Treasures After the Disaster”
Council of State Archivists “Rescuing Family Records: A Disaster Planning Guide”

Tip 7: Preserving Non-paper Collections

So far our posts have dealt mostly with paper-based materials. We of course collect a lot of other things, too. All collections benefit from a controlled environment and good handling practices. While we do not have room here to address all non-print media, here are some tips for the common items in home collections. A good place to start looking for information on non-print materials is the AIC Specialty Groups.

Textiles
Many of the dyes in textiles are sensitive to alkaline (basic) conditions. If you are choosing enclosures for your wedding or christening gowns, baby clothes and other textiles, choose enclosures and wrapping materials that are pH neutral. These can easily be obtained by perveyors of quality conservation supplies such as Gaylord Brothers, University Products, or Talas. Listing does not imply endorsement of any product or vendor.

Textiles are also very sensitive to environmental conditions. Food stains can attract hungry insects and high humidity can accelerate decay and attract mold. If you display textiles, but especially sure they are not exposed to light and pollutants (cooking vapors, dust, etc.). Cleaning should be undertaken very carefully and follow established conservation guidelines (read: consult a professional). See the AIC Textiles Specialty Group page for some good information.

Photographs and Home Movies
Photos and film are very sensitive to the environment around them. Dust, light, pollutants, and handling can cause irreparable damage. As with textiles, some photographic processes can be alkaline sensitive. While you will find debate on this, if you have a choice we recommend pH neutral enclosures. If all you can find are alkaline enclosures, they are better than no enclosures at all. Good quality film cans come in acceptable plastics which do not rust. We also recommend creating high quality facsimiles if you have important photographs you want to display, and you can digitize your home movies so you don’t have to play the originals. Obviously do not throw away the originals once you reformat them.

Digital objects
We are creating digital materials at a fast clip these days. Photographs, documents, electronic scrapbook pages. These are all very fun and convenient for sharing and displaying, they are also very vulnerable. Digital documents are vulnerable to format and hardware obsolescence (video tape and CD’s are soon to be obsolete), chemical instability, and unpredictable and often complete failure. For this reason we often recommend creating backups often and in the most current formats. For instance, if you have a lot of home movies on VHS videotape, it is time to transfer them to DVD or MPEG format.

Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe. That is our mantra. Make digital copies, send them to family members, even print out documents now and then and put them in a safe place. Be sure to transfer your electronic documents each time you update platforms or software versions.

Resources

American Institute for Conservation “Caring For Your Treasures”

Preservation Week: 10 Tips For Your Collections (pt. 2)

Tip 3: Handle With Care

The way you handle your collections can greatly affect their condition and longevity. Here are some tips for proper handling:

Do not eat or drink around collections.

Food and drink, even water, can cause permanent staining and can attract insects, mice and other undesirable critters which in turn may feast on your family bible.

Wash your hands.
Clean your hands and dry them thoroughly prior to using your collections or you may leave stains and food debris behind. This is especially true for photographs and textiles which are very sensitive to the oils and dirt on our hands.

Make sure you have a place to put it.
Before removing a book from the shelf or your mother’s wedding dress from the linen closet, make sure you have a clean, spacious area to lay it down. You can’t clear clutter when your hands are full.

Handle carefully.
Don’t pull books from the shelf by their head caps, don’t drag your mother’s wedding dress along the floor, don’t put fingerprints all over your photographs and don’t use your Grandmother’s fine bone china as frisbees. Avoid paperclips and sticky notes, too. For Pete’s sake, use some common sense and handle your stuff with care and respect.

Tip 4: Display responsibly

We all want to show off our family photographs and children’s art work. There are ways to do it properly, and ways to do it wrong. Here are some good tips for displaying your collections:

Keep away from light.
Light exposure causes fading and embrittlement of paper, photographs and textiles. If you hang things on your walls, keep them away from windows and lights. Before hanging, watch the sunlight patterns on the walls as the day progresses and note where direct sunlight falls. Then hang your pictures in places that don’t receive light.

Environment matters.
See our previous post on controlling the environment. Don’t hang the only photograph of Grandma in the bathroom or keep it in the attic. She will come back to haunt you if you do (at least that is what my Mom says, and she is always right).

Choose a good framer.
Any materials that come in contact with your collections should be made of the best quality materials and should not cause damage. When taking your photos and family papers to be framed, be sure to ask what the pH of the mat board is, what kind of glazing is used (glass or Plexiglas are good choices), and how the item will be attached to the backing (non-adhesive methods are best).

Tip 5: Consider Using Facsimiles

If you have only one of something to use or display, it might be a good idea to have a high quality reproduction made so you can work with that instead of the original. This way you can put the original inside a good enclosure and in a safe location. This is a great idea for things like birth records, family trees from the front of your bible, photographs, children’s drawings and especially for newspaper articles since they are so quick to turn yellow and brittle.

Resources

NEDCC “Matting and Framing for Art and Artifacts on Paper”
Library of Congress “Guide to Preservation Matting and Framing”
National Archives “Should I Digitize My Photo Collection?”

Preservation Week: 10 Tips For Your Collections (pt. 1)

Tip 1: Provide a Good Environment

If you can do just one thing to protect your collections you would be wise to choose controlling the environment. What does that mean exactly? In Preservation terms, it means 60-70 degrees Farenheit and 40-50% relative humidity with minimum fluctuations in either. It also means keeping light and pollutants out of collection areas as much as possible. Providing this environment reduces the rate of organic deterioration, keeps bugs and mold at bay, and limits exposure to potentially harmful light and dust.

We live in the real world and understand that not many people (let alone institutions) can maintain such strict conditions. So what can we do at home?

Keep your materials in a stable environment.

Large fluctuations in temperature and humidity (more than 5 degrees or 5% rH) are worse than being in a slightly warmer or wetter environment that is stable.

Store your materials where you live.
Do not store important items in the attic or basement, and definitely not out in the shed or garage unless these environments are controlled.

Keep materials off of the floor.
Store items at least six inches off of the floor to avoid water damage from water and insects.

Monitor for environmental damage.
Watch for fading and warping, or evidence of pests and mold.You can purchase inexpensive monitors at your local electronics store that tell you the temperature and relative humidity. If you discover a problem, contact a professional conservator for advice immediately.



Tip 2: Provide Proper Enclosures

Enclosures provide protection from light, dust and handling. We think they may provide a microclimate that can may mitigate small fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity. We have also seen boxes that have gotten wet wherein the contents have been dry, the box having soaked up the moisture before getting to the contents (do not count on this as your disaster plan, however).

An enclosure can be a box, envelope, folder or picture frame, anything that provides protection from the elements. What makes a “proper” enclosure?

Fit is important.
An enclosure should be just slightly larger than the contents. If it is too small, it may cause damage (think of shoes that are one size too small, ouch). If the enclosure is too large, the contents can move around and bash into the sides. This is particularly bad for brittle and fragile items.

What the enclosure is made of matters, too.
Enclosures are usually made of paper or plastic, choose based on whether you need rigidity and light protection (paper) or need to see through the enclosure to reduce handling (plastic).
Enclosures made of paper such as folders and boxes should have a pH between 7.0 and 8.5 and be lignin free.* Acidic and lignin-containing enclosures can cause paper to become brittle and discolored.

Plastic enclosures such as slide or page protectors should be made of stable, preservation-quality plastics. These are polyester (trade names Mylar and Melinex), polypropylene and polyethylene. If you can’t determine what type of plastic it is, don’t buy it. Avoid vinyl because it offgases and causes discoloration and brittleness.

*Warning: When choosing enclosures from vendors you must be an informed consumer. The term “Acid Free” is a marketing ploy and does not tell you if the chemistry of the materials will harm or protect your artifacts. Think about it…would you put your priceless artifacts into a bath of drain cleaner? After all, most drain cleaners are “acid free” because they are very strong bases. So strong they can dissolve whatever they come in contact with. If you are unsure of the actual pH, ask the manufacturer or choose something you know is safe. When in doubt, choose a pH neutral (pH of 7.0) container.

Resources

NEDCC “Storage Enclosures for books and Artifacts on Paper”
NEDCC “Temperature, Relative Humidity, Light and Air Quality”

Preservation Week, Pass It On


Today starts the first ever Preservation Week brought to you by ALA’s Association of College and Research Libraries among others. This idea stems from a 2005 national survey of repositories by Heritage Preservation in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Among the findings: 26% of the responding institutions have no environmental control for their collections; 80% of responding institutions had no emergency plan that included collections; and 77% of institutions do not allocate funds in their budgets specifically for preservation.

These numbers are eye opening, but we at Preservation Underground also know that there is a lot to do within our personal collections to ensure the longevity of our own collections. During this first ever Preservation Week we will bring you tips to help you do just that. These tips will focus on books, paper and photographic documents. Later in the week we will touch on textiles and digital materials.

The theme “Pass It On” is applicable both to our personal collections and to our personal stories. Do you have a preservation story to tell? We would love for you to share it with us, pass it on.

Resources

NEDCC “Resources for Private and Family Collections”
Library of Congress “Caring for Your Collections”
National Archives “Storing Family Papers and Photographs?”
Library of Congress “Frequently Asked Preservation Questions”