On Our Bookshelves

CompGuideToWordpressInLibrariesToday, on our preservation blog’s fourth anniversary, it seems fitting to mention that “Parks Library Preservation” has been featured in Amanda L. Goodman’s The Comparative Guide to WordPress in Libraries (ALA TechSource, 2013) as an example of WordPress usage in an academic library (pp.91-95).  The first half of the book explains the basics of WordPress and offers a step-by-step planning guide to maximizing the effectiveness of the WordPress platform for your particular institution.  The second half of the book is composed of brief case studies of WordPress sites implemented by academic libraries, library associations, digital libraries and archives, government libraries, public libraries, and others.

Four years later, we find that our WordPress blog continues to function more or less as we hoped it would when we first started. The blog has increased our public profile, and allowed us to better serve the Iowa community, in keeping with the mission of ISU as a land grant institution.  With our preservation colleagues spread far and wide, the blog has also allowed us to connect and engage professionally with the field at large.

We’ve stumbled a bit along the way, but after some trial and error, we have settled into a workable blogging schedule. Towards the end of each calendar year, I draft the following year’s schedule, assigning a pre-determined number of posts to each member of the Preservation Department, and setting aside posting days for students and interns as well.  We’ve figured out that the right posting schedule for us is once per week, with an additional monthly post for the 1091 Collaborative Blogging Project with the Conservation Department at Duke University Libraries.

We’ve seen our readership blossom to an average of 3,000 views per month, and we’re bolstered by our small but dedicated following of approximately 500 subscribers through various channels.

Thanks for being part of our community. We look forward to your continuing comments and feedback in the coming year and beyond!

Light is very important to conservation labs: the right amount of the right kind of light particularly influences fine detail work and color matching. However, as anyone familiar with preservation issues knows, light is also The Enemy.  Damaging UV light may be the part of the spectrum that gets the most attention, but any light causes cumulative damage to paper-based materials over time.


The lab’s oversized window is coated with UV-filtering film, but all light causes some level of damage to paper-based materials.

Our lab workspace is mainly lit by overhead fluorescents with UV filters on them.  Likewise, our large, lovely window is also covered with UV-filtering film.  We store our colored tissues in flat files nearby, so it’s easy to hold them up to the window and take advantage of the natural light when selecting the right color for a repair.

Allen, Sue. American Book Covers, 1830–1900. Washington: Library of Congress, 1998. Leaflet LC 1.6/4:AM 3/2.

Allen, Sue. American Book Covers, 1830–1900. Washington: Library of Congress, 1998. Leaflet LC 1.6/4:AM 3/2.

In spite of our precautions regarding UV filters, the lab is still flooded with more light than is safe for paper-based materials over the long term, as the framed poster above regularly reminds us.  The colors have faded and shifted over time, simply from being exposed to the ambient light we need to do our daily work.


Another reminder of the amount of light exposure in the lab: this archival document box we use to store lab materials has also shifted color over time!

Aware of light’s insidious and relentless power, we take whatever precautions we can when working with Special Collections and Archives materials in the lab by covering them up with an enclosure, sheet of blotter, or other light-blocker when we are not actively working on them.

As part of our responsibilities as a land grant institution, we are charged with providing education and outreach services to the public. In the lab, this charge manifests as preservation consultations for Iowa residents and institutions.  When it comes to light exposure, we strongly encourage our visitors not to display treasured, original photographs or documents from their personal collections in heavily used or brightly lit rooms. Light damage is irreversible, so the precautions are worthwhile. Originals may be stored in enclosures or in dark drawers or cabinets, and displayed only on special occasions. Alternatively, originals may be scanned and a surrogate printed for display purposes, while the original is stored safely out of the light. If originals must be displayed, then we strongly recommend framing with a UV-filtering plexi, with the caveat that this will only partially mitigate one form of light damage.


Along with our wishes for a happy new year, we’d also like to say thank you to our readers for making last year such a rewarding one for us.  We appreciate your shared insights and feedback, and thank you for being part of our virtual preservation community.

2013 is already off to an exciting start, beginning with a frozen pipe which burst in the offices of our Special Collections and Archives over break.  Since I was basking in the Arizona sunshine at the time, Hilary will fill you in on the details of that escapade next Tuesday.  We’re also in the midst of our search for the 2013 Lennox Foundation Intern; if you or someone you know is planning to apply, please note the January 17 deadline.

Parks Library, Iowa State University

Parks Library, Iowa State University

As we look ahead to the rest of 2013, are there any favorite topics you would like to see us revisit?  We’ve covered topics as diverse as disaster response, conservation treatments, digitization projects, book and paper arts, commercial binding, reformatting, book reviews, conferences, sustainability, whimsical quizzes, and local preservation events.  Are there topics we’ve never discussed that you wish we would?  Guest bloggers from other departments of the Library from whom you’d like to hear?  Join our conversation!

Wishing you all a productive and fulfilling 2013!

That probably comes as no surprise, since we do work in a library.

We also, obviously, enjoy the digital ease of the blog as a written medium.  We collaborate on this blog, after all, and have been steadily keeping at it for two and a half years.  Blogging has allowed us to communicate our preservation mission, to create, to share, and to engage in a dynamic manner that the printed book just doesn’t allow.

However, as much as we appreciate the unique features of the blogging platform, we just can’t get over the printed book.  A book that exists in the digital ether can be hard to visualize as a discrete object, as a substantial work of creation.  There is a figurative as well as a literal gravity to a printed book that can be held, weighed in the hand, flipped through, and set back on the shelf.

So, to celebrate our blog’s first two years of successes, we took advantage of the relatively new Blog2Print service, which converts digital blogs (WordPress, Blogger, and Typepad are currently supported) into print format.  The service produces adhesive bindings with your choice of a soft or hard cover.  We chose soft, as we are well equipped to add a hard case of our own devising.  Our ISU Library Preservation Blog 2010-2011 produced a satisfyingly hefty 314-page volume.

The fact that the Blog2Print service exists at all tells me that we’re not the only ones who are still in love with printed books.  What about you?

Big Book of Boxes (Evergreen Publishers, 2009) is a book of box patterns with minimal text in seven languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Dutch.  The boxes are not specifically for library or preservation purposes (you can read about the boxes we make in our Conservation Lab in our previous post, 1091 Project: Boxes), but could certainly be fashioned or modified for lab use.  The patterns are divided into categories which include basic models, boxes for the office, boxes for clothes and accessories, boxes for children’s bedrooms, boxes for food and drink, decorative accessory boxes, themed holiday boxes, and boxes for gifts.  Each pattern page has a multi-lingual description and a gray-scale sketch of the finished box (see photos below).  The book comes with a CD-ROM of printable versions of all of the patterns.  I’m frankly charmed by both the functional and whimsical boxes described in this book.

Click on image to enlarge.

Click on image to enlarge.

Inspired by Big Book of Boxes, we’ve added experimental box-making to our list of potential ideas for our annual holiday staff development workshop.  Have any of you used the patterns in this book to make boxes?  We’d love to hear about successes or challenges in the Comments section, as well as any other box-pattern books you recommend.

The Story of Leather (1915) by Sara Ware Bassett. Early 20th century American publisher's binding in green bookcloth with embossed black title and front board decoration. Photomechanical print illustration on front board.

Sometimes it’s fun to take a break from modern conservation scholarship and dip into an historical novel, like Sara Ware Bassett’s The Story of Leather (1915).  This novel was one in a series of “educational novels” by Ms. Bassett, including The Story of Cotton, The Story of Lumber, and The Story of Iron, to name a few.  This rather charming tale follows the adventures of Peter Coddington, whose father owns a leather tannery in which Peter learns the trade.  The plot lightly touches on labor relations, fair wages, and workman’s comp, all wrapped up in a mystery that dates back to the Civil War and carries the message of honoring one’s moral debts.  Woven throughout this sweeping storyline are many detailed passages about the process of preparing skins, the process of chrome and vegetable tanning, and the methods of finishing leather.

Nat Jackson teaches the young, incognito Peter Coddington the basics on the floor of the tannery.  He describes the process of washing and softening the dry skins after they come to the “beamhouse,” and then shows Peter the pit of lime where the skins are soaked until their fibers swell and the hair loosens from them.

“But I don’t see that the skins that are tossed into the lime pits come out with the hair off, ” objected Peter.

“Bless your heart — the lime does not take the hair off.  The men who unhair them have to do that.  They lay the wet skins out on boards and with sharp knives pull and scrape off all the white hair.”

“Why don’t they take off the brown or black hair as well?”

“Because only the white hair is removed by hand.  That is kept separate and after being dried is sold to dealers for a good price.  The colored hair is taken off by machinery and is sold too, but it is not so valuable.”

“I suppose plasterers can use hair like that, ” speculated Peter.

“Yes, and upholsterers, ” added Jackson.

This 240-page novel is a quick, pleasant, old-fashioned read, with clear descriptions of the leather-making process near the turn of the 20thcentury.

Dyed goatskin leathers from Pergamena (Montgomery, NY).

To bring you back to the 21st century, here are some photographs of goatskin and calfskin leather taken with the ProScope 200x digital microscope.  As you can see, the goatskin pores are much larger and more unevenly distributed than the tighter, more evenly spaced pores of the calfskin.  This difference is noticeable even on the macroscopic level, and can be used to distinguish types of leather by sight and touch.

Un-dyed goatskin leather at 200x magnification (left); un-dyed calfskin leather at 200x magnification (right).