Teaching


Often, students and the broader community may not be aware of the role preservation and special collections staff play at a university research library. Short workshops afford both parties the opportunity to learn about a new topic or gain a new skill, while collaborating with different library departments.

Such was the case in a recent two-part workshop proposed by graduate student Sang Lee from the Graphic Design department at the College of Design. Sang wanted to give her students, who primarily design on a computer, the chance to do a hands-on project. The objective of the workshop was to familiarize the students with book and box design using historical examples as well as modern objects followed by a second session learning how to make their own box.

This class was a joint effort between graduate student Sang Lee from the College of Design, Special Collection’s archivist Amy Bishop, and preservation staff, including Sonya Barron, Jim Wilcox, Mindy Moeller, and myself.

A montage of two photos. Each shows the class surrounded a table with books laid out on the table. In the first conservator Sonya Barron is holding a book and describing it. In the second archivist Amy Bishop is picking up a book she is discussing.
Conservator Sonya Barron and archivist Amy Bishop showing students and instructor Sang Lee bindings, book models, and artists books.

Sonya and Amy described various bindings including a German wooden board binding, a Cambridge panel binding of the volume Citie of God, St. Augustine, Pilgrims Progress translated to Cantonese and bound in an Asian style binding, a parchment in-boards volume titled Philosophia Botanica,  artist books in a box made using organic materials like stone and sand called Nature’s Details, a tunnel book called Falling Leaves, and many others.

The classes were a nice way, too, for staff to review some of our prized collections and share what is important or interesting about each item. The present and history repeat itself, recycling designs and creating new ones from the old. Students had a worksheet with a list of questions and tasks meant to guide them through the experience identifying the use of materials and interpreting artists’ intent.

I’ve included several of my favorite items below out of the myriad examples we laid out for the class.

Block-printed Casebindings

Below is a highly decorative block printed cloth casebinding published in 1871.

A photo of the front cover of a casebinding that has been block stamped with gold, red, and yellow. The design includes sun and moon graphics as well as leaves, wavy lines that possibly depict a river, and Tennyson's portrait.
The poetic works of Alfred Tennyson published by Harper & Brothers in a highly stylized casebinding.

Sir Humphry Repton’s Landscape Designs

The library has a facsimile of Humphry Repton’s Red Books. Humphry was an artist and self-trained 18th century landscape designer. He gained success by creating red covered bindings of his landscape designs with overlays that could be lifted to show the space before and after his work. Check out the Morgan Library’s videos on the history of the red books for more information.

A montage of two photos. The first shows a river with an irregular bank. The second photo shows the same landscape with a paper flap that was atached to the image lifted to reveal a more regular riverbank and animals wading in the river.
The transformation of a riverbed by Humphry Repton.

Pop-out Books

A class on book structure can’t be without at least one pop-up book. Here is one titled Ruckus Rodeo by Red Grooms and Barbara Haskell.

Photo of a pop-out book open to show 3D nature of book. Features a rodeo with a bull and cowboy on horse in an arena.
Ruckus Rodeo book opened out.

Wooden Board Bindings

Highly stylized historic wooden board binding as compared to a simpler modern wooden cover.

A montage of two photos. One photo is of a historic German bindings with wooden boards and a tooled cover. The other is of a modern wooden cover binding with decoration on the cover.
Left: A German style wooden boards bindings with clasps and a tooled cover. Right: a modern wooden boards binding.

Eastern Style Bindings

Special collections has several stab-bindings and accordion bindings. Here is a modern stab-binding including a traditional style wrap cover with peg closures.

A photo of a stab-bound book laying on top of a wrapper constructed in an eastern style with bone clasps attached to ribbon to hold it closed.
Talk to a Stone: Nothingness by Tetsuzan Shinagawa.

Recipe Boxes

Some items in our collection include recipe boxes with cards and dividers. The box is necessary to complete the object. Without it, the cards would not be received in the same way to the viewer.

A photo of a box with recipe cards and dividers listing food categories such as beverages, cakes, meat, and poultry.
Food Preparation Recipes by Alice M. Child. Home Economics was historically a notable department at ISU and collections include recipes, artifacts, and manuscripts on the subject.

Artist Books

My favorite artist book was this project called The Nearness of Distance, published by Eastern Air Lines in 1967. It is quite deceptive at first glance. It begins as a box masquerading as a book which, when opened, contains several folders. Each folder has attached graphics, objects, and texts to tell a story. The texts come in single sheets and pamphlets.

A montage of four photos showing the book-box closed, opened to reveal folders inside, and a folder closed and then opened.
The book-box Nearness of Distance opened to reveal folders. The first volume , Ionosphere, opened showing a letter stamped with wax.
Photo of first folder opened.
The first folder called Ionosphere opened to show a map, a letter, and a perpetual calendar.

Conservation technician Jim Wilcox modified the traditional blue-board clamshell box so the students would fold over the triangular tabs at the box corners instead of plying them apart. Previous to the class, conservation technician Mindy Moeller made double-fan adhesive books with marbled paper covers for each student.

The students constructed their boxes over the course of an hour and a half. The result was a functional clamshell box they could use as a model or inspiration for their box project.

A photo of the students working on box making at 3 sets of tables configured in circles. Instructor Sang Lee and archivist Amy Bishop look on.
Session two of the workshop. Students making boxes under the guidance of instructors.

A finished box!

A photo showing a completed box with metal clips sitting on a cutting mat with the pre-made book near it.
A well-made box constructed by one of the graphic design students below the pre-made book. The metal clips are holding the glued parts together while it dries.

Text written by by Cara Stone, Instruction Librarian. Photo captions by Sonya Barron, Collections Conservator.

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Susan Vega Garcia talking to the students in the beginning of the workshop. Susan shared about books in the library that were written by Latinx writers and poets, who have a connection to Iowa.

Library staff had the pleasure of welcoming 4-H students from around the state to ISU for the 2018 4-H Maize Retreat on April 13th. In their time at the University Library, students participated in three different workshops focused on “Telling Your Story.” They worked with Sonya Barron and Susan A. Vega García to learn about preservation and sew their own memory books.

Susan Vega-Garcia offering tips on getting the needle to go into the right sewing hole.

Ana Moreno, student assistant with the Special Collections/University Archives Department, helps an 8th grade student figure out the sewing pattern.

Students hard at work

Rosie Rowe and Harrison W. Inefuku led a workshop where students crafted a story that was meaningful to them and recorded it as an audio snapshot. Rachel Seale and Cara B. Stone focused on visual storytelling in their workshop where students combined pictures, stickers, decorative tape, images from magazines, and polaroid photos to add to their memory book.

The students created the first scrapbook page in their newly constructed memory books. Many of them made their page about the experience they had in the library workshops and the new friends they made.

It was so rewarding to see these students come together from all over Iowa (Marshalltown, Tipton, Muscatine, Des Moines, and Boone, to name a few) and develop new friendships, face challenges (the consensus was that sewing is hard, but the outcomes from the sewing were cool), and gain confidence in sharing their voice and being on a college campus. After their day at the library, the students spent to rest of their weekend at the Clover Woods Camping Center to continue celebrating Latino and Native American heritage, growing as young leaders.

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?

A few weeks ago I co-taught a workshop at MAC, Midwest Archives Conference in Omaha, NE. I worked together with two lovely colleagues from the University of Kansas – Conservator of Special Collections Angela Andres and Assistant Conservator Roberta Woodrick.

The workshop was called Exhibit Support Basics: Solutions for Small Institutions and Small Budgets. Our group of 9 participants included librarians, archivists and one registrar. They came from institutions ranging from the Midwest Archaeological Center in Lincoln, Nebraska to Minnesota State University Library.

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During the workshop we presented demos of 2 variations on an exhibit support for a flat item and one model of a book cradle. Both were made from mat board. The participants fearlessly forged on, showing confidence with blades and rulers. All of them said that they had never used bone folders and scalpels before! Several of the ladies remarked on how good it felt to work with their hands and how satisfying it was to be able to complete a finite project.

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Participants hard at work on their book cradles

Here are some anonymous comments from our students, as reported in the online workshop evaluation survey:

“Presenters were great. They spoke about realistic solutions to challenges. The hands on component was very valuable.”

“I could see this being a whole-day workshop, covering even more exhibit support ideas.”

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Examples of completed work

Angela wrote about this very same workshop on the KU blog

 

 

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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