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Keith/Albee Vaudeville Collection in DIY History!


The University of Iowa Libraries presents a wonderful and exciting opportunity for one and for all: The Keith/Albee Vaudeville Theater Collection in glorious DIY History! Now you too can step right up and take part in transcribing these exciting behind-the-scenes reports!

The first 24 books in the Keith/Albee collection, totaling 7,774 images, are now available for transcription in DIY History.  These initial volumes consist of typed theater managers’ reports, giving one a unique behind-the-scenes glimpse of vaudeville theater during its time. The managers give their own blunt impression of every act that has graced the Keith/Albee vaudeville stages, ranging wildly from lavish praise to scathing criticism. Included in these books are many people who later became legendary stars, such as W.C. Fields, Harry Houdini, and Buster Keaton.

Page including internal review of Harry Houdini from Keith/Albee managers’ report book, March 9-December 14, 1908.

The Keith/Albee collection, one of the most important and comprehensive vaudeville archives in the country, has steadily become available in the Iowa Digital Library. This collection, spanning 150 over sized ledger volumes, documents several decades of vaudeville theater in New England. The Keith/Albee digitization project has been made possible by a generous Preservation and Access grant from the National Endowment for Humanities, with a projected completion date in 2017.

Start transcribing this collection here.

For more information contact:   Justin Baumgartner, Keith/Albee Digital Project Librarian, (319) 384-3431,

Visiting NYC – Digital Transitions Cultural Heritage Round Table

A plate from Francisco de Goya's Los Desastres de la Guerra (1863) being photographed by a camera on a copy stand.
Photographing Francisco de Goya’s Los Desastres de la Guerra with a Digital Transitions RCam & Phase One IQ180 Digital Back. Photo credit: Bethany Davis.

Last week, I flew to New York City for the very first time to attend the Digital Transitions Division of Cultural Heritage Round Table, a day-long event which brought together digital imaging professionals from a variety of institutions including the New York Public Library, Smithsonian Institution, and Frick Collection.

The day began at the Morgan Library & Museum with a handful of colleagues sharing their work in brief presentations. Several times, the audience heartily agreed with nods and laughs as the speakers shared their grips, challenges, and exasperations. Digitization of fold-outs, metadata workflows, and software limitations were among the all-too-familiar challenges. Angela Waarala from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign spoke about two projects which involve large and fragile fold-outs housed within bound volumes. As she enumerated the collections’ features and digitization rationale, I thought of our own Engineering Bachelors Theses Collection, which is likely to be both a digitization joy and stressor in 2017. At the conclusion of the presentations, Digital Transition’s Peter Siegel led the group in a round table discussion about our priorities for Phase One’s future development of Capture One CH. Back at the Digital Transitions office, I mingled with colleagues from the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC), Yale University, and Ohio State University while watching live demos of digitization techniques like focus stacking.

UI Libraries has been digitizing special collections and rare materials with a Digital Transitions RG3040 Reprographic System since November 2014. To date, we have photographed items from the Arthur and Miriam Canter Rare Book Room (Clementi’s Various piano works) and John Martin Rare Book Room (Browne’s Religio Medici) as well as more than 70 managers’ reports and clipping books from the Keith/Albee Collection in Special Collections & University Archives.

More about Digital Transitions and the UI Libraries’ work on the Keith/Albee Project:

Shakespeare At Iowa Items Under Wraps

Friday, August 26, 2016

20160811_084533We’re keeping everything under wraps for the opening day of the Shakespeare First Folio and Shakespeare At Iowa Exhibit. As items were prepared for the exhibit, they were wrapped so not even staff could take a peek. Here some of the books are sitting in front of their individually crafted cradles. All items are now in place and will be on view this Monday, August 29. The First Folio will be here from August 29 – September 25.

Come visit the exhibit, enjoy the items on display and take a moment to notice the cradles that were created by our conservation staff. More information at

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.

Treating A Keith/Albee Scrapbook

Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Submitted by Katarzyna Bator and Bailey Kinsky

Kate examining the stability of the pages.
Kate examining the stability of the pages.
Our second project this summer is assisting with the treatment of several scrapbooks from the Keith Albee collection. Our work was being overseen by Candida Pagan, Project Conservator. The goal for our treatment is to stabilize the delicate structures for digitization. Picture 1 shows Kate examining the stability of the pages.

The Keith Albee collection includes a large number of scrapbooks that contain news articles, reviews, and programs from the Albee Theater in Rhode Island in the first half of the 20th century. To put it in better context, while examining Scrapbook #78, we found several pages dedicated to Ms. Fanny Brice, a famous vaudeville actress who was famously portrayed by Barbra Streisand in the 1968 musical, Funny Girl.

Most of the work needed for the scrapbooks included flattening of creases, removal of loose items, and repair to

Kate is using humidification to flatten creases in the paper.
Kate is using humidification to flatten creases in the paper.
the leather corners of the cover. Any loose items were placed in folders marked with the location within the book they came from so that they can be properly included during digitization.

Finding a Hidden Gem

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

20160726_131745Finding a hidden gem makes Book Repair Supervisor Susan’s day fun. While repairing a book spine, Susan discovered this stiffener (liner) inside the spine; spine liners often were cut from scraps of paper, sometimes unused pages from books already produced by the bindery. The book she was repairing was published in 1926, so the paper liner is older.

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.

Documenting and Treating Scrolls: Part 3 Final

Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Submitted by Katarzyna Bator and Bailey Kinsky

Picture 1: Kate dipping the tissue through an acrylic paint bath.
Picture 1: Kate dipping the tissue through an acrylic paint bath.
The Buddhist scrolls from the Ficke collection had experienced pretty significant insect damage which greatly increased the risk of damage during handling. In order to stabilize the paper structure, Kate and I performed some basic paper mends using a remoistenable tissue. We had previously tested the inks to make sure that they were not water soluble, but we wanted to avoid exposing the scrolls to excessive moisture because tidelines easily formed and the sheets composing the scrolls were most likely adhered together using a starch-based paste.

We selected several types of Japanese tissue to prepare for the mending and began by first toning them with acrylic paint to better match the color of the scroll (Picture 1).

Picture 2: Area of loss traced on tissue.
Picture 2: Area of loss traced on tissue.
Next, a 50/50 mixture of methylcellulose and paste was brushed over the surface, and the tissues were allowed to dry.

To mend the paper, the area of loss was traced on the tissue using a needle point (Picture 2). A protective, transparent piece of Mylar was placed between the scroll and the mending tissue while tracing. Now comes the “remoistenable” phase of the treatment. The paste and methyl cellulose mixture becomes reactivated in a 1:1 mixture of water and ethanol. The mend was placed on a piece of Plexiglas or cotton blotter and the ethanol/water mix was brushed over the tissue (Picture 3). A tweezer was used to place the mend onto the loss on the paper surface (Picture 4), and then a blotter and weight are placed on top to help the repair to dry flat (Picture 5). All of the repairs were applied to the back of the scrolls so as not to interfere with the manuscript, and Picture 6 shows what a large section of mends look like after drying.

Picture 3
Picture 3
Picture 4
Picture 4
Picture 5
Picture 5
Picture 6
Picture 6

Documenting and Treating Scrolls: Part 2

Friday, July 15, 2016
Submitted by Katarzyna Bator and Bailey Kinsky

Dry cleaning is the first step in most, if not all conservation treatments. Loose dirt and soil buildup collects on exposed portions of the object, in this case on the outermost part of the scroll. Additional dirt can find its way onto the surface of the object when it is handled with dirty hands. Soft brushes, vulcanized rubber sponges, and vinyl erasers are most commonly used in dry cleaning works of art and archival materials.

Dry cleaning with soot sponges to reduce surface soil buildup.
Dry cleaning with soot sponges to reduce surface soil buildup.
Overview shot displaying a comparison of before and after dry cleaning.  The five vertical columns of script on the left have been cleaned.
Overview shot displaying a comparison of before and after dry cleaning. The five vertical columns of script on the left have been cleaned.
A close up shot of dry cleaning with a soot sponge.
A close up shot of dry cleaning with a soot sponge.

Documenting and Treating Scrolls: Part 1

Thursday July 7, 2016
Submitted by Katarzyna Bator and Bailey Kinsky

We are both graduate students at Buffalo State College Art Conservation Department. We are spending the summer at the University of Iowa Library Conservation Laboratory partaking in a practicum of treatment and care of library and archives material. Using theory and techniques learned during the school year, we will work to gain hand skills and real world experience in conservation treatments working side-by-side with conservators at the University.

Our first project includes photo documentation and treatment of several scrolls from the Ficke Collection. Each one is over 20 feet long and all have suffered extensive insect damage making their handling unsafe.

Picture 1 : Bailey Kinsky photographing a scroll from the Ficke Collection. The Photographic set up includes a neutral grey background, color checker, and a ruler to aid in accurate representation of the actual object.
Picture 2: Katarzyna Bator (left) and Bailey Kinsky (right) unrolling a scroll from the Ficke Collection for photo documentation.
Picture 3: Bailey Kinsky assessing the condition of the scrolls and testing ink solubility.

Photographing a scroll
Unrolling a scroll
Assessing condition