Special Collections and Preservation/Conservation staff concluded a series of disaster preparedness and response training with a disaster response drill. We divided up into four teams. Each team retrieved, rinsed, and packed out the material found in a wet, muddy pool of water. Staff had to decide what to keep and what to salvage. Photographs, slides, and CDs were rinsed and laid on screens to air dry; books were packed to go off to be freeze dried; VHS, microfilm and other material were rinsed and set aside for consultation with an expert.
To emphasize the importance of safety and taking appropriate precaution, plastic snakes, bugs, and spiders were hidden in the muddy water — getting the message across while having a little fun.
After the drill, we debriefed. Discussing the many uses of window screens, including drying photographs and sheets of manuscripts. The screens can be easily stacked to make use of limited space.
At the very end of the drill we showed a couple of freeze dried books from the 2008 flood that we are working on in the conservation lab.
We are so pleased to announce that our own Nancy Kraft, Head of Preservation, has been awarded the Paul Banks and Carolyn Harris Award for excellence in Library Preservation for 2018. The award was established to honor the memory of Paul Banks and Carolyn Harris, early leaders in library preservation and is given to a professional preservation specialist who has made great contributions to the field of preservation and conservation for library and archival materials. Nancy is recognized for her tireless work with the 2008 Flood Recovery, establishment of local and regional disaster teams and protocols, contributions to national disaster recovery efforts, and many more numerous achievements that have promoted preservation ideals throughout the library and archives world.
One the highest accolades a preservation professional can receive, Nancy will accept her award at the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans, LA on June 23rd. Congratulations, Nancy!
In higher education, we often equate student life and campus life. Last year, I found myself questioning this notion on my frequent shortcuts through the student center on campus. Absent from most of the archival photos hung in the student center’s hallway chronicling milestones in the building’s history are black students. Student life does not always equal campus life, especially for students who were not welcome into the same spaces as their white peers. In reviewing the UI Libraries’ (UIL) efforts to represent early black student life, I considered what the UIL Preservation Department could do to combat the erasure of the African American experience in Iowa.
We’re fortunate, at UI Libraries, that the university’s mandate to serve the public affords us the opportunity to leverage existing expertise and community connections. UIowa campus collections regularly partner with local cultural and community museums, like the German American Heritage Center & Museum, the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, and the African American Museum of Iowa (AAMI). Rather than push for a UIowa-specific event, I thought it best to see if there were communities in Iowa that the AAMI serves who would benefit from a digitization drive.
After meeting with staff from the African American Museum of Iowa to discuss how UIL could leverage its resources for outreach and education, AAMI museum staff decided their visitors would benefit from a digitization drive and other preservation-related events to coincide with the fall opening of their fall exhibit, If Objects Could Talk. After months of preparation, UIL preservation staff, volunteers, and UIowa Museum of Art staff shipped up to Cedar Rapids the night of Friday, August 25th and Saturday, August 26th.
Saturday began with a talk led by our department head, Nancy Kraft, and Keith-Albee project conservator Candida Pagan. After discussing the basics of preserving family heritage, they shared their experiences working with institutions heavily impacted by the flood of 2008. UIL Preservation/Conservation treated and recovered a significant amount of AAMI, Linn County Register, and Czech & Slovak Museum of Iowa books and artifacts damaged by the flooding.
After the lecture, Nancy joined our head conservator, Giselle Simon, Preservation Processing Assistant Shelby Strommer, and UIMA staff to provide 1-on-1 consultations for the general public. Archival Products in Des Moines, IA donated enclosures for participants to rehouse their documents and images, which was highly appreciated.
The bulk of preparation for the events went toward the digitization drive pilot which began Friday night and continued Saturday, which we titled the If Objects Could Talk History Harvest. “History harvest” is a term coined by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln which we found fitting for another Midwest-area event of the same nature. The goals of the event were clear: test workflows for a digitization drive so that any volunteer without cataloging or archives experience could capture relevant metadata and digitize material to AAMI standards. My goal was to develop an AAMI History Harvest in a Box, for lack of a better term – easily edited and easily reproduced. Ideally, AAMI history harvests could occur around the state as well as on site. To that end, volunteers for the pilot were a mix of UIL staff, the UI history department, UIMA staff, and interested members of the public.
Using guidelines modified from AAMI and libraries that have conducted similar events, we scanned document and photographs from visitors as well as narrative forms which participants filled out to share the story behind the items they selected for the history harvest. The narrative form arose from discussions on how to ethically capture the stories behind participants’ items – I wanted to eliminate the number of judgement calls facing a volunteer throughout the process. For this reason, the Google Form that was used to capture metadata had notes beneath each field that explained what to enter, gave an example, and referenced separate handouts when necessary. Additional handouts expounded on the notes about content description. The narrative form itself had 3 questions:
Why did you select these particular items for the If Objects Could Talk History Harvest?
What do these items say about you or your family?
What do these items say about your community or family’s history?
Filenaming was a simple formulation of a pre-determined folder number printed on slips and attached to clipboards with a release form and a narrative form. For example, the release form associated with f_10, would be f_10_release and the 3rd item that volunteer brought in would be digitized and named f_10_3. In keeping with AAMI conventions, _front and _back were upended when appropriate.
The history harvest’s model was post-custodial – the only materials that AAMI would accept were the scans of participants’ items and narrative forms. At no point would any staff or volunteers take ownership of physical items and participants were under no obligation to donate. At the end of the process, participants would receive digitized copies of their photographs or documents on a UIL flash drive and were encouraged to save several copies in different locations. This was made clear through the release and deed of gift, both of which were purposefully redundant to make clear to participants that they need not become donors to participate in preservation events.
The pilot was a success! We tested out what works, made changes for the future, and can suggest improvements. Participants appreciated UI staff and volunteers being there and visitors that heard about the events but didn’t have materials at the ready asked for the date of the next event!
In response to interest, and outcomes from this weekend, museum staff will begin planning in October for a Black History Month history harvest in 2018. They’ll use photos and digitized material from this weekend in addition to all the preparation for the If Objects Could Talk history harvest and equipment we were able to purchase thanks to a mini-grant from the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies.
Creating forms, workflows, and managing the project took a lot of work and wouldn’t have been possible without collaborations within the department, UIL, other campus departments, and the previous work of colleagues outside of UIowa. Thank you to all the volunteers on Friday and Saturday (including Ben Bessman and Heather Cooper, neither of whom are pictured in this post), UIL Metadata Maven Jenny Bradshaw, Adam Robinson at American University for his cataloging expertise, Shelby Strommer for selecting literature and refining scanning workflows, the UIL Preservation/Conservation Outreach and Engagement Working Group, Jacki Rand for her help figuring out how best to gather narratives, and Katie Hassman and Hannah Scates Kettler for their general guidance.
As Project Conservator at the UI Libraries, I am tasked with several workflows that are slightly outside of the regular Libraries Lab flow. One being conservation of the Keith Albee Vaudeville Theater Scrapbooks (see more here and here), another being treatment of Linn County Recorder’s Office record books.
Nearly 430 Linn County record books have been surveyed for treatment, and after just over a year, we have worked through approximately 115 of them, getting the books back into use at the County Recorder’s Office. As you will see in the photos below, their office faced a catastrophic disaster in the floods of 2008. Eight years later, recovery work is ongoing.
In the UI Libraries’ conservation lab, we remove books from damaged covers, dry clean textblocks, separate adhered pages, humidify and flatten warped pages, and even wash pages of the record books in preparation for rebinding at a commercial bindery. Each book in this large collection is unique and requires different types of treatment. We evaluate each book prior to starting treatment to determine the needs of each item.
June 11, 2008: Vault Room at the Linn County Recorder’s Office 1 hr before closing time (photo: Joan McCalmant)
June 14, 2008 taken from same perspective as above, after flooding, prior to clean-up (photo: Joan McCalmant)
Instilling some order… (photo: Joan McCalmant)
Moldy books, already dry, were hosed down and wiped off (photo: Joan McCalmant)
FAST FORWARD 8 Years: Joan McCalmant, Linn County Recorder, stands with record books, many of which have undergone conservation treatment at the University of Iowa Libraries, currently in use at the Linn County Recorder’s Office, on the 2nd Floor.
Graduate student, Lindsey Blair, dry cleans, and works on page separation.
Before treatment image of a sewn volume. Notice the warped spine and pages and caked mud on pages.
A mud-caked page during stages of washing (Do not try this at home!)
Loose pages in a humidification chamber where paper fibers soften and relax. Pages are dried flat, under weight, before being rebound. (Do not try this at home!)
The warped, mud-caked textblock from above, split into two volumes, rebound at the commercial bindery after cleaning and flattening in the UI Libraries’ conservation lab.
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.
Before treatment: Crumbling edges, misshapen spine, detached pages, overfilled pages, board detachment front and back.
After treatment: Foldered and housed detached pages in a 4-flap wrapper, sewed new endsheets front and back, lined spine and created new flange with extended liner and new endsheet, reattached text-block to case using new flange, mended edges and substrate tears with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste, humidified and flattened creased clippings.
At a future date, this clipping book will be photographed and uploaded to the Keith/Albee Digital Collection. This project has been funded in major part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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.
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.
We’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 http://shakespeare.lib.uiowa.edu/
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.