If you see me sitting at my bench in the Preservation Lab just staring off into space, I am not daydreaming but thinking about how to tackle a work related project. Sometimes I’m jotting down notes, drawing a sketch, or making a mock item but it all pertains to book repair and box making.  We sometimes receive unique items here in the Preservation Department and then must come up with creative ways to fix or house them in protective boxes.  Below shows three mini books titled Laozi Qi Shu Qi Ren along with a laminated picture card and they are to be housed in the Cage Miniature section of the Parks Library.


I decided to use three layers of ¼” Ethafoam, 3M double stick tape, ½” gray linen tape, and grey-white barrier board to construct a phase box with foam support for the mini books and card. The reason for the three layers of Ethafoam is because one book was much thicker than the other two along with the think laminated card and the linen tape underneath helps to release the mini books from their foam protected pockets.  There was some skill on my part to get everything lined up just right when cutting the Ethafoam with a scalpel and a little fine trimming with a scissors but I am pleased with the end product-all four items housed together in a phase box.



Last fall we were made aware of the University’s new “mixed stream” recycling program. This new system allows for all sorts of recyclable material to go into the blue bins – newspapers, pop cans, white paper – all together in the same bin! No having to search around for the proper bin for each item.

recycle bin


This got us in the Lab thinking – what about our scraps that we throw out? Can we recycle what we use? We gathered up items we use frequently in the lab that we thought might possibly be recycled and had the person in charge of the recycling team come and talk to us about these items. We were pleased to hear that much of what we use can be recycled! One of the funny things discussed was Reemay – not really recyclable we are told. Even though we know what it is and what it is made from the people at the sorting facility would most likely think that it is a dryer sheet which is not recyclable. Ha!




Here are just a few of the items that we most frequently recycle.

Colibri covers, boards, book cloth

Colibri covers, boards, book cloth

In order to ensure that serial issues are bound or discarded in a timely, seamless manner we have developed a six-week color-coded streamer system. This system has helped us to streamline both the pulling of journal issues for binding and the tracking of items either missing or have never been received by the Library.


There are six different colored streamers with each color representing a different week in the rotating six week cycle. As items are pulled from the shelves in the Periodical Room or the General Collection each title gets a streamer that coincides with that week’s color. The streamers allow the staff to clearly see how long an item has been in process between pulling & binding and serves as a reminder to keep these items moving. We have also found that the system helps if other staff members have to step in and help due to absences – it is easier to see what items are a higher priority.  So far this system seems to be working well and all who use it are pleased.streamers in place IMG_0864

I spend a lot of my time on the internet. It’s a part of my job; usually I’m creating pages, updating, or creating new collections. But lately, I’ve been spending even more time on the web doing research. Our department, Digital Initiatives, has gone through some transitional changes since the first of the year. The biggest one being that we have a new (or, rather: permanent), director: Kim Anderson. She has some cool ideas of how she wants our webpages set up. One idea, that she would like to see incorporated ASAP, is that she wants to have a layer over the top of our current page (http://digitalcollections.lib.iastate.edu/), that directs researchers to either our CONTENTdm boutiques/pages, or to other new pages/collections yet to be implemented. In addition, this main page will have, perhaps, the department’s pertinent information, (or links), as well: staff, tools used, mission statement. That sort of thing.

So, here I have been: looking through and finding similar pages that we may find inspiring for the eventual page layout that we create. I broke it down into two sections, both real-life examples: a “tools” page (which we’d like to create that shows our researchers what we used, both applications wise and equipment wise): and a new “Digital Initiatives” page. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, you know nothing is easy in Lori’s world. Nut .’N. Honey. No, it’s not. I can now understand why Kim wanted to sicced this little gem of a project on me. Not only isn’t there much out there, but as I have been doing this, I have found that, by and large, there really isn’t a “standard” when it comes to describing what we do, and how it’s managed.

It is hard to find separate pages within other academic libraries that demonstrate the importance of this distinction. Since our school is in the Big 12, I’ve looked at all those library sites in search of other Digital Initiatives departments. (Sadly, only schools that made my list where two schools no longer in our league.) I’ve looked at hundreds of “Digital Initiatives” links. In addition, I’ve looked at hundreds of additional general academic library sites. There are only about a good two handful of links that I care to share with our director. Fifteen to be exact. The rest either consolidate it in with another departments, (Digital Repositories; Special Collections; IT;) or don’t even get mentioned at all. And of the ones I have listed, even some of those are a part of these other departments. One university listed their digital collections as a part of their “slides” collections. Sometimes, they have a link to Digital Initiatives and that link sends the researcher to a CONTENTdm collections page. It was just like they were setting these pages up to be a regular library web page. Digital Collections are like exhibit pages. (We call our main collection pages, like: http://digitalcollections.lib.iastate.edu/charles-christopher-parry, boutiques.) I honestly believe that the most innovative digital exhibits are the ones that are easy to navigate; merge well with the items they are showcasing; and make learning fun and informative.

This reminds me of a true work event that I was involved in back in my Tribune days. The paper there had the foresight to see “digital” papers were the coming thing. However, they didn’t have the foresight to involve enough knowledgable persons about the layout of such a site. They didn’t go to one of the composition designers to ask advice. Goodness knows, a designer would have a better understanding of layout. But no…they went to one of their coders who had a general idea of what webpages should look like, and had happened to take one class on web coding at college several years previous. In hindsight, if they noticed this at all, they would have been wiser to have had a collaboration between the coder and a designer. The web pages turned out to look very basic and were very un-intuitive about navigation. Long story short: yeah, email could take you to the webpage for the Tribune, but navigating to pages off the “cover” was a nightmare. The sections navigation made no sense and sometimes one had to jump through several pages to get to the article. I felt sorry for the coder. Person was doing the best they could. But that’s what I thought about when I was researching other library’s Digital Collection pages. I’m starting to see a pattern in my research. It boils down to this: academic libraries seem unsure, themselves, of exactly what Digital Initiatives entail. I’m not talking about the “in the trenches workers” (though there might be some of that too). I’m talking about Administration.

Mostly, this pattern shows a lacking in understanding, and also how poorly forward thinking libraries have become in watching and implementing trends. Our department has been in place for well over eight years. We are modest in development, but the future looks bright for more robust collection developments. I believe we have a very passionate staff that understands digital collections, (although there is always room for growth and enlightenment)!

I know that Digital Initiatives is a merging department. I’m lucky we have a Dean that understand this, and have a passionate director who has cool ideas for not only collections, but our department’s future. I am hopeful that with this new direction that we will not only exhibit digital collections, but that we will innovate and lead the way for Digital Collections departments in other libraries in the future.

Mystery #1, submitted by Jim Wilcox from Binding and Marking:

Says Jim: I’ve seen an older book where printed pages from other manuscripts, or maybe those that were found to have typos, have been used for spine lining. But in this case it looks more like someone just threw a few scrap pieces of paper on and glued it together. Or was it running through a machine and no one ever saw what was happening?  


Haphazardly placed strips of thin machine-made paper running diagonally across the spine

Mystery #2, also submitted by Jim:

Says Jim: The cover had been stapled through 4 times and the staples had been removed. It’s something that has yet to see its first patron. So it’s another ‘your guess as to how it happened is as good as mine’.  

Says Sonya: Picture this: how would the person have to hold the book in order to staple through its cover, leaving staple point impressions on the textblock? Were they holding the stapler opened flat? (because the whole textblock with its covers is not likely to have fit inside an ordinary stapler) And the other question is “why staple on top of a book?” We have seen 2 such books from the same publisher in the last week, both traumatized by staple holes. What gives? Any guesses? 


Staple holes on the outside of the cover


More staple holes on the inside of the cover


Mystery #3, submitted by Sonya, Collections Conservator:

This is a notice printed by the Iowa State Health Department in February of 1894, an order to vaccinate. Please note the curious watermark: World Fair 1893 (which was held in Chicago) and our old friend Atlas holding up the globe.

There are some rather thin theories floating around the lab but we must admit – we are stumped. Was there too much of this paper printed for the World Fair in Chicago, so it was offloaded to the different states around the Midwest? What was this paper originally meant for? Does Atlas have abs or is it his body hair?


The complete watermark: World Fair, Atlas with globe and the 1893

When I lived in LA County, I had to order my son’s birth certificate from the County Clerk’s Office. And I got a notice that they were almost out of the special stationary, so people could only order 1 copy of any certificate. Shocking! Well, if they could run out of official certificate paper, there could certainly have been an overproduction of World Fair specialty paper. Google was no help in my “research”. Any bright ideas out there?


Student employee Julianna Biedenfeld straining wheat starch paste at the Preservation lab

Student employee Julianna Biedenfeld straining wheat starch paste at the Preservation lab

The repairs we do on books in the Preservation Department is something that many might think seems really complicated or something super scientific. However, the work we put into books up here on the 4th floor isn’t all as complex as it appears to be and can be related to hobbies done outside of the Preservation Lab. Personally, I really enjoy putting together puzzles. In some aspects I can relate this enjoyment to the work I do in Preservation at the library.

A slow and steady progress through a puzzle

A slow and steady progress through a puzzle

Most recently, I have been working on a book repair technique called a reback. A reback is done when the spine of the cover is damaged, but the rest of the book is intact. Books that need repairing like this are what I would consider a puzzle that’s put together, but not quite finished. A damaged book needs something more – a few more pieces – to make it look complete. When working on a puzzle, sometimes you take a few pieces out that had already put together to get a closer look and find which pieces match with it.

Books with damaged spines, re-backs in progress and a completed repair

Books with damaged spines, re-backs in progress and a completed repair

A similar approach goes with the books I have been repairing. You take off the damaged bookcloth and replace some of it with new bookcloth. Then you put the final “piece” back on – the title – and the book looks complete. Once all the parts are together the book is finished and can be put back on the shelf to be used. In a similar way, once the pieces of a puzzle are all together, you can see a full image and sit back to enjoy it.


Working in the Parks Library Preservation Lab

Student employee Drew Ryan working in the Parks Library Preservation Lab

One large purpose of a library is to provide access to information to people. To be able to keep providing this access to information the digital initiatives department takes hard copies and makes digital copies that can be saved and distributed online or archived. While working for this department I have scanned masters theses, Iowa State Bombs, Iowa State Board of Trustees minutes, and Iowa State Facility slides. It’s very satisfying to go onto the library website and be able to see what I scanned available to the public.

ISU's "The Bomb" from 1894

Digital copy of the cover of Iowa State University’s Yearbook from 1894

In the conservation department I have done some preventative work as well as repairs. I have done shield bindings and pamphlets which give each book some protection so that they last longer. The most satisfying work however has been doing the repairs. It’s a cool experience to take a book or part of a book apart and then put it back together and see how it’s good as new.

Cleaned spines of general collection books

Cleaned spines of general collection books

Original covers that will be reattached to the textblocks

Original covers that will be reattached to the textblocks

It’s a good feeling working in both of these departments and helping to preserve the access to information, whether it is creating digital copies or repairing a damaged book so that people can continue to use it.


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