72ppi-GW-photocons-materialsThanks to generous support from ISU Library’s staff development funds, I recently attended Gawain Weaver and Jennifer Olsen’s Photograph Conservation Workshop for Book and Paper Conservators, hosted by Head of Conservation Beth Doyle and her team at the Duke University Libraries Conservation Department.

Duke University proved to be a wonderful workshop location, boasting a spacious conservation lab, beautifully landscaped campus, sunny weather (after that first day of rainstorms!), and lots of great eateries.

A few years ago, ISU Library hosted one of Gawain Weaver’s excellent Care and Identification of Photographs Workshops, so my expectations were pretty high for this week of study. Gawain and Jennifer did not disappoint: they came armed with an impressive arsenal of photographic materials for us to experiment on, as well as tools, specialized equipment, chemicals, and resource materials.  I appreciated their balanced approach, which included some instruction in the history of photography, the chemistry of photographic print processes and their deterioration, broad trends in the fine art photography market, the ethics of treating photographic materials, and — of course — plenty of hands-on treatment activities.

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Jennifer Olsen demonstrates filling and inpainting techniques on an albumen print.

Our group of twelve workshop participants hailed from all over the U.S., and represented institutional labs, regional conservation centers, and private practices. The workshop targets “mid-career” book and paper conservators, and assumes a solid knowledge base in paper conservation techniques.

 

Clara Ines Rojas Sebesta monitors photographs in a solvent bath under the fume hood (left). Testing methods for removing silver mirroring, including solvent-dampened swabs (right).

Clara Ines Rojas Sebesta monitors photographs in a solvent bath under the fume hood (left). Testing methods for removing silver mirroring, including solvent-dampened swabs (right).

Our hands-on instruction included some controversial “don’t try this at home” demos to impress upon us the irreversible and extreme repercussions of some types of chemical treatments, followed by dry and wet cleaning methods, silver mirroring removal techniques, separation of photographs stuck to glass, and tape removal.  We also learned to mount and unmount photographs with various types of drymount and various mechanical, heat-based, and solvent-based techniques. We practiced resin fills on albumen prints, and inpainted with watercolors. Throughout it all, Gawain and Jennifer were on hand to discuss our questions and concerns, encourage us, and share stories of their real-life photograph conservation successes and challenges.

(Left to right:) Gawain Weaver, Jennifer Olsen, and Beth Doyle.

(Left to right:) Gawain Weaver, Jennifer Olsen, and Beth Doyle.

Four days, thirty-plus pages of lecture notes, and countless hours of hands-on practice later, I will certainly not be putting any photograph conservators out of business.  On the contrary, I believe my fellow participants and I all left with a healthy respect for the risks and challenges particular to photograph conservation. Even so, I’m grateful to have spent the week in the company of talented and generous colleagues, and to have acquired some new skills and resources to help me more judiciously care for the photographs in our collections at ISU Library.

Inpainting resin fills on albument prints.

Inpainting resin fills on albumen prints.

Visit Preservation Underground to read Beth Doyle’s summary of the workshop from the perspective of the host institution.

 

As Melissa mentioned in a previous blog, I am the 2014 Audiovisual Preservation Lennox Intern. My area of expertise is not books or paper, but I still deal with objects from the past that are part of our cultural heritage and that we must conserve, preserve, and when necessary (and possible) restore. Even when paper conservators and film preservationists do not communicate with one another, their work has more in common than most of them probably suspect.

Breaking down those barriers is one of my goals during my internship at the ISU Library. I hope to bring more thoughts and anecdotes about my work in a future post, but today I would like to tell you about my experience at the AMIA Conference 2014, held in Savannah, GA, on October 7th-11th.

The Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) has been working for several decades representing over 750 audiovisual archivists from all over the world. Since 1991, AMIA has formally been an individual-based professional association, unique in the field, providing representation and camaraderie not only to institutional archivists, but also to students and recent graduates.

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The Lucas Theater, in Savannah, GA, hosted the Archival Screening Night.

Every year we gather in a beautiful city (Savannah, GA this year) to share experiences, exchange different opinions, raise questions, and learn from one another’s work. The AMIA conference is a great place for new film archivists to learn and network. It is also a great opportunity for conservators, archivists, and librarians that have film collections in their care to learn the basics, ask questions, and make contacts that might come in handy when dealing with special materials.

There are traditional topics that are always candidates for panels and discussions, such as acetate and nitrate deterioration, best practices, the unknown future of digital collections, and the transition from film to digital, among others. This year, the conference presented three curated streams of programming that analyzed matters that are of most interest in the present days.

The first one was “Open Source Digital Preservation and Access” which covered the basics of open source software for audiovisual collections management and highlighted some relevant current projects.

The second program (my favorite) was “Film in Transition,” which discussed the implications that the evolution of the industry — from film to digital — has for film archives and everyone who still needs to work with film stock. Basically, the question was: will archives will be able to continue to preserve films with so many labs closing and such a limited production of film stock?

Last but not least, the third stream was entitled “Global Exchange,” and brought voices from all over the world to share solutions and exchange ideas. This year I was very happy to see a panel discussing the activities in the South American archives, and particularly the staff from Museo del Cine de Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires Film Museum), the most important film archive from Argentina, my home country.

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I met with Paula Felix-Didier and Andres Levinson from Museo del Cine de Buenos Aires.

To conclude, there were two special moments that were my favorite. The archival screening night at the marvelous Lucas Theater, in which archives were invited to share a 6-minute clip from the treasures of their collections. I would very much like to see something from the ISU Film Collection next year! Last, the obsolete film formats panel, where they presented the smallest film gauge ever used, 3mm, the cutest medium ever!

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The smallest film gauge ever invented – 3 mm.

For more information about the event, visit the conference website.

For more information on film preservation, visit the National Film Preservation Foundation.

The main focus of my three months here at ISU is a collection of family documents titled the Van Zandt Family Papers. The collection contains documents from 1838-1990. The Van Zandt family started out in North Carolina, with some members of the family moving to Iowa in the mid-1800s. There are a couple significant portions of the collection: correspondence during the Civil War, during which time members of the family were located in both the North and the South, and correspondence during World War I. The collection contains a variety of objects, including letters, postcards, photographs, and legal documents. The photographs are my main focus. More information about the collection can be found here.

Surface cleaning photographs in an album.

Surface cleaning photographs in an album.

My treatment of this collection is ongoing, but so far, the work I have carried out includes: surface cleaning using a soft brush to remove debris, mending tears and infilling losses on both the photographs themselves and on their backing boards, and removing accretions with a poultice made of methyl cellulose. Some of the work to still be done includes: building up areas of loss on backing boards, repairing bindings on Daguerreotypes, and treating photographic albums.

Using a methyl cellulose poultice to remove an accretion on the recto of a photograph.

Using a methyl cellulose poultice to remove an accretion on the recto of a photograph.

One issue the treatment of this collection has brought up is time management. As the internship only lasts three months, and I have other projects to complete in addition to the Van Zandt Family Papers, I knew I needed a treatment plan which would allow for various stages of completion depending on the amount of time I had available. What I came up with was a way to break down each type of treatment into levels of importance. Once the first level of importance is reached, I can go back and do the next level if time allows. This way, each photograph receives at least enough treatment to ensure its stability.

Before and after tape removal on the top, and an image of my tape removal set up in the fume cupboard.

Before and after tape/adhesive removal on the top, and an image of my tape/adhesive removal set up in the fume cupboard.

My treatment plan looks like this:

Surface cleaning:

  1. Surface clean all photographs, using only a brush (no aqueous treatment) unless otherwise needed.

Mending:

  1. Repair any tears and infill all losses on every photograph, including the backing board. This will give necessary support to areas which need it.

Tape Removal:

  1. Remove any sticky adhesive, leaving carriers as they are. This will prevent the photograph from sticking to its enclosure, potentially causing further damage.
  2. Remove all carriers, and any residue beneath the carriers.

Photo Albums:

  1. Surface clean all photographs in the album, re-adhere any photographs which have failed adhesive, and interleave the pages with photograph-safe paper.
  2. Consider removal of the photograph from the album, especially in albums which have heavily degraded the photographs. One possible solution would be to place each photograph in a Mylar enclosure, and adhere the enclosure to the spot the photograph originally was adhered.
Working on an infill for a missing corner.

Working on an infill for a missing corner.

In addition to learning more about the conservation of photographs, I am learning what it is like to juggle numerous projects with a time restriction. Taking the time to create a treatment plan like the one I have outlined has helped me organize my workflow, and has allowed me to complete the most imperative tasks first. I then have a plan in mind in the event that I have additional time to finish other treatments as well. This is a skillset, in addition to improving my bench skills, which I can carry with me throughout my career as a paper and photographs conservator.

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.

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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.

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