About Author: Caitlin A. Moore

Posts by Caitlin A. Moore

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inventory fun

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Keeping order in the aftermath of a disaster is not easy to do. When the flood hit Cedar Rapids in 2008 there was very little time to get everything out of the museums and things that weren’t rescued until after they had sustained flood damage were at times so unrecognizable it was hard even to identify which museum they had come from! There was no time to take an inventory, label or organize anything.

When we got the books, maunscripts, and artifacts back to the University one of our first, and largest, tasks was to put things in some semblance of order. This was mainly done for museum artifacts as opposed to the books and manuscripts which tend to be a bit easier to identify. We had a rough idea of what we should have and the curators were extremely helpful but many items had tags obscured by mud or ink that had run.

 

We imposed our own organization system and began a database to keep track of which museum an item came from, the condition, proposed treatment, actual treatment, treatment time and date finished. In addition to this we photographed every thing before we started work on it. This organization system has made it much easier for us to locate items when we are in contact with the curators. It also allows us to record what we’ve done for future reference.

The African American Museum is using a program called Past Perfect which allows us to see images of items before the flood. This has been invaluable in cases where we don’t know exactly how much treatment an object needs. We don’t want to remove a finish because we think it is staining from the flood. We also do not want to “overclean” objects, taking away from their provenance.

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JCHS return!!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Finally sending some ledgers home!! Leigh Ann Randak came to the Conservation Lab today to pick up 42 finished ledgers and the completed collection of re-boxed court dockets!!

This means we are nearly half way through the ledger project and that we’re making progress! Many of these projects are so long that it is hard to gauge our progress so when we can send things back to their museums it is very satisfying. The ledgers are mainly record books from the Johnson County Historical Society. Many of these books are enormous and in addition to the satisfaction of having them finished, it will be helpful to have the extra space. Now we just have to get those LP’s sent home.

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Blue Boxes

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Volunteer measuring blue corrugated board to make a boxVolunteer with blue boxes completed and one in progress

One of our volunteers has taken on the project of building custom boxes for objects to be returned to the African American Museum in November. Beth has been teaching Kallie Holt how to make boxes from the sturdy blue corrugated board we use routinely in the conservation lab.  In addition to making them easily transportable the boxes will be good for long term storage for these artifacts.

One of the advantages of our close communication with the curators is the ability to have us prioritize items. Susan Kuecker of the African American Museum is opening an exhibit in November and sent us a list of objects she needed so we could re-arrange our workflow. These are the objects that Kallie is re-boxing.  We hope to have a majority of the items from the African American Museum treated, boxed, and ready to go by December.

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Yet another workflow…

Sunday, July 19, 2009

stack of flattened books next to one not yet flattened This weekend I’ve started working with the Johnson County Historical Society book collection. So far they have required some dry cleaning, mending and flattening. I’ve been using the vacuum packer to flatten them which has been very effective and is really fun to watch. The damage is similar to that of the ledgers but since the books are smaller it goes a little faster. We still have a yearbook collection and the rest of the ledgers to do so I’m not going to run out of books anytime soon!

vacuum pack machine book encased in plastic after vacuum packing

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Adventures with the warp eliminating vacuum…not Star Trek

Thursday, July 16, 2009


We have been experimenting with a fancy new vacuum packer, generally used for food preservation. We are using it to flatten books and other paper items. It would be inefficient for batch work because of all the material that needs to be cut to size but for especially warped books it is very effective. 

We cut blotter pieces, card, and book board all to size.  All of the interleaving material must be cut to the size of the book so that the edges don’t interfere with the sealing of the bag. The inside of the book is lightly misted, and the blotter sheets placed inside.  The book is sandwiched between pieces of blotter, card, and book board.  Rubber bands hold the stack together. The stack is then placed inside a special plastic bag. 

 

When an item is placed in the vacuum sealer, all the air is sucked out of the bag and it is sealed closed. During this process the moisture from the pages is drawn into the dry blotter between the pages. The pages, which were relaxed by the moisture, are drawn flat by the pressure. We generally leave a book in the sealed bag overnight. Ideally, we open it the next day and the book is perfectly flat.

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Return to Sender: Reattaching Stamps

Monday, July 13, 2009

Many of the files from the African American Museum contain various forms of correspondence. There are many postcards and letters with their original stamps. When these already fragile envelopes were faced with the flood, the stamps detached to end in a pile at the bottom of the file folder.

The second project I gave Kallie was to reunite the stamps with their respective letters and postcards. This was a fun project because it’s like putting together a puzzle and some of the stamps are pretty interesting. I had her reattach the stamps using wheat starch paste applied with a small brush. When the stamp was in position, a small square of blotter was placed over it and weighted to absorb any excess moisture and prevent warping.

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Volunteer Kallie Making a Difference

Friday, July 10, 2009

We have a new  volunteer! Kallie Holt, a Junior at the University of Iowa has volunteered to work 8 hours a week here in the Conservation Lab.

The first project I gave her was the cleaning of a collection of small miscellaneous items from the African American Museum. These objects range from pacemakers to a wooden gavel and everything in between. Most of the collection belonged to a medical doctor, hence the medical paraphernalia and miniature lungs which you can see at the bottom of the photo on the right.  Creepy.

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Material Instability and Other Woes

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


We have encountered every problem in the book (no pun intended) while treating these ledgers for the Johnson County Historical Society. These two pictures of the same ledger are good examples. The structure of the book was sound. It needed a little bit of cosmetic repair and hinge repair. The inside is a different story. Almost all the pages are illegible, the ink has run and bled obscuring most of the text in the ledger.

In the front of the ledger was taped a small pamphlet. It was in relatively good shape. When it
got wet in the flood some of the dye from the orange paper transferred to the pages around it. I dry cleaned it, removed the staples and took off the tape with a heat spatula and vinyl eraser.

The tape left in the ledger I did not remove because it would have made a mess of the paper trying to scrape and melt it off. While it is not ideal to have tape in the book, as it gets older the tape will become brittle and flake away doing far less damage.

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Repairing Ledgers One at a Time

Monday, July 6, 2009

There are several different types of ledgers from the Johnson County Historical Society. This ledger was completely detached from the covers, but the case was intact. The spine and corner pieces were in good shape but the cover cloth was warped and bunched.

I began with the text block. I tipped in some pages that had become detached and then put the ledger in the job backer to re-form the round of the spine. It’s not hard to do with these books since they are so used to being rounded they just need a little coaxing. When I got the spine into the position I wanted it I used wheat paste to line the spine with a piece of kozo, a thin japanese paper which I stippled on with a stiff brush. While that dried I used a piece of kozo and wheat paste to reinforce the spine inside the cover, carrying it across onto the boards to give the hinge area more strength. I added new black cloth to the covers to “pretty them up” and set it under weight to dry. When the spine of the text block was dry, I added a cambric (cloth) lining with flanges overhanging each side of the spine about an inch. When that was dry I put the text block back into the original cover using pva to put down the cambric onto the japanese paper lining inside the cover. I then pasted the original paste-downs to the cover using wheat paste. When the whole thing was put together I placed it in between press boards and put it in the job backer so it would dry in the right shape.

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Peeling The Smells Away

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

This ledger from the Johnson County Historical Society was in bad shape. The boards were warped, the spine piece had come detached, and the covers were almost completely off but for one small area. The covers were so far gone I decided to replace them altogether. I kept the cloth from the front board so I could attach the title to the front of the new case.

The board that most of the covers are made of was excellent at sopping up all kinds of flood goo and smells absolutely horrible. When we
can, we keep the original covers but in a situation like this it made more sense to completely rebind the ledger. Since we didn’t need to keep the cover boards I was able to peel the layers away from the areas of the page that didn’t release easily, without risk of tearing the paste-downs.