Students


LabVoltaire1

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.

1091map1As our regular readers know, the 1091 Project is a collaboration between Iowa State University Library and our conservation colleagues at Duke University Libraries. Well, this week, thanks to Kevin Driedger of the Library of Michigan, we have been participating in the 5 Days of Preservation project, a week-long collaboration among preservation professionals and institutions across the nation.  Kevin’s idea was simple but powerful: use social media to post a photo each day for five days of whatever preservation looks like for you that day.  Kevin then collected all those posted images in one place, the 5 Days of Preservation Tumblr blog. The collected photos showcase an impressive range of preservation activities that really illustrate the rich diversity of our  field.  So, this week, I encourage you not only to pop over to Preservation Underground for their 1091 post, but also to check out #5DaysOfPreservation, via Tumblr, Facebook, and/or Twitter. And kudos to Kevin for a fun and informative project!

Here is a quick recap of our ISU Library Conservation Lab posts for the week:

 

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MONDAY: Preservation looked like this humidified and flattened Depression-era letter.

 

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TUESDAY: Preservation looked like our student employee, Nicole, repairing books from the General Collection.

 

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WEDNESDAY: Preservation looked like professional photography lamps set up in front of our magnetic wall for imaging large-format architectural drawings.

 

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THURSDAY: Preservation looked like committee work for the AIC Sustainability Committee. Melissa and her fellow committee members are performing their annual link maintenance this month on the sustainability pages of the AIC Conservation Wiki.

 

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FRIDAY: Preservation looked like Preservation Assistant Mindy working on the departmental budget (a *very* important part of preservation indeed!)

Ashley (l) and Hope (r) show off their newly constructed clamshell boxes.

Ashley (l) and Hope (r) show off their newly constructed clamshell boxes.

One project we let students do when learning how to make a cloth-covered Clamshell Box is to construct a box for one of their own personal books for practice. I myself was a little rusty in making one as it had been awhile. I have made other boxes recently, but not for books, so I needed a little practice myself especially when it came to measuring.

Hope created a cloth-covered divider with a ribbon tab for lifting to separate the two books in her clamshell box.

Hope created a cloth-covered divider with a ribbon tab for lifting to separate the two books in her clamshell box.

Hope Mitchell brought in the ever-popular Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban. Both of these books are very special to Hope, as they were given to her as a Christmas present by her late grandfather. This box would be a little different, as we planned to do a thin divider with a tab between the books to protect them.

Ashley's book had a narrow spine depth, so she inserted a platform to support the book and add depth.

Ashley’s book had a narrow spine depth, so she inserted a platform to support the book and add depth.

Ashley Arnold brought in a beautiful, blue felt covered book with decorative multicolor stitching of owls in a tree that was a gift from a dear friend from England. This book would need a little extra padding for protection.

I myself was working on two old volumes from Special Collections.

"Stackette" style trays made from faulty clamshell trays.

“Stackette” style trays made from faulty clamshell trays and held together with Velcro dots.

As we worked on making our boxes (as I said, it had been a while), we each made a miscalculation in our measurements and needed to start over. Hope loves green and was making a clamshell box of green book cloth and Preservation’s favorite Natural-Colored Canapetta. Her “oops” box turned into a box for special momentos. Ashley’s box started with the same green book cloth and her “oops” turned into a nice pencil tray for her desk. I was using the Natural-Colored Canapetta and my “oops” became two trays that can be attached by Velcro dot that can be used like a Stackette tray or as single trays. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t like to waste things, so we all three made good use of our errors.

In the end, Hope had her green and natural box, and Ashley had her green and gray box for their special books, and the knowledge of how to make a Clamshell Box.

Written by Cindy Wahl and Suzette Schmidt of the Preservation Services unit.

Student employees are an important staffing component of the Preservation Services section of the Preservation Department at Iowa State University Library.  The unit has 3 staff employees, and with the volume of work being sent to and from the vendors, the students help make the workflow smooth and consistent.

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Sorting and organizing periodicals.

Students are responsible for the filing of periodicals when they are received from our Serials Acquisitions department.  They sort and organize the issues prior to taking them to our Periodical Room or the General Collection for filing with the rest of the unbound issues.  While filing the periodicals, they also check the titles to see if there are now enough older issues on the shelf to pull and return them to staff in Preservation Services to have them prepared for binding.  In addition to pulling periodicals for binding while filing, we now have in place an electronic system where we can search, sort, and print out a list of periodicals that are now ready to be bound.  The student uses that list to organize and forward periodicals to staff for binding.

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Shelving issues in the Periodical Room.

There is a continual flow of work to be delivered and retrieved to other areas of the library and students are the legs for transporting these items.  With our Preservation Department being housed on two different floors and other departments spread throughout the five floors of the library, the students are valuable in moving work from floor to floor and department to department.

Boxing volumes to be shipped.

Boxing volumes to be shipped.

Preservation Services works with a variety of vendors for binding, reformatting, and mass deacidification, which all require packing and unpacking of volumes.  Students assist with this task while staff prepare the paperwork to be included with the shipments.  At times the volumes being shipped need a page-by-page review, and the students help with this process by noting any repairs, which are then handled by staff.  Upon receipt of the finished volumes, the new format is compared to the old volume by student employees to be sure the work is accurate and complete.

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Reviewing a thesis.

Some volumes being added to the collection need to have marking done to them prior to being forwarded for shelving.  These pass through the Preservation Services section where the student is responsible for stamping the volumes with the Iowa State University Library possession stamp, moving the bar code to the appropriate placement on the volume, and, if necessary, adhering the title and call number labels to the spine.

As work flows and tasks change within the Preservation Services unit, it is always important for us to review the assignments and use our students in the most productive manner.  They have shorter scheduled blocks of time, and their assistance is used best to help move the work through the unit and to help make the volumes available to patrons in a timely manner.

1091map1This month’s 1091 Project post discusses lab cleaning policies… and makes some confessions about how well they do and don’t work.

We have a Monthly Cleaning Checklist which MonthlyCleaninginspires perpetual good intentions on our part to clean on the last day (or is it the first day?) of every month. Except, sometime that day falls on a weekend or a holiday. Or it falls on a day of the week when only one of our students works. So then we might push off monthly cleaning, intending to do it on the next day that our students and volunteer and all staff members are at work… and sometimes we remember to do so, and sometimes (perhaps a bit more often) we don’t.  A monthly group cleaning schedule does not seem to work all that well for us.

In addition to the monthly well-meaning to-do list, we have “The Big End-Of-Semester Cleaning Checklist,” and to be honest, this one works much more effectively for us. We deploy it in December, right before the students leave for Winter Break, and likewise in May before students leave for the summer, and then again at the end of the summer.  So, we reliably have a big lab deep-cleaning about three times per year, with the occasional additional cleaning spree interspersed.  We post the cleaning checklist out in the lab area, and tasks are taken on a first-come basis. Students and staff check off or initial tasks as they tackle them, and everyone keeps going until all the jobs are done.

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Lest it sound like our lab is a dirty mess for most of the year, I will add that monthly cleanings have seemed much less necessary over the last few years as effective daily lab practices have been established and maintained. Our staff and current student workers practice good clean-up habits throughout their daily work routine, emptying out the catch-bin of the board shear after every use, washing down their benches at the end of their shift, and making sure the last person to wash glue brushes for the day also flushes the sink drain with hot water.

Finally, we have a supply of rags and towels, aprons, and lab coats which regularly need laundering. We were recently invited to join a campus-wide lab coat laundry service contract with Prison Industries, so whenever our lab coats are looking dingy, we can send them off for laundering and they come back to us neatly ironed and on hangers.  However, we’re on our own for towels and aprons, so periodically one of our staff members will take the lot home, launder them, and bring them back. I would love to have a washer/dryer for the lab, as some labs I have worked at in the past do, but so far that is not high on our list of funding priorities.

Don’t forget to head over to Preservation Underground to find out how the Conservation Lab at Duke University Libraries keeps things clean and tidy. And please share in the comments if you have any lab cleaning practices or policies that work particularly well for your institution.

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.

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(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.

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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.

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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!

1091map1 For this month’s 1091 Project, we asked student worker Devin Koch to answer some questions about her position in the Conservation Lab at Iowa State University Library.  Here’s what she had to say.

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What is your major, and when do you graduate?  How did you find out about this job?  

My name is Devin Koch and I am an Integrated Studio Arts Major, concentrating in ceramics and painting, and graduating in December.  I happened into my student conservation job by chance. I was already working in Preservations Services, which is another unit of the Preservation Department. During the summer of 2012, I was looking for more hours at the Library, and I was in luck: the Conservation Lab was in need of an extra student during the summer. First, I was told that my presence would be a temporary change, and I would just be doing minimal work to assist with the summer workload. Over the course of the summer, Melissa and Mindy gradually had me do more advanced treatments. I started by organizing cabinets, and cutting spine liners, and finished the summer with double-fan adhesive binds. Seeing how I had progressed, Melissa offered me a student worker position during the school year. I gladly accepted the position, and for the next school year split my time between Preservation Services and the Conservation Lab. This past summer, I decided to move my schedule exclusively to the Lab.

Devin Koch

Devin Koch

What are your favorite parts about this work?  What has been the most challenging thing you have had to do in this position?

Everything about this job is interesting to me. The first day I arrived in the lab I was fascinated by the presses, guillotine, tissue, and array of books for repair. Being an art major, I love materials. The act of making is very important to me. So I greatly value having a job that permits me to do so. It allows me to maximize the hand skills that I have learned in my major. Working at the lab has given me a greater attention to materials and methods that have crossed over into my studio work.

I might have a very different attitude about the work I do if the staff and students here were different. They make it easy for me to learn new treatments, and are approachable when I have questions. Mindy Moeller, our Technician, is beyond patient when teaching. I’m surprised she doesn’t get annoyed at all the questions I ask. Melissa loves to share her knowledge of materials and treatments with the students. Mindy McCoy, our Preservation Assistant, and Martha, our volunteer, are very helpful with any other questions I might have about the lab and treatments. The staff makes this job easy to come to every day. The other student workers are enjoyable to work with. The collection of personalities working at the lab, while diverse, mesh together well.

The two treatments I enjoy the most are sewing and full repairs. Sewing is a relaxing treatment that requires patience and persistence, especially when the odd stitch breaks when pulled too tight. A full repair is the most advanced treatment that I can currently do. It is so enjoyable because it has taken everything that I have learned in the lab and put it into one treatment. The most challenging treatment for me has been making enclosures. A misstep in the final placement or a slightly crooked fold can take something that you have been laboring over and make you have to pitch it. It can be frustrating, but it is so satisfying when finished correctly.

Do you have a favorite project you have worked on?

My favorite thing so far was participating in the Order of the Knoll with fellow student Hope Mitchell and Head of Preservation Hilary Seo. At this event, Hope and I manned a demonstration booth and were lucky enough to talk to donors about what we do in the lab and why it is important to the University.

Hope Mitchell (left) and Devin Koch (right) at the Order of the Knoll on October 4, 2013.

Hope Mitchell (left) and Devin Koch (right) at the Order of the Knoll on October 4, 2013.

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Don’t forget to stop by Preservation Underground to hear the perspective of one of the student workers in the Duke University Libraries Conservation Lab!

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