White and brownish gray cat faces the camera, in the background a laptop is open with a photo of an old red book on screen

The Preservation Student Staff Remote Work Experience Spring/Summer 2020

Zoom meeting window with 5 participants shown in 5 equal size boxes; 3 show a person smiling; two show names
Photo caption: Screenshot of one of our recent weekly Zoom group meetings (clockwise from top right: Anna Magaña, Candida Pagan, Quentin Kinzy, Sunny Bock, Vanessa Perez)

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 Mid-semester I felt we had reached a smooth operational flow; tending to marking, removing outdated information for remarking, shrink wrapping, preparing items for long term storage as needed, coordinating with circulating book repair to ensure unmarked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.  

Just before 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.  



Open laptop computer with webpage loaded sitting on desk next to green leafy plant, closed window shades in background
Photo Caption: My setup at home is a lot simpler than at the library; here’s my ‘workstation’ while I look through the ACRL video series. 

 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 now and I am interested to see the what kind of remote projects will supplement our physical work in the fall.   



DIY History Transcription page screenshot; on left is typewritten transcribe text, on right is photograph of handwritten journal with black background
Photo caption: Screenshot of transcription page

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 reading archival materials, transcribing the information, then later proofreading these transcriptions. I spent most of my time transcribing a Midwestern woman’s diary that she kept throughout the early 1910s through the 1940s, and I was struck with the overlooked value 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 this incredible 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.



A brownish gray and white cat sits facing an open laptop with a loading webpage
Photo caption: Bones wanted to read A Textbook of Stationery Binding with me 

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 this is 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 archive before I started working with it, and through this project, I have stumbled across work like the Art & Life in Africa website. This site compiles information on art from dozens of African cultures and puts the art into context of a piece’s local history and customs. There’s also Feminae, an index for content on medieval women, gender, and sexuality. Both sites would make 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. 


White and brownish gray cat faces the camera, in the background a laptop is open with a photo of an old red book on screen
Photo caption: Bones, our unofficial mascot, prepares to get to work on A Textbook Stationary Binding; photo courtesy of Vanessa Perez

Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group 2016

As a new librarian, I appreciate the privilege that my residency at the University of Iowa’s Preservation and Conservation department affords me; aside from the professional expectations of any other position, I’m encouraged to explore gaps in my LIS education and professional interests. However, there is never enough time to learn everything! Professional conferences are invaluable, particularly in this stage of my career, for continuing education and exposure to adjacent areas of focus in librarianship. Imagine my excitement when I learned that that 2016’s PASIG fall meeting would be in NYC. Yes, I WAS overjoyed. PASIG’s conference was envisioned as both a sharing and learning opportunity for preservation and archiving professionals at all levels, as well as those outside of the LIS profession, such as developers.

Founded in 2007, the practice-centered meeting focuses on questions and considerations as well as solutions, but keeps it light on theory. Too often, professional meetings and conferences’ pre-assumption of broad audience understanding and heavy use of LIS-centered jargon can leave one feeling intimidated and behind the pack. Day one at PASIG directly addressed the issue and leveled the plane in preparation for the deep dives to follow – all without an additional cost and additional travel accommodations of a “pre-conference.”  About half of the estimated 300 participants attended boot camp the first day, which serves as both an introduction, overview, and a refresher.

Sessions following the boot camp covered topics along the spectrum of the 3rd age of digital preservation, as well as preservation and archiving in relation to reference rot, new media, social justice, and the environmental impacts of digital preservation and professional responsibilities, among others. Though vendors were well-represented at the conference, the mix of professionals and scholars were the highlight of the conference. Presenters and lightning round speakers from libraries, archives, museums, universities, and cross-institutional partnerships shared case studies, challenges, successes, and pitfalls to avoid.

As always, librarians and archivists put together a lovely fete for attendants. Our hosts at MoMa arranged an after-hours reception and tours of two works that were recently treated by their Media Conservation department. Media Conservator Kate Lewis gave a tour of Teiji Furuhashi’s 1994 immersive work, Lovers. After we experienced the piece, conserved to maintain the integrity of Furuhashi vision as well as its condition in 1994, we were allowed a peek at the required wiring and networked coordinating components of sound and motion. After discussing the guaranteed obsolesce of hardware currently in use and the knowledge management in place in anticipation of treatment needed in 20 years, we moved on to Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1979-2004). Peter Oleksik spoke of the use and conservation challenges of the work before we viewed MoMa’s iteration of the installation.

By conference close, I felt that I had valuable information and references to bring back to Iowa. By far, PASIG 2016 was the most useful professional conference I’ve attended thus far. Next year’s PASIG meeting will be in Oxford.

Sustaining Digital Resources Boot Camp

Bootcamp attendees from Indiana University, Iowa State University, Northwestern University, University of Iowa, Washington University in St. Louis, and Wayne State University.
Attendees from Indiana University, Iowa State University, Northwestern University, University of Iowa, Washington University in St. Louis, and Wayne State University. Photo credit: Nancy Maron.

Daniel Johnson, Digital Preservation Librarian, and I participated in the Sustaining Digital Resources Boot Camp at Northwestern University last week, August 8-10.

The boot camp was billed as “the business model boot camp for digital project leaders” and we were not sure what to expect. In the weeks leading up the trip, we had several conversations about what sustainability means for the Libraries and our projects. We were asked to pick one project to use as an example for the boot camp and we chose the Iowa Digital Library. At first, our thoughts revolved around sustainability in the forms of digital preservation, open source software, and perpetual access to the Libraries digital collections. We reframed our thoughts after talking to Nancy Maron who organizes and leads the boot camp. She encouraged us to think less about the technical aspects of digital preservation and more on overall sustainability of digital projects. What does it take to sustain the Iowa Digital Library? How might the Iowa Digital Library be sustained in the absence of the institutional support that we currently enjoy? How do we get more stakeholders involved with IDL to make its necessity transparent across campus and across the state?

There are no easy answers to those questions. Conducting additional research can answer some of the questions (Who is the Iowa Digital Library’s audience, and what do they find most useful?). Mulling over various conversation topics from the boot camp and discussing them with colleagues in the Libraries will also help.

I suspect that the boot camp takes on varying flavors depending on the backgrounds and projects of the participants. I’m thankful that we attended with this group. Many of our conversations had me nodding along thinking “Yes, we’re doing that too” and “Yes! That’s a struggle for me too.” Project prioritization, in particular, is a topic that I ponder on a regular basis. I learned that others face the same challenges, and many are trying to overcome the challenge with more robust project planning (the same strategy that I’m employing). It might work; it might not. Regardless, I appreciate the camaraderie and catharsis, and I look forward to comparing notes in the future.

You can read more on digital project sustainability from BlueSky to BluePrint and Ithaka S+R.

Van Allen Explorer Tapes in DPN

Van Allen Explorer Tapes Prior to Recovery (MacLean Hall 3/25/2010)
Van Allen Explorer Tapes Prior to Recovery (MacLean Hall 3/25/2010)

In May of this year, the University of Iowa Libraries became the first institution to deposit material into the Digital Preservation Network. You can read more about this on the DPN website or listen to an interview with about the process of adding this collection to DPN. As a member of DPN, the Libraries can deposit 5TB of data per year, and DPN guarantees that this data will be preserved for 20 years. The Libraries chose the Explorer I audio tapes from the James Van Allen Collection as its initial deposit for a variety of reasons:

  1. The expense of reformatting these items – If any of the digital files were lost, it would be too costly to reformat them again.
  2. The inability to reformat them with equipment in the library
  3. The poor condition of some of the originals
  4. The location of the original audio reels – they are no longer located on site making it harder to reformat them again
  5. The rarity of the items
  6. The research value of the collection

So far 500GB (300 audio reels) of Explorer I have been uploaded into DPN. Another 400 reels will be added in the near future. The deposit of this material marks the end of a long process of discovering and digitizing the original reel to reel audio tapes. Read more about the Van Allen Collection here:


The Digital Preservation Network (DPN) is the only large-scale digital preservation service that is built to last beyond the life spans of individuals, technological systems, and organizations. DPN provides members of the academy and their successors with assurance that future access to their scholarly resources will be available in the event of disruptive change in administrative or physical institutional environments. By establishing a redundant and varied technical and legal infrastructure the survival, ownership and management of preserved digital content in the future is assured for DPN members.

Digitizing Hancher Posters

By Ben Bessman, Digitization Assistanthancher_poster 1

Hancher Auditorium had been a noteworthy stop for world famous musical acts, theatre productions, dance companies, and guest speakers in the Midwest since 1972, until its original location was flooded out in June of 2008.  Since then various community sites have served as hosts for the wide variety of performers that normally would have graced the halls of this landmark theater.  But 2016 will bring a welcomed change when the new and improved Hancher Auditorium will open its doors and once again showcase many of the world’s premiere acts.

For more than three decades many of the best Broadway shows, international dance and music troupes, and solo hancher_poster 2artists made their stop in Iowa City, with many coming back over and over again throughout the years.  And thanks to the quick thinking of Hancher Auditorium staff, many of the original posters from those early performances are still intact and have now been digitally preserved as part of the Iowa Digital Library.  The large size of these posters (or “show bills”) required a handful of people to feed them through our 54” Context HD scanner, with most of the preservation images created from this process averaging around 2.0 GB, before we trim them down a little.

These show bills beautifully represent not only Hancher Auditorium’s rich history but the astounding range of performers who have entertained and enlightened our community throughout the years.  From musical greats like Duke Ellington, Vladimir Ashkenazy, and Leonid Kogan, to their more contemporary counterparts Bonnie Raitt and Bruce Springsteen- strolling through the show bills of the past is discount time travel at its best.  Discovering gems you never knew about- Ricardo Montalban headlining “Don Juan in Hell” for example, becomes a rewarding experience.

Preserving these materials, from William F. Buckley Jr.’s conservative philosophy lecture in 1974 to Hunter S. Thompson’s “gonzo” journalism speech in 1978, is an important step in celebrating Hancher’s past.  The posters themselves offer as wide a variety of artistic styles as the artists they promote- each feeling specifically designed to capture the spirit of the event being held.  Which, of course, is the idea of the show bill in the first place- it’s where art and advertisement meet.hancher_poster 3

So whether you are a fan of “Grease”, the Vienna Choir Boys, the Royal Swedish Ballet, or the Grateful Dead, these show bills from Hancher Auditorium’s esteemed past surely will have something that will interest you.  We invite you to come take a look for yourself. http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/hancher

Preservation & Conservation Welcomes New Equipment!


Earlier this month, Preservation & Conservation welcomed a new addition to our family: this lovely new digital image capture system from Digital Transitions!  This equipment will be essential in undertaking one of our most ambitious projects yet, the digitization of the 150 scrapbooks in the Keith/Albee Collection.

While our previous overhead scanner, the Zeutschel, has been in use and doing a wonderful job for several years, there has been a need for some time to update this equipment.  Additionally, guidelines for the Keith/Albee NEH grant require that the scrapbooks be digitized at a higher resolution than the Zeutschel is capable of.  For more information on this project, check out our previous blog posts here and here.


The setup for this new equipment is unprecedented for this department.  The main scanning room had to be cleared out entirely in order to make room for it, and it more closely resembles a portrait studio currently than a typical scanning room.  This new digital reprographic system uses a Phase One digital camera back, taking high quality images of each item.  At 80 megapixels, it uses one of the highest-quality cameras currently available.  The camera itself is attached to an electronically movable column.

Visit the growing Keith/Albee digital archive here.

Preservation & Conservation Welcomes New Hires

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Beth Stone and Justin Baumgarten in front of Keith/Albee scrapbooksThe UI Libraries Preservation & Conservation department would like to welcome two new(ish) staff members, Justin Baumgartner and Elizabeth Stone. They join us as members of the Keith/Albee project team. They will be working together, along with other UI Libraries staff, to stabilize and digitize the Keith/Albee collection. Both Justin and Elizabeth are University of Iowa graduates who are no strangers to employment at the UI Libraries.

Elizabeth Stone started on July 21, 2014 as the Keith/Albee Project Conservator. She is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa Center for the Book where she studied bookbinding, letterpress printing, and book history. As a student, she worked in Preservation & Conservation salvaging flood-damaged items from the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library and the African American Museum of Iowa.

Justin Baumgartner started on July 22, 2014 as the Keith/Albee Digital Project Librarian. He is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa School of Library & Information Science. As a student, he worked in the UI Libraries Special Collections & University Archives and interned for the Digital History Project at the Iowa City Public Library.

The duo will shepherd 125-150 oversize scrapbooks through conservation and digitization workflows during the next three years. Visit the growing digital collection at digital.lib.uiowa.edu/keithalbee .

The Keith/Albee project is a three-year project to stabilize, digitize, and provide online access to the Keith/Albee collection which documents the activity of a prominent vaudeville theater company through more than 40 years of business. The records chronicle the expansion of the Keith/Albee circuit, changes in its leadership, and the eventual decline of vaudeville.ka_blog_q1bBlog

The Keith/Albee Project has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Preserving Media

Thursday, April 10, 2014
Submitted by Emily F Shaw

Stacks of different types of mediaIn addition to millions of books, journals, and electronic resources, the University of Iowa Libraries is also the permanent home for film, audio, and video collections.

Projecting an original 16mm film can be risky, and using playback equipment that is dirty or in disrepair can cause permanent damage. Protecting the original is critical; many of our media collections are unique and most are actively degrading. In order to preserve this content and make it accessible to we need to digitize it.

I recently traveled with local historian and collector Mike Zahs to visit The Media Preserve, the vendor we contracted to digitally reformat some of Iowa’s most precious “time-based” media collections.

Racks Of Magnetic Tape Playback Equipment
Racks Of Magnetic Tape Playback Equipment

The Media Preserve is staffed by enthusiastic and knowledgeable professionals with many of experience working in the film, video, and recording industries. The studios at The Media Preserve are designed to minimize risk to customer assets, such as power surges, lightning strikes, or electromagnetic interference. Their studios are fully equipped to read and play back every type of time-based media content imaginable.


Inspecting Film in the Preservation Lab
Inspecting Film in the Preservation Lab

For common consumer media like VHS and ¾” Umatic tapes, the digital transfer process has been engineered to allow a small number of staff to oversee the digitization of multiple assets at once, thereby lowering transfer time and cost to their clients. In addition, The Media Preserve has a film preservation lab equipped for cleaning, repair, and high-resolution scanning of film. Their film preservation staff recently digitized half a dozen of Mr. Zahs’ badly degraded 35mm nitrate films created in the first few years of the 20th century.






The Szathmary Digitzation Project

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Cover of a CookbookThe University of Iowa’s Special Collections was fortunate to receive Chef Louis Szathmary’s library of cookbooks throughout the mid-80’s.  Among the items were a number of handwritten cookbooks that Szathmary had collected over the years. In the Spring of 2012 conservation and digital preservation students began scanning the manuscripts. The first item, Josiah Ingall’s account book, went digital on March 13th, 2012. The goal was to crowd source the transcription of the pages and create legible, accessible, versions of the cookbooks, some of them dating from as far back as the 1600’s.

A little over a year later, the project reached the 100 mark with the digitization of the ‘Household recipe book of Mrs. Howard of Staines, Middlesex and Salsfield Court, Nr. Westerham, England’.  This number represents hours of work in addition to 12,674 images totaling 249,361,919,444 bytes!  Each item is assessed before scanning, treated if necessary, scanned, processed, and rehoused in a 4-fold-flap.  The DIY transcription project is also moving along at a good pace with 33,222 pages transcribed to date.

If you’re interested in browsing the digital collection go to: http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cookbooks

Or, if you’d prefer to try your hand (or eyes) at manuscript transcription, visit the DIY transcription site at: http://diyhistory.lib.uiowa.edu/

Lastly, if you’re feeling super adventurous, try out some of the recipes yourself, also found at the DIY site. There’s everything from dandelion wine to cures for the plague (which hopefully you don’t have).

-Jessica Rogers