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IMALERT Disaster Hotline for Cultural Collections Live July 1, 2016

Friday, July 1, 2016

During a disaster, time is critical but help is a phone call away. IMALERT Hotline: 319-384-3673.

IMALERT Training Exercise
IMALERT Training Exercise
As of today the Iowa Museums, Archives, and Libraries Emergency Response Team (IMALERT) is providing a hotline service to cultural institutions experiencing an emergency or disaster. The IMALERT Hotline at 319-384-3673 can connect staff with the information and expertise needed to respond to, and recover from, any level of incident from a leaking pipe to a major flood. Through the team’s vast experience in conservation, preservation and emergency response and recovery, help is available to assess damage to collection materials, make recommendations for recovery, assist with decision making on drying out buildings, and demonstrate salvage techniques and/or help organize the initial salvage operation.

In 2008, rapid response by an informal emergency response team saved 90% of the flood-damaged material at the African American Museum of Iowa. I saw the huge difference having a team on the ground the minute access was allowed into the building. With a formal team in place, we are in position to help others in time of an emergency.

Support to form the team was provided through an Institute of Museum and Library Services planning grant, the State Historical Society of Iowa Historical Resource Development Program training grant, and the Iowa Conservation and Preservation Consortium.

IMALERT is an initiative of the Iowa Conservation and Preservation Consortium:

Box Making Day

Friday, June 10, 2016

It was all hands on deck yesterday, as staff made boxes for the many items awaiting protective enclosures in the conservation lab. The boxes ranged from the simple 20-point card 4-flap wraps to the more complex, double-walled, fabric covered hinged box.

Four flaps in progressDouble walled box in progressMany four flaps ready to goA medium sized box in progressLittle boxes in progress

Keith/Albee Collection Update!

Some new changes have come to the Keith/Albee Vaudeville Collection project since we have last updated.  Read more about the project here and here.

  • IMG_2290Candida Pagan joined the Preservation/Conservation department in December last year as Keith/Albee Project Conservator.  Candida holds an MFA in Book Arts from the University of Iowa Center for the Book and a BFA in Studio Art from the University of Iowa. She is a member of the the Iowa Museums Archives and Libraries Emergency Response Team (IMALERT) and serves on the board of directors of the Iowa Conservation and Preservation Consortium (ICPC). She has worked in book and paper conservation for four years at the University of Iowa Libraries and at the New Orleans Conservation Guild. As a graduate student at the University of Iowa, Candida was involved with initial Keith-Albee collection surveys and with the Fluxus West digitization project. She is experienced in cultural collections disaster response and is enthusiastic about preservation outreach.
  • In July 2015, Justin Baumgartner, Keith/Albee Digital Project Librarian, visited the Annual Conference of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations in Sydney, Australia.  He presented an original poster, “In the Spotlight: Digitization and the Keith/Albee Vaudeville Collection”.
  • 40 Keith/Albee scrapbooks and counting have been digitized and are fully available online as part of the Keith/Albee Vaudeville Collection in the Iowa Digital Library.  Browse the collection online here.
  • The Iowa Digital Library isn’t the only place you can go to find archival vaudeville materials.  Here are some links to great digital collections at other institutions:

Rescuing Photographic Negatives

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Stack of 8 x 10 negatives with oozing emulsionWith much trepidation yesterday, I went off to work with Tish Boyer at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque to assist her in salvage efforts of significantly damaged photographic negatives. Tish had shared photos of the damaged items ahead of my visit. The sight was not pretty! The negatives had been stored in a refrigerator that quit working some days before staff discovered there was a problem. Some of the emulsion layer on the negatives had turned to liguid and oozed out over the edges of the negatives, making for a gooey mess. I fully expected to just provide moral support as we declared the collection a total loss. Much to our pleasant surprise, we salvaged a lot of the collection! A reinforced lesson that one should never make assumptions about a disaster until there is damage assessment.

Separating negativesTish had located a great place to work in within their building. We were able to work in an old kitchen that had a big exhaust fan. It did its job and kept the fumes away. (One of my biggest worries.) We worked with the “best” looking photographic negatives first. This allowed us to establish a work flow and to figure out how to handle the collection. We took photographs of the container or the stack of negatives if no container, before separating out the negatives and interleafing them into groups of 15 and placing into a folder. We kept a log, documenting the package or stack that the negative came from, making note of actual number per folder, and any comments on condition. We learned some tricks. If the stack of negatives got too gooey and seemed to be too stuck together, we turned the stack over and worked from the bottom up. If a stack looked completely “gone”, we looked for an edge within the stack that we could work open and worked from the inside out. It was amazing. Often we would find salvageable negatives within a very gooey, impossible looking group of negatives.

Negatives in file folders in boxWe worked for 6 hours, separated a little over 1300 negatives with a loss of 250. Not bad considering the state the negatives are in. The salvaged negatives will need additional work. They will need to be cleaned and stabilized. Many have damage around the edges. They will need to be sent off to a photo conservator and then, probably, digitized. The images are a mix of acetate and nitrate film dating around 1925-1932. We didn’t get through the entire collection. Tish has her work cut out for her for the rest of the week. I left her in good spirits. I did accomplish my goal of providing moral support!Continue reading “Rescuing Photographic Negatives”

Farewell and Best of Luck to Andrea Kohashi!

UI Libraries Jill-of-all-trades, master of many, Andrea Kohashi leaves us today to become the University of Richmond’s Archivist and Book Arts Studio Coordinator. Andrea holds an MA in Library and Information Science as well as an MFA in Book Arts from the University of Iowa.

Andrea has been with the University Libraries since September 2011. She has worked in Preservation & Conservation, Special Collections, the Iowa Women’s Archive, and the Center for the Book. One of her projects was a video about her flood recovery work in the conservation department.

Andrea’s most recent publication was an article the Fall 2015 issue of Archive Journal, The Book Artist and the Archivist: A Shared Perspective.  More of her writing is housed in the Iowa Research Online repository.

We congratulate the University of Richmond and will miss Andrea Kohashi’s talent and good cheer!


andrea at farewell party

Andrea (center) at her farewell party in the conservation department.


Highlights from 2015: DIY Collections Care

A book from the circulating collection recently came back from inter-library loan in need of some intervention from Susan Hansen, Book Repair Supervisor at the Libraries’ Preservation & Conservation department.  The copy of The Origin of the Domestic Animals of Africa showed quite a bit of damage, perhaps from an encounter with a domestic animal of the American sort.

duck tape3duck tape1duck tape2

The book’s condition also evidenced collections care from an amateur conservator. The patron did consider condition and access when pulling together the book and returning it as close to complete as s/he received it, but their choice of materials required attention.“…I’ll put it this way: it’s the most duck taped item I’ve seen,” stated Ms. Hansen, well-seasoned in the art and practice of book repair. The patron took great care in reattaching the front cover to the spine using both duck tape and clear packaging tape.  The clear tape was used, likely, so that the spine and important information would be visible.

Susan reattached the cover to the spine of the book and reattached the inside cover to the front page, replacing the title page with a facsimile.  From the Preservation & Conservation department the book will move to a commercial binder where the pages will be uniformly trimmed to remove as much of the damaged area as possible.

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.

Highlights from 2015: William Anthony Conservation Lecture


The second annual William Anthony Conservation Lecture was held on the the 8th of October, 2015.  Gary Frost, Conservator Emeritus and instructor of book conservation at SUNY Buffalo spoke about the history of bookbinding and the University of Iowa Conservation Department’s bookbinding model collection which was the creation of the lecture’s namesake.  The collection has grown into an invaluable teaching tool and asset to the conservation department and the University of Iowa Center for the Book.

Mr. Frost served as the University of Iowa Libraries’ conservator from 1999 to 2011.  Mr. Frost is credited with championing the teaching role of the conservation lab and its staff, a distinction of which the department still prides itself.

Gary Frost is a book conservator and book arts educator. His career includes faculty positions at Columbia University, University of Texas at Austin and University of Iowa. He is currently Conservator Emeritus, University of Iowa Libraries. Gary has been awarded the Banks and Harris Award of the American Library Association and the Lifetime Award of the Guild of Book Workers. He is a Fellow of the American Institute for Conservation.

For those who could not make the lecture, a video of the event is forthcoming, and details will be posted to Preservation Beat as available.

UV Photography in Buffalo

Last month, Assistant Conservator Brenna Campbell traveled to the Art Conservation Department at SUNY Buffalo State to take a workshop on using UV photography to learn more about cultural heritage objects. This qualitative technique is valuable both for identifying areas of change within an object — either from damage or treatment — as well as for tracking changes over time.

Instructors Jiuan Jiuan Chen and Dan Kushel expertly led participants through a variety of lectures and hands-on exercises. The group experimented with photographing a variety of objects, including paintings, prints, glass, baskets, and textiles. A few examples are below.

A study collection painting photographed under visible light
A study collection painting photographed under visible light
The same painting fluorescing under UV
The same painting fluorescing under UV. Areas of inpainting are easily visible.
The painting reflecting UV light
The painting reflecting UV light