1091MapHappy New Year from the 1091 Project!

This time last year at Iowa State University Library, we were treating records and collection materials recovered after a water pipe burst in Special Collections during Winter Break, when the Library was closed for a week.  Luckily, this small disaster occurred late in the week, and was discovered very quickly. Even so, it was not the auspicious start to the year we would have hoped for.

Our brief respite from the below-zero temperatures of the last "polar vortex" also brought with it... more snow!  And the polar vortex is predicted to return within the next few weeks. Winter in the Midwest is always a challenge!

Our brief respite from the below-zero temperatures of the last “polar vortex” also brought with it… more snow! And the polar vortex is predicted to return within the next few weeks. Winter in the Midwest is always a challenge!

So far this year, we’re staying dry — almost too dry, as we deal with the outrageously low relative humidity that has accompanied the so-called “Polar Vortex” engulfing the Midwest and much of the country. Iowa temperatures have hovered just barely above or below “0” on the thermometer for weeks at a time this winter, and we’ve been keeping our humidifiers humming.


(L to R:) Ashley, Hope, Bree, and Fang Qi

We said goodbye to student worker Devin Koch when she graduated in December, and we are sadly anticipating more goodbyes this semester. Our longtime students Ashley Arnold and Hope Mitchell have both worked in the lab for nearly four years, and are very much a part of our lab “family.” In May, Ashley will graduate with her BA in Anthropology, and Hope will complete her MA in History. They’ll be handing over the student workflow to our new hires, Bree Planica and Fang Qi Li, both of whom have been making incredible strides in developing their handskills and repair knowledge since they were hired last August.


Northwestern Farmer and Horticultural Journal (1858)

My first major Special Collections conservation treatment project of the year is already underway, courtesy of the recent acquisition of nineteen issues of  Northwestern Farmer and Horticultural Journal.   This mid-19th century publication had spent many years stored in a barn, and suffers from all the attendant conservation challenges one would expect from being stored in a Midwestern barn through the changing of the seasons year after year.  I’ll be posting in greater detail about the project in the coming months.

Last year, we implemented a new policy approach for so-called “medium-rare” materials (in particular, 19th and early 20th century publisher’s bindings) as they come to the lab for review or repair, and this year I’ll be turning my attention to our boxing policy, to see if there is room for comprehensive improvement or streamlined processes.


Of course, we’re also excited about this year’s Lennox Foundation Internship.  We’ve just started reviewing applications, and should be making our decision over the next several weeks. As always, the candidate we select will have an impact on what projects we develop and implement this summer.

And because we work in the preservation/conservation field, we are well aware that even the best laid plans can change dramatically, as we respond to whatever disasters may arise in the year ahead.

If you haven’t yet checked in with Duke University Libraries Conservation, then head on over to Preservation Underground to find out their 2014 outlook.  And may your own outlook be bright as 2014 gets underway!

1091MapFor this month’s 1091 post, we’re taking a moment to appreciate the impact Mother Nature can have on the preservation of heritage collections, both in terms of natural disasters and climate. After two years of severe drought in Iowa, we have been keeping an anxious eye on groundwater and river levels throughout a spring season of near-daily thunderstorms and heavy rains.  We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we will not have a repeat of the 2010 flood in Ames, during which parts of the University were flooded and thousands of working documents and architectural plans were damaged.


If you’re not familiar with the Midwest, you might glance at these photos (taken from the window of our Conservation Lab) and think you see mountains in the distance, but this is Iowa, and those are storm clouds rolling in over the prairie.


Even without flooding, these relentlessly damp, humid conditions have increased the risk of mold blooms, and we have seen more ground-dwelling insects driven indoors by high groundwater.  Let’s head over to Preservation Underground to find out how Mother Nature has been treating North Carolina, home to Duke University Libraries.

Written by Jim Wilcox, Preservation Services Unit.

These are some things I probably should have taken care of 25 years ago, when that water line froze, and then leaked once it thawed out.  This is artwork I did 30 or so years ago (1980-1983), when I was working for Collegiate Pacific in Ames.  Collegiate started out in Ames and made the first Cy mascot costume, as well as stuffed animals for many different colleges, imprinted shirts, pennants, blankets, and banners.  They had done some work for the military during World War II, and later added plants in Roanoke, Virginia, and California.  The Ames Historical Society is currently working on a video history of the company.

I thought the stuff was dry when I put it in the portfolio and boxed it up, but I guess it wasn’t dry enough, as the photos show.  Fortunately, it wasn’t that much of the original artwork and proofs that ended up like this.


This pellon sample (above) was run to make sure the three screenprinting screens in this case all lined up before running the order of shirts.  The few spots of mold along the bottom border could probably best be treated with just a little bit of trimming.


This photocopy of artwork is something we sometimes did in the art department to check things and to help when cutting the rubylithe for the color separations.  This one has a few spots of dark mold and some bleeding ink.


This one is Garfield, on a paper proof like the one sent to the salesman to shop around.  You can see some spots of mold and a nice tideline along the right edge.

With the rain pouring steadily for the past few days, and flood waters rising in Iowa, these old souvenirs of long-ago water damage are a good reminder to get prepared and react quickly.

1091MapThis month’s 1091 Project highlights the role of student workers in the Conservation Lab.  Quite honestly, many university conservation departments wouldn’t be nearly as productive without these unsung workhorses of conservation. Often the most tedious tasks fall to the students: they make enclosures, tip-in loose pages, surface clean, and vacuum moldy items.  Yet they perform these tasks efficiently and cheerfully, and miraculously, they keep showing up for work.

When I interned at the Conservation Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, many of the students working in the lab were also studying in the GSLIS program.  We don’t have a library school here at ISU, so our students come from other departments. Of our current four student employees, one is a graduate student pursuing her MA in History (although she started working for us as an undergraduate Anthropology major), one is an Anthropology major, one is a Design major, and one is a Elementary Education major.

Hannah makes spine title labels for tux boxes.

Hannah makes spine title labels for tux boxes.

Our students tackle a variety of projects according to their handskills and experience.  Hannah just started with us this semester, and she has learned to surface clean, insert tip-ins, sew on pamphlet binders, and construct tux boxes and other four-flap wrappers.  We have a shelf full of items needing other types of boxes which will be next on her plate.

Devin has been with us for about a year, but already had excellent handskills from her experience in the College of Design.  She performs many mid-level treatments such as custom portfolio construction, double-fan adhesive bindings, and shield bindings.  Devin divides her work schedule between Conservation and the Preservation Services unit of the Preservation Department.

Ashley clamps down adhesive bindings in a book press.

Ashley clamps down adhesive bindings in a book press.

Ashley and Hope have both worked in the lab for two and a half years.  Their handskills have developed beautifully during this time, and both are now capable of executing more advanced book repairs such as rebacks, new cases, re-cases, and “full repairs,” which they tackle when the more general student treatment workflow slows down at various points throughout the year.

Hope repairs a volume of color samples.  And yes, she knows that our volunteer Martha is giving her mutant bunny ears.  She's good-natured like that.

Hope repairs a volume of color samples. And yes, she knows that our volunteer Martha is giving her mutant bunny ears. She’s good-natured like that.

When we hire new students, we look for hobbies or work experience that show evidence of good eye-hand coordination, but we don’t expect them to have any prior bookbinding or conservation experience. The typical student workflow includes materials preparation (such as cutting spine inserts and hinging endpapers), surface cleaning, box-making, tip-ins, page mending, pamphlet binding, double-fan adhesive binding, shield binding, vacuuming mold, and small-scale deacidification using a compressor and Book Keeper’s spray unit.  The students have also been called upon to assist during disaster recovery.  In fact, when Hope and Ashley first started working in the lab, they spent a month washing Mylar architectural plans which had been damaged during the 2010 Ames flood.

We know our students’ first and foremost goal is to receive a good education here at ISU.  We appreciate being just one of their many priorities, and have been impressed by their reliability, their cheerful hard work, and their diligence in developing their handskills.  We couldn’t run the lab without them!

Don’t forget to stop by Preservation Underground to hear about the student technician experience in the Conservation Lab of Duke University Libraries.

A couple of weeks ago, we were informed by the Stacks Department that we would be receiving a couple of shelves of books that had a mystery substance splattered on them. “Oh, great,” we thought, “what could it be this time?” Working in an academic library, you just never know what you are going to come across. When the books arrived we quickly realized that there were quite a bit more than originally thought – 276 volumes, to be exact, and most had the strange substance splattered on them. It was reddish orange in color – what could it be? We had been told that there was also a spot of the mystery substance on the carpet in the aisle where these books were located. Was it a cup of tomato soup a patron had dropped? Too light to be blood – thank goodness! What could it be?

mystery substance

Since our student workers were gone for the day, I was the lucky one who got to clean these lovelies. I donned my latex gloves, grabbed some damp paper towels, and went to work cleaning what I could off of the books. The books with slick covers were very easy to clean, but those with cloth covers were not. There is still evidence of the splatters on those with cloth covers, as well as on items whose text blocks were spattered.

Twice as I was cleaning, I swore I got a whiff of BBQ sauce. That’s it! That’s what it was! Some student thought it would be fun to stomp on a BBQ sauce packet (easily found at The Hub next door) and spray BBQ sauce all over the books, leaving a nice spot on the floor. I was very proud that I had figured out the mystery. My coworkers agreed that was likely what happened. Oh, but wait, a couple of days later it was revealed that my theory was in fact wrong! What was it, you ask? Well, it was actually an older sprinkler head that was leaking rusty water! It was leaking onto the carpet and when the carpet was saturated enough, it started splattering up onto the surrounding books.

I haven’t heard an update ,but I am assuming the leaky sprinkler head has been taken care of, since we haven’t received any more books with rusty water splattered on them. It just goes to show you never know what is going to enter the lab on any given day. Even though we may cringe at some of the items, it really does make our job quite interesting.

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