The Preservation & Conservation department employs 19 students in positions ranging from digitization to book repair to conservation. Within the Marking unit, student employees mark new books to prepare them for patron use. We start by property stamping them, then we insert a security device, and mark them with an adhesive call number label. We also work with other media besides books, including CDs and DVDs. Marking students also work on other preservation projects as they arise.
Oftentimes, I work together with other student employees on these projects. This, along with interviewing Preservation and Conservation employees for blog posts, has allowed me to get to know my coworkers. Fostering work relationships allows for successful collaboration and creates a welcoming work environment.
Additionally, finding a balance between work life and school has allowed me to learn valuable time management skills and how to prioritize tasks. Working as a marking student has taught me attention to detail and how to remain focused on the task at hand. I get the chance to try to do my best work with every new book and each new task.
Brad Ferrier, digital projects librarian, coordinates transcription and caption for Audio/Video (A/V) materials in the library’s collection. “Transcription is converting the speech in an audio file into a written plain text document. Caption is converting the speech in a video file into text which is synced and appears on-screen with the video,” Ferrier explains.
Incoming A/V materials are transcribed and captioned by Library Assistant Joyce Barker. Materials already in digital storage are sent to Rev, which is a transcription, caption, and translation service. When the transcripts and captions are returned, Ferrier helps conduct a quality check. Then the materials are sent on to Digital Preservation Librarian Dan Johnson. Johnson puts the transcripts and captions in long-term digital storage and either posts them to the Digital Library or sends them to whoever requested the project.
Ferrier has worked with A/V from Special Collections, University Archives, Iowa Women’s Archive, and the Music Library. As one of his projects, he processed transcripts of readings from the Live from Prairie Lights series, including of David Sedaris’ 2014 reading.
Transcribing/captioning audio and video has many benefits. “In addition to making the material usable for the deaf and hard of hearing, it can aid in understanding for non-native speakers, it can be used in noisy or distracting environments where audio cannot be played,” says Ferrier. This important work also makes the A/V material more searchable.
Nancy Kraft, Head of Preservation & Conservation, recently traveled to Berlin for an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) meeting. The meeting was one of many work sessions to draft and publish a new international standard for emergency preparedness and response plans. The standard addresses what libraries, archives, and museums should include in their disaster response plans and is adaptable for any disaster and any size organization. Since the standard is international, the draft accounts for all kinds of disasters in different geographical locations. For example, in Iowa we must deal with floods and tornadoes, whereas California needs to think about earthquakes and forest fires.
Kraft had been corresponding with other members of the ISO Working Group via the internet since she became a member in the fall of 2015, but as the draft progressed and became more intricate she needed to start attending meetings in person. One meeting was held in Berlin from January 30th through February 1st and consisted of delegates from Sweden, France, Germany, and the U.S. “As the only native English speaker in the group, I did my best to explain nuances and best choice of words,” said Kraft. She was able to draw on her own experiences with disaster response to help inform the draft. Although the lead writer’s first language is French, she drafted the standard in English and was quite thorough in her approach.
When the disaster response standard is published, it will be available in both French and English. The ISO website says that drafting a standard normally takes around three years, and this one is no exception. It has undergone many rounds of drafts with comments from the working group and the international standards community. During the last round of comments there were over 300 editorial suggestions, so although the draft was approved for publication, it will need to be sent out for one final round of comments. Kraft hopes the standard will be published within the year.
Once the document is published, it will be reviewed every five years to keep it up to date. UI Libraries will use the standard to create a new disaster response plan.
Christine Manwiller, former UI Center for the Book (UICB) student, created a facsimile of a Burmese binding for a historical binding class she took as part of her MFA degree. The original Burmese book was from Fritz James, the retired CEO of Library Binding Service, Inc. He acquired the manuscript during his travels and gifted it to the University of Iowa Libraries shortly before Manwiller was inspired to make the model. The original book is an accordion foldout. Its palm leaf style was typical of Burmese books from the late 19th century. Its ornate binding is covered in imitation precious stones, and this elaborate design was likely chosen to highlight the manuscript’s religious significance. Manwiller recreated the text block, emulating the white Pali script written on black paper. She constructed the outside boards, finding materials that would closely match those used for the original book. Conservator Giselle Simón said that this project was an “attractive prospect” for Manwiller, who finds joy in detailed work. Manwiller is now at Buffalo State University in their advanced conservation program.
The facsimile of the Burmese binding is part of the Book Model Collection (BMC), which is housed in the UI Libraries’ Conservation Lab. The BMC was able to acquire the model thanks to the William Anthony Conservation Fund. In 1984, Anthony founded the Conservation Lab and was its first conservator. The fund is meant to honor his achievements and support ongoing and special conservation projects. To view the facsimile in the BMC contact Simón at email@example.com. More information about the original Burmese book can be found in the Iowa Digital Library and the object can be viewed in Special Collections.
As part of the Preservation Department’s customer service focus, books that are placed on rush are processed faster so that patrons can have access to these materials sooner. Not long before this spring semester started, two unbound loose leaf textbooks needed to be placed on course reserves as soon as possible for student use. Books that are sent to the commercial bindery take four weeks to return, so Conservation Assistant Julie Smith decided to bind these rush textbooks by hand in-house.
The first step that the preservation department took for this in-house binding was to glue the loose leaf pages together using a fan-gluing press. During this step, the pages needed to be perfectly aligned. They were fanned in each direction and sanded to create a rough surface so the adhesive would stick to the paper. The glue was applied carefully, making sure not to miss any areas. Smith noted that the fan-gluing process can be a challenging because there is only one good chance to make sure the spine is glued properly and that the pages stay glued together.
Next the spine was covered with a cambric liner and then a paper liner and left to dry overnight. The following day the text block was ready to be glued into its German lapped case, which consisted of book board held together with heavy paper and covered in cloth. It was then placed in a press to dry. After the binding process was complete, the original textbook covers were glued onto the front. These bindings create a polished final product and allow the book to be much more user-friendly than loose leaf pages.
As part of his work in the conservation lab, Bill Voss constructs enclosures to house delicate artifacts. He recently completed a large custom enclosure for one item from Andrei Codrescu’s Art Installation Piece. Codrescu is a Romanian-American writer and artist. His artwork and poetry was acquired for the UI Libraries’ International Dada Archive in Special Collections. A spray-painted tree, wooden staff, puppets, and a pack of Russian cigarettes are just some of the artifacts in the collection.
The spray-painted tree is especially fragile and requires a container that will protect it and help maintain its artistic integrity. Voss created the design for the custom enclosure which he calls a “drawbridge box.” He built the tree’s box over the course of a couple weeks, letting the boards dry in between steps of construction. Foam was used to hold the object in place inside its container and add an extra layer of protection. One wall of the drawbridge box opens down so that the tree can be easily accessed while avoiding damage to the artwork.
Voss has made similar structures in the past to protect items like a globe, a doll, and an Emmy, but the tree’s enclosure came with its particular challenges. To accommodate all of the delicate branches, the box needed to be large. The big boards used to create the walls had a tendency to warp, and keeping them straight was an obstacle. Previous drawbridge boxes that Voss constructed were smaller and needed only a lid to keep them securely closed. The tree’s box needed reinforcement around the middle to support the large boards. This reinforcement also acted as a second closure. Codrescu’s artwork will eventually be kept in off-site storage.
As the University of Iowa community, especially the student population, returns to work, after the holidays we are reminded of the pivotal role students are in fulfilling the University’s mission. We here at the University of Iowa Libraries’ Preservation and Conservation Department are no different, and frankly we really missed our student workers over Winter Break. With our collected sigh of relief to see our diligent student employees coming back, we are extremely pleased that the Conservation Lab’s Dong Dong is the recipient of the Graduate Student Employee Academic Enrichment Award! To have yet another student employee win an award is great honor to the department and a true testament to the strength of our students. It comes with great pleasure to congratulate Dong on her scholarship and on this momentous occasion we also wanted to help people get know her, what she does in the Conservation Lab, and appreciate all this fantastic student has to offer us, the library, and the University of Iowa community as a whole.
Describing Dong’s work, Conservator Giselle Simon said, “She started as Assistant in Book Repair with Julie Smith in 2017. (Time flies!). She’s currently completing her MFA at UICB and is focusing on an artist book project for her thesis. She has an affinity for conservation work, its focus and attention to detail. She naturally understands the materials we use in treatment and these things crossover into her artist book work. Dong works mostly on Special Collections materials, which could include complex repair treatments on book structures and substrate (paper or text block), cleaning and constructing enclosures (custom box-making). She is currently working on the Smith Miniature Collection, so is having to do these kinds of repairs on a much smaller scale.”
We were able to ask Dong some questions and she was only too happy to oblige with some thoughtful answers…
What is your graduate program of study?
Center for the Book.
Where and when did you graduate from college?
I graduated in 2012 from Guangdong University of Finance in Guangzhou, China.
What did you major in?
I majored in Chinese Literature (media studies track).
Why did you choose to pursue an advanced degree in your chosen field?
I did my MA in mass communications in England. Being an international student who was interested in Western cultures, one of the most intriguing subjects to me was cultural hybridization. After graduation I worked as an editor for a cultural magazine, and got very curious about the materiality of the book. When I found that there is a program that studies not only the materiality of the book, but also the making of it, and using the book as a medium of creative expression, I thought it would be the bridge that ties my interests together, so I decided to study book arts at the University of Iowa Center for the Book.
How did you come to your position in the conservation lab?
I learned about book conservation in the Book Arts program. And I applied for the position as a student assistant in the book repair unit and worked there for a year. I learned so much working with circulating books and materials, which afforded me clarity to my professional goals to work as a book conservator. So I applied immediately when I learned that there was an opening for student technician in the conservation lab.
What has surprised you the most about working at the library?
It surprised me how accommodating it is to work as a student employee in a library. For example, the conservator and the staff in the conservation lab are always open to teach students new treatment methods, they also encourage us to practice and experiment. It is not just about working, but also about learning. I also find the library to be very accommodating to people who visit the library. The conservation lab often assists students and classes from different departments for book related researches, we also show visitors how the lab works, therefore building a community that loves and values the book.
What is the most interesting or weird thing you have come across?
Last semester I made an enclosure for a movable atlas from 1874 by G.J. Witkowski that shows the structure and functions of the brain, the cerebellum, and medulla oblongata. The movable parts are very intricate and well crafted. It was so fun to discover layers after layers and look into the brain through a drawing from the 19th century.
How do you think working in the conservation lab will impact your future?
Working in the book repair unit then in the conservation lab allowed me to gain hands-on experience and to hone my craftsmanship as a bookbinder; it also expanded my exposure to both circulating and non-circulating books and materials. I learned not only technical repairing skills, but also how to make treatment decisions regarding different materials, and how to work with people from small to large projects. These are important skills that I could carry to the professional world as I work my way to be a book conservator.
When you are not at work or class what are you most likely to be doing?
I am trying to get better at photography recently, so I bring my camera with me everywhere and look for interesting things to photograph. I also like to go out for walks and hikes. But most days I enjoy staying home alone reading or watching movies.
What was the last movie you saw?
I saw The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on a plane and it was a nice way to start a trip.
Since you work at a library here’s your obligatory book question: what are your 5 desert island books?
I would bring One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, Last Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolaño, The End (尽头) by Tang Nuo (唐诺)(I read all of his books repeatedly, too bad there’s no English versions), Legend of a Suicide by David Vann, and Primeval and Other Times by Olga Tokarczuk.
The Preservation and Conservation Department are delighted to congratulate Dong with her momentous achievement, and we eagerly anticipate seeing what this gifted student does in the future. With that, her supervisor Giselle can have the last word, “Dong’s just a delight to have in the lab. She has a generous spirit and she laughs at all my jokes!”
With winter break around the bend, campus wide student employee supervisors contemplate how to cope with the dramatic drop off of help to be had over the holidays. This poses unique challenges, but most of all it makes us appreciate student employees that much more. Here in Preservation/Conservation at the University of Iowa Libraries students are an essential part of our workforce and help out tremendously from the tiniest details up to large projects and day to day operations. Due to this fact, as a department we could not be happier that one of our own is the recipient of the Bentz Student Employment Scholarship, Katelyn Foster!
On the occasion of winning the scholarship we decided we wanted to ask Katelyn some questions so other could get to know our awesome student. Here’s how it went…
Q. What is your major?
A. I am a psychology major.
Q. What year in school are you?
A. This is my senior year here at Iowa.
Q. Where and when did you graduate high school?
A. I graduated from Urbandale High School in Urbandale, IA in 2016.
Q. Why did you choose to work at the library?
A. I wanted a job on campus to get a little more involved in the University community and I liked the idea of working semi-independently in a calmer setting.
Q. What has surprised you the most about working at the library?
A. I think the variety of the projects surprised me the most, while some day to day things never change, I’m definitely not doing the exact same thing every single day and I like that! Also, the people I get to work with are all awesome. I wouldn’t say that was a surprise necessarily, but it’s a wonderful thing to like the people you work with!
Q. What is the most interesting or weird thing you have come across?
A. I think the most interesting things I have come across were from when I was collating dissertations, the topics, titles, and photographs definitely surprised me more than once!
Something else that I thought was really fun was we came across a photography book that was literally just pictures of dogs underwater. Imagine it, a book completely filled with dogs swimming/playing underwater, I think it might be my favorite book I’ve ever ran across.
Q. How do you think working at the library will impact your future?
A. I think working at the library has helped me to improve my skills involving paying attention to detail, communication, and leadership, which are useful skills in any type of job or position and also just in everyday life!
Q. When you are not at work or class what are you most likely to be doing?
A. When I’m not at work or class I’m either doing work for a psychology lab here on campus, volunteering at the senior center, doing homework, or hanging out with my friends!
Q. What was the last movie you saw?
A. The last movie I saw in theaters was Bohemian Rhapsody, I highly recommend it!
Q. Since you work at a library here’s your obligatory book question: what are your 5 desert island books?
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (can the whole series count as one book?)
And Then There Were None
Flowers in the Attic
Pride and Prejudice
Gone with the Wind
We are all happy for Katelyn and can’t wait to see what else she’ll achieve. Of all the people in our department who are proud of Katelyn, her supervisor Shelby Strommer is undoubtedly the most proud. Shelby had this to say, “Katelyn holds herself to unwavering high standards, and clearly takes sincere pride in the accuracy and quality of her work. Katelyn is also an excellent leader, and takes time to teach and correct other students in a constructive and supportive way. I can’t count how many times I have found myself saying ‘I don’t know how we would have made it through this [day, week, project, batch of new students, etc.] without Katelyn!’ She a valuable part of our department, and I’m so glad her hard work has been recognized with this scholarship.”
In April, the University of Iowa Libraries was awarded $500,000 by the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust in support of the renovation of the Main Library Exhibition Space. Very exciting news!
Our current space was constructed in 1951 and has not changed much since then. Over the years, using the space as an exhibit became more and more challenging. Plus it was a space that people walked through to get from one side of the building to the other making it very difficult to engage anyone in an exhibit.
Due to the Learning Commons project which was completed in 2013, the current exhibition space is now a self-contained area. Anticipating the exhibition possibilities that the Learning Commons renovation would open up, we began working with consultant Liz Kadera on a gallery and exhibition space presentation. We were delighted that our new Library Director John Culshaw liked our concept drawings and pulled a team together to draft a proposal to present to the Carver Trust.
The renovation will create a more suitable and secure space dedicated to displaying books, manuscripts, maps, documents, artworks, and more from the Libraries collections.
Construction is planned to begin this fall with a proposed completion date of spring 2015.
First image courtesy of the UI Archives, 1960. Second image courtesy Liz Kadera, 2013.
We had a small pipe leak and were lucky that it happened in the day. We covered the books with plastic and were able to shut the water off quickly. Jessica Rogers and Cassandra Elton wiped the shelves, including the lip, starting from the top and working to the bottom. If the cover wasn’t very wet, they wiped the book off and then turned the spine down so the edges could be exposed and air dried. If the pages were wet into the book and not just damp to the touch, the book was taken to our book freeze dryer. As a precaution, we set a fan to blow air into the stacks to wick up any moisture we might have missed.