Upon opening a website, there is an expectation to see a nice, neat, orderly layout with a banner across the top and a menu down the side. Whichever browser is opened, it will look and function the same. However, what happens when using a mobile device?

Mobile devices are a recent addition to the technology-based world. There are two different types of mobile devices: smart phones and tablets.  Each present two different ways to look at information. Although smart phone screens are inching back up to larger sizes, viewing a full website typically results in too small a view to appreciate the layout.  Tablets (including hybrid e-readers), however, are just miniature laptops, so viewing a full site looks decent.

More people are ditching desktops and laptops for tablets and smart phones. Tablets are a more affordable and portable option for many who only need to go online, check email, watch media and occasionally write documents.  Plus, more locations are offering free Wi-Fi.

While these device are more light-weight than laptops and desktops, and present instant-on and instant access to information, they offer an interesting and complicated development for website designers. There is waffling on how to present web pages with these devices in mind, with absolutely NO consistency across the internet. While using smart phones, some sites (www.iastate.edu) present a page or a pop-up window giving an option between a mobile or full site.


For tablets, it goes straight to full site. Others (www.lib.iastate.edu) simply send the user to the full site, whether using smart phones or tablets.


Other sites vary. The Des Moines Register utilizes a mobile site with two different layouts, in addition to the full site. The tablet edition gives the option of increasing data storage on your tablet to 50MB; the use of images is prevalent.


CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. Clockwise from top left: tablet first screen; tablet second screen; tablet full site; tablet mobile screen.

On the smart phone layout, the images are unobtrusive, but these images are rotated out every few days.


CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. Left to right: smart phone first screen; smart phone scrolled to bottom of screen; smart phone full site; smart phone landscape view.

The Ames Tribune defaults to the full site when using a tablet:


and mobile site (with no images) when detecting a smart phone:


The ISU Library Digital Collections site currently does not design with mobile devices in mind. This decision was made not only because images are not temporary and continue to be added, but because the images are managed and hosted through CONTENTdm®, which does not utilize mobile layouts. To offer the mobile layouts for devices on the front end of the site, only to link into non-optional layout pages is neither seamless nor professional, and therefore the site will be left as-is for the foreseeable future. How would the user benefit from a text-only site, where the information, ultimately, is neither bite-sized nor appropriate without images?

Recently, there was a small fire in one of the research labs on campus.  Fortunately, the sprinkler system deployed and Ames firefighters responded quickly and effectively, so no one was injured and the building was saved.  We have a saying in the preservation field: “Every disaster is a water disaster.”  O.k., so that’s not always literally true, as tornadoes and earthquakes wouldn’t necessarily involve water (though they might!)  However, in the case of fires, if there is anything left to save, then it will likely be sooty, dirty… and wet.


“Wringing out” a water-saturated notebook with a press-board in the sink.

Such was the case with a dozen or so lab notebooks that were brought to us late in the day of the fire.  All of the notebooks were wet, but some were completely saturated, dripping in rivulets, the covers mushy, the textblocks bloated.  Some of them were also very dirty, covered in grit and soot.  We quickly separated the notebooks into salvage categories and got to work.  The notebooks, as part of the active research of the lab, could not be spirited away to our Wei T’o Freeze Dryer for its usual two-month freeze-drying cycle, so we decided to blot, airdry, and interleave instead.


Interleaving pages with paper towels.

The merely wet notebooks were interleaved with paper towels, a time-consuming but effective low-tech solution.  One notebook was just damp, so we stood it on end in front of a gentle fan to air dry.  The gritty items were first briefly rinsed in clean water.  The most bloated of the lot were “wrung out” by pressing them under a board in the washing sink.  About half of the notebooks were so saturated that we had to disbind them by removing their adhesive covers and then prying out the staples along their gutter edge.  The freed pages were then careful separated, one by one, and laid out to dry between sheets of blotter under boards and weights.


Disbinding a completely saturated notebook.

The next morning, the interleaving process began all over again, as wet interleaving was removed and fresh, dry paper towels inserted.  Likewise, fresh blotter replaced the damp blotter in the stacks of disbound pages.  We continued to monitor the materials in this way for another day or two.  As each notebook or stack of pages approached the stage of being almost dry, but still very slightly damp, we put them in books presses to flatten out the pages as best we could.



A few of the pages had been written in felt-tip pen, which bled considerably, but the majority of the notebooks were written in ballpoint pen, which remained fairly stable.  In all, we salvaged over 2,000 notebooks pages of handwritten data.


When the materials were dry and flattened, we rebound them simply and cost-effectively by post-binding through the 3-ring binder holes of the pages and covers.  We used 20-point Bristol board to replace a few of the back cover boards which had been discarded.  The results are not “pretty,” but the important information contained in the notebooks was saved, and the materials are now stable.


Water-damaged lab notebook, after treatment.

The George Washington Carver digital collection was one of our first priorities when I began in Digital Initiatives four years ago.  We digitized all of the correspondence between Carver and his mentor Dr. Louis Pammel at Iowa Agricultural College (now Iowa State University).  Carver received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the college, and was its first African American student (1891) and faculty member (1894).  Recently, we received an email from a man who translates articles about interesting science subjects.  He let us know that he has translated our Carver digital collection web page into Ukrainian.

This is not entirely surprising since there has been a consistent and widespread interest in Carver for many years.  Carver is one of the top five most-researched topics at the Iowa State University Library Special Collections and Archives, where they get an average of 2-4 requests per month in regards to Carver.  The Iowa State University Library Special Collections’ George Washington Carver website receives around 20,000 hits per month, with numbers swelling to over 100,000 hits during Black History Month every year.  The link to this website is also cited online by Encyclopedia Britannica in their article on Carver (click “Weblinks” in the left-hand column).

Students from K-12 and people of all ages and interests find Carver a fascinating and important person and they come to Iowa State to learn more about him.  Many students research Carver each year for National History Day.  Southwest Airlines asked permission to use one of the library’s photographs of Carver on their packages of peanuts.   Even poetry has been written about Carver’s life and work, as shown in this video of a poetry reading by a poet who researched Carver here at the library.

If we’ve piqued your interest, please take a few minutes to browse our George Washington Carver digital collection!

That probably comes as no surprise, since we do work in a library.

We also, obviously, enjoy the digital ease of the blog as a written medium.  We collaborate on this blog, after all, and have been steadily keeping at it for two and a half years.  Blogging has allowed us to communicate our preservation mission, to create, to share, and to engage in a dynamic manner that the printed book just doesn’t allow.

However, as much as we appreciate the unique features of the blogging platform, we just can’t get over the printed book.  A book that exists in the digital ether can be hard to visualize as a discrete object, as a substantial work of creation.  There is a figurative as well as a literal gravity to a printed book that can be held, weighed in the hand, flipped through, and set back on the shelf.

So, to celebrate our blog’s first two years of successes, we took advantage of the relatively new Blog2Print service, which converts digital blogs (WordPress, Blogger, and Typepad are currently supported) into print format.  The service produces adhesive bindings with your choice of a soft or hard cover.  We chose soft, as we are well equipped to add a hard case of our own devising.  Our ISU Library Preservation Blog 2010-2011 produced a satisfyingly hefty 314-page volume.

The fact that the Blog2Print service exists at all tells me that we’re not the only ones who are still in love with printed books.  What about you?

“I use this stuff on my family photographs and documents.  It says it’s archival.  It’s okay to use isn’t it?”  It’s the inevitable question after every “caring for your family treasures” talk.  Or, “I saw this product at a scrap booking store and it says its acid-free.  What do you think?”  Of course I launch into “archival” doesn’t really mean anything in this situation and “acid-free” is only one concern of many.

These products always catch me by surprise and I can only address their properties in a very general way as they relate to what we consider appropriate for conservation.  I guess I should spend more time in scrap booking and hobby stores.  What’s out there? How much of it is acceptable?  Everyone who seeks our advice generally has good intentions when they start out organizing and caring for their collections, but then cost, availability and ease of use affect their decision making.

Are sticky blue dots or adhesive dot rollers something we should approve if individual handmade, Japanese tissue photo corners  attached with hand-stirred wheat starch paste are not really an option?  Let’s face it, archival photo corners often fail quickly and what we expect from conservators goes well beyond the skills, knowledge, and patience of anyone else.  Is there something in between?  Sticky blue dots state that they are photo safe and permanent.  No mention of staining over time or cold flow issues.  Will it soften emulsions over time?  Indirect contact or not, there is opportunity for adverse chemical reactions, but are there any?  Adhesive dots are from the same company that brought us Post-It, a removable adhesive that becomes pretty permanent over time.  Did they warn us about that?  I’m not picking on 3M, I love their stuff, but our intentions and expectations my be different when viewed with time as a variable and also reversibility as a criteria.

Maybe you all can help me out with my grocery list.  What have you been asked about? What have you heard about or seen that made you go “hmmm?”  Perhaps I’ll have a chance to do some simple testing on my own and at least understand what the potential risks are.

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