Adherograph Reformatting Continues

Monday, August 3, 2009

Ongoing efforts to clean and flatten flood-affected archives manuscripts from the African American Museum of Iowa have turned up yet another form of adherograph deterioration. (See June 30, 2009 entry)

As seen in the example to the left, the powder medium that holds the adherograph text image has irreversibly adhered to the back of a preceding document page.  Unable to separate the two, I decided to scan both pieces of the damaged document and then attempt to reunite them in Photoshop.

The first step was to flip the fragment horizontally.  Though only the back of the reversed fragment text was visible through the adherograph medium, flipping it over digitally created a faint, though workable positive. 

Note the altered color of the reunited fragment.  Through a haphazard process of tweaking color levels and saturations I was able to pull the text out, making it as legible as possible.  After doing so, reducing the image from color to black and white serves to isolate the information from the discolored document carrier.

 This detail, captured after converting document to black and white, shows that while the texture of the adherograph medium remains cumbersome, the information is again legible. 

This second example details another completed document as well as its original post-flood condition.  While this process is probably too time consuming in many situations, experimenting with the procedure was a valuable experience.  Not only is there now a workflow for this in the future, but it also raises some interesting questions about disaster recovery, institutional resources, and policies pertaining to discarding and reformatting.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

While processing manuscript archive documents from the African American Museum of Iowa we fortuned upon an old, mysterious and extremely problematic form of document duplication.

What we believe we have, perhaps hundreds of, are adherography documents.  A definition, found in “Guide to the identification of prints and photographs : featuring a chronological history of reproduction technologies” – a supplement to the book “Encyclopedia of printing, photographic and photomechanical processes,” by Luis Nadeau, 2002 – is as follows:

ADHEROGRAPHY: A duplicating process developed by 3M. Images were formed by the adherence of powder to a tacky latent image created by the effect of infrared heat. This provided a master from which 200 to 250 copies could be made. The powder image of the resulting print was fused to the paper by heat. [A process used during the 1960’s.]

These adherographs, recognized as inherently volatile, did not respond well to the moisture, humidity, and high temperatures generated by last June’s floods.  The powder image described above, once fused to a slick-feeling, glossy-looking paper carrier, have lost their bind to their paper hosts.

Reformatting is simple where the powder images free themselves in large pieces.  Unfortunately, many of the documents have experienced a shattering of the powder image layer.  Attempts to stabilize these particular documents in sonically-welded Mylar encapsulations have both pros and cons.  On one hand, the Mylar, having a strong static charge, lock the powder image fragments into place… useful for reformatting.  On the other hand, this same static charge has the tendency to agitate the fragments into incomprehensible disorder.

With the jury still out on encapsulation, we simply reformat through the best possible means.  Where the documents are relatively stable, we quickly scan them face down on the Ricoh.  Where the documents are highly volatile, we image them under the Zeutschel top-down scanner.  No digital files are maintained.  Determining the best solution for the shattered documents requires further research.  Stay tuned.

Inventorying Flood-Affected Collections

Friday, June 26, 2009

As conservation work moves along for flood-affected artifacts from the African American Museum of Iowa, we momentarily shifted away from treatment of metals to pick up our inventory of small objects comprised of a variety of media. Two primary functions of the inventory are to verify the holdings under our care against the original AAMI data and also to provide our own identification number for the artifacts. Tagging the artifacts with both IDs and generating descriptive data for our flood recovery inventory helps us track and evaluate where we are in the treatment process, and, consequently, how much work we have left to do.

Parchment Maker Jesse Meyer visits Conservation Lab

On June 2nd, Jesse Meyer, the only maker of parchment in North America, came to the Conservation lab of University of Iowa Main Library to show his leathers and vellum parchments.

Jesse Meyer is the youngest member of a family that has been tanning leather for over 450 years in Germany and the United States (since 1846). For more information on the Meyer Family Tannery, Pergamena Handmade Parchment and the process of making parchment see

Parchment Maker Jesse Meyer visits Conservation Lab

UI Preservation Librarian Keynote Speaker

University of Iowa Libraries Head of Preservation, Nancy E. Kraft, will be delivering the keynote address at the 10th annual Iowa Conservation and Preservation Consortium S.O.S. Save Our Stuff! preservation seminars. Kraft will discuss Connecting to Collections, a national preservation initiative and Iowa’s role in this effort.

Conference topics include identification of 19th century photo processes and care of photographic collections; customized storage systems; historic structure maintenance; emergency preparedness; behind the scenes tours of State Historical Society of Iowa (SHSI), and a special session and tour of the Battle Flag Project at the SHSI.

The S.O.S. Save Our Stuff! preservation seminars will be held at the State Historical Society of Iowa building in Des Moines, IA on Friday June 6, 2008, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Genealogists, librarians, archivists, museum workers, conservators, county clerks, historical society volunteers and anyone who cares about preserving our heritage are encouraged to participate.  The SOS seminars and tours will cost $40 for ICPC members and $50 for non-members.  The fee includes the State Historical Society of Iowa building tours and lunch.  Registration by May 31, 2008 reserves your lunch.

Iowa Conservation and Preservation Consortium (ICPC) is a membership organization seeking to initiate, encourage, and enhance preservation and conservation activities by providing basic preservation education and training.

Detailed information about joining ICPC and registering for SOS can be found at, or request a registration form by contacting Nancy E. Kraft at 319-335-5286, or Lucy David at 319-338-0514,

Gary Frost to direct library conservation project in Peru

A University of Iowa Libraries preservation team will assist conservation of historical libraries of Arequipa, Peru. Arequipa is in the southern region of Peru near the border with Chile.  With a population of one million it is the second largest city. The city is 40 miles from the coast and surrounded by volcanoes and expansive canyon lands. The region has had long pre-Incan settlement with an archeological record of more than 6,000 years. The Incan intrusion began in the 14th century. Spanish settlement was established in 1539.

The project team will demonstrate actions needed to preserve these historical libraries. Specialists Chela Metzger from the Kilgarlin Center for the Preservation of the Cultural Record, University of Texas at Austin, Anna Embree, from the School of Library and Information Studies, The University of Alabama and  project director Gary Frost, UICB Instructor and University of Iowa Libraries will demonstrate non-damaging exhibit installation, methods for preservation of historical libraries and cleaning and stabilization of book collections.  The team will also participate in salvage of collections from earthquake damage.

Libraries for the education of clerics were founded beginning in the mid 17th century. Subsequent acquisition programs have continued to build the collections bringing together printed books imported to Peru as well as those printed in Peru over a period of five centuries. The genres collected include civil and cannon law, theology, ecclesiastic history, philosophy, sociology, and linguistics. The church libraries have also served as repositories for magazines, newspapers and regional imprints of various kinds.

Freezer preservation: Donated appliance helps UI save water-damaged goods [The Gazette]

Freezer preservation
Donated appliance helps UI save water-damaged goods

By Suzanne Barnes
The Gazette
IOWA CITY — When you reach into your grocer’s freezer for a bag of broccoli, you’re performing the same action UI Libraries Conservator Gary Frost does at the University of Iowa Libraries.  The only difference is you are taking out and he is putting in. In order to preserve books and other materials that have gotten wet, Frost places them in a 1981 Hussman freezer which was donated to the UI in 2006 by the University of Texas, where Frost also has worked. He calls the freezer, which is like the one at your grocery store, a “work horse.” Here’s how the work horse operates. “Blast freezing” a book to between minus 30 and minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit stops the damage of water wicking through it and also inhibits the growth of mold. The next step is to “freeze dry” the book, which is warming it to just below freezing. The ice within the book forms a frost on the outside, much like the frost that forms on a package in a grocer’s freezer when moist, warm air enters as the door is open. To rid the book of that ice, fans blow the ice crystals onto the colder freezer coils, where ice re-forms. That process is called subliming.  Ice on the coils is then melted and removed from the freezer during defrosting. A home refrigerator with a frost-free freezer works the same way, in a sense continually purging the compartment of frost. It’s what causes freezer burn. The freezing method, said Frost, has been around for about 25 years and is used by other libraries and institutions. Iowa State University has two of the freezers to help with conservation. And it’s not just books that benefit from the process either. Anything in the university’s “tangible collections,” such as fabrics or furniture or taxidermy, can go through the process as long as it fits in the 52-cubic-inch freezer.  For example, the Nov. 20, 2001, fire at Old Capitol also resulted in tens of thousands of gallons of water pouring into the building and onto the furnishings. One of the arms of an Old Capitol chair fell off not long ago, Frost said, because of internal moisture. Placing the chair in the freezer and going through the blast freezing, freeze drying and subliming would remove any remaining water from the chair. Incidents that result in damage to books, furniture and other items are not always as dramatic as the Old Capitol fire. Sometimes a dehumidifier can overflow or water pipes leak or a roof drain may malfunction. Frost said the UI also helps others with moisture problems, including materials from the Mississippi gulf coast. And the UI library is a member of the Iowa Preservation and Conservation Consortium, which provides help to all smaller collections and archives. “We’re always on hand to assist,” he said. The process, which always begins with blast freezing and freeze drying, also can be used to kill insects.

Contact the writer: (319) 398-8434 or suzanne.barnes@

UI Libraries Brings Historic Dental College Photos To Life

In 1883, with its first class, the College of Dentistry at the University of Iowa began a tradition of mounting individual portraits of graduates on photo boards. Over time, these boards made their home in the basement of the college’s modern building, where they were silently deteriorating until last year. Today, these images — part of university’s heritage — have been preserved in the UI Libraries’ Dentistry College Class Photos Collection.

UI Libraries Brings Historic Dental College Photos To Life

Mascagni Prints Project completed at Hardin Library

August 18, 2006

What is probably the most spectacular book in The University of Iowa Libraries is the exceedingly rare elephant-sized folio of hand-colored anatomical plates known as the Anatomia universa of Paolo Mascagni, an eighteenth-century Italian physician and teacher. So rare is this work that it is little known even to specialists, though it may be said that Mascagni’s atlas is to the field of human anatomy what the famous bird illustrations of Audubon are to the field of ornithology — most striking examples of applied art.

A gift from Dr. John Martin of Clarinda, Iowa, The University of Iowa’s copy of this masterpiece is in pristine condition, having remained until recently in the possession of the same Italian family since its publication more than 150 years ago. Comprised of two sets of 44 plates, this “book” is so large it has never been bound.


Books at Iowa 38 (April 1963)

Until recently, the size of these magnificent prints has prevented them from being shown to the public as a set.  Now, with the help and expertise of Conservator Gary Frost, they are mounted so that the entire set can be viewed at a glance while their safety remains assured.  Digital images from this collection can be viewed here.

Shown is Caitlin Moore who cut mats and assembled the forty display frames.
Shown is Caitlin Moore who cut mats and assembled the forty display frames.