This month’s 1091 Project highlights the role of student workers in the Conservation Lab. Quite honestly, many university conservation departments wouldn’t be nearly as productive without these unsung workhorses of conservation. Often the most tedious tasks fall to the students: they make enclosures, tip-in loose pages, surface clean, and vacuum moldy items. Yet they perform these tasks efficiently and cheerfully, and miraculously, they keep showing up for work.
When I interned at the Conservation Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, many of the students working in the lab were also studying in the GSLIS program. We don’t have a library school here at ISU, so our students come from other departments. Of our current four student employees, one is a graduate student pursuing her MA in History (although she started working for us as an undergraduate Anthropology major), one is an Anthropology major, one is a Design major, and one is a Elementary Education major.
Our students tackle a variety of projects according to their handskills and experience. Hannah just started with us this semester, and she has learned to surface clean, insert tip-ins, sew on pamphlet binders, and construct tux boxes and other four-flap wrappers. We have a shelf full of items needing other types of boxes which will be next on her plate.
Devin has been with us for about a year, but already had excellent handskills from her experience in the College of Design. She performs many mid-level treatments such as custom portfolio construction, double-fan adhesive bindings, and shield bindings. Devin divides her work schedule between Conservation and the Preservation Services unit of the Preservation Department.
Ashley and Hope have both worked in the lab for two and a half years. Their handskills have developed beautifully during this time, and both are now capable of executing more advanced book repairs such as rebacks, new cases, re-cases, and “full repairs,” which they tackle when the more general student treatment workflow slows down at various points throughout the year.
When we hire new students, we look for hobbies or work experience that show evidence of good eye-hand coordination, but we don’t expect them to have any prior bookbinding or conservation experience. The typical student workflow includes materials preparation (such as cutting spine inserts and hinging endpapers), surface cleaning, box-making, tip-ins, page mending, pamphlet binding, double-fan adhesive binding, shield binding, vacuuming mold, and small-scale deacidification using a compressor and Book Keeper’s spray unit. The students have also been called upon to assist during disaster recovery. In fact, when Hope and Ashley first started working in the lab, they spent a month washing Mylar architectural plans which had been damaged during the 2010 Ames flood.
We know our students’ first and foremost goal is to receive a good education here at ISU. We appreciate being just one of their many priorities, and have been impressed by their reliability, their cheerful hard work, and their diligence in developing their handskills. We couldn’t run the lab without them!
Don’t forget to stop by Preservation Underground to hear about the student technician experience in the Conservation Lab of Duke University Libraries.