It has been a wonderful year in the ISU Library Conservation Lab. We’re grateful for the coworkers, interns, and students who helped make this a productive year, and are looking forward to another fresh start in 2015 (after a well-deserved break, of course). We wish you all a very happy holiday season!
December 23, 2014
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November 11, 2014
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As I reach the end of my internship, I would like to share a brief description of some of the projects I have worked on during the last three months as well as some personal observations. Two of the film projects I addressed were the re-housing of the Alexander Lippisch Films Collection and the condition assessment of the general Film Collection located in the film vaults. For my first task involving the Lippisch Films, the goal and workflow were quite straightforward. The majority of the 306 films (in most cases roughly 100 ft.) were stored in their original metal cans or cardboard boxes. They were also in their original reels, which was often a Tenite reel that had decomposed, covering the film with a white powder. Finally, they were stored in groups of approximately 20 objects per box inside large, archival boxes.
My work with this collection consisted in transferring all films from their original plastic or metal reels into 3-inch plastic cores. This is the best way to keep film, because it avoids the potentially damaging pressure that a reel might produce, and it also prevents the extreme curling that is caused by 2-inch cores. In addition, protective head and tail leaders were added to all films and then stored in adequate 16mm archival plastic cans.
Even though I didn’t have the time to thoroughly inspect, clean and repair all films, I was able to provide them with minimal stabilization and remove as much non-archival tape as I could. The tape had damaged the adjacent areas, producing stains, silver mirroring and other chemical reactions.
Finally, a selection of films was prepared for digitization. The digitization projects currently being carried out at Special Collections have access purposes only. This means that the image quality of the files produced is good enough for research and access but does not meet the standards of long-term digital preservation.
Another issue I addressed was testing the decomposition level of the acetate films. Since its inception, motion picture film has been manufactured with three different plastic bases. The first utilized base was cellulose nitrate, discontinued around 1951 due to its extremely high flammability. Nitrate was eventually replaced by cellulose acetate which is still being used today. The third, polyester, also continues to be used, particularly for theatrical release prints. Unfortunately, acetate has proven to be chemically unstable and is prone to chemical decay, especially when it is not stored in the appropriate conditions of temperature and relative humidity (40 Fº and 30-50% RH). This type of decomposition is known as vinegar syndrome, in reference to the strong odor produced by acidic gases liberated by the decaying films.
The Image Permanence Institute at the Rochester Institute of Technology developed an important tool, A-D Strips, which helps determine the extent of chemical decay in acetate-based collections. This is achieved through the use of indicator papers that measure the pH in films. During my internship, I tested the collection with the help of students and Special Collections staff. The results and the data collected will allow us to understand how the chemical condition of the collection evolved and decide what are the most urgent actions to be carried out within a thorough preservation plan.
In summation, I would like to share some thoughts about my experience as a film preservationist who learned some paper conservation techniques, and worked for three months in a paper-based environment. Most of the differences that I perceived derive most likely from the fact that audiovisual objects are machine-dependent, as opposed to books or paper documents. This means that in order to “read” a movie or sound record a machine is needed (i.e. projector, deck, computer, etc.). This main difference with paper is reflected in the conservation treatments that the materials need in order to be preserved. With books and paper, we work on the object to make it readable and agreeable for immediate contact with our eyes. With films, we work on preparing the object to be read or processed by a machine. Anyone who works in the field of conservation understands the importance of preserving our cultural heritage in its varying facets, from the intimate value of a family photograph to those works that are considered national patrimony, or even world heritage. I am pleased to have collaborated with Iowa State University in saving valuable audiovisual documents that are part of its identity as an institution and a community.
October 14, 2014
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As Melissa mentioned in a previous blog, I am the 2014 Audiovisual Preservation Lennox Intern. My area of expertise is not books or paper, but I still deal with objects from the past that are part of our cultural heritage and that we must conserve, preserve, and when necessary (and possible) restore. Even when paper conservators and film preservationists do not communicate with one another, their work has more in common than most of them probably suspect.
Breaking down those barriers is one of my goals during my internship at the ISU Library. I hope to bring more thoughts and anecdotes about my work in a future post, but today I would like to tell you about my experience at the AMIA Conference 2014, held in Savannah, GA, on October 7th-11th.
The Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) has been working for several decades representing over 750 audiovisual archivists from all over the world. Since 1991, AMIA has formally been an individual-based professional association, unique in the field, providing representation and camaraderie not only to institutional archivists, but also to students and recent graduates.
Every year we gather in a beautiful city (Savannah, GA this year) to share experiences, exchange different opinions, raise questions, and learn from one another’s work. The AMIA conference is a great place for new film archivists to learn and network. It is also a great opportunity for conservators, archivists, and librarians that have film collections in their care to learn the basics, ask questions, and make contacts that might come in handy when dealing with special materials.
There are traditional topics that are always candidates for panels and discussions, such as acetate and nitrate deterioration, best practices, the unknown future of digital collections, and the transition from film to digital, among others. This year, the conference presented three curated streams of programming that analyzed matters that are of most interest in the present days.
The first one was “Open Source Digital Preservation and Access” which covered the basics of open source software for audiovisual collections management and highlighted some relevant current projects.
The second program (my favorite) was “Film in Transition,” which discussed the implications that the evolution of the industry — from film to digital — has for film archives and everyone who still needs to work with film stock. Basically, the question was: will archives will be able to continue to preserve films with so many labs closing and such a limited production of film stock?
Last but not least, the third stream was entitled “Global Exchange,” and brought voices from all over the world to share solutions and exchange ideas. This year I was very happy to see a panel discussing the activities in the South American archives, and particularly the staff from Museo del Cine de Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires Film Museum), the most important film archive from Argentina, my home country.
To conclude, there were two special moments that were my favorite. The archival screening night at the marvelous Lucas Theater, in which archives were invited to share a 6-minute clip from the treasures of their collections. I would very much like to see something from the ISU Film Collection next year! Last, the obsolete film formats panel, where they presented the smallest film gauge ever used, 3mm, the cutest medium ever!
For more information about the event, visit the conference website.
For more information on film preservation, visit the National Film Preservation Foundation.
September 2, 2014
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Today is the first day of the 2014 Lennox Foundation Internship for Preservation Education, Outreach, and Training. Our Lennox Interns often come during the summer months, but this year a Fall semester internship worked best for everyone. We have two Lennox interns this year, each specializing in a different aspect of preservation.
Nicole Monjeau is our Lennox Intern for Preservation of Photographic Materials. Nicole is from Minnesota, and just graduated with an MA in Paper Conservation from the Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London. Nicole also has a BFA in Photography from the College of Visual Arts, St. Paul, MN, and within the context of her paper conservation training, focused as much as she could on photographic materials. She also recently attended a Professional Conservators in Practice short course in photograph conservation with Susie Clark at West Dean College in Chichester, England. Nicole will be working on photographic collections from our University Archives, including some lantern slides and glass plate negatives which could use some TLC.
Gloria Diez is our Lennox Intern for Preservation of Audiovisual Materials. Gloria is from Argentina, and just graduated from the certificate program at the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at George Eastman House. She also has a BA in Art History and Theory with specialization in Cinema Studies from the Universidad de Buenos Aires. Her goal after completing her training in the U.S. is to return to South America and work toward preserving and making accessible Latin America’s audiovisual heritage. During her internship at ISU Library, she will assess our audiovisual collections in Special Collections and University Archives and devise a detailed preservation plan for them. In addition, Gloria will be training with me and technician Mindy Moeller in the conservation lab, where Gloria will learn basic paper and book repair techniques which may prove useful in her future work in a film archives.
We are delighted to welcome Gloria and Nicole to the ISU University Library. Be sure to check the blog for updates from the interns themselves about their projects in the coming months!