Written by Suzette Schmidt of Preservation Services.

I have always been a person who enjoys a mystery, whether reading a book or problem-solving through tasks.  My love of reading began at age 5.   My mother was an elementary school teacher, and she decided it was important for me to learn how to read before starting school.  She taught me how to read prior to entering kindergarten which I am extremely grateful for.  I absolutely loved to read (still do) and I became a voracious reader.  My favorite place to visit growing up was the public library.  I had no clue then that I would eventually be working in a library as an adult, however.  This came as a surprise to me, but it felt right.

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As a second-grader, I began reading Nancy Drew mysteries, which I loved as a kid.  I am now using Suduko and Crossword puzzles outside of work to take the place of mystery novels.  However, I get to fill this “problem-solving” need at work, as well, which I find enjoyable.  There are some aspects to my job where I am in a continual search for serial issues which either appear to be misplaced or missing as well as items which seem to “magically appear” as a surprise or a gift that I had not previously been looking for.

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When I am presented with these journal issues, I happily get out my “sleuthing skills” to figure out the next steps that needed to be taken either to claim for any missing materials, or to bind those that have been found during this process.  It gives me a tangible sense of accomplishment when I am able to resolve each “mystery” which comes my way.

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Over the years, we have introduced and highlighted our many wonderful students and interns in the Preservation Department.  They perform an immense amount of work, and work that is often mundane or sometimes just icky.  Our students have helped us slog through hundreds of fishy smelling architectural drawings after the 2010 floods, they vacuum mold, and they help keep us young.

This time I would like to recognize and thank students that work in the Stacks Management unit.  Last week Rylie Pflughaupt, Rebecca Schmid, and Megan Primorse were shifting a portion of our general collection and discovered what they thought was mold on some of our books.  Our Stacks students are trained to look for signs of mold, water leaks, and other library concerns, while they are shelving and shifting, and they have certainly caught many problems throughout the years.  This time their focus and training alerted us to a mold problem that affected three floors of open stacks.  After being alerted to the mold, Stacks and Preservation students also helped us do a walk-through of stacks areas serviced by the same air handler to identify other books with mold.

moldy books

What our Stacks students found looked like a powdery residue on certain books scattered throughout 44,000 volumes.  These were not obviously moldy books with entire areas covered in fuzzy, full bloom mold.  These looked more like books with old, failed book tape adhesive on the spines or just seriously dusty books.

Powdery mold on books

The other mold pattern was a little more obvious.  The mold formed clumps or dots that were more three-dimensional.  Under magnification you could see the interconnected network and what looked like sporangiophore and sporangium.

Mold dotsOur Environmental Health and Safety staff took tape samples off of our books and vents and identified three types of mold in the area.  Facilities Planning and Management identified a valve stuck open on a humidification unit, and dampers that were not responding properly.  Although we do not know exactly when this bloom happened, looking at our temperature and relative humidity data, we think it happened in late July when the temperature spiked for three days with the corresponding drop in relative humidity and then just as quickly the temperature dropped with the relative humidity spiking, creating warm air and cool surfaces for condensation.

This may finally be the event that makes everyone including Facilities Planning and Management take notice.  Deferred maintenance (waiting for something to break) of the library HVAC system is not adequate.  With all of the additions to the building and expansion of  the existing HVAC system and air handling units, environmental conditions in the stacks areas cannot be kept stable under reasonable conditions especially when the system is not functioning at or near 100%.  After years of charts and graphs and complaints from Preservation, progress may actually be made because of three observant Stacks students alerting their supervisor to possible mold in the stacks.

“Oh, what a beautiful book,” we thought when this General Collections item was given to us to work on. Oh wait! It’s not a book – it’s a box! Our excitement quickly turned into…despair? Those darn artists and publishers; don’t they think about how libraries are going to handle items like this? That’s a common thought around here – I am sure many of you have thought the same at some point.

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This item fooled us in more ways than one. Not only did we think that this item was a book, but based on the condition we thought that this was a new item as well. We soon learned that this item was actually from 1967!

Now, while the outside of the box looked to be in great shape for its age, the inside pieces were another story. While at first glance the 4 inner portfolios don’t seem to be in terrible condition, upon looking closer it was evident that there was in fact some damage. Due to the type of tape used, the adhesive has seeped through and stained the paper, failed entirely, or a combination of those on the various parts in this item. Unfortunately, there is not much we can do to correct this other than reattaching the detached items.  

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Have you seen items with similar inherent vice? Do you think the creator intended them to last longer than they did? Or maybe they were meant to have a short lifespan?

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Written by Hope Mitchell

After four wonderful years as a Student Conservation Technician here in the lab, I am leaving to start my first real “grown-up” job. While I am thrilled to have a job, I am also very sad to be leaving the people and the lab that has in many ways become a home away from home for me over the years. So, in honor of the four years I spent with the lab, I thought that I would share with you some of my favorite lessons that I’ve learned during my time in the lab.

  1. “Perfect is the enemy of good.” -Voltaire

While I glanced at this prettily framed quote almost daily, even as I was agonizing over some treatment that refused to bend to my will, I did not fully appreciate its meaning until I witnessed a new student employee doing exactly what I had been doing for years. I realized that spending so much time torturing myself over achieving perfection was an inefficient use of my time and ended up sucking all the joy out of a job that I truly loved.

  1. Nothing is beyond repair

Working in a preservation lab, you very quickly become aware that there is a whole spectrum of damage that books can undergo. This can range anywhere from well meaning use of Scotch tape on a torn page all the way to some poor book that was run over by a car. Whatever the damage may be, there is something we can do to make it better. Rather than writing off damaged goods, preservation teaches you the importance of maintaining an open-minded, creative, collaborative, and solution-oriented work environment.

  1. Food is the great equalizer

This may seem completely unrelated to working in a preservation lab, but stick with me for a minute. Over the last four years, I have had the opportunity to work with an assortment of people from all different walks of life. While these people may have been from different places, different generations, had completely different interests/goals/opinions, one thing that I have found anyone can talk about passionately (whether they are a chatty person or not) is food. I would be willing to bet that I talked about food multiple times every single day that I was in the lab, and while it probably made everyone else hungry, I attribute many of the great relationships that I have built over the years to conversations we all had about food.

Today is the first day of the 2014 Lennox Foundation Internship for Preservation Education, Outreach, and Training.  Our Lennox Interns often come during the summer months, but this year a Fall semester internship worked best for everyone. We have two Lennox interns this year, each specializing in a different aspect of preservation.

2014 Lennox Interns Nicole Monjeau (left) and Gloria Diez (right).

2014 Lennox Interns Nicole Monjeau (left) and Gloria Diez (right).

Nicole Monjeau is our Lennox Intern for Preservation of Photographic Materials. Nicole is from Minnesota, and just graduated with an MA in Paper Conservation from the Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London. Nicole also has a BFA in Photography from the College of Visual Arts, St. Paul, MN, and within the context of her paper conservation training,  focused as much as she could on photographic materials.  She also recently attended a Professional Conservators in Practice short course in photograph conservation with Susie Clark at West Dean College in Chichester, England.  Nicole will be working on photographic collections from our University Archives, including some lantern slides and glass plate negatives which could use some TLC.

Gloria Diez is our Lennox Intern for Preservation of Audiovisual Materials.  Gloria is from Argentina, and just graduated from the certificate program at the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at George Eastman House. She also has a BA in Art History and Theory with specialization in Cinema Studies from the Universidad de Buenos Aires. Her goal after completing her training in the U.S. is to return to South America and work toward preserving and making accessible Latin America’s audiovisual heritage. During her internship at ISU Library, she will assess our audiovisual collections in Special Collections and University Archives and devise a detailed preservation plan for them.  In addition, Gloria will be training with me and technician Mindy Moeller in the conservation lab, where Gloria will learn basic paper and book repair techniques which may prove useful in her future work in a film archives.

We are delighted to welcome Gloria and Nicole to the ISU University Library. Be sure to check the blog for updates from the interns themselves about their projects in the coming months!

Every year in July, I try to take items to show at the Open Class at the Boone County Fair, and sometimes I’ve taken things I’ve made at work.  This year, I had four entries for the miscellaneous class: an icicle-stitch cord-bound book,  a post-bound guest book, a tool box for my specialty tools, and a bow made from book pages.

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My icicle-stitch book had been started at a staff development day several years ago, but was never completed, so I decided it was time to finish it and make it an interesting book by attaching the cover with Bookmakers Irish hemp cords.

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The post-bound guest book was made right after I had to do one for work and decided I needed to do another one for practice and as a model.  It served another purpose at the All 70’s BHS Class Reunion the weekend following the county fair.  The cover of the guest book featured a copy of Boone’s matador mascot “the Toreador” and was covered in red and green bookcloth (yes, our school colors are Christmas red and green!)  I had guests sign in with red and green markers as they “oohed and aahed” over the guest book with its red and green colored ribbons and silver beads spelling out “Boone” and “Toreadors.”

ToolBox

A while back, I received my own set of Caselli spatulas and tools. I decided I needed a nice box to keep them in to protect them at work when not in use.  We don’t buy boxes here in Preservation, we make them!  The box I made has two lift out Ethafoam cushioned trays and a cushioned bottom to store my Caselli tools, a brass triangle, specialty bone folders, and other miscellaneous tools.  Of course, I used my favorite Canapetta Natural bookcloth from Talas to cover the box.

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My last entry was a paper bow made from the pages of a discarded children’s book during a staff development day, and it can be hung on a tree or wall as an ornament.

All four entries received blue ribbons and each received good comments.  This is just another way to show off my talents from work and support the Open Class at the Boone County Fair.

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I continue to look at other university library digital collections to see what they are doing that we are not.  It can be informative to see what other people have decided is important enough to include on their websites.  Even if we don’t end up using these ideas on our own website, it’s good to know not only what other creators of digital collections are doing, but to find out what the users are seeing when they visit these websites and therefore the expectations that they might have when visiting digital collections such as ours.

One way of finding out what users want and expect is to ask them.  On the home page of the University of South Carolina Libraries Digital Collections, there is a link for a usability survey.   It is a brief survey that helps to find out who is using the digital collections (faculty, staff, undergraduates, grad students, or others); how easy the collections are to navigate; what kinds of things users are looking for; and whether users are able to find what they’re looking for.  This kind of information could be very useful in making decisions about the future of our digital collections.

Personally, I’m not a big user of social media, but it seems to have become a part of most people’s lives to some degree.  The home page of Duke University Libraries Digital Collections has a prominently featured area for both Twitter and Facebook.  This would encourage visitors to post comments on either of these social media outlets about what they’ve found and enjoyed in the digital collections.  Doing this would publicize the various contents of the digital collections to all the friends and followers of each user, which would in turn spread the word about the existence of the variety of things in the digital collections much more widely than any advertising the library could do otherwise.

Screen capture from the University of Washington University Libraries Digital Collections homepage: http://digitalcollections.lib.washington.edu/

Screen capture from the University of Washington University Libraries Digital Collections homepage.

There are always so many things that could be done, but there’s never enough time to do them all.  Having more staff and resources could help to do more, and having more funding would help to provide those additional staff and resources.  Every library and university, public or private, is always trying to raise money. Usually a person is more likely to donate their money if they know that it will go to something that is specifically important to them.  The home page of the University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections has a red star highlighting a link to “Support Digital Initiatives,  Make a Gift.”  The link takes you directly to the university foundation and the current needs in the library digital initiatives fund.   People who visit the digital collections and find things that interest them might be more likely to donate their money if they see that it could easily go directly to benefiting this interest of theirs and not just some general university fund.

Not every good idea for one library is necessarily a good fit for every other library.  However, noticing what others are doing and seeing what reactions they get can be a good way to start a conversation locally about what we might want to do in the future.

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