The William Anthony Conservation Lecture Series, hosted by the University of Iowa Libraries Conservation Lab, invites Book and Paper Conservators and Bookbinders to share their experience and work with the UI book arts community and beyond. Funded by a generous gift that established the William Anthony Endowment in 1989, it honors our first Library Conservator and the first bookbinding instructor at University of Iowa Center for the Book.
Peter D. Verheyen started down his path as a work-study student in the conservation lab at the Johns Hopkins University’s library, followed by a museum internship and formal apprenticeship in Germany and Switzerland. Returning to the U.S., he worked as a conservator in private practice and academic libraries, also working as a librarian. His research interests focus on the German tradition in bookbinding. He is the translator of Ernst Collin’s Der Pressbengel and completed a bilingual history and bibliography of The Collins: W. Collin, Court Bookbinders & Ernst Collin, the Author of the Pressbengel. Research is shared via his Pressbengel Project blog and in other publications. He founded the Book_Arts-L listserv in 1994 and the Bonefolder e-journal in 2004.
In this talk, Peter D. Verheyen will discuss how he came to discover bookbinding and conservation, and how the relationships he formed and his experiences would intersect to become ongoing and ever-morphing research interests. His bio-/bibliographic work around Ernst Collin and his Pressbengel, his experiments using fish skin in bookbinding, and his investigations into the German binding tradition will illustrate this synergy. This lecture will form an introduction to his specialized workshop for students at the UICB on the history and construction of the German case binding.
In conjunction with the lecture, Verheyen will offer a workshop “The Bradel Binding and its Illustrious History” for UI Conservation Staff and UI Center for the Book Students with funds provided by the Nadia Sophie Seiler Fund.
As part time interim Preservation Processing Coordinator in the UI Libraries Preservation Department, one of my main duties is to supervise the student staff who do the day to day marking work for new acquisitions and items that need to be reprocessed for one reason or another. From January to early spring of this year, we became accustomed to working with one another and revised workflows to adjust to the needs of the department. Mid-semester I felt we had reached a smooth operational flow; tending to marking, removing outdated information for remarking, shrink wrapping, preparing items for long term storage as needed, coordinating with circulating book repair to ensure unmarked spines had new titles, unpacking and routing recent returns from the bindery,processing items to get them into or back into circulation in a streamlined manner – it all seemed to be moving in stride. Cue the COVID-19 pandemic.
Justbefore and during the week of Spring Break, several students had intended to take time off and did so. Others intended to work more than usual – and were introduced to a new set of remote tasks. Department staff had quickly compiled several remote work options that could be performed online. With very short notice, the students were informed that they would not be returning to campus after break for classes, or for work. The COVID-19 pandemic response suddenly and necessarily disrupted campus life for the entire UI Community. Preservation student staff included. Like their peers, the students completed their semester online, and those who were able, continued their work for the department in a radically different way, entirely new to them. Four students who have continued to work through the summer share their experiences here. Thank you and cheers to you, Preservation & Conservation student staff for your flexibility, adaptability, and resilience.
March of this year started in the way most months start, at least in Iowa City, so I still remember how odd it was to receive an email the Sunday before spring break letting me know not to come in the next day. I’ve been a student employee at the main library for two years now, and the experience has taught me about processes ranging from marking new materials to shrink wrapping old ones. These tasks, while often done alone, can feel collaborative when around my peers who are working on similar things. I also value the quiet but physical nature of doing things like marking books or re-shelving them; it is a nice way to focus my energy on my hands when so much of my schoolwork takes place on a computer.
Needless to say, transitioning to remote work has been an adjustment. With the guidance of my supervisors, I’ve worked on projects like cleaning up digital storage and transcribing archival materials. Admittedly, these tasks have taken some getting used to and it’s been a learning curve; this is to be expected. While I am learning new things, the things I’ve been assigned have been fairly comprehensive. The real adjustment for me comes with training myself to focus on a digital task for an extended period of time while the world feels so off-kilter and non-linear. I think a lot of people have felt the loss of structure that they would normally find in different environments.
While things are odd, I am grateful for the fact that I still have the opportunity to work at a time when so many people do not or cannot do so from the comfort of their homes. I do like to work with my hands, but there are other ways I can do that from home with other activities.The new tasks I’ve been given have also expanded my knowledge of library workings and have given me more appreciation for what goes on behind the scenes. In truth,remote work is a big change, but it is nice to have something to rely on right nowand I am interested to see the what kind of remote projects will supplement our physical work in the fall.
If I were visited while working at the Main Library (let’s say, back in January), you would have had no problem locating me at a computer, clicking or scanning and surrounded by carts full of books. If I were visited while working remotely now (let’s say, if it were safe), you would still see me sitting at a computer but in a less comfortable chair, without a barcode scanner and its continuous beeping, without a label printer or a barcode duplicator, without a printing station, without an assortment of paper cutting tools, and most noticeably, without any books.As a Student Marking Specialist, my main tasks used to involve working with physical materials and technology, but the transition into entirely remote work on my personal laptop has drastically reimagined my usual workflow and tasks.
In the library, I often encountered old and/or historical materials and books, but I usually didn’t engage with the content within these resources. Early in the transition to remote work, I spent many hours actually readingarchival materials, transcribing the information, then later proofreading these transcriptions. I spent most of my timetranscribing a Midwestern woman’s diary that she kept throughout the early 1910s through the 1940s, and I was struck with the overlookedvalue of local and historical artifacts as I read her entries. I started seeing names of towns in Iowa that I had never heard of, some of which are ghost towns now that you can still visit and see remnants of in some cases. I also began to comprehend the complex yet mundane nature of housewife life in these decades, and the complete restructuring of daily chores due to new technologies.In this way, I felt like I was learning new information while working, which is a very special experience.
One of my favorite parts of working at the library is seeing a wide array of books and their unique covers, but I have rarely followed-up with materials that looked interesting to me. My experience with remote work has reminded me of the value of libraries and how I should utilize my access to thisincredible resource more often once back on campus. There are surprising things to learn in unexpected places, and I’m excited to return to the library with a renewed curiosity of the content of the materials that I process at the library. For now, I’m also extremely grateful to be able to work remotely.
Like many, the shift from the original format of work, classes, and life to our current digital routines has been strange for me. A handful of months ago I would have been stamping, taping, and marking away on books or happily creeping my way through the stacks with a cart full of periodicals to put away. The innate peacefulness of the library is appealing to me and I have always been the kind of person who values being able to work with my hands. Nowadays I spend most of my work time on my laptop.Though the physicality of working in the Main Library was often a big part of why I enjoyed it, the new mode of working is no less interesting. Whereas before I found satisfaction in the straightforward, hands-on tasks, now I engage more with the information that the library contains rather than the books that hold it.
All of thisis not to say that this change has gone perfectly smooth for me. As I have mentioned, I am a very hands-on person– it felt like second nature for me to turn off my brain and tune in to good music or a podcast and after blinking I would have a stack of books marked and ready for the next step in the process. The lack of physical evidence of my work along with operating in my own home at my own pace can make it difficult to focus. The blurring of home and work means I often work at my kitchen table or occasionally sitting in my bedroom with my cat trying his hardest to join in on weekly video calls with coworkers.
Overall, my experience in this new way of working has been good. I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I value in my job, as well as a lot about the digital side to the library and all the historical records we have. While I certainly miss the old functions of my job, I’m glad to have been able to keep connected to my coworkers and look forward to seeing what work looks like as we move toward the fall semester.
Between the environment, the hands-on tasks, the coworkers I have come to know, and the library collection I interact with, my job has really come to be one of the most rewarding experiences I have had at the university. Generally, I would walk into work, clock-in, say a quick hello to my coworkers, and grab a stack of books to start on. As a book-lover myself, it felt therapeutic to be both surrounded by books and constantly working with them.
When the shutdowns began, I had the privilege of still being employed by the libraries for the remainder of the spring semester and the summer, but the environment, coworkers, and collections I interacted with throughout the week, as you may expect, drastically changed. Instead of my pre-pandemic routine, I now usually grab a glass of lemonade before sitting down at the laptop in my childhood home to work on checking the archived university websites. I manually compare the archived versions with the live version of the site to check for any glaring differences, as well as click on all the links to make sure that the entire website and its content was correctly preserved.
Although I know the importance of maintaining our digital archives and find them very informative, I cannot tell you how much I miss working directly with books. There’s a certain kind of satisfaction to marking an entire row of books, knowing they could be in the hands of a reader so shortly. Online, most people won’t check the archives of a website from this year until major changes have occurred where someone would want to see the past versions.
I will say that I appreciate the opportunities that these changes have brought. For example, I wasn’t at all aware of the university digital web archivebefore I started working with it, and through this project, Ihave stumbled across work like the Art & Life in Africa website. This sitecompiles information on art from dozens of African cultures and puts the art into context of a piece’s local history and customs. There’s alsoFeminae, an index for content on medieval women, gender, and sexuality.Bothsites wouldmake fantastic resources for any research (as well as just being enjoyable to scroll through), and even though they are easily accessed through the university websites, free of any paywalls, I had no clue they were out there.
That being said, I still miss my previous job and my coworkers. I enjoy our weekly Zoom meetings to discuss any updates or struggles we have with these new tasks, and hopefully one day near in the future we can convene offline.I look forward to the day when healthcare professionals determine that it is safe to return to the libraries. Until then, I will be scouring the digital archives for errors, and hopefully in a few years, someone will find it interesting to look back on the university webpages during the pandemic of 2020.
Nancy E. Kraft, Head of Preservation & Conservation, has retired after serving 18 years at the University of Iowa Libraries. Her career has been fruitful, and she plans to stay involved in preservation efforts on a local state level. Nancy has served as a board member for the US Committee of the Blue Shield since 2013, and a member of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) since 2015. In 2018, she was awarded the Paul Banks and Carolyn Harris Award for excellence in Library Preservation.
Prior to coming to the University of Iowa, Nancy had several different positions that built up her understanding of how a library functions.
“I had a preservation background that made me a good fit here and helped me come up to speed fairly quickly because I had dealt with a disaster within the State Historical Society, so I had real life experience with that. When I first became a librarian, I thought I wanted to be a rare book cataloger so I was a cataloger for a couple years, which I think is really helpful to understand if you’re in preservation.”
Her experience with disaster emergencies proved to be incredibly helpful during the local 2008 floods. Nancy worked to preserve materials in both Cedar Rapids and Iowa City and described the experience as one she’ll never forget. She recalled the way the community came together in Cedar Rapids.
“We weren’t expecting these 200 volunteers to come and help us move stuff out of the basement. No amount of training prepares you for dealing with that… People for years after were still talking about it.” She remembered the jarring visual after the water rose. “We were one of the first ones led into the area and it looked like a war zone. I don’t know how you even get your brains and emotions around that; it was very intense.”
Nancy commented that she felt her biggest contribution during the process was being on site quickly to advise about what could be salvaged; this led to another contribution.
“[Getting there right away] was major and that was the reason that I recommended to the Iowa Preservation and Conservation Consortium that we establish a formalized trained Iowa response group. I realized that if we get there right away we can really make an impact.”
As part of her work with the ISO, she traveled to Berlin early this year to head the U.S. delegation in developing the international standard for emergency preparedness and response.
“I had been the American Libraries Association representative for the US for the National Information Standards Organization that works into the ISO. And I had been on that for four years. When the call came out for volunteers to work on international standards for a disaster response document, I volunteered and was selected… It was really interesting to get to see how different countries are organized to respond to disasters. It was a really good learning experience.”
While her career has involved many large-scale projects, Nancy noted that what she’ll miss the most about the day-to-day of her job is the people. People are what she’s always been passionate about.
“I feel that I really built up a nice conservation lab and we’ve got a nice digitization workflow going. But none of that could happen without staff. So I really like finding ways that staff can be successful and “own” a piece of the department…I’ve always tried to do that. The people make the day-to-day. That’s what made it hard to retire; I can’t take them with me.”
On Monday, April 22, Iowa Museums, Archives, Libraries Emergency Response Team (IMALERT) members assisted with the retrieval and salvage of collection items in the flood-damaged Pacific Junction Railroad Museum (PJRM). We could not have had a more “perfect” flood recovery experience. The Mills County Historical Museum Director Steve Hunt from nearby Glenwood had everything well organized.
While the building was still underwater, he assembled a team of a few people available to bring their trucks and assist with rescue efforts. He also obtained supplies and cleared an area in a Mills County Historical Museum building where collections could be stored. Once the water receded, he worked with others to clear out the debris (fallen ceiling tiles, upended office furniture, etc.) so we would be able to get to the collections. He retrieved as many of the photographs as he could and a couple uniforms from the PJRM and City Hall, rinsed and laid them out. He also gave us the go ahead to provide assistance on April 22.
Team members from the University of Iowa – Nancy E Kraft, Cindy Opitz, Tiffany Adrain – joined team member Joy Stortvedt in Shenandoah and caravanned to Glenwood to join Steve and his team. Steve led the way to Pacific Junction as there was only one way in and it was hard to find. We loaded the collections into the trucks and hauled everything to Glenwood where we unloaded, sorted, and laid out the collections by material type. We spent the rest of the day rinsing material as needed. There were several notebooks of research material. Although we think the research material is on a server, we rinsed, wrapped, and stored the notebooks in a freezer. Once Steve has time, he’ll check the online files to identify those that really need to be salvaged
Everything is now stabilized. Material can be worked on as time and resources are available. We’re discussing a possible return for further assistance. The IMALERT has a 24/7 hotline that anyone can call for advice and assistance with collections damaged by disaster large and small. The number is 319-384-3673.
The Preservation & Conservation department employs 19 students in positions ranging from digitization to book repair to conservation. Within the Marking unit, student employees mark new books to prepare them for patron use. We start by property stamping them, then we insert a security device, and mark them with an adhesive call number label. We also work with other media besides books, including CDs and DVDs. Marking students also work on other preservation projects as they arise.
Oftentimes, I work together with other student employees on these projects. This, along with interviewing Preservation and Conservation employees for blog posts, has allowed me to get to know my coworkers. Fostering work relationships allows for successful collaboration and creates a welcoming work environment.
Additionally, finding a balance between work life and school has allowed me to learn valuable time management skills and how to prioritize tasks. Working as a marking student has taught me attention to detail and how to remain focused on the task at hand. I get the chance to try to do my best work with every new book and each new task.
This week is Preservation Week, which is sponsored by the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS), a branch of the American Library Association (ALA). Preservation Week is an opportunity to learn about and take action to preserve collections. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Preserving Your Family History” which emphasizes the importance of preserving the collections of families, individuals, and communities in addition to those in libraries, museums, and archives.
According to the Preservation Week website, “An estimated 1.3 billion items are at risk—in need of treatment to be stable enough for use, or in need of improved enclosures or environment to reduce the risk and rate of damage.”
The 2019 Preservation Week Honorary Chair is Kenyatta D. Berry. Berry is a genealogist with a focus on African American genealogy and slave ancestral research. She will be presenting in one of this year’s webinars. Free webinars from every year since 2010 can be found on the Preservation Week website, including three from our very own Nancy E. Kraft.
The website has other helpful information about taking care of personal media collections such as scrapbooks, home videos, photos, and more. Visit the website to learn more about how to participate in Preservation Week.
About a month ago the conservation department received a book for repair from the John Martin Rare Book Room in the Hardin Library for the Health Sciences. Beth Stone, assistant conservator, noticed that the front cover of the book did not match the back cover. It was taller and wider than the text block and the leather did not match the back cover in color or design.
A couple weeks later another book arrived for repair, yet again with a mismatched front cover. Stone immediately recognized the back cover of this second book for the design in the leather – it matched the detached front cover of the first book perfectly. The dimensions were correct, and the sewing supports on the spine of this second book matched up with the front cover from the first.
Unfortunately, the front cover of the second book was not a match for the first book. The cover was too tall, and the leather was a way lighter color than the attached back cover. This means instead of direct swap, there must be a third mystery book involved.
Now, in addition to searching for the missing cover of the first book, the conservation staff has other questions to consider. The two detached front covers both have bookplates from the same owner. One cover also has signatures from other previous owners. Were these covers attached to the proper books when they were signed? Were they switched during ownership or after accession to the library? Since it is important to preserve the history of these books, these questions need to be considered before the conservation department takes further steps to repair these books.
Brad Ferrier, digital projects librarian, coordinates transcription and caption for Audio/Video (A/V) materials in the library’s collection. “Transcription is converting the speech in an audio file into a written plain text document. Caption is converting the speech in a video file into text which is synced and appears on-screen with the video,” Ferrier explains.
Incoming A/V materials are transcribed and captioned by Library Assistant Joyce Barker. Materials already in digital storage are sent to Rev, which is a transcription, caption, and translation service. When the transcripts and captions are returned, Ferrier helps conduct a quality check. Then the materials are sent on to Digital Preservation Librarian Dan Johnson. Johnson puts the transcripts and captions in long-term digital storage and either posts them to the Digital Library or sends them to whoever requested the project.
Ferrier has worked with A/V from Special Collections, University Archives, Iowa Women’s Archive, and the Music Library. As one of his projects, he processed transcripts of readings from the Live from Prairie Lights series, including of David Sedaris’ 2014 reading.
Transcribing/captioning audio and video has many benefits. “In addition to making the material usable for the deaf and hard of hearing, it can aid in understanding for non-native speakers, it can be used in noisy or distracting environments where audio cannot be played,” says Ferrier. This important work also makes the A/V material more searchable.
My Trunk Kit has expanded from a flashlight and a screw driver to include pliers, wrenches, screwdrivers, a hammer, mallet, crowbar, string, twine, utility knives, caution tape, duct tape, gloves, scissors, flash lights, a “head” light, and hiking boots. The crowbar is handy for prying swollen doors and drawers open. Wet books swell, become jammed into shelves, and often need to be tapped out with a mallet. Ideally, all items will have wood or rubber handles to protect from electrical conductivity. In addition to the trunk kit, I utilize whatever I can find at hand. Window screens are handy for drying out fabrics, thin paper and photographs. String or rope can be strung up between trees and CDs, DVDs, slides, and photographs can be hung up to dry.
Conservation recovery tools have also evolved over the last 25 years. We have multiple types of erasers, brushes, bone and Teflon tools, spatulas, tweezers, and knives for cleaning. We have learned to rinse off the mud and gunk, let material dry and then gently clean the remaining dirt and mud by erasing, scraping, separating pages with the use of multiple tools. I am always amazed at what can be repaired and returned to the library or museum for continued use.
Originally printed in The Gristmill, A Publication of the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association, March 2019, p. 45.
With the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association Fall meeting in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and the fact that I assisted in responding to the flood of 2008, I thought it would be interesting to highlight the personal gear I use to respond to disasters to libraries and museums. The gear can be divided into three categories: personal protective equipment, response tools, and recovery tools.
When I became a preservation librarian in 1993, I had training and information on how to respond to a disaster to collections in a library or museum. My training included a list of needed supplies such as sponges and mops and stressed personal safety but did not include a list of response tools, conservation tools, or personal protective equipment.
Over the years, my understanding of the type of protective gear needed in response grew and continues to be refined. My protective gear has evolved from a pair of rubber boots in the office to a “go bag” which includes a wind-up flashlight (in case there is no electricity), hard hat, goggles, Tyvek suit, rain boots, two types of respiratory masks, nitrile & workman gloves. I always add water, a wide brimmed hat, sun screen, and energy bars.