This week is Preservation Week, which is sponsored by the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS), a branch of the American Library Association (ALA). Preservation Week is an opportunity to learn about and take action to preserve collections. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Preserving Your Family History” which emphasizes the importance of preserving the collections of families, individuals, and communities in addition to those in libraries, museums, and archives.
According to the Preservation Week website, “An estimated 1.3 billion items are at risk—in need of treatment to be stable enough for use, or in need of improved enclosures or environment to reduce the risk and rate of damage.”
The 2019 Preservation Week Honorary Chair is Kenyatta D. Berry. Berry is a genealogist with a focus on African American genealogy and slave ancestral research. She will be presenting in one of this year’s webinars. Free webinars from every year since 2010 can be found on the Preservation Week website, including three from our very own Nancy E. Kraft.
The website has other helpful information about taking care of personal media collections such as scrapbooks, home videos, photos, and more. Visit the website to learn more about how to participate in Preservation Week.
My Trunk Kit has expanded from a flashlight and a screw driver to include pliers, wrenches, screwdrivers, a hammer, mallet, crowbar, string, twine, utility knives, caution tape, duct tape, gloves, scissors, flash lights, a “head” light, and hiking boots. The crowbar is handy for prying swollen doors and drawers open. Wet books swell, become jammed into shelves, and often need to be tapped out with a mallet. Ideally, all items will have wood or rubber handles to protect from electrical conductivity. In addition to the trunk kit, I utilize whatever I can find at hand. Window screens are handy for drying out fabrics, thin paper and photographs. String or rope can be strung up between trees and CDs, DVDs, slides, and photographs can be hung up to dry.
Conservation recovery tools have also evolved over the last 25 years. We have multiple types of erasers, brushes, bone and Teflon tools, spatulas, tweezers, and knives for cleaning. We have learned to rinse off the mud and gunk, let material dry and then gently clean the remaining dirt and mud by erasing, scraping, separating pages with the use of multiple tools. I am always amazed at what can be repaired and returned to the library or museum for continued use.
Originally printed in The Gristmill, A Publication of the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association, March 2019, p. 45.
With the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association Fall meeting in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and the fact that I assisted in responding to the flood of 2008, I thought it would be interesting to highlight the personal gear I use to respond to disasters to libraries and museums. The gear can be divided into three categories: personal protective equipment, response tools, and recovery tools.
When I became a preservation librarian in 1993, I had training and information on how to respond to a disaster to collections in a library or museum. My training included a list of needed supplies such as sponges and mops and stressed personal safety but did not include a list of response tools, conservation tools, or personal protective equipment.
Over the years, my understanding of the type of protective gear needed in response grew and continues to be refined. My protective gear has evolved from a pair of rubber boots in the office to a “go bag” which includes a wind-up flashlight (in case there is no electricity), hard hat, goggles, Tyvek suit, rain boots, two types of respiratory masks, nitrile & workman gloves. I always add water, a wide brimmed hat, sun screen, and energy bars.
Candida Pagan, project conservator, traveled to Puerto Rico in early February to participate in the Helping Puerto Rican Heritage Project (HPRH).
Puerto Rico faces specific preservation challenges due to the tropical climate. Salt and humidity, along with more catastrophic weather like hurricanes, pose issues for institutions that house archives and collections. HPRH seeks to educate participants about conservation efforts in Puerto Rico while also advising conservators about care and preservation of their collections.
During HPRH, Pagan and the other participants toured a number of cultural heritage sites including the San Juan National Historic Site, Museo de Arte de Ponce, and the Hacienda Buena Vista, a living history museum whose coffee crops were damaged during Hurricane Maria. Participants also toured the Materials Characterization Center at the University of Puerto Rico’s Molecular Science Research Center. The Project included a symposium at the Fundación Luis Muñoz Marín, during which Pagan presented on basic book care and conservation. The presentations were followed by a Q & A, one of many sessions that Pagan enjoyed throughout her time with HPRH. The final day was a work day at Casa Blanca followed by a tour of La Casa del Libro for book and paper conservators.
“There are a lot of people who care about the preservation of cultural property and history,” Pagan said. “There are over 500 years-worth of historical artifacts from the time of Spanish and US governance, and a rich archaeological history that tells us about the lives of indigenous people before then.”
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.