Artifacts


Left: A 4-H knit cap. Center: Iowa State Can Koozie. Right: a stereoscope with two images mounted on board.

The Artifact Collection

Organizing storage has always been a problem for museums, libraries, and archives. Space is limited and comes at a premium. Housing and archival practices must be sustainable for the collection to remain within the limits of its designated space in an organized, coherent fashion. Pressed by this need for such a prized commodity, staff are even undertaking a massive transfer of books from the general collection stacks in Parks library to an off-site storage facility. It is imperative to revise current practices for the artifacts storage area in order to provide an efficient framework for the future.

The artifact collection is no small deal. There are over 4,000 objects in the special collections storage space. These range from the typical swag bracelet you might get at an engineering college event to signed Greek Life paddles from the second half of the 20th century to surveying equipment used in the construction of Iowa State College in 1858. There is quite a range of both types of artifacts and sources. Items began being accessioned as far back as 1993—nearly 30 years!

The artifacts in the special collections stacks.

Artifact overflow on the map cases.

The artifacts occupy two aisles of rolling stacks, a back wall of stationary shelving, and are sprawled along the tops of map cases in an adjacent aisle. As the rest of the storage space hosts archival and special collections, there is no more room for the artifacts to go. This is not simply a case of having too many artifacts and not enough shelf space: many of the artifacts have been housed improperly, resulting in wasted space both inside the box and out. Small pins have been placed in much larger boxes along with wads of tissue. This tissue often conceals additional artifacts, putting them at risk for loss. Some artifacts are without proper housing or without any housing at all.

Housing Issues. Clockwise from top left: Framed certificate stored without an enclosure. Multiple boxes have made artifacts difficult to retrieve. A small pin housed in a much larger box. Artifacts stored in non-archival housing.

 

A fair few of the artifacts (nearly 300) do not have records in our museum database, Past Perfect, making them impossible to search for and retrieve. These are at high risk for dissociation, one of the ten primary agents of deterioration, as related artifacts are in separate locations, often without proper documentation linking them. This has rendered the purpose of the artifacts—to be utilized by researchers and archivists—null. At the same time, staff with extensive institutional knowledge of the artifact collection have moved on to other positions, taking some of the objects’ origin stories and associations with them.

Our goals with the artifact rehousing project was to provide documentation for all of the artifacts in the collection, and to implement a more sophisticated and effective housing system than the current method of just throwing things onto the shelf in a box.

Buttons and ribbons in box without label tags or protection.

 

Lead Processing Archivist Rosalie Gartner, Head Conservator Sonya Barron, and myself, Assistant Conservator Cynthia Kapteyn examining artifacts during a meeting.

The Process

We began surveying at the beginning of October, 2018 for 1-2 hours a day. This involved examining the item, inferring its place within the collecting scope, and brainstorming ways to categorize them during the rehousing phase. We entered this information into Past Perfect, our museum database software. As the lead on this project, I organized PastperfectLogosurvey times with colleagues and managed the various tasks involved with documenting objects and researching the collection. Additional time was spent outside of survey hours adding photos into the database as some pictures were blurry or dark, and some records did not have photographs. I utilized the project management software to converse with archivists. There we could ask questions about how seemingly arbitrary artifacts fit into our collecting scope by creating a task. I made tasks for items that needed records in the database so archivists could add them. Tasks were also used to note exact duplicates to be considered for possible deaccession by archivists, or flat, paper objects that could be added to their associated archival collections.

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A rusted horseshoe in need of a little TLC (Tender Loving Conservation!).

The main challenge at the beginning of the survey was coming up with housing categories into which we could organize the various objects. Archivists had to come to an agreement about how the objects should be grouped that also satisfied the requirements of preservation and supported ‘browseability’ by staff. In preservation, we wanted to group items by type, and, at a deeper level, subject. For instance, grouping buttons together or textiles together would result in better and more compact housing. Each type of object would then be grouped by subject, such as agriculture or 4-H—two notable collecting areas for the library. This would allow safe, effective and secure storage while supporting archivists’ ability to see a variety of related items at once.

Educational Opportunities

Throughout this process, several resources have been extremely useful. STASHc provides useful solutions to various storage situations, such as this tutorial on hanging rolled storage for oversized objects. We participated in Planning your Re:Org Project, a webinar  that helped us to reconceptualize our storage planning process through worksheets and examples that took us through the processes several institutions went through using the Re:Org method. Free additional workbooks and resources are available on the Re:Org Method page hosted by ICCROM.

 

 

 

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One of two boxes of farm crop identification seed vials.

Looking Forward

We are closing in on the final leg of the survey, after which we must organize the object records into working spreadsheets that can be used to plan the rehousing. This plan will involve calculating for rolled and hanging storage for large flat textiles and garments, and possibly incorporating vertical storage for long, thin items like surveying rulers, canes, and flat, obtuse objects such as muskrat skin stretchers.

And now for some highlights from our artifact collection…

 

4-H Dress and pins. Date of origin unknown according to donor paperwork.

 

 

 

De Vry 35MM Film Projector found in the stacks with reel still inside. Our AV and Film Preservation Specialist, Rosie Rowe, identified the film as Kodak Safety acetate.

 

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 Dr. George Washington Carver, educated in agricultural sciences at Iowa State College, was more than just a researcher and producer of peanut products. He also studied dyes and pigments. See this article by ISU professor in textiles and clothing Eulanda Sanders, and ISU alumni PhD candidate Chanmi Hwang for more information.

 

Be sure to check out a great blog post by staff in Special Collections for more neat artifacts!

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The 150th anniversary of Iowa State University is just around the corner, and to celebrate, Special Collections and University Archives are putting together a brand new exhibit. Titled “We Are ISU: Snapshots of Student Life”, the exhibit will focus on photographs, scrapbooks, journals, t-shirts, and more from past students. There are several collections included within this exhibit, so if you see something that interests you, you can ask the staff in the Special Collections reading room to see other boxes from that collection number to discover what other cool pieces of ISU history may be in there.

The staff at the preservation lab has been busy getting the exhibit ready for  opening day. Boxes from different collections line the book trucks in the lab, waiting to be put on display. A few of the objects have needed minor repair work, like mending tears, removing tape, surface cleaning and attaching hinges for display. This is all done to make sure that the exhibited items are stable enough to be put on display or to be digitized. Each item has been mounted on a custom-fit display stand made from museum-quality mat board. The artifacts will then be installed into the glass exhibit cases in the SCUA Reading Room.

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One of the many book trucks in the preservation lab holding mounted photos for the exhibit.

Conservation Technician Jim Wilcox was able to help me with going through a few of the artifacts for this blog post. One of his favorite items in the exhibit is the Lorris Ann Foster scrapbook, from RS 21/7/147. Lorris created the scrapbook in 2002 and soon after it was donated to Special Collections and University Archives. The scrapbook is full of relics from Foster’s days as an ISU student in the 1940’s, and includes dance cards, photographs, letters, flyers, and even an official University Rule book!  While flipping through the rule book, we came across some of  rules for female students living on campus. The first rule that stood out to me was the female housing quiet hours:

“Quiet hours begin at 7:30 pm and are to continue until 6:30 am.”

The rules continue, listing the curfews the women were to follow, and what days those curfews were extended. Another rule that stood out to me, was this:

“When a woman is leaving Ames at any time she must secure an out-of-town permit from the residence director. Letters of approval for out-of-town trips and all automobile trips should be sent by parents.”

Can you imagine not being able to leave Ames to go shopping without approval from the residence director!?

 

While talking with Jim, I learned some interesting facts about Iowa State University history that I had no idea about. For example, in 1929 Fan Chi Kung, an international student from China, died in a rollover car accident while teaching a fellow student how to drive. Because his family was not able to afford to ship his body back home, he was buried in the University Cemetery. Special Collections holds his photo albums from his time here on campus.

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Photo of Fan Chi Kung sitting at his desk in his room. RS 21/7/49

This photo is from Fan Chi Kung’s photo album, and has the caption “In my room” on the back. According to an information card, many Chinese students rented rooms from a home on Welch Avenue, but it is not clear whether Fan Chi Kung had rented this room there as well. The exhibit captures numerous snapshots of student life from the last 150 years, so you never know what cool things you might discover as you go through the exhibit.

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Special Collections and University Archives Reading room while the former exhibit, the Farmers’ Protest, is removed and the new exhibit, We Are ISU, is installed.

The exhibit opens on March 13th in the Reading Room on the 4th floor of Parks Library, Rm. 403. There will be an online exhibit as well, for people who cannot see it in person. If you are interested in learning more about the earliest student life here on campus, come to the lecture:

What: Student Life at Iowa State: 1869-90
Who: Dr. Douglas Biggs, Professor of History at the University of Nebraska-Kearney
When: Wednesday, March 13th @ 7 pm
Where: Memorial Union, the Sun Room.

To check out the exhibit, visit the reading room from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday-Friday!

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Text written by by Cara Stone, Instruction Librarian. Photo captions by Sonya Barron, Collections Conservator.

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Susan Vega Garcia talking to the students in the beginning of the workshop. Susan shared about books in the library that were written by Latinx writers and poets, who have a connection to Iowa.

Library staff had the pleasure of welcoming 4-H students from around the state to ISU for the 2018 4-H Maize Retreat on April 13th. In their time at the University Library, students participated in three different workshops focused on “Telling Your Story.” They worked with Sonya Barron and Susan A. Vega García to learn about preservation and sew their own memory books.

Susan Vega-Garcia offering tips on getting the needle to go into the right sewing hole.

Ana Moreno, student assistant with the Special Collections/University Archives Department, helps an 8th grade student figure out the sewing pattern.

Students hard at work

Rosie Rowe and Harrison W. Inefuku led a workshop where students crafted a story that was meaningful to them and recorded it as an audio snapshot. Rachel Seale and Cara B. Stone focused on visual storytelling in their workshop where students combined pictures, stickers, decorative tape, images from magazines, and polaroid photos to add to their memory book.

The students created the first scrapbook page in their newly constructed memory books. Many of them made their page about the experience they had in the library workshops and the new friends they made.

It was so rewarding to see these students come together from all over Iowa (Marshalltown, Tipton, Muscatine, Des Moines, and Boone, to name a few) and develop new friendships, face challenges (the consensus was that sewing is hard, but the outcomes from the sewing were cool), and gain confidence in sharing their voice and being on a college campus. After their day at the library, the students spent to rest of their weekend at the Clover Woods Camping Center to continue celebrating Latino and Native American heritage, growing as young leaders.

Hortense Butler Heywood papers and microscope slides, early 1900’s

Hortense Butler Heywood was an entomologist who was also a prolific illustrator. A lot of her work focused on the study of dragonflies. The collection of her papers at Iowa State University Archives includes several dozen microscope slides with samples of dragonfly parts. Below are images of some slides and their extreme-zoom closeups. The slides are in fragile condition and would be tricky to view in the reading room on the light box. Digitizing them made a lot of sense. So we did it! And we loved every minute of it. A link to the complete Heywood digital collection can be found on the bottom of the  Women in Science and Engineering webpage:

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, how did we do it exactly?  My first idea was to use the camera attached to the microscope to generate an image. But, sadly, the picture was too blurry and indistinct. Plan B was to use a light box and our nice Nikon D4 SLR camera on the copy stand. The massive resolution of the image files made it possible to zoom in and see the details of the specimens. Without magnification the samples looked like tiny specs of debris. With magnification they were intriguing and presented a direct link to Ms. Heywood’s illustration work.

Organizing the slides

Making sure the slides are organized and ready to go before reformatting starts.

The photo setup

Positioning the slide so that only a minimum amount of cropping is necessary.

Digital imaging

Shooting raw files, at 600 dpi.

Mindy McCoy is editing in Photoshop

The only alteration to the raw files was to crop the images  and to save them as TIFFs.

Lawrence H. Skromme farming goods catalogs

Another digital  adventure, which promises to be ongoing for a while, is working with a comprehensive collection of ephemera related to farm machinery and equipment. The cards, pamphlets and catalogs  date from mid-1800s to early 1900s. This collection is frequently requested in the reading room by students and professors involved in courses on mechanical engineering, agricultural sciences and history of farming.

Archivists from ISU’s Special Collections have already written some blog posts about the Skromme collection: Ephemera in the Archives and Agricultural Machinery Product Literature.

Party in the front. Butcher & Gibbs Plow Co., Imperial Plows advertisement card, date unknown.

Business in the back. Butcher & Gibbs Plow Co., Imperial Plows advertisement card, date unknown.

Many of the catalogs have been used extensively in the field (literally in the field), folded and stuck into pockets, left in barns and tractors – you get the idea… And keep in mind that the paper they were printed on was never meant to last (ephemera!). Direct physical handling of this stuff basically kills it. So, this large collection was a wonderful candidate for digitization. And what fun it has been to review! See for yourselves…

Powerful lady of multi-tasking. J.M. Childs & Co., Tiger Self Dump Wheel Horse Rake advertisement card, not dated.

This image of a patriotically-clad woman riding a roaring tiger, while also managing to plow, has been very inspiring to me.

Project Management:

Clearly, these objects need to be available online so a large number of people can see them. Working on several concurrent digitization projects requires collaboration, concise and clear communication and tight organization across department lines.  Adopting a project management software tool has really enhanced our efforts.

We use Meister Task to track progress of items as they pass through the Selection-Conservation-Digitization-Metadata pipeline. The software is easy to use and visually pleasing. I will even venture to say that using the interface is somewhat intuitive.

Repairs:

What about numerous conservation repairs that are needed to stabilize the super-fragile and damaged ephemera for digitization? My strategy has been to expedite without cutting corners. Using remoistenable (pre-coated) tissue has helped save time. One benefit is the quick drying time. Another benefit is the ability to use 5 gsm or 3.5 gsm tengucho tissue with ease and expediency. The tissues are pre-coated with a mix of diluted wheat starch paste and 4M methyl cellulose, per handout from the 2009 LCCDG/ACDG session. Most of the paper that needs to be mended in this project is lightweight and fragile, so the thinner tissues are a good fit.

Applying remoistenable tissue mends. C. Altman & Co., Buckeye Annual Catalog, 1889

For  many of the pamphlets, the covers have become detached from the textblocks. Since they will be digitized on the OpticBook book-edge scanner, which also functions as a flatbed scanner, it would not make sense to reattach the pages. The materials are archival and are meant  for study purposes, not for display, so I consider toning fills to be unnecessary.

Not attaching covers to textblocks; not toning fills. Aultman, Miller & Co., Swedish Buckeye Catalog, 1899.

Some of the covers and pages that are detached are also very brittle and have numerous tears. It would take too long to mend them all and the page would still not be stable for handling because of its brittleness. Enclosing a page in a Mylar L-sleeve and calling it a day is an acceptable treatment option because the item can be scanned directly through Mylar.

Enclosing the cover in Mylar after mending significant tears; not mending numerous minor tears. C. Altman & Co., Buckeye Annual Catalog, 1889.

This is one of my favorite, most irresistible images from the Skromme Collection. The artists that worked for these companies were incredibly talented and imaginative.

A cutout advertisement made from thick card stock. Bucher & Gibbs Plow Co,. Imperial Plow advertisement card, not dated.

Plow ink! who would have thought?? Bucher & Gibbs Plow Co,. Imperial Plow advertisement card, not dated.

Preserving history of use:

As I mentioned earlier, certain signs of use are evident when examining the catalogs: fold lines, dirt, water damage, ink stains. But there are other signs as well, which I think of as “signs of life”. They are traces of people who inhabited the world with these paper objects. Even though the traces of personal history are not connected to a famous individual or a specific historic event, the altered paper objects do tell a compelling story about American farm life.

Child adds some embellishments with colored pencils  in the parent’s magazine. Charles H. Childs & Co., Riding Cultivators Catalog, 1892.

The culprit’s signature on the other side of the page. Charles H. Childs & Co., Riding Cultivators Catalog, 1892.

This advertisement booklet had blank pages inside. It was used to write down recipes for baked goods and cakes. A delicious read. Instead of using a book-edge scanner, the pages of the booklet will be photographed with a digital camera on the copy stand. The booklet will be opened and supported at 90 degrees in order to safely keep the nail in place

A page with a recipe is attached to the inside of the pamphlet, using a nail. J.M. Childs & Co., Tiger Self Dump Wheel Horse Rake memorandum book, 1884.

Sometimes  things in life just seem to strangely intersect.  Earlier this summer, the chair of the Library Advisory Committee, Heidi Hohmann, asked me about treating large landscape architecture plans and happened to mention the fact that Iowa State University was starting the first historic preservation program in the state.  This set off some bells in my head since someone else had just mentioned looking for opportunities in historic preservation in the state.  Although it’s not my area of expertise, even though many confuse historic preservation with library and archives preservation, it is an exciting opportunity to have like-minded folks on campus; others who will not ask why we shouldn’t just make or build a new one and who understand that there is information and history in the object itself.

This new program may be coming to campus at just the right time since the university has a wonderful example of its own that showcases why historic preservation is so important.  With some intervention by a not-for-profit organization, ISU is saving a historical structure that was once used as a geology field studies station by ISU students and researchers outside of Shell, WY.  The building was slated for destruction when the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation found out about the plans.   The historical structure is an original barrack used at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center during World War II, located between the towns of Cody and Powell, WY.  ISU acquired it in the late 1940s after the town of Gryebull no longer needed it.

Many of these barracks were sold off by the federal government after the war for $1 each to homesteaders.  Because of this, some of the 450 barracks that were built at Heart Mountain continue to exist today as outbuildings, stores, and houses.  ISU is donating the structure so that it can be returned to the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center and used as part of the permanent exhibit.  The Foundation will be responsible for moving the 20 feet wide by 120 feet long barrack the 81 miles back to Heart Mountain.  In addition to being complete, the barrack is a good is candidate for historic preservation since it has had few modifications made to it over the past 70 years.  Another barrack from Heart Mountain was reassembled in Los Angeles next to the Japanese American National Museum in 1994.

Saichi, Suzuyo, and Eddie Seo in front of barrack at Heart Mountain Relocation Center.

Saichi, Suzuyo, and Eddie Seo in front of barrack at Heart Mountain Relocation Center.

For me, this effort is most significant because Heart Mountain is where my family (my grandparents, parents, aunt, and uncles) was incarcerated during the war.  The irony of the photograph above with my grandparents and my father is that my father, an American citizen along with my grandmother, is wearing a Superman sweatshirt.

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My maternal grandfather, Umitaro Ibaraki harvesting tomatoes with Hearth Mountain in the distance. Photo from Northwest College Hinckley Library Special Collections, Ethel Ryan Collection.

My family discovered a photograph of my maternal grandfather working in the fields at Heart Mountain. The photo had been made available online without identifying the man, and my family member provided the name.  A good example of how invaluable it can be to have users identify events, places, and people in photographs.  The photograph is part of the Ethel Ryan Collection which has been made available through their Heart Mountain Digital Preservation Project, which happens to powered by CONTENTdm like ISU Library’s digital collections.  This collection includes documents and photographs focusing on Heart Mountain Relocation Center.

 

It’s that time of year again, when warm spring weather signals the end of classes and brings on graduations.  This week is finals week here at Iowa State University and it will end with commencement ceremonies.  We scanned many of the earliest commencement programs from our archives and made them available online in our Digital Collections. http://cdm16001.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/search/collection/p16001coll27

Over the years, there are a variety of styles of printing and constructing the programs, with one even being held together with yarn.  Besides the programs, some include a list of commencement week activities.  It can be interesting to look back and see how things were done long ago compared to today.  You can see what kinds of music was played, the guest speakers and what they spoke about, and names of graduates and their areas of study.  One program from 1880, shown below, has an entry which reads “Shall We Encourage Irish Immigration” which is an interesting look at how some topics of popular concern have evolved over time.

Here is the front cover of a program from 140 years ago and a page of another program from 1880 tied with yarn.

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Recently we received a Special Collections brown leather book titled Familiar Lectures on Botany, Practical, Elementary, and Physiological by Mrs. Almira H. Lincoln (1842).  As I was adding this book to our departmental inventory, I noticed a couple of areas with “leafy” items pressed in between some pages.  So, after discussing treatment with our conservator, Melissa Tedone, we agreed that I should note the page numbers where the ephemera was located and encapsulate each item with the Minter welder.

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Well a “couple of pieces of ephemera later” ended up being 38 items with a lot more documentation and encapsulating on my part.  And if you haven’t worked with dried plant material between two pieces of Mylar and static electricity, you will find it a real challenge. It’s very hard to control the leaves, flowers, and seeds, as they go where they want.  Careful handling on my part with tweezers and a microspatula got them where I wanted them on a backing of University Products Permalife text weight 70# paper, and enclosed between Mylar and welded together.

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I was very pleased with the finished project and it will be much easier for future visitors to handle and look at the ephemera.  However, I will never say just “a couple” again when referring to ephemera!

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