1091 Project: The Plain Brown Wrapper Edition

1091MapOne of the most rewarding aspects of working in an academic library is the potential for being exposed to all sorts of new and interesting materials which we might not have sought out deliberately on our own.  However, this can also be one of the drawbacks.  For this month’s 1091 Project, Preservation Assistant Mindy McCoy discusses one aspect of her job that she had never anticipated when she started working in the Preservation Department.

Hunched close to my computer, I click, click, click, making sure images are straight, and that the images will print out just right.  I peek out over the top of my computer, which faces a window looking out into our lab – oh shoot, somebody’s coming!  Quick, click to a different screen!  Phew, that was close!  Sometimes I don’t see a co-worker coming into the office, and I am caught red-handed.  I usually confess before the person has a chance to ask what in the world I am looking at.


Yes, it’s true.  Unfortunately we see plenty of damaged books that have missing pages or images cut out of them.  Many of these missing images are of naked body parts, or scantily clad people in provocative poses – you get the idea, no need for more detail. There is always a big groan in the office when these books with missing images arrive, and also teasing comments between me and my officemate: “I have another good one for you!” One of my duties as Preservation Assistant is to track down replacements for these missing images. I request another copy of the damaged book (we have the option to request scanned pages – but there’s no need for everyone to know what I am working on!) through our interlibrary loan system, so I can scan the images and print out new pages to be tipped back into our copy of the book.

Image from: /Visual thinking: methods for making images memorable/ by Henry Wolf (New York: American Showcase, 1988).  Note: "Censored" banner added by preservation staff for posting on this blog.
Image from: /Visual thinking: methods for making images memorable/ by Henry Wolf (New York: American Showcase, 1988). Note: “Censored” banner added by preservation staff for posting on this blog.

At first, I was kind of embarrassed to be working on these materials, but as time went on, I just realized these books (and the people that take from them) aren’t going away.  These materials are a part of our collection, and need to be preserved just like everything else.  It’s not as embarrassing as it was at first, although I have learned that it’s always nice to have other items (such as the budget, supply orders, or a news website) just a click away in case I do happen to get interrupted.

Don’t forget to visit Preservation Underground to find out what “plain brown paper wrapper” materials Beth Doyle is working on in the Conservation Lab of Duke University Libraries.


  1. Serious question, do you let students do this work if it is normally within their job duties? I tend not to, just because I don’t want a phone call from someone’s mother. But then again, they are all over 18.

    1. Good question. When these sorts of materials fall to the student workflow, they seem to take it in stride (they are generally the ones tipping in the replacement pages after Mindy scans and prints them). If a student did feel uncomfortable handling these materials and wanted a different assignment, I would certainly be sensitive to that, though.

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