Clay Tablet Gets Custom Box

Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Submitted by Bill Voss

Clay TabletThis neo-Sumerian clay tablet, recording the sacrifice of a kid goat dates to ca. 2050 B.C. and is frequently shown to students as an early example of writing in cuneiform accompanied by the impression of a cylinder seal. Due to its frequent use it was decided to create a custom box which would keep the object secure and viewable behind a small window, but which also has the option of being further opened to allow the object to be removed from the enclosure. The tablet rests in a fitted recess in a block of ethafoam covered with cotton and hollytex (spun polyester) and can be seen through a window of polyester sheeting. To remove the object a flap secured by embedded magnets is lifted revealing the tablet as well as a second recess containing a pair of cotton gloves for safe handling.
Clay tablet nesting in boxBox completely open

The Wunderkammer at Grinnell: Supporting Foldouts

Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Submitted by Brenna Campbell

Fold out_blogMany of the books in the Wunderkammer show at Grinnell had elaborate foldout illustrations, which required custom supports. These were typically made separately from the cradle, and were often strapped into place once the book was in its display case. It was important to strap the book so that the illustration was easy to see, but also to allow the book to open naturally, without putting strain on the binding.

The show opened on October 4th, and will remain up through December 15th. More details can be found here:

The Wunderkammer at Grinnell: Making Custom Cradles

Friday, November 1, 2013
Submitted by Brenna Campbell

Book Before Cradle_blog

Making the cradle_blog

Book After Strapping_blog

After all 93 items for the Wunderkammer show were unpacked and condition checked, they were prepared for exhibition. The most time consuming part of the process was constructing custom mounts for the 76 books being displayed. Bill and Brenna used a polyester sheet material called Vivak®, which was scored and bent to form the necessary shapes. Once the books were positioned on their cradles, they were secured into place using polyethylene straps.

The show opened on October 4th, and will remain up through December 15th. More details can be found here:

The Wunderkammer at Grinnell: Unpacking and Condition Checking

Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Submitted by Brenna Campbell

Condition Checking Tiny BookConservation Technician Bill Voss and Assistant Conservator Brenna Campbell recently returned from a trip to Grinnell College’s Faulconer Gallery, where they spent seven days installing the exhibition “From Wunderkammer to the Modern Museum, 1606-1884”. Ninety three items from the collection of Florence Fearrington were unpacked, checked for condition problems, and installed.

As each book was removed from its crate and unwrapped, Brenna examined it for signs of damage. Damage to a book includes a range of conditions, such as wear to the binding, weak or broken joints, failed sewing, tears, and stains. Any problems were noted, along with a brief description of the binding. This process provided a record of the condition of each book when it arrived at the gallery, and also highlighted items requiring special handling or care.

One particularly vulnerable group of bindings were those bound in parchment. Parchment is made from stretched and scraped animal skin, and is very reactive to changes in temperature and relative humidity. Because of their sensitivity, these bindings were gradually conditioned to the climate in the gallery before installation.

The show opened on October 4th, and will remain up through December 15th. More details can be found here:

Book Repair Reback-a-thon

Wednesday August 14, 2013
Submitted by Susan Hansen

Cart of Finished Rebacked Books
Cart of Finished Rebacked Books
Our goal in the UI Libraries’ book repair unit is to return a circulating book to the shelf as soon as possible; however, sustained speed is not a top qualification for our students. In the day-to-day operation of the unit, we don’t have races. But when I mentioned an unofficial record for number of rebacks performed, two current student assistants immediately set a plan in motion to surpass that record.

Larry Houston and Sarah Luko are students in the UI Center for the Book and work in the UI Libraries’ preservation department. Both possess exceptional hand skills and an exemplary work ethic; they have mastered the technique of rebacking. After gathering volumes with damaged spines, Sarah and Larry went into production mode. They worked in batches, side by side, replacing the damaged spines with new cloth and reattaching the original spine piece when possible. The dynamic duo ran out of books before the end of the work day. The final tally was 84 rebacks, a number roughly twice the expected production for two experienced student assistants. Kudos to Sarah and Larry!

Minor Repairs Where Needed
Minor Repairs Where Needed

Trimming Loose Threads
Trimming Loose Threads
Into the Book Press
Into the Book Press

Finished stack, showing all the spine labels that need to be re-attached
Finished stack, showing all the spine labels that need to be re-attached

Kent Theater Photos Rehousing Project

Friday, August 2, 2013
Submitted by Lindsay Shettler

The theatre photographs from the Frederick W. Kent Collection of Photographs are currently being stabilized, digitized, and rehoused for Special Collections. The theater photographs are organized by year and production. The first batch of photographs are pre-1936, many of these prints have unknown dates ranging from the late 1800’s up to 1936. The different photographic technologies and techniques used during the turn of the century help us determine this specific era.

Old photo from Kent Theater Collection
Old photo from Kent Theater Collection

The two large photo albums that I worked on were with the pre-1936 collection; each album held about 300 prints. These needed to be stabilized and rehoused before scanning. The stabilization included removing the screw posts and casing, cleaning and mending the prints, and interleaving every single page with unbuffered tissue. Custom 4-flap enclosures were created to house the prints in the original order.

The prints from 1936 and after are mounted to board with tape rather than in album form. The prints are removed from the board and cleaned. The adhesive does not completely come off the resin-coated prints and need to be removed with ethyl alcohol and cotton tipped applicators. Once the tape is fully removed the prints are ready to be scanned. After digitization the photos will return to the Conservation Lab for rehousing and then finally returned to their home in Special Collections.


Kent Theater Collection Photos in a 4-Flap Enclosure
Kent Theater Collection Photos in a 4-Flap Enclosure
Kent Theater Company Old Album Cover
Kent Theater Company Old Album Cover



Columbia Hand Press

Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Submitted by Jessica Rogers

Columbia Press Outside Special CollectionsWe moved our Columbian hand press from the first floor of the library to the third floor, in front of Special Collections, to make more room for the Learning Commons. If you have not yet had a chance to see it, please, stop by and gaze in wonder at the remarkable craftsmanship and beauty of this historic hand press. As your eyes drift over the various decorations and counter-weights of this cast iron behemoth, take a moment to think to yourself “man, I bet this thing is really, really, really, heavy.” And it is.

Our particular Columbian was cast in 1843 at 120 Aldersgate Street, London, as stated on the brass plate which is mounted at the top of the structure. There is no indication as to when it was shipped to the U.S., where it was used, or when it arrived at the University of Iowa. It is roughly seven feet high and four feet wide (when the press bed is out) and made primarily from cast iron. Cherry Picker In Position to Move the PressHappy CrewAlthough no exact weight of the machine could be found it has been firmly established that the press is very, very heavy. Moving the press from the first to third floor took five men and a cherry-picker, a tool that is used in auto shops to lift car engines. After nearly four hours (and one almost-broken toe) the Columbian was at last settled in its new home.

The Columbian press was invented in 1813 by George Clymer, an American mechanic in Philadelphia. Sadly, Columbian presses were not as popular in the U.S. as they were overseas and Clymer moved his business across the pond where the machines proved more popular. Despite American printers rejection of his press, Clymer continued to decorate the Columbian (the name itself a tribute to Clymer’s beloved America) in patriotic symbols. In fact, Columbian presses can be most easily identified by the bald Eagle counter-weight at the top of the press. To date, there are no remaining American made Columbians and any Columbians located in the U.S. were made abroad and shipped back to American printers.Counter Balance with Eagle

Disaster Preparedness in the Main Library

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Library staff filling cart to move booksThis spring and summer in Iowa City has brought lots of different types of weather and with that lots of different events to be prepared for.  We were in a severe drought for most the winter and early spring, then the rains started.  At the end of May as the river was rising outside our back door the library and the University began to put its flood preparation plan into place.  In the Main Library that meant covering floor drains, moving supplies around, and moving high priority books out of the basement.

Library Staff Volunteers reshelve items from the basement on the 4th floor.



Since the Flood of 2008, the library has moved all of the special collection material from the basement.  The only remaining books are on compact shelving.  It was determined that we would need to move all of the items on the lowest shelves to higher ground.  With the help of library staff volunteers under the direction of Circulation Staff we were able to move the books to the 4th floor.






But just as we thought we would be in the clear more storms rolled in!  During a particularly bad storm all library staff and patrons were moved into the lower level to ride out a tornado warning.  As we began to filter back into our top floor work areas we realized that we had sprung a couple of leaks.

Disaster Preparedness CartThanks to careful planning and lots of help we sprang into action and grabbed our trusty disaster cart.  We were able to remove books from shelves and look them over for any signs of water.  We placed tarps over the area and called in facilities services. Though the library didn’t end up taking on any water from the river it was a great feeling to be so prepared and not rushed.

Tarps on Shelves

Although we are looking at weekly forecast full of rain, we are confident that our preparations and readiness will keep our collections dry!

Elizabethan Pocket Almanac

Friday, June 21, 2013
Submitted by Pamela Olson*

Spitzmueller's Exemplar
Spitzmueller’s Exemplar
During the second week of PBI, I participated in a workshop by Pamela Spitzmueller, former conservator for the University of Iowa Libraries and currently a rare book conservator for Harvard University. The focus of her workshop was to study and create a model of an Elizabethan pocket almanac housed at Harvard University’s Houghton Library. We began by viewing exemplars and images of almanacs, writing tables, and calendar books from various collections throughout the world.

The Houghton almanac is dated from 1581 and includes a calendar for 24 years, tables of weights and measures, prayers, a history of England, and five bifolios of erasable pages for notetaking. It measures 4 3/8 x 3 inches with the spine at the head of the text block, and a full-leather cover impressed with a decorative block and line tooling. A stylus is housed in a groove in the back cover, and the erasable pages are made of parchment coated with gesso and animal glue, to be written upon with the stylus and erased with a damp cloth or sponge. Because this type of book was used daily and discarded when finished, extant copies are rare.

Following an in-depth discussion of the exemplar, we began making our own models as Spitzmueller presented demonstrations of creating erasable surfaces with parchment size and gouache, making the stylus, sewing the text block onto three cords, trimming and shaping the wood covers, rounding and lining the spine, attaching boards to the text block, adhering and embossing the leather cover, and making hooks and clasps out of brass. By the end of a productive week, each participant brought home their own historical model of this rare and unusual book.

*Pamela is currently in travel mode conducting research for her thesis.

Respirator Fit Testing

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Putting the respirator onLast week I attended the American Institute for Conservation annual meeting. To keep up with my disaster response training, I went to all the sessions of particular interest to AIC-CERT (Collections Emergency Response Team) members. One session was on respirator fitness testing, including the actual fitness test. Before we could take the fitness test, we had to turn in a signed doctor’s statement of fitness. We reviewed how to put the mask on (chin in first) and clean it and then tested for a secure fit. As you can see, a bag is put over your head and then a scent is squirted into the bag. If you do not smell anything after you’ve moved your head from side to side, up and down, and read a statement, then you have a good fit. I’m happy to report that I past my test. Getting respirator fitness tested

We also a reviewed several brands and styles of disposable N95 particulate respirators that can be purchased at a local drugstore or online. The important thing is to make sure that the disposable respirator is rated N95 or higher. The N95 mask will provide you protection during limited exposure to molds, dust and other airborne particulates (not oil). As always you should consult with your doctor before using any type of respirator and follow whatever protocol has been established for your work area.Variety of disposal respirators

This, my very first AIC annual meeting, was a wonderful learning experience. I was able to attend thanks to a partial scholarship from the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.