Documentation


Pushing the small letters on noisy plastic keys for hours upon hours is without a doubt mind-numbing work. However, transcription is much more than that! It is the process of transferring the content of a document into a more-accessible format for readers. Whether it’s text, images, illustrations, or even bold or italicized lettering, transcription captures as much detail from original documents as possible with careful observation and focused attention to produce a wholly text-based rendition of the document. You might be wondering what the point of re-typing an 1884 Iowa State University Bomb yearbook is. After all, the book has already been digitized for online access. The difference between digitizing documents and transcribing them is that certain impaired readers, such as those with eyesight difficulties, have the option to hear the transcribed content through audio applications and text recognition. Documents that are difficult to read because the ink has faded, a page has torn, or handwriting is impossible to decipher are transcribed so that their content will not be lost.

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Work in progress

 

When I was asked to be a part of transcribing the second ever Iowa State Bomb yearbook, I didn’t expect to appreciate the process so much. My eyes did get sore day after day from peering at thousands of words on a bright computer screen, but my attentiveness was sharp. The language was hard to transfer at times because writing in the late 19th century is far different from how we write today. I did get a good chuckle in every couple of pages from the illustrations included in the Bomb. I felt good about working so hard to preserve a collection of fundamental Iowa State history so that others could enjoy it too.

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Making a custom archival box for an edition of the Bomb.

 

 

It’s my final week at ISU Library, and I’m feeling nostalgic. Looking back on my five and a half years in the Conservation Lab, there are a few treatments that stand out as particularly memorable.

The 2010 flood hit during my first summer in Ames, and strongly impacted the next 18 months in the lab, as we salvaged and treated thousands of flood-soaked documents, architectural drawings, blueprints, and photographs for Facilities, Planning & Management.

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In 2011, this ISU football manual from the 1930s landed on my bench. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to preserve the original structure of the 3-ring binder, while also giving the acidic and insect-damaged pages some support. You can read about the treatment in my original post.

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In 2012, I worked on another football-related conservation treatment, the housing for the last letter written by Jack Trice. He wrote the letter on hotel stationery in 1923, on the eve of his first major college football game, during which he sustained fatal injuries. The double-sided letter is suspended in a Mylar window in this portfolio, so both sides can be read.

The last letter written by Jack Trice in 1923, on the eve of the college football game in which he was fatally injured.

The last letter written by Jack Trice in 1923, on the eve of the college football game in which he was fatally injured.

The original letter is housed in ISU Library Special Collections, but we also created a facsimile which I bound into a custom enclosure decked out in Cyclone colors for Coach Rhoads to take with him on recruiting trips.

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Facsimile of the last letter written by Jack Trice.

In 2013, I thoroughly enjoyed working on a display rehousing for unclassified botanical specimens in the Sarah Underwood Papers.

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In 2014, a new acquisition came to the lab with a curling, brittle paper label. I ended up resewing the textblock and rebacking the spine. This project was a particular pleasure because the sewing structure was a bit of a mystery to unravel, quite literally.

The Practical Planter (1799)

The Practical Planter (1799)

It turned out the volume had been sewn five-on, five-on, seven-on, seven-on, five-on on four support cords. This method would have saved time and money for the bookseller, and was in keeping with the humble paper retail binding. I resewed following the original pattern.

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And finally, just this month, I finished a full leather rebinding of a 1579 Italian imprint of Garcia de Orta’s Aromatum et simplicium aliquot… The book came to us bound in a typical eighteenth-century English style tightback binding covered in acid-sprinkled calfskin leather. Although the binding style was anachronistic with respect to the textblock, it told a story of the volume’s provenance, so I was hesitant to remove it. However, the volume had been oversewn and had some tears and sloppy hide glue repairs that made the book virtually unusable. I disbound the volume, removed the hide glue accretions, and mended and guarded the damaged pages. Then I rebound it in a manner sympathetic to the imprint’s sixteenth-century Italian origins by resewing on alum-tawed thongs with made endpapers of Italian handmade marbled paper. I sewed on silk endbands, and laced on boards built up from layers of paperboard. I covered the volume in edge-pared goatskin leather, working around the bands to give the appearance of a tightback, but in fact allowing a hollow on the spine when the book opens. According to Bernard Middleton, spine labels were not used before 1600 in Europe, although titles were sometime blind-tooled directly on the spine. However, most spines were left blank, and this is what I chose for this volume, since it would be housed in a cloth-covered clamshell box along with its previous case (which was given a foam insert for support).

Previous binding on left; rebound volume on right.

Previous binding (with foam insert)  on left; rebound volume on right.

Benchwork has been only one part of the enriching professional activities I have enjoyed during my tenure as ISU Library’s Conservator, but it has been a fascinating and deeply rewarding part of my work.

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There’s still time to participate in the Preservation Statistics Survey. This is the third year this survey is being made available and we would like to increase participation to gather data that shows how preservation activities are expanding and still an essential function of research libraries and archives. Any library or archives in the United States conducting preservation activities is encouraged to participate in this survey, which is open through Friday, February 27, 2015.

For more information, visit the Preservation Statistics website:  http://www.ala.org/alcts/resources/preservation/presstats
FY2013-infographic-loFY2014 Survey questions focus on production-based preservation activities, documenting your institution’s conservation treatment, general preservation activities, preservation reformatting and digitization, and digital preservation and digital asset management activities.
The goal of the Preservation Statistics Survey, now in its third year, is to document the state of preservation activities in this digital era via quantitative data that facilitates peer comparison and tracking changes in the preservation and conservation fields over time. The Survey, a project of the Preservation and Reformatting Section (PARS) of the Association of Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS), is based on the Preservation Statistics survey program coordinated by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) from 1984 through 2008.

Why should your institution participate in the FY2014 Preservation Statistics Survey?

* The FY2014 Survey is significantly shorter than previous years, asking only for production data — information you already have for annual reporting or other internal planning and evaluation

* Preservation Statistics data helps you and the wider preservation community advocate for preservation programming and activities, demonstrating how programs compare to peers as well as areas of strength and need

* Your participation can help us achieve a representative body of preservation programs, which means better analysis and examination of trends in preservation programming.  To continue the Preservation Statistics Project, we need seventy-five institutions to respond to this FY14 survey

Participate today — count what you do and show preservation counts! #doyoucount

Please contact the Preservation Statistics Survey team with any questions or feedback: preservationstatistics@gmail.com

Follow us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/preservationstatistics

 

 

During a recent digital preservation meeting, our conservator, Melissa, brought up the need to safeguard our treatment documentation now that the written and photographic parts are electronic.  Currently, all documentation is managed through an Access database and stored on a networked drive.  According to the American Institute for Conservation (AIC), proper storage, backup and active management of these records is essential for long-term preservation.  The AIC Guide to Digital Photography and Conservation Documentation even provides some basic background information on hardware, software, standard practices and terminology.  Let’s just make it easy and say we want to meet National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) Levels of Digital Preservation.

So the first question to you all is:  how have you gone about doing this?  Is this an activity that you have charged your IT department or Archives with managing?  Does this process at least meet NDSA Level 1?

The Access database is a fine management tool to organize all of our treatment reports and their accompanying images, but it is not that easy to guide the user or the curator to treatment reports.  Do you use local bibliographic records to indicate the existence of treatment reports, or perhaps a content management system that links directly to treatment reports from the item records?

snippet of a treatment report

snippet of a treatment report

Finally, even though the cost of storage space continues to decrease, the cost still exists and it is not simply the cost of the storage device.  Our campus IT charges us for space which does not include digital preservation services. Considering how large TIFF and RAW (or DNG) files are, how difficult RAW files are to use and the fact that they are proprietary, have you chosen to keep all RAW files?  DNG files?  What was your rationale in making this decision?  What does the cost benefit analysis and future use of these image files look like?TR350bt04

Sharing your experience with managing electronic treatment documentation and decision making would be greatly appreciated.

 

 

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:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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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.

 

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

Photo Credit: http://www.schachtspindle.com/our_products/shuttles.php

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.”

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A newly acquired 1930s letter in the Carrie Chapman Catt Collection.

For the past two months, I have been preserving hundreds of newly acquired items of correspondence for the ISU Library Special Collections Department’s Carrie Chapman Catt Collection.  The collection includes handwritten and typed letters on paper ranging from high-end, monogrammed stationery to lined notebook paper to index cards; newspaper clippings; photographs; decorative stickers; pressed flowers; envelopes; and postage stamps. It’s a wonderful collection rich with evidence of daily life during the Great Depression, and has been a delight to work on in spite of the repetitive nature of the conservation work: humidify, flatten, rehouse, humidify, flatten, rehouse…

After being stored folded up in their original envelopes for 80 years, these letters require humidification and flattening before they can be safely handled by researchers. Note the letter in the lower right corner, which is very acidic and brittle.

After being stored folded up in their original envelopes for 80 years, these letters require humidification and flattening before they can be safely handled by researchers. Note the letter in the lower right corner, which is very acidic and brittle.

This collection is being treated before it is processed by our archivists, because the majority of the letters are folded up and still tucked inside their original envelopes.  Many of the letters have been written on acidic paper which is now quite fragile and could break apart simply by being unfolded without humidification. Even the items which are not brittle benefit from gentle humidification and flattening between blotter and boards in a press.  So far, I have worked through about half (I think) of the newly acquired collection. I have humidified, flattened, and rehoused 448 items, and have sorted and rehoused another 281 items which did not require humidification (mostly envelopes and photographs).  A few pages required mending, and about 60 particularly fragile items required encapsulation in Mylar/Melinex; the rest of the items were re-foldered and housed in archival document boxes.

Items from the Carrie Chapman Catt Collection being flattened between blotter and boards in a press after humidification.

Items from the Carrie Chapman Catt Collection being flattened between blotter and boards in a press after humidification.

There are several challenges when working through a project of this size. One is simply time management: I can’t drop everything else to work solely on this one project, even though it is a high priority. I have done my best to schedule a minimum of 2 hours of active treatment time per day to keep the project moving forward, and at least once or twice a week, I devote nearly an entire day to it. Furthermore, humidification takes as long as it takes; it’s a process that involved a lot of  “down time.”  So, if a batch of letters needs an entire day of humidification, then I simply have to wait until they’re ready for flattening.

Another challenge is keeping the collection materials organized so as not to compromise their archival order.  My low-tech organization solution is to keep a mini-streamer with each item.  On each streamer, I write a code at the top indicating which box and original folder the item came from [for example, “B2 F4 (29)” means Item 29 from Box 2, Folder 4]. I then make abbreviated notes indicating whether the item is one page of a multi-page letter, whether it pairs with an envelope, and whether any other ephemera were grouped with it [“3 pp., no env., 1/3”]. I am very careful whenever moving items (e.g., from the humidity chamber to a blotter stack for pressing) to make sure each mini streamer stays with its correct item.  The system works well, and after the items have been rehoused, I retain the streamers so I can double-check the accuracy of the statistics I have been keeping.  In addition to the mini-streamers, I also maintain a project statistics sheet with the date, items treated that day, types of treatment, and the amount of time I spent on the project.

Envelope with 3-cent stamp from the Carrie Chapman Catt Collection.

Envelope with 3-cent stamp from the Carrie Chapman Catt Collection.

Beyond time management and organization, the biggest challenge with this type of project is to stay fresh and focused. With such repetitive treatment tasks, there is always the danger of zoning out and putting an item into the humidity chamber that cannot safely be humidified. It’s important to watch out for coated papers, highly water-soluble inks, and paper with pressure-sensitive tape on it.

I’m looking forward to wrapping up this project in the next few weeks, so this fascinating collection can be archivally processed and made available to the community.

 

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