Disaster Planning E-Forum a Success!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Walter Cybulski, Preservation Librarian at the National Library of Medicine, and I led a two-day e-forum lsitserv discussion on disaster planning and response. We weren’t really sure how it would work but were willing to give it a try. It was exhausting but well worth it. 

We shared sites for resources; discussed mutual aid agreements, “disaster response” exercises for training, and tips on dealing with a disaster; had lots of ideas and pointed to templates for crafting a disaster response plan; talked about how to deal with water leaks and the virtues of cleaning or not cleaning mud from books before packing up; pondered whether to store record album covers and discs together or separately; had a rather lively discussion about mold clean up; and identified funding for recovery and working with FEMA as an area that needed further action at the national level.

We had 549 subscribers and posted close to 100 emails. The e-forum was free and sponsored by the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services, a division of the American Library Association.

For the archives of this discussion go to: http://lists.ala.org/sympa, click on ALCTS (spelled out) under the ALA Division heading, then choose alcts-eforum@ala.org

Saving Working Files Conundrum

Friday, February 6, 2009

Susan Kuecker, African America Museum curator, would like to save her working files. These files have all her research for various researcher requests, grant applications, and projects, collected over eight years. Most of this information is not in her computer. Since most of the items in the files are not unique, she can’t justify spending a lot of money on recovery.

Since the material is not unique, our working premis is that we’ll clean the items good enough to make a photocopy replacement, flattening only when necessary. Our best guess is that there are about 6,000 pages. When I first priced this proposed project out using a conservation lab technician’s time, the price tag was around $24,000. Then I tried the same scenario using student workers. The price tag was $12,000. Still too high. A little light bulb went off — we are interviewing volunteers. Perfect!

After a brief discussion with Susan, we arrived at a plan whereby the AAMI will supply us with replacement folders and photocopy paper and we’ll use a combination of students and volunteers to process the files. Any exceptions (unique brochures, newspaper articles, photographs) will be separated out for a later project. New price tag is under $900. Very acceptable to all!

We’ve begun pulling the material out of the file drawers and putting them into boxes for volunteers to work on. The file drawers are going back to the AAMI. They hope to be able to clean the drawers and repaint for re-use.

Soaking LP Covers Works Sometimes

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The covers of the LP records in the Czech Slovak Collection come in different formats and conditions of which some are worse than others. Then there are those few that are exceptionally awful. This is an example of a double disc set in which the inner images fused together in the water, like the pages of a book.  I had to peel away all the layers of the cardboard that I could without damaging the cover images and it all came apart except the very inner facing images. I couldn’t separate these mechanically so I put the whole thing into a tray of warm water and photo flo using sheets of remay cut to size as a transfer support. I left it to soak for a few minutes until I was sure the water had completely saturated the paper. I then took a teflon lifter and the pages came right apart. There was a piece that got stuck and came away which you can see in the photo but after I had dried and flattened the cover I was able to mend it and put the piece back where it belonged. The image was dried open, flat between two blotters beneath weight. 

Making progress with LP covers

Monday, February 2, 2009

The process we have been using to clean and prepare the LP covers to be rehoused with their respective 33 1/3s has turned out to have a lot more steps than we thought. We have been removing the image from flood saturated cardboard which is warped, discolored, and in some cases has a strong flood-ooze odor.

The moisture introduced during the cleaning process can warp the already warped paper and it is necessary to flatten each image. To do this, even more moisture is added in the form of misting water from a sprayer to the back side of each image. This relaxes the paper which is then put in between blotter paper and pressed in a large nipping press. The blotter paper absorbs the excess moisture and the pressure of the press flattens the images. I have been doing these in batches since it is possible to put a large stack in the press at one time. 

Though this is a lengthy process it is necessary to bring the covers as close to the original condition as possible. These images are inserted into a polyethylene sleeve along with a three flap enclosure to hold the record. 

Not all of the covers have been so cooperative. Some are so soundly adhered to the cardboard that it needs to be peeled off from the back. We are still working out the most efficient way to do this. Now that we have a system sketched out it will start going more quickly.  It’s satisfying to see a box of finished covers put together. We’re definitely making progress!

More Civil War Letters

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Here is another Civil War letter similar to the one posted below, only here the additional challenges were that the letter required some flattening of the wrinkles and folds before mending and the repair tissue had to be tinted.

This letter was pressed overnight between moistened blotter paper to flatten it.

Then the Walters repair tissue was tinted to match the original.  The tissue was brushed with a thin wash of acrylic paint and allowed to dry overnight on polyester sheet.

Once the tissue dries, mending proceeds as before.

To see a scan of the completed work in our digital collection, click here:


Preparing Civil War Letter for Scanning

Thursday, January 15, 2009

One of the collections that the department is currently digitizing is a collection of letters and diaries relating to the Civil War.  While most are in good condition, a few are so torn that they require considerable mending before they can be scanned. 

For our mending, we use Walters repair tissue which we have previously prepared.  It is made by brushing adhesive (half paste, half methylcellulose) in a thin layer onto kozo repair tissue which is then layed down on a sheet of polyester and allowed to dry. 

 For mending tears, small strips of the Walters tissue are torn from the sheet using a needle tear or a water brush tear.  The strips are positioned over the tear with the dried adhesive side down and reactivated using a moist cotton swab or water brush.  They then dry under blotter or Remay and small weights.  Infills are treated similarly, with patches adhered to the edges of both sides of the paper loss.


To see the finished product, scanned and uploaded into our digital collection click here:


Good Preservation Practices Save Photos

Monday, January 12, 2009

These photographs were found among the documents from the African American Museum that were returned from the freeze dryer. This is one example of many envelopes full of photographs. These photographs were interleaved with sheets of archival paper which were adhered to the photographs when they were immersed by the flood. At a glance it looked like there was little hope of removing the paper from the pictures without damaging them. 

We took a couple of examples to the University of Iowa Photo Department where we were advised to try and wet the photos again to remove the paper. When we returned to the Conservation lab I put one of the photos in a bath of water with photoflo and left it there for about ten minutes. When I came back the paper had floated off and the photo had sunk to the bottom of the tray. As you can see, some of the emulsion adhered to the interleaving but the pictures are mostly intact.

I then let the photos drain vertically for a few minutes to get most of the water off so there wouldn’t be droplets and puddles on them when they were set out to dry. I set them out on our drying rack and let them dry overnight. In the morning I found them to be warped and curling which was to be expected after the aqueous treatment. I put the photos in between sheets of silicon release paper and put them in the dry mount press under medium heat. I left them for about 15 minutes and they came out almost perfectly flat. I then left them under weight for 24 hours and they are now perfectly flat.

If there had been no interleaving, these photographs would have been cemented together, never to be separated and none of this would have been possible. Thanks to the good preservation practices of this museum this photo collection will be salvaged.

Up Close and Personal

Friday, January 2, 2009

I like to wear these magnifying glasses to demonstrate how fashion forward we are at the University of Iowa Conservation Lab. Aside from being extremely attractive they are actually quite helpful in situations like this one. The infamous gourd drum which took roughly 40 hours to complete has hair attached around the edge of the stretched leather on the top which was caked in mud. After all the drum had been through, the hair was barely holding on so it wasn’t going to stand up to any normal saliva swabbing. I had to take a very small brush and a bit of water to try to brush the mud out of the hairs without releasing any of them. The magnifying glasses helped me to see what I was doing so I didn’t damage anything. Once I had brushed out most of the mud I went around the edges with a swab and saliva to get to the gourd and leather underneath and in between hairs.

Cleaning Gourd Drum

Wednesday, December 17, 2008 

This gourd drum, an artifact from the African American Museum is a dried and hollowed gourd, the top has been sliced away to create an opening which has leather stretched across it. Two sticks intersect inside the gourd with the ends protruding from the sides, through the leather as you can see in the picture below. It is also wrapped with cord and there is a wooden handle attached through a hole carved in the bottom.

The cleaning of this particular item is complicated by the fact that there is still hair attached to the stretched leather
of the drum. It is mostly around the edges and was plastered down by the mud and silt that covered the entire artifact. I have been using a variety of techniques to remove the mud from the body of the gourd including a Poly Vinyl Alcohol sponge for the cursory cleaning and then cotton swabs and saliva for spot cleaning.  The hair that remains attached to the leather is proving very tricky to clean. On the stretched leather I have been using cotton swabs and saliva but the hair is barely attached and must be cleaned with extreme care, for this I have been using a very fine brush with small amounts of water. The hair detaches so easily that anything more abrasive will remove it.

The mud is so thick that this method is very time consuming, I have to go over the same areas repeatedly. I cannot however work on the same area for too long because when the area becomes too saturated the leather softens and the hairs release more easily. I’ve been rotating and working on different areas for shorter periods of time.

There will be some residual staining but the drum will be stabilized to the point that it will be safe to handle, and suitable for exhibit display. As of today I have spent roughly 30 hours on the gourd drum and I estimate that it will require at least 10 more hours if not longer.

Salvaging 45 Record Covers: From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

November 18, 2008

Unlike most of the LP covers, the 45 covers are typically printed directly onto the cardboard instead of printed separately and then adhered. This can be helpful or it can be a huge problem as in the case on the right. When this cover got wet, the image was transferred to the plastic sleeve it was in, when we cut it out of the sleeve in our initial cleaning and drying period the image came with it. We were forced to keep the plastic with the cover to save the image. The only thing that could be done was to scan the cover and use a print as a replacement, which is what you see below on the right. 

The cover on the left was in very good condition, many of the 45s were double or triple bagged in plastic and so were untouched by the water. We haven’t been through them all yet but the process is very similar to that of the LP covers. First we dry clean, then we spot clean with the vulpex/water solution. We flatten and mend if necessary and then collate with the corresponding record in a new polyethylene sleeve.