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.
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.
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/
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.
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.
During a disaster, time is critical but help is a phone call away. IMALERT Hotline: 319-384-3673.
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.
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.
It really is a small world. As a volunteer for the AIC-CERT Disaster Response hotline, I had a call with a question about soot drifting in from a fire a couple doors down. On further inquiry, I discovered that the caller was from Traer, Iowa, only 90 miles away. Rather than trying to explain how to go about cleaning soot over the phone, we agreed that an on-site visit would be best.
When our conservator Giselle Simón and I met with staff at the Traer Historical Museum, we were much relieved to see that the dusting of soot was very minor. We discussed cleaning techniques and strategies for organizing the volunteer cleaning session they were planning. Giselle demonstrated how to use an absorene dry cleaning sponge and a microfiber preservation quality dusting fabric cloth. We encouraged them to purchase a Nilfik HEPA vacuum cleaner and recommended supplies. They sent us a note that they did make the recommended purchases and are ready to start cleaning.
Two events will mark the closing of the UI Libraries Conservation Lab’s 30th anniversary celebration: a reception for the Midwest Guild of Bookworkers Exhibit Plainly Spoken, and an auction of fine bindings, to benefit the William Anthony Conservation Fund. The festivities will take place in Special Collections, 3rd floor of the Main Library, on November 13th from 6-8pm.
• The exhibit, Plainly Spoken, features 17 fine bindings from Guild members who were inspired by Julia Miller’s Publication, Books Will Speak Plain. The exhibit runs from August 14-November 30 in Special Collections.
• The Auction will feature fine bindings from “alumni” and friends of the Conservation Lab, including Mark Esser, Pamela Spitzmueller, Gary Frost, Penny McKean, Anna Embree, Emily Martin, William Minter, Lawrence Yerkes, Bill Voss, Caitlin Moore, and handmade tools from Shanna Leino. In the coming days we will be posting biographies and images from all the auction participants — stay tuned!
The 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.
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.