1091 Project

1091map1As our regular readers know, the 1091 Project is a collaboration between Iowa State University Library and our conservation colleagues at Duke University Libraries. Well, this week, thanks to Kevin Driedger of the Library of Michigan, we have been participating in the 5 Days of Preservation project, a week-long collaboration among preservation professionals and institutions across the nation.  Kevin’s idea was simple but powerful: use social media to post a photo each day for five days of whatever preservation looks like for you that day.  Kevin then collected all those posted images in one place, the 5 Days of Preservation Tumblr blog. The collected photos showcase an impressive range of preservation activities that really illustrate the rich diversity of our  field.  So, this week, I encourage you not only to pop over to Preservation Underground for their 1091 post, but also to check out #5DaysOfPreservation, via Tumblr, Facebook, and/or Twitter. And kudos to Kevin for a fun and informative project!

Here is a quick recap of our ISU Library Conservation Lab posts for the week:



MONDAY: Preservation looked like this humidified and flattened Depression-era letter.



TUESDAY: Preservation looked like our student employee, Nicole, repairing books from the General Collection.



WEDNESDAY: Preservation looked like professional photography lamps set up in front of our magnetic wall for imaging large-format architectural drawings.



THURSDAY: Preservation looked like committee work for the AIC Sustainability Committee. Melissa and her fellow committee members are performing their annual link maintenance this month on the sustainability pages of the AIC Conservation Wiki.



FRIDAY: Preservation looked like Preservation Assistant Mindy working on the departmental budget (a *very* important part of preservation indeed!)

1091map1This month’s 1091 Project addresses that bane of every library and archives conservator: mold. Whether the mold is black, white, green, magenta, or yellow, it is all treated the same way: with caution and immediate action. The mold that we deal with in the lab comes from three main sources:

  1. newly acquired items for Special Collections and Archives which are valued highly enough to make dealing with mold worth the trouble;
  2. items returning from circulation which were not cared for properly by the borrowing patrons;
  3. mold outbreaks in the collection, which could be caused by a leaky roof or water pipe, or extreme humidity in situations when the HVAC breaks down.

Asexual fruiting structure of Aspergillus. http://www.atsu.edu/faculty/chamberlain/Website/Lects/Fungi.htm

The “sniff test” is a pretty reliable indicator of mold, but technician Mindy Moe rightly scolds me whenever she sees me lifting a suspect book to my nose. Mold spores, even if dormant, find the warm, moist environment of human nasal passages and lungs to be a cozy place to take up residence. Repeated exposure to mold can also lead to sensitivities and allergies which, in the most extreme cases, can induce life-threatening allergic reactions. So, we always take a little extra precaution when dealing with the fuzzy stuff. Mold can be identified by a visual inspection under magnification, especially under raking light. If a visual examination is inconclusive because the spores are in a dormant phase, or the spot is a residual stain, then the presence of mold can be confirmed by examining the item under UV light, which causes mold hyphae to fluoresce rather dramatically.


Mold hyphae fluorescing under UV light.

The minimum PPE (personal protective equipment) for dealing with mold includes glasses or goggles, a lab coat (and in general keeping as much skin covered as possible), latex or nitrile gloves, and a P95 or P100 disposable respirator.


PPE for mold mitigation.


Nilfisk HEPA vacuum for mold removal.

Once personal precautions have been taken, we act. In the case of situations 1 or 2 described above, we are usually dealing with just a few items at a time. The moldy items are first isolated from the rest of the collection, and then assessed for damage. In the case of circulating items which have been returned to the Library with significant mold damage, we usually discard the item entirely and charge the patron to replace it.

In the case of Special Collections and Archives materials, we keep the moldy items quarantined until they can be vacuumed under the fume hood with a special vacuum fitted with a HEPA filter. We try to minimize the amount of moldy items we accept because our staffing levels allow us only 1 to 2 hours per week on our “mold workflow.” Items which have been treated for mold are affixed with a small label saying so, along with the date. In part this is to inform patrons about a potential health risk, and in part this helps us keep track of which items might be making repeat visits to the lab.

Situation 3, a mold outbreak in the collection, is dealt with in a slightly different manner. In the case of an active mold outbreak, the first step is not only to isolate the affected materials as quickly as possible, but also, if possible, to make the active bloom go dormant. We wrap items loosely in waxed paper and put them in one of our conservation freezers. The low temperature and humidity in the freezer will cause the mold to go dormant within a few days. Once the infestation is dormant, the items can be removed from the freezer and vacuumed — and treated further, if necessary — in small, manageable batches.

Mold-infested collection materials in the freezer.

Mold-infested collection materials in the freezer.

Meanwhile, the environmental conditions which caused the mold outbreak in the first place must be dealt with swiftly to prevent it from spreading throughout the collection. Leaking or standing water must be stopped and mopped up, while humidity and temperature levels must be brought into a safe range, and the ventilation checked.  We also have a couple of portable HEPA vacuums for vacuuming mold on-site.

Portable 3M HEPA vacuum for mold.

Portable 3M HEPA vacuum for mold.

In the case of a large mold outbreak affecting thousands of items, we would be too understaffed and under-equipped to cope, so we have vendor contracts in place to work with a professional recovery company under those circumstances.

Let’s head over to Preservation Underground to see how they feel about mold in the Duke University Libraries Conservation Department.

1091map1This month’s 1091 Project post discusses lab cleaning policies… and makes some confessions about how well they do and don’t work.

We have a Monthly Cleaning Checklist which MonthlyCleaninginspires perpetual good intentions on our part to clean on the last day (or is it the first day?) of every month. Except, sometime that day falls on a weekend or a holiday. Or it falls on a day of the week when only one of our students works. So then we might push off monthly cleaning, intending to do it on the next day that our students and volunteer and all staff members are at work… and sometimes we remember to do so, and sometimes (perhaps a bit more often) we don’t.  A monthly group cleaning schedule does not seem to work all that well for us.

In addition to the monthly well-meaning to-do list, we have “The Big End-Of-Semester Cleaning Checklist,” and to be honest, this one works much more effectively for us. We deploy it in December, right before the students leave for Winter Break, and likewise in May before students leave for the summer, and then again at the end of the summer.  So, we reliably have a big lab deep-cleaning about three times per year, with the occasional additional cleaning spree interspersed.  We post the cleaning checklist out in the lab area, and tasks are taken on a first-come basis. Students and staff check off or initial tasks as they tackle them, and everyone keeps going until all the jobs are done.


Lest it sound like our lab is a dirty mess for most of the year, I will add that monthly cleanings have seemed much less necessary over the last few years as effective daily lab practices have been established and maintained. Our staff and current student workers practice good clean-up habits throughout their daily work routine, emptying out the catch-bin of the board shear after every use, washing down their benches at the end of their shift, and making sure the last person to wash glue brushes for the day also flushes the sink drain with hot water.

Finally, we have a supply of rags and towels, aprons, and lab coats which regularly need laundering. We were recently invited to join a campus-wide lab coat laundry service contract with Prison Industries, so whenever our lab coats are looking dingy, we can send them off for laundering and they come back to us neatly ironed and on hangers.  However, we’re on our own for towels and aprons, so periodically one of our staff members will take the lot home, launder them, and bring them back. I would love to have a washer/dryer for the lab, as some labs I have worked at in the past do, but so far that is not high on our list of funding priorities.

Don’t forget to head over to Preservation Underground to find out how the Conservation Lab at Duke University Libraries keeps things clean and tidy. And please share in the comments if you have any lab cleaning practices or policies that work particularly well for your institution.

CompGuideToWordpressInLibrariesToday, on our preservation blog’s fourth anniversary, it seems fitting to mention that “Parks Library Preservation” has been featured in Amanda L. Goodman’s The Comparative Guide to WordPress in Libraries (ALA TechSource, 2013) as an example of WordPress usage in an academic library (pp.91-95).  The first half of the book explains the basics of WordPress and offers a step-by-step planning guide to maximizing the effectiveness of the WordPress platform for your particular institution.  The second half of the book is composed of brief case studies of WordPress sites implemented by academic libraries, library associations, digital libraries and archives, government libraries, public libraries, and others.

Four years later, we find that our WordPress blog continues to function more or less as we hoped it would when we first started. The blog has increased our public profile, and allowed us to better serve the Iowa community, in keeping with the mission of ISU as a land grant institution.  With our preservation colleagues spread far and wide, the blog has also allowed us to connect and engage professionally with the field at large.

We’ve stumbled a bit along the way, but after some trial and error, we have settled into a workable blogging schedule. Towards the end of each calendar year, I draft the following year’s schedule, assigning a pre-determined number of posts to each member of the Preservation Department, and setting aside posting days for students and interns as well.  We’ve figured out that the right posting schedule for us is once per week, with an additional monthly post for the 1091 Collaborative Blogging Project with the Conservation Department at Duke University Libraries.

We’ve seen our readership blossom to an average of 3,000 views per month, and we’re bolstered by our small but dedicated following of approximately 500 subscribers through various channels.

Thanks for being part of our community. We look forward to your continuing comments and feedback in the coming year and beyond!

1091MapHappy New Year from the 1091 Project!

This time last year at Iowa State University Library, we were treating records and collection materials recovered after a water pipe burst in Special Collections during Winter Break, when the Library was closed for a week.  Luckily, this small disaster occurred late in the week, and was discovered very quickly. Even so, it was not the auspicious start to the year we would have hoped for.

Our brief respite from the below-zero temperatures of the last "polar vortex" also brought with it... more snow!  And the polar vortex is predicted to return within the next few weeks. Winter in the Midwest is always a challenge!

Our brief respite from the below-zero temperatures of the last “polar vortex” also brought with it… more snow! And the polar vortex is predicted to return within the next few weeks. Winter in the Midwest is always a challenge!

So far this year, we’re staying dry — almost too dry, as we deal with the outrageously low relative humidity that has accompanied the so-called “Polar Vortex” engulfing the Midwest and much of the country. Iowa temperatures have hovered just barely above or below “0” on the thermometer for weeks at a time this winter, and we’ve been keeping our humidifiers humming.


(L to R:) Ashley, Hope, Bree, and Fang Qi

We said goodbye to student worker Devin Koch when she graduated in December, and we are sadly anticipating more goodbyes this semester. Our longtime students Ashley Arnold and Hope Mitchell have both worked in the lab for nearly four years, and are very much a part of our lab “family.” In May, Ashley will graduate with her BA in Anthropology, and Hope will complete her MA in History. They’ll be handing over the student workflow to our new hires, Bree Planica and Fang Qi Li, both of whom have been making incredible strides in developing their handskills and repair knowledge since they were hired last August.


Northwestern Farmer and Horticultural Journal (1858)

My first major Special Collections conservation treatment project of the year is already underway, courtesy of the recent acquisition of nineteen issues of  Northwestern Farmer and Horticultural Journal.   This mid-19th century publication had spent many years stored in a barn, and suffers from all the attendant conservation challenges one would expect from being stored in a Midwestern barn through the changing of the seasons year after year.  I’ll be posting in greater detail about the project in the coming months.

Last year, we implemented a new policy approach for so-called “medium-rare” materials (in particular, 19th and early 20th century publisher’s bindings) as they come to the lab for review or repair, and this year I’ll be turning my attention to our boxing policy, to see if there is room for comprehensive improvement or streamlined processes.


Of course, we’re also excited about this year’s Lennox Foundation Internship.  We’ve just started reviewing applications, and should be making our decision over the next several weeks. As always, the candidate we select will have an impact on what projects we develop and implement this summer.

And because we work in the preservation/conservation field, we are well aware that even the best laid plans can change dramatically, as we respond to whatever disasters may arise in the year ahead.

If you haven’t yet checked in with Duke University Libraries Conservation, then head on over to Preservation Underground to find out their 2014 outlook.  And may your own outlook be bright as 2014 gets underway!

1091map1 For this month’s 1091 Project, we asked student worker Devin Koch to answer some questions about her position in the Conservation Lab at Iowa State University Library.  Here’s what she had to say.


What is your major, and when do you graduate?  How did you find out about this job?  

My name is Devin Koch and I am an Integrated Studio Arts Major, concentrating in ceramics and painting, and graduating in December.  I happened into my student conservation job by chance. I was already working in Preservations Services, which is another unit of the Preservation Department. During the summer of 2012, I was looking for more hours at the Library, and I was in luck: the Conservation Lab was in need of an extra student during the summer. First, I was told that my presence would be a temporary change, and I would just be doing minimal work to assist with the summer workload. Over the course of the summer, Melissa and Mindy gradually had me do more advanced treatments. I started by organizing cabinets, and cutting spine liners, and finished the summer with double-fan adhesive binds. Seeing how I had progressed, Melissa offered me a student worker position during the school year. I gladly accepted the position, and for the next school year split my time between Preservation Services and the Conservation Lab. This past summer, I decided to move my schedule exclusively to the Lab.

Devin Koch

Devin Koch

What are your favorite parts about this work?  What has been the most challenging thing you have had to do in this position?

Everything about this job is interesting to me. The first day I arrived in the lab I was fascinated by the presses, guillotine, tissue, and array of books for repair. Being an art major, I love materials. The act of making is very important to me. So I greatly value having a job that permits me to do so. It allows me to maximize the hand skills that I have learned in my major. Working at the lab has given me a greater attention to materials and methods that have crossed over into my studio work.

I might have a very different attitude about the work I do if the staff and students here were different. They make it easy for me to learn new treatments, and are approachable when I have questions. Mindy Moeller, our Technician, is beyond patient when teaching. I’m surprised she doesn’t get annoyed at all the questions I ask. Melissa loves to share her knowledge of materials and treatments with the students. Mindy McCoy, our Preservation Assistant, and Martha, our volunteer, are very helpful with any other questions I might have about the lab and treatments. The staff makes this job easy to come to every day. The other student workers are enjoyable to work with. The collection of personalities working at the lab, while diverse, mesh together well.

The two treatments I enjoy the most are sewing and full repairs. Sewing is a relaxing treatment that requires patience and persistence, especially when the odd stitch breaks when pulled too tight. A full repair is the most advanced treatment that I can currently do. It is so enjoyable because it has taken everything that I have learned in the lab and put it into one treatment. The most challenging treatment for me has been making enclosures. A misstep in the final placement or a slightly crooked fold can take something that you have been laboring over and make you have to pitch it. It can be frustrating, but it is so satisfying when finished correctly.

Do you have a favorite project you have worked on?

My favorite thing so far was participating in the Order of the Knoll with fellow student Hope Mitchell and Head of Preservation Hilary Seo. At this event, Hope and I manned a demonstration booth and were lucky enough to talk to donors about what we do in the lab and why it is important to the University.

Hope Mitchell (left) and Devin Koch (right) at the Order of the Knoll on October 4, 2013.

Hope Mitchell (left) and Devin Koch (right) at the Order of the Knoll on October 4, 2013.


Don’t forget to stop by Preservation Underground to hear the perspective of one of the student workers in the Duke University Libraries Conservation Lab!

1091map1This month’s 1091 Project returns its focus to student workers.  We have written before about the important role our student employees play in the lab, in the post Portrait of the Student Technician, but this time we will discuss the process of finding, hiring, and training students employees.

How We Find Students

Recent changes to student hiring procedures have made the process of identifying strong student applicants much smoother and more successful.  Individual Library departments can now write up the criteria for and description of their specific student positions to post on the ISU Student Job Board.  In this way, we can attract students who are specifically interested in the sort of work that the Conservation Unit performs.  The second positive change is that Library HR developed an online job application, which means that motivated students who are planning ahead can apply for a campus job even if they are off campus or out-of-state at the time an open position posts to the Job Board.  One of our new hires is a freshman, and she was able to apply for her job from home earlier in the summer, before she even moved to campus in August.  We had over sixty-five applications for two student openings this Fall.  We interviewed six students, and hired two wonderful candidates who have settled into the lab environment quickly and productively.

Hiring Students

Conservation work requires a certain type of aptitude: the ability to measure and cut accurately, the ability to work independently, the good judgment to stop and ask questions or seek assistance when necessary, the ability to work in a sometimes-chaotic shared workspace while still maintaining focus.  For this reason, the interview process is critical to hiring successful student technicians.  During the interview process, I speak with students for about twenty minutes about their previous work experiences, their hobbies, and their approach to working with others.

Next, I turn the candidate over to our technician, Mindy Moeller, who administers a “dexterity test.”  She asks the candidate to trim out a spine label and glue it onto a mock book spine, to fold a piece of paper precisely into quarters, to determine the grain on a square of 40-pt. board (which we use for many enclosures and adhesive binding covers), and to glue down a piece of bookcloth.  Mindy makes a note of not only how well the students perform each of these tasks, but also how they respond to suggestions and constructive criticism, whether or not they ask questions to clarify her instructions, and their general comfort level working with their hands under her watchful eye.  Mindy and I then consult and make a collaborative decision about whom to hire.


New student technicians receive the majority of their training from our technician, Mindy.  She is a thorough and patient teacher, guiding them through the workflow process and helping them build up their skills methodically.  I occasionally assist in training the students on general repair techniques, but most often train them for special projects as they arise.  Finally, our senior student workers are also invaluable in training the new students.  They develop their own tips and tricks over time, and I love seeing them share this knowledge with their fellow students.  I believe that empowering everyone in the lab — including the students — to assist, consult, and share their knowledge makes the lab stronger as a community and improves the quality of the work output overall.

We are sad that we will be losing three long-time student employees soon, but happy for them they they will be graduating and moving on to “real world” challenges.  And in the meantime, we are grateful that they will overlap this academic year with our two new students employees, so they can pass their knowledge along to the new student staff and keep our tradition of collaborative learning going strong.  Devin Koch, who will graduate in December, will be writing next month’s 1091 Project post, “Student Perspectives, Part II,” about what it’s like to work in the Conservation Lab from her point of view as a senior student.

Don’t forget to stop by Preservation Underground to learn about the process of student hiring and training in Duke University Libraries’ Conservation Lab!

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