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.
As Project Conservator at the UI Libraries, I am tasked with several workflows that are slightly outside of the regular Libraries Lab flow. One being conservation of the Keith Albee Vaudeville Theater Scrapbooks (see more here and here), another being treatment of Linn County Recorder’s Office record books.
Nearly 430 Linn County record books have been surveyed for treatment, and after just over a year, we have worked through approximately 115 of them, getting the books back into use at the County Recorder’s Office. As you will see in the photos below, their office faced a catastrophic disaster in the floods of 2008. Eight years later, recovery work is ongoing.
In the UI Libraries’ conservation lab, we remove books from damaged covers, dry clean textblocks, separate adhered pages, humidify and flatten warped pages, and even wash pages of the record books in preparation for rebinding at a commercial bindery. Each book in this large collection is unique and requires different types of treatment. We evaluate each book prior to starting treatment to determine the needs of each item.
June 11, 2008: Vault Room at the Linn County Recorder’s Office 1 hr before closing time (photo: Joan McCalmant)
June 14, 2008 taken from same perspective as above, after flooding, prior to clean-up (photo: Joan McCalmant)
Instilling some order… (photo: Joan McCalmant)
Moldy books, already dry, were hosed down and wiped off (photo: Joan McCalmant)
FAST FORWARD 8 Years: Joan McCalmant, Linn County Recorder, stands with record books, many of which have undergone conservation treatment at the University of Iowa Libraries, currently in use at the Linn County Recorder’s Office, on the 2nd Floor.
Graduate student, Lindsey Blair, dry cleans, and works on page separation.
Before treatment image of a sewn volume. Notice the warped spine and pages and caked mud on pages.
A mud-caked page during stages of washing (Do not try this at home!)
Loose pages in a humidification chamber where paper fibers soften and relax. Pages are dried flat, under weight, before being rebound. (Do not try this at home!)
The warped, mud-caked textblock from above, split into two volumes, rebound at the commercial bindery after cleaning and flattening in the UI Libraries’ conservation lab.