Preservation At Large


Here are some highlights of what we saw at Preservation Destination 2019!

On Monday our lab’s staff traveled to an event hosted by ICPC (Iowa Conservation and Preservation Consortium). It’s an annual get-together called Preservation Destination. A large group of us, Iowa preservation professionals, go to a place in Iowa and have behind the scenes tours of as many cultural heritage institutions as we can cram into one day. Here are some of our favorite things that we saw.

From Sonya Barron, Collections Conservator:

From left to right: 1. At the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) theater costume storage. 2. UNI Museum: a storage mount made for a saddle. 3. UNI Archives: The Rural School Collection ledgers

At the Ice House Museum we learned about how ice was preserved. Large blocks of ice were loaded into the barn-like building and stored there until the summer. Layers of saw dust had to be placed in between each ice block so that the blocks didn’t fuse together.

Every winter, the Ice House was filled up with ice to the top of the central beam. The light colored wood boards that you see on the roof show where there roof was repaired. Before the repairs these were holes!

From Cynthia Kapteyn, Assistant Conservator:

In 2008, The Cedar Falls Ice House Museum flooded. It was only inevitable, as the historic building is situated right next to the Cedar River. The disaster resulted in damage to nearly all of the artifacts in the collection, most of which were housed on the ground floor. To this day, the collections manager is still dealing with effects of the flood.

That’s where the water was in 2008.

In the picture above, conservator Sonya Barron is pointing to the spot the water rose to during the flood. To circumvent this issue in the case of a future catastrophe, the floor was raised a foot above the flood line.

From Mindy Moeller, Senior Conservation Assistant:

At the University of Northern Iowa Nathan Arndt, Assistant Director and Chief Curator of the UNI Museum at the Rod Library, gave us a very informative tour.  While at the UNI Museum, I was interested in seeing how they displayed and housed their precious and educational exhibits.  One picture that I took really stuck out in my mind as to how simple it was, easy to do, not costly, and we must use this example for the next time we are housing pins, buttons, or other small objects that can be stored together yet separated and protected. 

Small artifacts between dividers.

At the museum, they used small archival boxes and simply made “ice cube tray-like” dividers with pieces of 1/8” thick Ethafoam.  This idea could be used for any depth of an archival box to keep items apart and still have room for an identifying tag for each object. 

From Jim Wilcox, Conservation Assistant:

The raw material on the left and the mounts on the right.

The UNI Museum’s collections care and mount making room is a space with a large table, where you can work all the way around it and have all the supplies needed at hand. Like the large supply of backer rod you might find at a construction site. Why backer rod? To stabilize objects that are round at the base or nearly so and that could tip over easily. The items then could either be boxed, or stored on open shelving like this.

In September, the Preservation Lab participated in a day-long workshop for 4-H youth in grades 8-12 from minority communities across Iowa.

4-H’ers participating in Ujima. Photo credit: J.P. Chaisson-Cardenas

The day that the kids spent at the ISU library was a part of a 3 day retreat called Ujima and AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander). The kids who come to these retreats are African, African American and Asian American. The event was developed by the Culturally Based Youth Leadership Accelerator Program (CYLA).   The purpose of the initiative is to encourage underrepresented and underserved youth to become part of their local 4-H learning communities, drawing upon their cultural strengths, knowledge and narratives.  The library partnered with ISU’s Extension and Outreach in order to be able to reach this audience of 4-H students.

Participants were welcomed at ISU State Gym before breaking up into groups and scattering across campus. Photo courtesy of Extension and Outreach, 4-H, CYLA

The partnership has been of great benefit to the library because the university’s 4-H program provides the infrastructure that is necessary to be able to bring dozens of kids from communities across Iowa to the university campus. They stay at the Clover Woods camp center outside of town, where the majority of their activities take place.

The youth spend the first day of the retreat  on the ISU campus, participating in workshops that are offered by different university departments. This year the library was one of the sites that they could pick from.  ISU’s Extension and Outreach 4-H Office  took care of all the complicated logistics, all we had to do was prepare awesome, memorable workshops and be ready for a day full of exciting high energy interaction with our audience.

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Co-teaching one of the groups at the Preservation lab. Sonya Barron and Emilie Duncan, our Lennox Preservation Intern.

During their day at the library the students participated in 3 different workshops. And yes, we definitely provided plentiful lunch and snacks! Three departments within the Curation Services division created hands-on teaching sessions united by one theme: Telling Your Story. The inspiration for the theme came from observing and acknowledging that minority individuals are extremely underrepresented in professions engaged with cultural heritage. Most often, minority communities have their stories told by people who are not a part of that community and may not understand their experiences or have a similar perspective on their history. In our workshops we wanted to champion the idea that the students had a part to play in telling their story and the stories of their family and community.

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Rosie Rowe, AV Preservation Specialist, explaining how to use an iPad to record a storyteller’s voice

Our AV Preservation Specialist, Rosie Rowe, taught the students how to record each other’s voices on an iPad app, StoryCorps-style. Most of the kids were willing to share a story about themselves and their families. In some cases English language skills presented a barrier. Most of the young people in this group had spent a significant amount of time in refugee camps and had been through difficult traumatic events. Their stories were powerful. At the end the day the students got to take their recorded story home on a USB jump drive.

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Practicing detective skills: looking at original documents from special collections.

At Special Collections and University Archives they worked on piecing together a real life story by examining  original documents from the library’s rare collections. Each person in the group only had information about one part of the story. How these fragments fit together was revealed only at the end of the session, when everyone shared what they discovered.

5 pamphlets sewn into a 10pt wrapper

Different colors for sewing

At the Preservation lab the participants got to try their hand at making their very own memory book/scrapbook. They selected colors of thread to sew a simple non-adhesive structure using attractive archival-quality materials. For all of them, this was the first time they had made a book. Although there was some frustration involved, there was a lot more enjoyment and pride of accomplishment.

This student said that he surprised himself. He didn’t know he could make a book.

This student was very proud of her finished product

I think that exploring the behind-the-scenes parts of the library was eye-opening for many of the youth. The conventional image of a librarian is a person sitting at a desk with a computer, helping people find books. The students were surprised that librarians could also be teachers, history detectives, recorders of others’ voices and could work with old books and historical documents.

On a personal level, I also made some discoveries:

  1. I got a glimpse into the depth of experience that the students possessed because they were willing to share their stories. I felt lucky to be there and was filled with respect for them.
  2. Phew, teaching is hard! I take my hat off to all good teachers out there. We really need to show our children’s teachers that we value their work. How about a bigger salary to start with?

About a month ago, the Preservation Lab hosted a group of students taking an upper level class in Public History. In this course the students use archival materials as primary sources for the research they are conducting, drawing from the Library’s Special Collections and Archives. Spending time in the Preservation Lab gives them a behind the scenes look at what it takes to stabilize  original materials so that they can be viewed in the reading room.

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As part of a practical  introduction to preservation, I demonstrated some hands-on conservation techniques that are often used to repair archival documents. Working on a discarded photoreproduction of Marston Hall, I removed some tape with a heated spatula and mended tears using wheat starch paste and Japanese tissue.

An interesting inter-disciplinary discussion happened around a group of WWII propaganda posters that were in the lab for conservation treatment. The posters were approximately 2 feet by 3 feet. They were staple-bound into a pad that was attached to a foldable easel made of cardboard.

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The instructor and the students talked about the use of this object as a presentation tool, a 1940’s PowerPoint presentation of sorts. The speaker could take the easel-pad  along with them to give encouraging talks to the public about wartime efforts at home. As you can see from the photos above, the top poster had gotten torn and became detached from the pad.  If I were to take this object out of its historical context and to consider only its physical characteristics, I would want to take it apart, repair it and store all the components separately. The posters would go into one folder, while the easel and the staple binding would go into a different folder. Stored in this way, the posters would be safe and easy for scholars to handle  without the assistance of an archivist or a conservator.

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However, the research value of this presentation pad lies in its format, which tells the story of its use as a WWII propaganda tool. So, my approach will be to disassemble the structure, repair the components and then to reassemble the binding using thread loops in place of the damaging rusty staples. The binding will be recreated, but slightly altered  to provide more stability and longevity to the object, ensuring the preservation of both its physical self and its contextual meaning.

This class discussion brought home to me the point that historians and conservators have an important conversation to carry out. In order to adequately preserve historic collections, we need to share our distinct areas of knowledge with each other, enriching each other’s understanding of primary source materials.

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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

 

 

Working in the Preservation Department, one soon realizes how important our eyesight is to the tasks we need to perform.  Whether it is making repairs or doing work on the computer, the work is intense and can tire out our eyes.

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We all know that to maintain good eyes, we should wear appropriate sunglasses when outside or riding in a vehicle.  Our diet is important too, as we need to include green leafy vegetables, oily fish, eggs, nuts and beans.  If your job includes working with hazardous or airborne materials, you should wear safety glasses or protective goggles.  A trip to the optometrist or ophthalmologist once a year is a good habit to have and helps to assure that eye problems are caught soon. This is all important information which we have heard and learned throughout our lives.

There is another important step to maintaining our eyesight as we work in jobs which require intense use of our eyes and up-close work: look up and look away.  When I started working at the Iowa State University Library 38 years ago, my first supervisor told me to remember to rest my eyes.  She said I should look up about every 20 minutes and look off into the distance.  She explained that this would help to keep my eyes flexible and able to see both close up and things in the distance.  At the time, this was easy to do as the work space was open and one could easily see from one end of the long room to the other end.  Over the years, we have had much remodeling done to the office spaces, creating cubicles where each person works.  This does not always leave a good view to look up and out.  If this is the case in your office, it is good to get up and move about so you can look out.  This does not mean that you need to take a hike or daydream for several minutes, just 20 seconds every 20 minutes will do the job.

At some point, everyone will most likely need bifocals, trifocals, or reading glasses, but remembering to look up and look out will help to keep your eyes flexible and perhaps delay the addition of glasses to assist with close up work.

I’m going to grinch about your holiday decorating. Pinterest is awash in images of “Christmas trees” made from stacked-up books. Fine. If they’re your own books, and you understand that you are causing both short-term and long-term damage to them, then fine — go for it. They’re your books. You can do what you want with them (although I would still advise against it).

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The worst offender: expect warped spines, warped pages, tears, and pages popping loose from adhesive bindings.

However, if you are a library professional, and you are using library materials to build a book tree as a display in your library, then I am calling you out.  There are a million and one ways to decorate and share your festive holiday spirit (have you looked at Pinterest lately?!) without sending your patrons the wrong message. “But we chose general collections, circulating materials!” you say. “We used that serial journal that no one ever even looks at!” you might add.  It doesn’t matter.  You’re showing everyone who walks into your library that it is o.k. not to handle borrowed library materials respectfully, because you as a library are not treating them respectfully.  You’re putting a strain on the bindings, and exposing them to acute light damage, dust and debris.  So, why shouldn’t your patrons fill those books with highlighter and pencil marks, use them as coasters, prop open their doors with them?

BookTree

At least this tree isn’t draped with string lights. However, the staggered stacking and weight distribution is still likely to warp the book boards.

Fellow book conservators and preservation professionals, we still have work to be done.  Then maybe my heart would grow three sizes, too.

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!

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