An Ailing Herbal Comes to Conservation Lab

This book first came to the attention of Martin Rare Book Librarian Donna Hirst when a patron requested to see some of the herbals in the collection. The poor book had been overlooked, though at one time it appears to have seen a lot if use. Or maybe just a lot of neglect. Donna Hirst sent this to the lab for Conservator Emeritus Gary Frost to shore up. While Gary treats this book and gets it to a more handleable condition, I will shadow him and attempt to discover a little bit about this book—where it may have been bound, how typical of an example it is, its condition and what is to be done about it.

The book is a 1626  Frankfurt imprint of Pier Andrea Mattioli’s herbal, originally written in Italian nearly 75 years earlier as a commentary on Diosordies’ De Materia Medica. In 1556 an illustrated edition was published and began to be translated into other languages and widely published. An herbal is a book on plants usually with visual and written descriptions, as well as medicinal, horticultural, and preparatory information.  This particular book is large and has color illustrations, but without much notation.

As you can see from the following images, the book has a rather sorry appearance. The spine has gone concave and is partly exposed. The alum taw (the book covering material) is soiled and has torn along the board edges. Part of the rear board is long missing. The spine liners of parchment are curling away and one of the endbands is gone. Many interior pages are ripped, soiled and have large losses, especially in the first and last few signatures.

Although the initial reaction may be one of disgust or sorrow for the book’s condition, it seems to be the original binding and the condition itself can reveal much about the book’s history. Stay tuned!

Record Cleaning

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Caitlin and I discussed the timeline for returning the LPs and 45s to the Czech Museum yesterday, and we decided to start forging ahead with the final wash of the albums. We are using the same method we used right after the flood, when there was still a ton of mud on the records. One tray with a mild and dilute soap, and another tray filled with only water for rinsing. As you can see, we  switched brushes–we needed a slightly stiffer brush for these more sturdy records. I am also holding the record upright, in order to minimize the water contact with the paper label, as we have found some of the inks will run.  After a quick dry on a rack, I don cotton gloves and wipe them to make sure there are no drips and then stack them to dry while I wash another round. In the afternoon, I then use a microfiber brush on the dry records and sleeve them. Then, after nearly a year of separation, the freshly washed record is reunited with a clean and newly sleeved cover.

For the Record: First Box of Czech/Slovak Museums LPs Done!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Filing the record with corresponding album cover For months now we have been slugging away, dry cleaning the Czech Museum’s LP album covers, and we are just past the half-way point. As we get closer to the end, we are filling the area that currently houses the clean records and the clean covers. I thought it may be a good time to take a break from dry cleaning and make some room by combining a box of records with its partner box of covers. 

This morning I completed the final wash on one box of records. After the records dried, I brushed them one last time with a micro-fiber brush and sleeved them. I then retrieved the corresponding box with the album covers from their cozy storage area and set to work reuniting the LPs.  Stunningly, a good portion of them seemed to be in order. A little shuffling was needed, but they are all here and clean and upstairs.

Beautiful Boxes Assembly Line Style

Thursday, May 14, 2009

In the lab, we refer to Linda as “the Machine.” As Caitlin and I have occasionally constructed a few blueboard clamshell boxes for items from the African American Museum, Linda has been spitting out cloth covered drop spine boxes. She primarily makes these types of enclosures for Hardin, the Art Library, the Music Library and Special Collections–where the boxes beautify the shelves as well as supporting and sheltering books. Drop spine boxes can be labor intensive, and require careful measuring and construction. Linda manages to produce perfectly snug, incredibly well aligned, no-stray-glue-spots boxes, and all that at an amazing pace.

Linda usually works on ten to fifteen boxes at a time, depending on the size. She measures the books in need, cuts the board, and begins assembly. In the pictures below, you can see some of the drop spine boxes being put together and weighted (the Elmer’s glue bottle we refill with PVA, as its a handy little bottle). Weighting is important as it ensures thorough connection between all the glued up surfaces, and also prevents possible warping. In the bottom left image, a tray of the box is being covered with Hardin Library approved cloth. On the the bottom right, the drop spine is complete–it is open–but must be weighted overnight before becoming acquainted with its proper book.

Metal Cleaning Party

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Several weeks ago, Steve Stenstrom offered to give us a quick workshop on metal cleaning and preservation techniques. Our best guess is that we have a bout 100 metal items to clean — most are from the African American Museum of Iowa. We really needed his assistance, took him up on his offer, and decided to hold a metal cleaning party.

On Tuesday, Caitlin set up the Oakdale storage room with tables, covered with plastic, and worklights. She also swept out the room and made it look presentable–we have been taking pictures of each item out there and finishing the inventory, so we had a few things to tidy. I was to gather the tools and cleaning items that we might need and bring them out to Oakdale.

Bryan Stusse and I met Steve out at Oakdale Hall around 10:00AM so we could set up the tools and go through items with him. While Nancy and I talked to Steve, Caitlin and Bryan went to meet Leigh Ann Randak, Johnson County Historical Society curator, in order to help her navigate the Oakdale maze.

After we had settled in, Steve gave us an intro lecture, discussing briefly the problems with alloy and non-alloy metals, a little background in metal manufacture, basic tools and solutions for removing corrosion, and then tried to convince Nancy to set up an electrolysis bath in the lab for some of the items. She wasn’t convinced.

Each of us selected a metal object to work on. At the end of the day we had two horse shoes and a knife cleaned and two other items partially cleaned. Our original intent was to start cleaning metal in the conservation lab. After a day of scraping, flaking, sanding rust and other debris from the metal, we decided this particular task is too dirty for the lab and will continue our work out at Oakdale.

We still need to learn how to finish the cleaned metal object to protect it from contaminates. Steve offered to come back another day. His offer was gratefully accepted.

The three photos on the left are courtesy George McCrory, University of Iowa News Service.

Boxing Up African American Objects

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Since all the cleaned items will be off to their home, I am taking today and tomorrow to box them up for travel, and also future protection. It is so pleasing to see these items we have lived with snuggled in new boxes, waiting to be picked up. Making the clamshell boxes out of the blue board is also a nice break from what seems like constant cleaning. Some of the items, like the feathered fans, will share housing, but the baskets will be happiest in sturdy boxes by themselves. It will help us, with space (and hopefully the African American Museum, too, that’s the idea), as we can stack boxes, but not items. This was Nancy’s idea, after noticing that the items that had been properly housed prior to the flood fared much better than unhoused, or ill housed, items. 

Washing Music Library LPs

Friday, January 23, 2009

Librarian Anne Shelley brought down a box of soon to be digitized LPs with the request that we clean them. We were happy to do so, as it would give us a chance to make sure that our dish drainer could convert itself into an LP drying rack. I set up the sink with two trays, one with water and a bit of photoflo for washing and a second “water only tray” for rinsing. I removed the LPs from their jackets and swabbed the labels to make sure that none would run in the water–only two seemed ready to run. I then quickly dipped the LPs in the wash, brushing them gently with a soft (tsukemawashibake) brush, one that we normally use for paste linings. I then propped them on the drying rack, perfectly sized for an LP, and let them dry for a short period. Next, I brushed them dry with a microfiber brush designed for vinyl records. Each record then got slipped back into its cover, with a new polyethelene sleeve for protection. This should remove any dust and greasy fingerprints from the surface that might otherwise interfere with the digitization.

Cleaning LP Covers

Friday, January 9, 2009

We have started on the covers, finally. After Caitlin and Nancy worked out the prototype, and found and ordered the proper plastic sleeves for the job, we just have to start digging in and doing the work. It makes the most sense to work on a box at a time, to get a bit of a assembly-line thing going. I first separate the dirty cardboard supports from the sheets with the printed images; sometimes these slip off easily, others require considerable coaxing. Once the entire box is free if its smelly cardboards, I begin dry cleaning each cover with a dusting of gound eraser crumbs, lightly massaging the surface to pick up the dirt. A good bit of it flakes off, but so far there has still been staining after dry cleaning. We did the 45s first, and Gary recommended we swipe the still dirty areas lightly with cotton dampened with vulpex and water. This seems to remove some staining, but I do test the inks for colorfastness. I have done two boxes so far this way, and Caitlin has taken over flattening them, since she really wanted an excuse to use the fancy sealer. After they are all clean and flat, I can slide them into the sleeve with the new .20 three flap supports. And then we coo at them, because they are finished and pretty.

Leigh Ann Randak Visits

Monday, November 10, 2008

Leigh Ann from the Johnson County Historical Society came to sort through the books that were freeze-dried and then stored at the UI Main Library –to see what we had here and take away anything she needed, or didn’t need us to work on. Since the boxes are stacked to the ceiling and take up the entire room, we moved into the hall to unpack the boxes and resort them. Caitlin and I repacked and took notes. There are several City High year books–and I found photos of my father-in-law. There are Iowa State Registers (“red books”) that may be able to be replaced easily. After we marked all the boxes, we stacked them up again. Leigh Ann left with as much as could fit in her car. We agreed that Gary would develop treatment strategies for the larger bound books. Although we were prepared with gloves and masks, in the picture I am wearing my mask on the back of my head–the smell is mostly dissipated, and we were relabeling boxes in the hall.

Basket Cleaning

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

We march on with cleaning baskets. This consumes most of my time at the lab now, as we are trying to finish cleaning the baskets before November 11th. I think we might cut it close. Sometimes it is difficult to know when to stop, as it seems there is always more dirt coming off. Is it flood gunk? Is it dust from before? I can’t tell, really, but it all comes off on the swabs. With this basket, cleaning the interior poses a problem, since the opening is too small to see anything inside. I brushed out, gently, what muck there seemed to be, and then vacuumed inside with the homemade attachment. I have spent a considerable amount of time on this particular basket, and will almost be sad to finish it. Almost.