Cindy Wahl

Working in the Preservation Department, one soon realizes how important our eyesight is to the tasks we need to perform.  Whether it is making repairs or doing work on the computer, the work is intense and can tire out our eyes.


We all know that to maintain good eyes, we should wear appropriate sunglasses when outside or riding in a vehicle.  Our diet is important too, as we need to include green leafy vegetables, oily fish, eggs, nuts and beans.  If your job includes working with hazardous or airborne materials, you should wear safety glasses or protective goggles.  A trip to the optometrist or ophthalmologist once a year is a good habit to have and helps to assure that eye problems are caught soon. This is all important information which we have heard and learned throughout our lives.

There is another important step to maintaining our eyesight as we work in jobs which require intense use of our eyes and up-close work: look up and look away.  When I started working at the Iowa State University Library 38 years ago, my first supervisor told me to remember to rest my eyes.  She said I should look up about every 20 minutes and look off into the distance.  She explained that this would help to keep my eyes flexible and able to see both close up and things in the distance.  At the time, this was easy to do as the work space was open and one could easily see from one end of the long room to the other end.  Over the years, we have had much remodeling done to the office spaces, creating cubicles where each person works.  This does not always leave a good view to look up and out.  If this is the case in your office, it is good to get up and move about so you can look out.  This does not mean that you need to take a hike or daydream for several minutes, just 20 seconds every 20 minutes will do the job.

At some point, everyone will most likely need bifocals, trifocals, or reading glasses, but remembering to look up and look out will help to keep your eyes flexible and perhaps delay the addition of glasses to assist with close up work.

Rubber bands, what a wonderful invention.  They can be used for fun: stretched into sling shots, wrapped together to make a ball, linked together to make a giant rubber band, whatever your imagination can think to do with them.  They can also be used to help you: to hold papers together, to wrap around items like sticks that need to be kept together, worn on your wrist to help remind you of something, or snapped to help you break a bad habit.


Office supply sling shot, ball of rubber bands, and giant rubber band made up of smaller rubber bands. [Note: The Preservation Department does not condone using office supplies to construct a sling shot at work. This sling shot serves the purpose of illustration only.]

However, using rubber bands as a long term solution for holding things together is not a good idea.  They can dry out or turn sticky, causing them to break and leave remnants of the rubber behind on the object.  In the past, I would use rubber bands to bind together some of my paper work and bills at home.  If I packed the papers away, after a few months or years when I retrieved the stack, the rubber band would have broken and the papers were no longer being held together.  Often the papers that were touched by the rubber band would have stains from the rubber.


Aged, broken rubber bands.

Health issues may arise from using rubber bands.  The most serious is that rubber bands are made from natural rubber latex, which may cause allergic reactions.  Another problem is when a band breaks as you are using it, the snapping band will hit your hands or fingers causing a bright red spot and stinging sensation.

Here in Preservation Services at Iowa State University Library, we use rubber bands to hold together the serial publications that are to be bound by our commercial bindery.  This helps keep the issues and paper work together as they pass through our unit and then on to the bindery, where the rubber bands are removed.  This process may take up to three weeks with the bands being used around the publications, but this is not long enough for the rubber to deteriorate and cause stains on the issues.

If you need to hold papers together for longer periods of time, it would be preferable to tie them up with cotton string.  Another more long term option would be to make or purchase a box to hold the papers.

Rubber bands may be used for convenience and short term usage, or to have some inexpensive fun, but please do not use them for long term storage!


Help!  There is a mouse in my house and he is building his own.  One nice fall day, I discovered the calling cards of a mouse.  He hadn’t left them in the kitchen or storage room where one would expect him to be filling up on food.  I found his trail in my extra bedroom, the room where I have my loom and all of the yarn I have stored for future projects.  Now my task was to beat him at the game, track him down, and eliminate him.

Mouse nest.

Mouse nest.

My first step was a trip to the store to buy as many mouse traps as possible and some peanut butter to use as bait.  Once back home, I loaded on the bait and set the traps, scattering them around the house, but concentrating them in the extra room.  The next day I checked the traps and found the mouse dead on the trap in my yarn closet.  He was the plumpest mouse I have ever seen.  No wonder: he had been eating the rice which filled the neck warmer I had received as a gift.

Cleaning the closet was a slow and tedious job, removing all of the yarn to vacuum up the rice and calling cards.  Amongst the yarn, the house of the mouse was found.  He had helped himself to the soft and pretty alpaca and mohair yarns, a little bit of blue, a bit of pink, some gray and white.  Small pieces taken from the middle of the skeins and pulled apart to create a fluff ball of camouflage yarn for a cozy winter retreat.

New plastic bin for yarn storage.

New plastic bin for yarn storage.

Once the closet and yarn was cleaned and sorted, I made another trip to the store to purchase clear plastic storage containers and dryer sheets, the stronger the scent the better.  With the containers being clear, it is easy to see what is stored within the tote.  The tight-fitting lid will help to keep out unwanted house guests.  The dryer sheets also help to keep the mice away when placed on the outside of the totes.

The clear plastic storage bin means there will be no surprises when the bin is opened!

The clear plastic storage bin means there will be no surprises when the bin is opened!

The most important lesson I learned is to keep the doors to the outside shut, even if it means sounding like my mother, “SHUT THE DOOR!”

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t store grain-filled items in rooms other than the kitchen or pantry.
  • When a mouse is caught, call someone to remove the trap intact with the mouse and deposit it in the trash.  If no one is available to help, a shovel will do the job to scoop up the rodent and trap and deposit all in a trash bag.
  • Store yarn in a clear plastic bin with a tight-fitting lid.  This will allow you to see what yarn is being stored and impede the path of the mouse to gain access to the soft and beautiful building materials.
  • Scented dryer sheets help to repel mice and can be placed around the closet on the outside of the totes.
  • Good storage practices are vital for safe and clean storage of yarn.
  • Shut the Door!
Photo Credit:

Photo Credit: Schacht Spindle Co., Inc.

As retirement approaches sometime in the next 3 years, it is easy for me to weave a picture of what life will be like for me after leaving the library.  I have shelves of books all waiting to be read, a floor loom to use with the closets full of yarn I have collected over 40 years, naps to take, and hopefully travels to thread memories.  I have few problems graphing out the pattern.

It is not as easy to think about what needs to be charted at work before retirement.  I am starting with the basic plan for the plain fabric of procedures.  This will include the patterns for my work and the work done by the staff that I supervise.  This creates a good review of the processes and how they are intertwined within the section, department and library.  I have previously written procedures for most of my tasks and will be reviewing them for updating.  The procedures of the staff in Preservation Services are somewhat similar and overlap to create the completed and more unique fabric of the work in the section.  Some tasks are repetitive and move as a twill fabric.  Others are completed with more complicated repetitions, creating large overshot patterns.  This will be a good time to review and examine the fabric of our work here in Preservation Services.

So, work continues with dreams of the future and knowing that “You have to be warped to weave.”

Written by Cindy Wahl and Suzette Schmidt of the Preservation Services unit.

Student employees are an important staffing component of the Preservation Services section of the Preservation Department at Iowa State University Library.  The unit has 3 staff employees, and with the volume of work being sent to and from the vendors, the students help make the workflow smooth and consistent.


Sorting and organizing periodicals.

Students are responsible for the filing of periodicals when they are received from our Serials Acquisitions department.  They sort and organize the issues prior to taking them to our Periodical Room or the General Collection for filing with the rest of the unbound issues.  While filing the periodicals, they also check the titles to see if there are now enough older issues on the shelf to pull and return them to staff in Preservation Services to have them prepared for binding.  In addition to pulling periodicals for binding while filing, we now have in place an electronic system where we can search, sort, and print out a list of periodicals that are now ready to be bound.  The student uses that list to organize and forward periodicals to staff for binding.


Shelving issues in the Periodical Room.

There is a continual flow of work to be delivered and retrieved to other areas of the library and students are the legs for transporting these items.  With our Preservation Department being housed on two different floors and other departments spread throughout the five floors of the library, the students are valuable in moving work from floor to floor and department to department.

Boxing volumes to be shipped.

Boxing volumes to be shipped.

Preservation Services works with a variety of vendors for binding, reformatting, and mass deacidification, which all require packing and unpacking of volumes.  Students assist with this task while staff prepare the paperwork to be included with the shipments.  At times the volumes being shipped need a page-by-page review, and the students help with this process by noting any repairs, which are then handled by staff.  Upon receipt of the finished volumes, the new format is compared to the old volume by student employees to be sure the work is accurate and complete.


Reviewing a thesis.

Some volumes being added to the collection need to have marking done to them prior to being forwarded for shelving.  These pass through the Preservation Services section where the student is responsible for stamping the volumes with the Iowa State University Library possession stamp, moving the bar code to the appropriate placement on the volume, and, if necessary, adhering the title and call number labels to the spine.

As work flows and tasks change within the Preservation Services unit, it is always important for us to review the assignments and use our students in the most productive manner.  They have shorter scheduled blocks of time, and their assistance is used best to help move the work through the unit and to help make the volumes available to patrons in a timely manner.


Keeping the workspace clean might seem like a routine task which would be easy to accomplish. In the Library, dusting shelves and desk tops is routine.  However, there are plenty of areas which are not so easily reachable or often thought of when cleaning.  Time goes by and these areas continue to collect dust, which grows as fast as rabbits multiply.


When an event takes place which disturbs the collected dust, the dust bunnies go flying!  We had a few days this past summer when the air handlers were not working in the part of the library containing most of our offices.  Staff opened the few windows that we have in the area.  When the door to the room was opened, the dust bunnies were on the move!  It looked like I was standing by a cottonwood tree on a windy day.  The areas we had not been dusting had come alive.  My black dress had white, irregular polka dots.  The book I was preparing for reformatting had dust bunnies landing on the pages being cleaned.  Luckily, I was not mending the pages with paste or mending tape.


All of this made it clear that doing a thorough cleaning frequently is important.  One never knows when the circumstances will be such that the dust bunnies will multiply and fly.


Here at Iowa State University Library, we reformat four newsprint publications from paper to microfilm.  Each publication has a connection to the university, which helped determine why it should be retained on microfilm.  The Iowa State Daily, the student run newspaper; Ames Tribune, the local newspaper; Toons, a publication published in the area by an ISU alum; and Spokesman, the Iowa Farm Bureau publication, are all sent to our vendor once a year for filming.


Staff here at the University Library prepare and ship the Iowa State Daily, Toons and Spokesman to the vendor.  The Ames Tribune follows a bit of a different path from the other three.  The local newspaper staff prepares and ships the paper to our vendor, who then films the paper according to our specifications.  We receive, pay for, and store the microfilm for all four publications.

The preparation of the papers begins with the collection of a complete volume.  The Iowa State Daily mails one copy to us and our University Library Special Collections department picks up one copy of each paper at a campus drop-off point.  This step allows us to have copies from two different areas of the printing run.  When it is time to prepare the papers for filming, we use the copy picked up by the Special Collections department unless it is torn, has pages with ink starvation, or has blurred type.  If the mailed copy is in better condition than the other, then we will use it instead.  For Toons, we use the only copy which has been mailed to us and shelved in a pam box in the general collection.  If a copy is missing or not in good shape for filming, we are able to contact the publisher and make arrangements to borrow the copy he has saved for his collection.  This procedure is also used for Spokesman;  The Iowa Farm Bureau publisher has been helpful in letting us borrow their copy when needed.

Once the papers are gathered, student workers go through them and note the beginning and ending volumes, numbers and dates.  They watch for discrepancies in the numbering and dates, which are noted for the preparation of targets.  They also note if there are any issues missing which we have not been able to replace.  If there are tears that can be repaired, this is done by competent student workers or staff, using paper mending tape and a bone folder.


Upon the completion of the review and necessary mending, targets are made for the paper.  We created and saved a set of targets in MS Word for each of the publications.  We can print and use these repeatedly by updating volumes, numbers, years, and reel numbers.  Once the targets are printed, they are inserted in the appropriate order and placed within the newsprint issues.  We used ALA Target Packet for use in Preservation Microfilming by Debra McKern and Sherry Byrne as our guide in creating our targets.


The papers are secured between two pieces of board and then packed into tubs.  Included in the tub is an envelope with specific instructions to the vendor and to the person doing the filming.  The tubs are then shipped to the vendor for processing.  We request that the original negative and the duplicating master for the film be stored at our vendor’s facility in a secure vault with controlled temperature and humidity.  They provide us with one positive service copy on silver-base film.

Upon completion and return of the microfilm and paper copies of the newspapers, a student or staff member scans through the microfilm to check for proper placement of targets, clear and legible film, and a complete run of the paper.  The film is then stored and made available to patrons in our Media Center.


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