Tag Archives: Conservation

Conservation Featured in Hearld-Sun

The Herald-Sun, recently featured Conservation in an article titled “Conservators Give New Life to Old Books.”

The gorgeous book on Erin Hammeke’s table is 21 by 14 inches, 3 inches thick, with gold tulle and white vellum binding. It dates from the mid-17th century.

An atlas from the Dutch publisher Blaeu, it has gloriously vivid maps of the British isles. It also has a number of tears, some discolorations and maybe even some mold. It’s Hammeke’s job to repair and fix it all.

“[The repairs] are pretty straightforward,” Hammeke said the other day as she delicately worked on a tear. “You mend it with Japanese tissue and research paste. It’s transparent, and flexible. You just have to test all the colors to see if they are water soluble.”

Hammeke is one of five remarkably skilled technicians working in the conservation department of Duke University’s Perkins Library. They are responsible for keeping the library’s 6 million books and millions of other items in working condition for both current and future users, and for rehabilitating works that have suffered from decay or in some cases, disaster.

Read more: The Herald-Sun – Conservators give new life to old books

Sometimes You Get Lucky

I recently got a small diary in the lab that had been previously repaired. Instead of simply joining the split pages together with a thin strip of tissue, they opted to line the entire two-page folio with heat set tissue.

Dealing with prior repairs is always a conundrum for conservators. With time and resources limited do you leave old repairs if they are still working (even if they are really ugly), or do you replace them with more sympathetic and reversible repairs? As in all things conservation it depends.

In this instance I removed the old repairs because they were difficult to read through. Luckily, whoever lined the pages with heat-set tissue didn’t use a hot enough iron so the tissue didn’t attach well to the pages. Lucky for me because if they did use a hot iron, soaking in a solvent would have been my only recourse to remove the lining. I was able to simply peel off the old tissue (image left) and replace it with smaller strips of Japanese tissue adhered with wheat starch paste (image right).

The pages look much better and you can read them without the distraction of the all-over tissue lining. I feel like I got away easy this time.

Evolution of Conservation

To better organize our digital photo files we have been applying a standard naming convention to our old images. In doing so I’ve found some old pictures of the lab dating back from the very beginning. It’s been a fun trip down memory lane.

On Flickr you will find images of the original space. You can also find images of our beautifully renovated Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab. We’ve come a long way, baby.

Mellon Awards Libraries $1.25 Million for Conservation

Foundation Award Will Expand Department

DURHAM, NC: The Duke University Libraries have received a $1.25 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create a new senior conservator position to help care for the Libraries’ extensive research collections. During the next three years, the Libraries will raise a matching $1 million to endow the position, while $250,000 of the grant will allow the Libraries to proceed with appointing someone before the endowment is fully funded.

The new senior conservator position will help the Libraries to address a growing need to preserve and make accessible a wide variety of materials that are currently unavailable to researchers or could be damaged by use because of their fragile condition. It will also allow the Libraries’ Conservation Services Department to expand partnerships on campus and throughout the Triangle area.

Demand For Skilled Conservators

The demand for skilled conservation professionals has never been higher, as historical library collections age and technology poses new questions about long-term access to information. A recent survey of Duke’s Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library (RBMSCL) indicated that nearly one-third of its holdings require conservation treatments. That translates to a significant need: the RBMSCL has collections of more than 350,000 printed volumes, 20 million manuscripts, and 200,000 photographs, in addition to numerous other formats, from ancient papyri to born-digital records. Many of these materials come with unique conservation needs that must be addressed before researchers can use them.

Duke’s experienced team of library conservation professionals serves as a local and regional resource on a range of conservation-related issues. Conservators regularly collaborate with other Duke units, such as the Nasher Museum of Art and the Center for Documentary Studies, and with partners in the Triangle Research Libraries Network (North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). The addition of a senior conservator will increase the department’s level of expertise and the opportunities for outreach and conservation education to the community.

Mellon’s Previous Support of the Libraries

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has generously supported several other Duke University Libraries initiatives. Previous Mellon grants are helping to develop a portal for integrated access to international papyrus collections; a next-generation, open-source library system that fits modern library workflows; and campus-wide institutional strategies for managing and preserving Duke’s vast and varied digital assets.

“We could not realize our most ambitious goals without the Mellon Foundation’s generous support,” said Deborah Jakubs, Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian and Vice Provost for Library Affairs. “Our research collections are both deep and diverse in coverage and a powerful draw to scholars working in many disciplines. By improving our ability to preserve these materials for the next generation, this grant is supporting not just Duke, but the entire scholarly community.”

The job announcement has been posted.



Reading Roundup

Another installment of articles, books, etc., that have caught my attention.

God’s Librarians: The Vatican Library enters the twenty-first century” by Daniel Mendelsohn (New Yorker, Jan. 3, 2011) explores the renovations and history of the “Vat.”

The Flip Side: The secrets of conserving the wood behind an early masterpiece” by Peter Schjeldahl (New Yorker, Nov. 29, 2010) investigates the Ghent Altarpiece and it “six centuries of tumultuous history.” Both of the New Yorker articles are only readable online in their entirety if you have a subscription. I’m sure your local library subscribes.

The ALA Presidential Task Force on Traditional Cultural Expressions (TCEs) will be presenting its final report to ALA Council on Monday, January 10, during ALA Council II, which meets from 10:00am-11:30am

The Visual Miscellaneum by David McCandless explores better ways to represent complicated statistics and information. What could you do with your yearly ARL stats following this model? think of the possibilities.

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton. My favorite modern philosopher tackles the issue of working for a living. From his own description on Amazon:

“The strangest thing about the world of work is the widespread expectation that our work should make us happy. For thousands of years, work was viewed as something to be done with as rapidly as possible and escaped in the imagination through alcohol or religion. Aristotle was the first of many philosophers to state that no one could be both free and obliged to earn a living.” -Alain de Botton

If you haven’t read any of de Botton’s work I will recommend two others: The Consolations of Philosophy and Status Anxiety. Both offer thought provoking philosophical romps that are surprisingly readable and actually useful for navigating our modern society.

And finally, because it is the new year and I’ll be the first to support your resolutions to eat better, and the first to offer you something to kill off that resolution if you need an excuse, I give you Southern Pies by Nancie McDermott. This follows her popular Southern Cakes, which in my opinion should also be on your shelf.

Happy New Year to all and to all good reading!


12 Days of Conservation (singalong edition)

12 Days of Conservation
On the twelfth day of Christmas,
Conservation sent to me:
Twelve clamshell boxes,
Eleven paper cases,
Ten leather rebacks,
Nine pamphlet bindings,
Eight encapsulations,
Seven CD pockets,
Six scalpel blades
Five bone folders,
Four laying presses,
Three French knives,
Two fume hoods,
And a board shear with a sharp blade!

Shanna Leino handmade tools

Be sure to look at Shanna Leino’s tools, they are amazing. For more 12 Days checklists, check out the Digital Collections Blog. Have a safe and happy holiday. Thank you for reading our blog, we appreciate your eyeballs and comments. See you next year!