Enclosures


Talking to design students about conservation of special collections

Talking to design students about conservation of special collections

A couple of months ago I hosted a tour for a College of Design class, which focused on binding and printing  design in the context of current publishing practices. Preparing for this tour prompted our technician Mindy and myself to seek out contemporary binding structures from our general collections that present preservation challenges for library professionals.

Most of these items ended up being art books. Because of innovations in the realm of  publishing, many coffee table books now feature all kinds of fancy bells and whistles, going for a unique look with an element of surprise. There is a tendency to deconstruct the traditional book form.  What that means for us here in the Preservation Department is: ENCLOSURES! These unconventional bindings and textblocks require an extra level of protection for a variety of reasons. Dear reader, behold the art book medley!

Colibri Jackets – why do we need them?
Colibri

1. The spine of a book needs all the protection it can get.
2. Fabrics and 3D elements can rub against other books on the shelf.
3. Loosely associated items: a sticky note serves as a title label.
4. Exposed board edges will delaminate extra quickly.

Boxes and pockets

Boxes_Pockets

1. Some binding structures are inherently vulnerable to handling. A 4-flap made from a lightweight board, also called a tux box, will do just fine for this delicate binding.
2. & 3.  Security is important: enclosures can help keep small desirable items from walking off the shelf.
4. The artist print that comes included with this monograph is larger than the book.
This sturdy 4-flap, called a phase box, had to be retrofitted with a spacer to keep the two items from shifting around inside.

And sometimes…
Books come to us with their own boxes, and they need a little help. Here are three examples of that, clockwise from left to right:

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  1. A collection of vintage recipes in its original box packaging. The lid of the box got ripped off. It was later hinged back on with a strip of matching book cloth.
  2. Inside the Tide box there is a soft cover paperback book. The box was not as secure as we would have liked. In addition, the ingenious colorful box  presents a real temptation for a library user to take it home. So the book got an additional clamshell box (a nice boring gray).
  3. The multiple small books contained in the tan cloth box are all identified by the same bar code, pasted onto the side of the box. There are no volume numbers present. So, each individual book within the box got its own label, even though they all say the same thing. This way the books can be better tracked if one of them gets lost.
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If you see me sitting at my bench in the Preservation Lab just staring off into space, I am not daydreaming but thinking about how to tackle a work related project. Sometimes I’m jotting down notes, drawing a sketch, or making a mock item but it all pertains to book repair and box making.  We sometimes receive unique items here in the Preservation Department and then must come up with creative ways to fix or house them in protective boxes.  Below shows three mini books titled Laozi Qi Shu Qi Ren along with a laminated picture card and they are to be housed in the Cage Miniature section of the Parks Library.

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I decided to use three layers of ¼” Ethafoam, 3M double stick tape, ½” gray linen tape, and grey-white barrier board to construct a phase box with foam support for the mini books and card. The reason for the three layers of Ethafoam is because one book was much thicker than the other two along with the think laminated card and the linen tape underneath helps to release the mini books from their foam protected pockets.  There was some skill on my part to get everything lined up just right when cutting the Ethafoam with a scalpel and a little fine trimming with a scissors but I am pleased with the end product-all four items housed together in a phase box.

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I recently made a box for an old book titled The Medical and Agricultural Register, For the Years 1806 and 1807.  I like the comment on the title page “designed for the use of families.”  This book was very interesting, not only in its content, but also in what has happened to the book physically over time.

InterestingBook-01

I see that the price of 35 cents had been handwritten in ink inside both the front and back covers.

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Inside there was some moisture damage, foxing, and staining from the oily printing ink, yet the paper quality is in great shape and has a nice “feel” to it.

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This book is still in relatively good condition considering it is over 200 years old, and I can handle it without it crumbling in my hands. This is where I get a little misty-eyed thinking of how cool this book really is.  Books were made better back then with good materials and strong paper, not like the cheap books that are constructed today, which are pricey and will fall apart easily after a little use and abuse.

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What I find most interesting about this book is the information and topics it contains.  “To prevent the fatal Effects of drinking cold Water, or cold Liquors of any kind in warm Weather,”  “Case of Lock-Jaw Successfully treated with Brandy and Opium,” and “To prevent the fatal Effects of Lightning.”  Under the lightning section, it reads:

“When a person is struck by lightning, strip the body and throw buckets full of cold water over it for ten or fifteen minutes; let continued frictions and inflations of the lungs be also practiced:  let gentle shocks of electricity be made to pass through the chest, when a skillful person can be procured to apply it; and apply blisters to the breast.”

The books also contains planting and meteorological tables, cider and pickling recipes, more interesting medical treatments and advice, and the “Bill of Mortality for 1806, in 20 Towns.”  Just a wealth of information in 1806 and 1807 for a very interesting time, but it makes me happy to be alive in 2015.

 

Tux-1

When you see the work “tux” you may think of an expensive, fancy dress suit for a gentleman.  What I think of is a protective, thin box made out of 20 point tan board used to protect a fragile or uniquely structured book.

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Recently we received a donation of several very old, unique books that need protective enclosures and will be housed in the Cage area.  Tux boxing is usually used on thin books where we cannot make a phase box but also a few of these books are thicker in depth and I still chose to do tux boxing because of space limitations in the Cage.  Using thinner, 20 point boards means more room on the shelves instead of making a phase box or CMI box.  Not all of these tux boxes are heading to the Cage.  One is going to the Library’s Storage Building, which also has space limitations, and another is going to the General Collection shelves and just needs a protective wrapping around it.  Other times I’ve had to make tux boxes for books that have unique or decorative covers that need protection from the books it will sit next to on the shelves. The tux wrap keeps them from rubbing together and getting damaged.

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These are nice little boxes that are easy and quick to make in just a few minutes, and provide great protection for fragile and unique books.  Think of it as a way of “dressing up” a book!

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.

2010Flood-Melissa

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.

 

Gloria-AllTreatments

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One important part of my job is to train new student employees, but one of my highlights is to teach book repair skills to others such as Gloria Diez, one of our 2014 Lennox Interns.  Gloria was our intern for Audiovisual Preservation, so she had no prior book conservation experience. We designed her internship to include book repair and basic paper conservation, because these are useful skills for dealing with ephemera and other print materials when working in a film archives. Not all of our students and interns come with book repair knowledge or skills, so it can be a challenge when explaining and showing how to do a full repair to a book, or to construct a phase box.  When our students or interns have a hobby such as origami, sewing, knitting, or drawing that requires some hand skills, all the better.  And if they are a quick and eager learner like Gloria, it makes it fun for me, too.

Gloria adheres a label on a repaired book using a Teflon folder.

Gloria adheres a label on a repaired book using a Teflon folder.

We first started with the basics of simple enclosures such as pamphlets, CoLibri pockets, and encapsulation with Mylar using bookmarks, folded pamphlets, and other non-collection materials. When we worked on rebacks, recases, full repairs, and new cases, we used discarded library books so Gloria could take all her samples with her when her internship was completed, as a 3D portfolio of her repair work.  Then Gloria learned how to make phase and tux wrap boxes to house her repairs in.

Gloria uses the Minter ultrasonic encapsulator.

Gloria uses the Minter ultrasonic encapsulator.

This one-on-one time with Gloria also gave me a chance to learn a little more about her.  All Lennox Interns time must come to an end and it’s sad to see them go, but I’m glad to give a little of my talents at book repair in order to aid Gloria in her future endeavors.  Good luck Gloria!

 

Gloria's completed book repairs.

Gloria’s completed book repairs.

Gloria's custom enclosures for the repaired books.

Gloria’s custom enclosures for the repaired books.

Gloria's other treatments (pamphlet bindings, encapsulations).

Gloria’s other treatments (pamphlet bindings, encapsulations).

Custom enclosure for pamphlet and encapsulated ephemera, with foam insert.

Custom enclosure for booklet and encapsulated ephemera, with foam insert.

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.

A decomposed Tenite reel.

A decomposed Tenite reel.

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.

The Lippisch Films in their original reels.

The Lippisch Films in their original reels.

The Lippisch Films transferred into 3-inch cores and re-housed.

The Lippisch Films transferred into 3-inch cores and re-housed.

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.

Film had been secured with non archival tape

Film had been secured with non archival tape.

Tape being removed. The tape has damaged the emulsion.

Tape being removed. The tape has damaged the emulsion.

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.

A film without noticeable physical changes. Before re-housing.

A film without noticeable physical changes. Before re-housing.

Severely decayed film.

Severely decayed film.

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.

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