Introduction by Cynthia Kapteyn:
The preservation lab was lucky enough to gain the interest of the library’s new Resident Librarian Katie Wampole. Katie is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa’s Master of Arts in Library and Information Science. Her primary focus as a librarian is in assessment, however, as a part of the resident librarian program, she will be rotating through several departments during her first year. We were keen for her to assist us with our major artifact rehousing project, while teaching her more about what we do as a department. It has been a productive three months, and her work completing several major tasks associated with the artifact rehousing project has helped propel us further towards completion. In addition, she assisted us in completing several archival cleaning projects from special collections, and learned a few basic preservation skills along the way. We have enjoyed working with her over these last few months, and wish her well during her future rotations. So without further ado, here is Katie’s view on her time in the department:
0 years, 0 months, 0 days, 0 minutes.
That is the exact amount of time I had spent in a library preservation department. I know the important role that preservation activities have on library work, having a been student seeking a master’s degree in library science, but had never had the opportunity to do work in that area. That all changed when I started my first rotation as a library resident this past October with Iowa State’s preservation department.
I am thankful for them being willing to take a chance on me, despite the previously mentioned lack of experience, and found the team to be nothing but welcoming.
A large part of my preservation curriculum was assisting with the artifact project. Iowa State’s special collections contains some 4,000 artifacts which take up valued space in the archive stacks. In many cases, items can be either be rehoused together in new box or can remain in their current housing with additional protective features added. The goals for this undertaking include condensing current holdings, making housing structures safer for items, and establishing a better organization system for artifacts. Since I do library assessment work, I had a preconceived idea of surveying that incorporates digital data so doing surveying like this highlights that assessment can take on multiple forms.
My role in the artifact project involved physically pulling artifacts in the stacks to create rehousing plans as well as using Excel to do a variety of planning tasks. Namely organizing rehousing plans, linking photos, and calculating anticipated supplies. Time spent doing these kinds of tasks was familiar enough to me as space management, collection analysis, and, of course, spreadsheets are common enough across all types of library work. It may not be exciting in comparison to other types of preservation activities, but it was an area that I felt confident in lending my skills to.
Now on to the fun stuff (at least from my point of view) … the hands-on stuff!
Some of the first things I got to practice making were boxes. I got to make three kinds which consisted of different designs and materials. The three types include a four-flap box, a tux box, and a phase box. Cutting up the box materials afforded me my first ever opportunity to use a scalpel, which was quiet exciting. In order to practice making boxes, I brought various books all of different sizes to make different box sizes.
In my opinion, the first box was definitely the hardest attempt. I tried to make my box’s measurements too exact to the book’s measurements so while the box was functional and could close on its own, it could not do so once the book was placed inside of it. That lesson learned stayed with me when I went on to do the other two types and I tried to make the box dimensions larger to give myself more room to work with. If it would have been too large for the book, then I would have cut it down incrementally but in both instances the amount of wiggle room was just enough to give the book space to sit inside of the box without compromising its protective purpose.
I also had the opportunity to practice more routine tasks, like book repair and making mounts for exhibition items. These two activities followed the box making ones so by this point I had more experience using adhesives and cutting tools and made me feel marginally more competent. Dexterity and hand coordination, like most things, improves with experience. Books and paper often require clean cuts with a scalpel while mount board needs a lighter cut so that the board perforates, but does not completely separate.
Both of these tasks were very technical, in my opinion, but between the two of them I would choose repairs to be more difficult only because it had more steps and a greater time commitment. Although this could also be due to my slow work pace. Even though I will not be being doing hands-on repair such as for my “normal” job duties, I think it was helpful to understanding the repair cycle and may come in handy when assessing what collections materials should be sent to preservation based on their condition on the shelf.
Sewing was another skill that was improved during the rotation. This part was a little easier to get the hang of because I have done some light sewing in the past. Sewing with paper, however, was new to me. Going into it I was interested to see if there would be a big difference between working with cloth and paper, found that one was not necessarily more difficult than the other. But I did learn some new sewing styles that I was not familiar with which gave me greater appreciation into the amount of variation that exists in regards to the book arts. And being able to stitch in as straight of a line as possible can definitely improve the look of the final product. Some examples of things I got to work on included several pamphlets, a case-binding, and some protective covers for small weights used in the preservation department.
Lastly, I was trained in how to do basic cleaning of special collections materials. A majority of the items I worked on were images (photos, glass plates, film strips, etc) so I made use of brushes to remove debris from the photos and prints. In my imaginative mind, it felt almost like I was excavating at an archeological site to a much more controlled degree. For the dirtier items that had larger debris pieces and in some cases mold, I was trained to clean in the fume hood which was my first time ever using one. Cleaning is repetitive for the most part because it is a quick process for most of the items I handled but I actually did not mind doing it. I recognized that it was necessary for the collection and I did not do it constantly everyday so I did not get burned out from doing it.
Though my main focus during my residency appointment is library assessment, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the preservation crew. As I briefly mentioned earlier in the post, I am also grateful for having had the opportunity to see different types of assessment in action aside from routine measures like survey distribution and statistical analysis. Work done by the preservation staff seems more in line with qualitative decision making rather than quantitative which is also a necessary component of assessment. Supplementing the two types together will make Iowa State’s library assessment practices stronger because different areas of the library bring different values to our services.
Getting to work with hands-on projects was a nice break from working on a laptop all day and gives me a better understanding of the value that having an in-house preservation department is for an institution. I did help to work on a project to create visualization for ISU’s preservation stats, so not only I am aware of their great work from a quantitative view, I now personally recognize the time and effort it takes to physically conserve and preserve a collection. Everyone I worked with in this department was highly skilled in their area and more than willing to teach me the basics. I was able to make good personal and work connections which I hope will continue during my time at Iowa State and may provide the opportunity for future assessment related collaborations.