This month, the 1091 Project takes a look at the pros and cons of the layout and location of the Conservation Lab space at ISU Library and Duke University Libraries.

Our long, narrow lab space is broken up by three wide pillars, such as the one seen in the foreground behind the Minter Ultrasonic Encapsulator station.

At ISU Library, we are lucky to have a generously sized and well-equipped lab space located on the 4th floor of the main Library.  While the space is long, narrow, and punctuated by pillars so wide they function as partial walls, we have attempted to organize this layout to our advantage by dividing the main work area into various “work zones,” such as the boxing station, and the document washing/drying area.

Most labs I have visited must find space for the cumbersome one-trick pony that is the board crimper. Ours butts up against our boxing station workbench, and we usually place a trashcan next to its foot so our staff and students don’t whack their shins on it!

I just love the slide-out drying racks built for us by Iowa Prison Industries. The rack units are topped by a countertop for extra workspace, which we have tucked behind our second large pillar, juxtaposed with our document washing sink.

Two of the best features of our location on the 4th floor are our proximity to Special Collections and Archives (located a few yards away), and our big, bright window (coated with UV filtering film, of course!)  We enjoy a close and casual working relationship with our Special Collections and Archives colleagues, since it is so easy to drop in with a question in passing.  Moving collections materials to and from the lab is as simple as loading up a book cart and navigating through a few sets of doors.

Our window overlooking campus. We love working in natural light, especially when color-matching repairs.

We know many of our colleagues in the field labor away in windowless, basement labs, so we treasure our window and its natural light!

Preservation Reference Collection and reading area, located in an alcove off the Conservation Lab’s main workroom.

One of my favorite areas of the lab is our Preservation Reference Collection, which lines one wall of our materials sorting area.  It’s a cozy nook with a large wooden table for reading at or for conducting meetings.

Head of Preservation Hilary Seo’s office, located in the Conservation Lab just inside the main lab entrance.

Perhaps our biggest challenge in terms of space and logistics is the fact that half of the Preservation Department is located on the 2nd floor of the Library, in a staff space shared with ILL, Acquisitions, and Cataloging, among others.  The Conservation Unit benefits from having our Head of Preservation’s office located right within the lab, so we have immediate and constant (she might say too constant!) access to her.  However, coordinating with Preservation Services and Digital Initiatives takes some extra effort, in the form of emails, phone calls, occasional trips up and down the stairs, and regularly scheduled monthly meetings.  Since we don’t always have daily contact, we can sometimes lose sight of the fact that we are all ultimately one team, but we do our best.

Our Photodoc Room with extra storage and the Book Drive Pro book scanner.

Another favorite feature of our lab is our Photodoc Room, a narrow storage space with a door that opens out into the main lab workspace.  In these tight quarters, we have managed to squeeze in generous storage shelves, our new Book Drive Pro book scanner, our copy stand for photodocumentation, and a photo processing computer.  The walls of this room have been painted a soft gray to facilitate the best lighting environment for photography.

Laboratory freezer in a storage room in the Conservation Lab.

Our primary holding freezer (a butcher case) and Wei T’o Freeze Dryer and Insect Exterminator are located at our Library Storage Building, about half a mile from the main Library.  Since the freezers generate a lot of noise and heat, and the Library Storage Building suffers from a chronically leaky roof, this is the perfect location for them.  However, like any other institution, we occasionally have a sprinkler leak or other minor water disaster at the main Library.  A minor inconvenience can quickly turn into a major production when a few crates of wet books need to be moved out to the freezers ASAP.  We recently addressed this problem by installing a laboratory freezer in a small storage room in the Conservation Lab.  When responding to a minor mold problem or water leak, we can freeze materials immediately and then work out transportation to the freeze dryer at the Library Storage Building at our convenience.

“Kitchen” area with pegboard backsplash.

We have made good use of the humble pegboard in our lab, by using it as a backsplash behind our “kitchen” area (nota bene: the refrigerator is strictly for chemicals and adhesives, and the only thing we cook here is wheat starch paste!)

We have three shared tool stations like this one, made by lining pillars with pegboard.

We have also lined three of the pillars along the outer wall with pegboards, and each of these sports a selection of commonly shared tools like t-squares, triangles, very long rulers, dustpans, and Opti-visors.

Fume hood on left, pillar on right.

Our fume hood is tucked into a tight space behind one of the freestanding pillars in the main workspace.  We like having it out of the way, but it can sometimes be difficult to maneuver here.

Light table built into a large workbench.

At the back of the lab, we have a large work surface made by pushing together two very large workbenches.  It’s a great spot for working on large, flat items or for conducting workshops.  One corner has a built-in light table fitted with a translucent cutting mat.

Dental microscope with digital camera.

We’ve recently given up some of our workspace in this area to accommodate our dental microscope with its newly-outfitted touchscreen-controlled digital camera, the latter a gift from our generous donor Gladys Hertzberg.

Pull-down electrical outlets suspended over every workbench.

Finally, one last lab feature that makes our work lives easier: pull-down electrical outlets suspended over every workbench.  This might seem like an inconsequential detail of the lab space, until you find yourself needing to use a tacking iron, or a blow dryer, or a preservation pencil, and so on.  There can never be too many available outlets!  We’re now scheming to figure out how we could install elephant trunks for venting solvent fumes at each work station…

We hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of our lab space.  Do you have any particular work challenges that arise from your space layout or location?  A favorite feature?  Have you come up with a clever solution to layout or location issues that you would be willing to share?  Now let’s head over to Duke University Libraries and learn about the lay of the land at Preservation Underground.