Preservation


 

Endbands

Objects are invariably changed by the hands of those charged with their care. Traditions have been built on the question of how to properly repair  damaged artifacts. Some cultures have developed historic traditions like the Japanese art of Kintsugi. Bookbinders have even experimented with this idea in their personal work (See an interview about Kathy Abbott’s work) and as a collective of bookbinders in an exhibit called Tomorrow’s Past, which explores ways of rethinking conservation from the bookbinder’s perspective.

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Repair on Q Horatii Flacci by Kathy Abbott. Photo from an interview on the blog Herringbone Bindery. http://www.herringbonebindery.com/blog/2015/12/13/bookbinder-of-the-month-kathy-abbott-2/

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Tea bowl, Korea, Joseon dynasty, 16th century AD, featuring Kintsugi. Author: Picasa. Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As conservators, however, we follow a set of professional ethical guidelines when determining the best course of action. Conservation is not a renewal—it is not restoration. Conservation seeks to make stable, make accessible, an object for use. In book and archives conservation, aesthetic is not always a point of accessibility in the way that art on paper tends to be. Books are primarily tools to impart information. However, the history of the book has many examples celebrating the importance of aesthetics, not to mention the sensibilities of the eye.

Oversized set of volumes Theatrum machinarum hydrotechnicarum (TJ144 L573th). Right side: after conservation. Left side: before conservation. Note damaged endband with losses. Only a scrap of parchment remained of the head endband.

 

So when I was deciding on how to repair two large, thick set of volumes that were from a 3-part set, I had some choices to make. Both sets of volumes were missing an endband each. They had both been bound in the same way, with the same style of stuck-on endband composed of pale creamy tan and creamy white linen thread sewn over a linen cord and through a strip of parchment. Both had tooling on the spine. Even the paper appeared to be largely from the same papermill based on the watermarks. I could remedy the loss of the original endband by constructing a conservation endband—choosing a simple pale paper over a linen core—or I could resew a stuck-on endband to mimic the current endband.

Conservation endband by ISU’s Conservator Sonya Barron.

In no way would I try to reclaim the former glory—like a localized Benjamin button phenomenon–of sewing a new-looking endband on this book. That would not be congruous with the current state of the binding. (And again, conservation is not restoration.) In conservation I aim for an inconspicuous, functional repair. I want to preserve a book’s current faded state and the methods with which it was made in order to retain the truth of the object while restoring (ha!) it’s function.

Top: First set of volumes. Original on Left and New endband on right. Bottom: Second set of volumes. New endband on Left and original on right. The second band is a little less satisfactory, but functional.

In-painting Paper repairs

There is a certain comfort and security to toning repair paper before using it in any given situation. You have complete control over the pigment’s location until it dries. If, despite having made several practice swatches, the toning job doesn’t come out exactly as desired, you can start again. Not so with in-painting.

Left side: my set-up for in-painting. The object is placed on boards to both for my ease while working as well as to keep it off the table in case of any leaks or spills. Right side: pre-toned repair paper. There is some ability to achieve a mottled effect, however one cannot situate any variation in color as precisely as in-painting will.

After my first experience with in-painting, I have come to appreciate its merits. You can mimic the variations of color found in deteriorating leather bindings more easily than if you had tried pre-toning the repair paper . I make several color mixtures matching the main hues of the leather near the repair. Another position note: the pigment will only sit on the repair paper, instead of sandwiched in between the paper and the leather on the covering boards.

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Myself in-painting the endcap using a brush sized 5/0.

In the course of my experience, I have discovered several things:

  • Wheat starch paste on top of tissue makes for a great size, and thus will inhibit the absorption of paint and cause weird tidelines, or streaks, in the acrylic pigment. See the image below. Try not to get any errant paste where you want your acrylic to go!

    Streaks seen in a layer of acrylic wash over Okawara tissue that had been coated with a layer of wheat starch paste.

  • Speckle several shades. See the image below of an outer join repair using Okawara Japanese repair paper on a leather binding.
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    In-painting on Japanese Okawara repair paper using acrylics to achieve a mottled effect. Click the picture to view a larger version.

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    In-painting on Japanese Okawara repair paper using acrylics to achieve a mottled effect.

  • Dilute the paint with deionized water until it is slightly runny. It shouldn’t be thick like on the left side of the tissue in the example photo below of Okawara tissue. Additionally, too many layers of paint will create a plastic-like look.

    Experimenting with washes of acrylic pigment on thick Okawara Japanese repair paper.

  • Use SC6000 to achieve the amount of sheen you’d like, if required to match the sheen of the leather. You can even burnish the repair further.
  • Building up the joints with too many layers of tissue, paste, and acrylic pigment causes the paper to loose its flexibility, and increases the chance of the repairs cracking upon flexing.

 

Conservation Binding at a University of Iowa Visit

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Image by Tom Jorgensen from his article, “UI Libraries’ new conservation lab merits a closer look.” https://now.uiowa.edu/2012/09/ui-libraries-new-conservation-lab-merits-closer-look

I had the chance to study some bookbinding structures at the University of Iowa Library’s Special Collections, attend their sixth annual William Anthony Conservation Lecture with Maria Fredericks, participate in a historic long-stitch class with maria Fredericks, and visit their conservation lab. It was a happily busy two days! By chance, I happened upon this awesome, simple and effective conservation binding while browsing bindings in special collections.

Diagram of the conservation binding.

As a viewer of this binding, I had no way of knowing its previous state. Did it ever have a cover? Was there any evidence at all of its previous structure? All I could know is its present state. The pamphlet was sewn to a set of endleaves with two bifolios each.

Aside from the subtle guarding of the pamphlet, no adhesive touched the little binding. It is unclear to me if the structure was sewed through existing holes. There was a cloth spine piece that lay loose against the textblock’s spine and was adhered between the pastedown and thin cover boards. The color of the covering material was an alum-tawed white.

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.

Progress continues on the optical media project here in the Preservation Department. All discs in the University Lecture Series collection have been ripped and are now in the process of being permanently stored. If permissions allow, certain lectures will also be uploaded to the Special Collections’ YouTube channel.
Technically speaking, most of the time so far has been spent navigating the Ripstation, a combination hardware/software system designed to rip large number of optical discs. The collection includes more than 1000 discs, primarily formatted as CD-DA, DVD Video, or data discs. Each of these formats requires a slightly different approach to preservation, typically in the form of what software is used.

The Ripstation at ISU Special Collections.

The Ripstation at ISU Special Collections.

The majority of the discs recorded before 2010 were formatted as Compact Disc-Digital Audio (CD-DA). Because this is also the format most commercial CDs use, Ripstation’s proprietary software (also called Ripstation) was best-suited, as it is optimized for this sort of collection. Discs were ripped into two different formats for both preservation and access purposes. For preservation, the BWF 96khz/24bit format was selected for its lossless, uncompressed quality and its ability to embed desired metadata within the wrapper’s header, thus greatly reducing the chance of intellectual separation between content and metadata. For access, the .MP3 format was selected, because it is widely accepted and supported as an accessible audio format. In addition, of the available output formats, .MP3 can be most easily transcoded into an .MP4 file to upload to Special Collections’ YouTube access channel, with little risk for losing any data.

This transcoding for the access copies is handled by Adobe Media Encoder, as is uploading directly into the Lecture Series playlist. To match the access copies from the magnetic media, part of the Lecture Series collection that has already been uploaded, the desired output is an .MP4 with audio wrapped inside with a logo (YouTube only accepts video files). After upload, we apply closed captions to all files for accessibility.

An overview of the settings used in Media Encoder.

An overview of the settings used in Media Encoder.

For the DVD-Video carriers in the collection, the desired output (perhaps somewhat obviously) differs from the CD-DA carriers. After some experimentation with variants on a data validation workflow, our conclusion was that the optimal output for Special Collections’ purposes was an .ISO disc image, which can be mounted easily as an access copy for researchers.

As the project progressed, some discs we encountered were neither CD-DA nor DVD, but simply data discs onto which .MP3 or other media files had been “dragged and dropped.” These were ripped with the DataGrabber software, and their original file format was maintained.

A selection of the optical discs held in the Lecture Series Collection.

A selection of the optical discs held in the Lecture Series Collection.

What metadata Ripstation uses and where it draws them from varies by the software used, which itself varies by the format of optical disc being ripped. Ripstation’s primary software is the program of the same name, which is intended for CD-DA-formatted discs, typically commercial ones. For automatic metadata population, an internet connection is required, so Ripstation can scour private and open-source databases for the artist, album, track titles, and other relevant metadata per disc. Acquiring metadata this way would not be helpful to the project because of the singular and noncommercial nature of the content. Due to this constraint, as well as networking limitations, this particular Ripstation was left offline.

So from where could the software draw its metadata? Ripstation has accounted for this possibility in the design of the User Data feature. Typically, the names of ripped files could be an assigned structure of metadata that would look something like %D_%A_%Y . Each letter corresponds to an established metadata category, so files named according to this structure will look like “[AlbumName]_[AlbumArtistName]_[AlbumDate]”. This system also allows for user-input metadata, in the form of a .TXT file in the program folder. The User Data system, which allows up to 10 user-defined metadata categories (%0 – %9) and can be used with all Ripstation software, is what we used for this project.

Each disc file was named according to its AV number and container number, according to the information available in the masterlist. For later discs with no container number available, that value was substituted with the date of recording. Batches were named with the reference number of the collection, the container number of the first disc, the container number of the last disc, and (if CD-DA or DVD) the disc type.

Now that all 1000 discs have been ripped, the next phase is twofold: 1. Documenting the project (of which this blog post is a part) and 2. For the lectures without permissions restrictions, encoding and uploading to the Special Collection’s YouTube Channel. This process has already begun, with over 5000 minutes of audio made publicly available so far.

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.

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

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 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!