In January, I had the good fortune of visiting Danielle Fraser, Library Conservator at the National Library and Information System Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (NALIS). Danielle and I first met as classmates at the Kilgarlin Center for Preservation of the Cultural Record at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Information. After we graduated, Danielle returned to her native Trinidad and Tobago for a position at NALIS, where she set up the first conservation lab in the English-speaking Caribbean. And what a wonderful lab it is!
The lab’s equipment, tools, and supplies, have been carefully selected and built up over time. Likewise, Danielle’s staff has grown (and during our visit, the in-house Bindery was officially moved under her supervision as well). The lab staff have all been trained by Danielle, and clearly share an enthusiasm for their work.
Afesha, the Assistant Library Conservator, started our official tour at one end of the lab, in a small alcove containing storage cabinets, the fume hood (set up with a Nilfisk HEPA vacuum for mold removal), and one of the lab’s two Wei T’o Freeze Dryer and Insect Exterminator units. I’ll admit, I was a little envious. However, having ample freezer space is critically important in the humid Caribbean climate. Danielle explained that they use the units as much for insect extermination as for drying wet books.
In addition to the two Wei T’o units, the lab boasts the largest chest freezer I have ever seen. Did I mention the climate makes freezer space a necessity rather than a luxury? A significant portion of Trinidad and Tobago is covered in rainforest, just to give you some idea of how humid it is there.
The lab’s washing sink has been fitted with a cover, allowing it to be converted to usable bench space. (This clever use of space reminded me of the conservation lab equipped by Conservator Sarah Norris at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.)
In addition to the “usual suspects,” like a boardshear and electric guillotine, the NALIS lab also has a piece of equipment that was new to me, the Archipress. This vacuum sealing unit draws the air out of a polyethylene enclosure before sealing the edges. The unit has been programmed with pre-sets depending on the dimensions of the materials to be vacuum sealed. According to Danielle, vacuum-sealing items before they are frozen helps to prevent warping. It is also a method of isolating materials for insect extermination or stabilizing materials for transport. The unit was purchased from a company in Europe, so a separate power supply had to be wired to accommodate its electrical requirements.
Alicia, the Conservation Technician, demonstrated how to use the portable Book Keeper deacidification spray unit, and gave my husband a chance to try his hand at it. He gently chided me that Danielle’s staff gave him a far better tour of their lab than I have ever given him of the ISU Library lab — a legitimate complaint. I was similarly impressed by the comprehensive tour by a committed staff. Many thanks to everyone at the NALIS Conservation Lab for a delightful morning in their company!