Storage


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.

RustedHorseshoe_2003_126

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.

 

 

 

FarmCropsIDSeeds_2008_102

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.

 

CarversBluePigment_2007_349_003

 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!

 On August 8, Sonya and I attended a staff tour of the Library Storage Building (LSB) here at ISU. The offsite storage building holds mostly general collections, with a small number of lower use or larger size special collections items. The tour was a sort of “after” view of the building and storage area, although I was not here to see the “before” tour. The building had been having environmental control issues from leaks in the roof to non-functioning HVAC. “Before” pictures hanging on the wall showed how the staff had to deal with these problems with large tarps and hoses to catch and drain the water away from the collections materials and the electronics powering the compact shelving. After extensive work and repairs including a brand-new roof and HVAC system, the collections storage area now looks amazing!

It was so interesting to hear about the activities that go on behind the scenes at the LSB every day, including interlibrary loans, shelving and organizing newly arrived collections, and working to maintain order of the materials so they can be accessed easily for library users. One interesting thing that I came away with from the tour was just how much environmental control issues can affect workflows. As a conservator, my mind is always on the collections and the impact of inappropriate temperature and humidity on the physical materials. However, the leaks and other problems causes huge problems for the staff as well, who had to wear headlamps at one point just to do their jobs!

Another highlight of the tour was seeing some of the amazing collection materials on display, including trade catalogs with dyed fabric swatches, still vibrant because of the protection from light, as well as some beautiful atlases and architectural sketchbooks. So, go and explore the online catalog, because you never know what treasures are hiding in the LSB!

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.

Tux-2

 

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.

Tux-3

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!

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.

RubberBands-02

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.

RubberBands-03

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!

RubberBands-01

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!

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.

 

 

Catt-FromDonnaToJunie

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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