Students


Sitting down in front of a computer and scanning pages one by one for hours at a time might not sound appealing, but I find it so interesting to be able to work on a project that allows these special materials to be viewed safely by many people. Recently, I have been working on a scanning project of materials from Hortense Butler Heywood. Heywood was an Iowa native who studied entomology and supported the women’s suffrage movement. A lot of the items I have seen from Heywood’s collection are personal letters, and quite a few of these letters that have small sketches on them. It’s a pretty cool aspect, because even though I will never meet Heywood, I can still see her personality come to life on paper.

It’s also fascinating to make connections with the authors of these historical items. Earlier this semester, I worked on a Pammel Court project, which happened to be where my grandparents lived while my grandpa was going to school at Iowa State. With this project, I found out that Heywood was a teacher for a couple years in Peterson, Iowa, which is where my dad grew up. Finding these little connections makes my work feel so much more personal and makes what can be mind-numbing work more enjoyable.

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Hi, I’m Jake Thompson and I have been working as a student assistant in the Scholarly Publishing Services unit since earlier this summer. My work mostly consists of uploading historic or back issues of student publications into the Iowa State University Digital Repository. Currently, we are working in collaboration with Special Collections to upload some of the earlier volumes of the historic student publication, The Iowa Homemaker.  Once completed, The Iowa Homemaker will be accessible to anyone around the world  on the Digital Repository’s website.

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Digitized page from the magazine

The Iowa Homemaker was founded by the Home Economics Club in 1921.  It was the first magazine on Iowa State campus written by women for women.  The Iowa Homemaker covers a wide range of issues from “Canning Early Fruits and Vegetables” to “Can a Homemaker be a Citizen?”  It contains the excited energy of women trying to find their place in early twentieth century Iowa, and it offers a unique perspective on the history of Iowa State.  Familiar names like Beyer, Buchanan, and Cessna author article after article.  In 1926 the publication celebrated the grand opening of Mackay Hall, the new home of the College of Home Economics.  In 1943, nationwide tension is captured in the magazine’s numerous calls to aid in the war effort.  While this was a publication for homemakers in name, over time it began outgrowing that title and instead reflected women’s increasing interests outside of the home.

Ethel Cessna Morgan, Iowa State College Class of 1904

Ethel Cessna Morgan, Iowa State College Class of 1904

Ethyl Cessna Morgan was one of many women authors who wrote for the Iowa Homemaker magazine. One of her articles was about modernization of marriage. Ethyl taught at the Department of Economics. Among her achievements was being elected the President of the Ames League of Women Voters.

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.

Student employee Julianna Biedenfeld straining wheat starch paste at the Preservation lab

Student employee Julianna Biedenfeld straining wheat starch paste at the Preservation lab

The repairs we do on books in the Preservation Department is something that many might think seems really complicated or something super scientific. However, the work we put into books up here on the 4th floor isn’t all as complex as it appears to be and can be related to hobbies done outside of the Preservation Lab. Personally, I really enjoy putting together puzzles. In some aspects I can relate this enjoyment to the work I do in Preservation at the library.

A slow and steady progress through a puzzle

A slow and steady progress through a puzzle

Most recently, I have been working on a book repair technique called a reback. A reback is done when the spine of the cover is damaged, but the rest of the book is intact. Books that need repairing like this are what I would consider a puzzle that’s put together, but not quite finished. A damaged book needs something more – a few more pieces – to make it look complete. When working on a puzzle, sometimes you take a few pieces out that had already put together to get a closer look and find which pieces match with it.

Books with damaged spines, re-backs in progress and a completed repair

Books with damaged spines, re-backs in progress and a completed repair

A similar approach goes with the books I have been repairing. You take off the damaged bookcloth and replace some of it with new bookcloth. Then you put the final “piece” back on – the title – and the book looks complete. Once all the parts are together the book is finished and can be put back on the shelf to be used. In a similar way, once the pieces of a puzzle are all together, you can see a full image and sit back to enjoy it.

 

Working in the Parks Library Preservation Lab

Student employee Drew Ryan working in the Parks Library Preservation Lab

One large purpose of a library is to provide access to information to people. To be able to keep providing this access to information the digital initiatives department takes hard copies and makes digital copies that can be saved and distributed online or archived. While working for this department I have scanned masters theses, Iowa State Bombs, Iowa State Board of Trustees minutes, and Iowa State Facility slides. It’s very satisfying to go onto the library website and be able to see what I scanned available to the public.

ISU's "The Bomb" from 1894

Digital copy of the cover of Iowa State University’s Yearbook from 1894

In the conservation department I have done some preventative work as well as repairs. I have done shield bindings and pamphlets which give each book some protection so that they last longer. The most satisfying work however has been doing the repairs. It’s a cool experience to take a book or part of a book apart and then put it back together and see how it’s good as new.

Cleaned spines of general collection books

Cleaned spines of general collection books

Original covers that will be reattached to the textblocks

Original covers that will be reattached to the textblocks

It’s a good feeling working in both of these departments and helping to preserve the access to information, whether it is creating digital copies or repairing a damaged book so that people can continue to use it.

Over the years, we have introduced and highlighted our many wonderful students and interns in the Preservation Department.  They perform an immense amount of work, and work that is often mundane or sometimes just icky.  Our students have helped us slog through hundreds of fishy smelling architectural drawings after the 2010 floods, they vacuum mold, and they help keep us young.

This time I would like to recognize and thank students that work in the Stacks Management unit.  Last week Rylie Pflughaupt, Rebecca Schmid, and Megan Primorse were shifting a portion of our general collection and discovered what they thought was mold on some of our books.  Our Stacks students are trained to look for signs of mold, water leaks, and other library concerns, while they are shelving and shifting, and they have certainly caught many problems throughout the years.  This time their focus and training alerted us to a mold problem that affected three floors of open stacks.  After being alerted to the mold, Stacks and Preservation students also helped us do a walk-through of stacks areas serviced by the same air handler to identify other books with mold.

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What our Stacks students found looked like a powdery residue on certain books scattered throughout 44,000 volumes.  These were not obviously moldy books with entire areas covered in fuzzy, full bloom mold.  These looked more like books with old, failed book tape adhesive on the spines or just seriously dusty books.

Powdery mold on books

The other mold pattern was a little more obvious.  The mold formed clumps or dots that were more three-dimensional.  Under magnification you could see the interconnected network and what looked like sporangiophore and sporangium.

Mold dotsOur Environmental Health and Safety staff took tape samples off of our books and vents and identified three types of mold in the area.  Facilities Planning and Management identified a valve stuck open on a humidification unit, and dampers that were not responding properly.  Although we do not know exactly when this bloom happened, looking at our temperature and relative humidity data, we think it happened in late July when the temperature spiked for three days with the corresponding drop in relative humidity and then just as quickly the temperature dropped with the relative humidity spiking, creating warm air and cool surfaces for condensation.

This may finally be the event that makes everyone including Facilities Planning and Management take notice.  Deferred maintenance (waiting for something to break) of the library HVAC system is not adequate.  With all of the additions to the building and expansion of  the existing HVAC system and air handling units, environmental conditions in the stacks areas cannot be kept stable under reasonable conditions especially when the system is not functioning at or near 100%.  After years of charts and graphs and complaints from Preservation, progress may actually be made because of three observant Stacks students alerting their supervisor to possible mold in the stacks.

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Written by Hope Mitchell

After four wonderful years as a Student Conservation Technician here in the lab, I am leaving to start my first real “grown-up” job. While I am thrilled to have a job, I am also very sad to be leaving the people and the lab that has in many ways become a home away from home for me over the years. So, in honor of the four years I spent with the lab, I thought that I would share with you some of my favorite lessons that I’ve learned during my time in the lab.

  1. “Perfect is the enemy of good.” -Voltaire

While I glanced at this prettily framed quote almost daily, even as I was agonizing over some treatment that refused to bend to my will, I did not fully appreciate its meaning until I witnessed a new student employee doing exactly what I had been doing for years. I realized that spending so much time torturing myself over achieving perfection was an inefficient use of my time and ended up sucking all the joy out of a job that I truly loved.

  1. Nothing is beyond repair

Working in a preservation lab, you very quickly become aware that there is a whole spectrum of damage that books can undergo. This can range anywhere from well meaning use of Scotch tape on a torn page all the way to some poor book that was run over by a car. Whatever the damage may be, there is something we can do to make it better. Rather than writing off damaged goods, preservation teaches you the importance of maintaining an open-minded, creative, collaborative, and solution-oriented work environment.

  1. Food is the great equalizer

This may seem completely unrelated to working in a preservation lab, but stick with me for a minute. Over the last four years, I have had the opportunity to work with an assortment of people from all different walks of life. While these people may have been from different places, different generations, had completely different interests/goals/opinions, one thing that I have found anyone can talk about passionately (whether they are a chatty person or not) is food. I would be willing to bet that I talked about food multiple times every single day that I was in the lab, and while it probably made everyone else hungry, I attribute many of the great relationships that I have built over the years to conversations we all had about food.

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