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.


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.

rs16_3_57_bt_r   rs16_3_57_bt_v

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.


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.



June 28-30, 2016 Iowa State University hosted the Iowa 4-H Youth conference titled “Dive to the Depths”. Students grades 8-12 from all over Iowa converged on the ISU campus to participate in group activities and workshops. Every year  almost 1000 kids attend! The workshops introduce the students to new professional environments and careers.  They also give participants an opportunity to develop practical life skills that they will use throughout their lives.


I taught three  workshops about books at the Parks Library preservation lab. At the start of each workshop I did a short presentation about the history of books, into which I crammed as many interesting images as I could find. Then we made a fold-up book and sewed a pamphlet out of multi-colored papers. Most of the participants already had extensive sewing experience. Many had made a quilt or an outfit before, so it took them all of 3 minutes to sew a simple pamphlet! Oops, I will have to step it up with the difficulty level next year!

IMG_1053  samples

At the end of the session I showed the 4-H-ers some conservation projects that I was working on. Many of them were really curious about the chemistry of the materials that they saw – both the artifacts and the conservation supplies. They answered my questions readily and were not too shy to ask their own, which I appreciated.




Click image to enlarge.

One important part of my job is to train new student employees, but one of my highlights is to teach book repair skills to others such as Gloria Diez, one of our 2014 Lennox Interns.  Gloria was our intern for Audiovisual Preservation, so she had no prior book conservation experience. We designed her internship to include book repair and basic paper conservation, because these are useful skills for dealing with ephemera and other print materials when working in a film archives. Not all of our students and interns come with book repair knowledge or skills, so it can be a challenge when explaining and showing how to do a full repair to a book, or to construct a phase box.  When our students or interns have a hobby such as origami, sewing, knitting, or drawing that requires some hand skills, all the better.  And if they are a quick and eager learner like Gloria, it makes it fun for me, too.

Gloria adheres a label on a repaired book using a Teflon folder.

Gloria adheres a label on a repaired book using a Teflon folder.

We first started with the basics of simple enclosures such as pamphlets, CoLibri pockets, and encapsulation with Mylar using bookmarks, folded pamphlets, and other non-collection materials. When we worked on rebacks, recases, full repairs, and new cases, we used discarded library books so Gloria could take all her samples with her when her internship was completed, as a 3D portfolio of her repair work.  Then Gloria learned how to make phase and tux wrap boxes to house her repairs in.

Gloria uses the Minter ultrasonic encapsulator.

Gloria uses the Minter ultrasonic encapsulator.

This one-on-one time with Gloria also gave me a chance to learn a little more about her.  All Lennox Interns time must come to an end and it’s sad to see them go, but I’m glad to give a little of my talents at book repair in order to aid Gloria in her future endeavors.  Good luck Gloria!


Gloria's completed book repairs.

Gloria’s completed book repairs.

Gloria's custom enclosures for the repaired books.

Gloria’s custom enclosures for the repaired books.

Gloria's other treatments (pamphlet bindings, encapsulations).

Gloria’s other treatments (pamphlet bindings, encapsulations).

Custom enclosure for pamphlet and encapsulated ephemera, with foam insert.

Custom enclosure for booklet and encapsulated ephemera, with foam insert.

David Gregory

I don’t think anyone in the Preservation Department, or the Library, for that matter, was ready to say farewell to David Gregory, Associate Dean for Research & Access, on January 11, 2013. We all knew it was coming for quite some time, but we were in denial.  In 22 years, David helped shape this library. Within his role as AD for R&A, he oversaw Preservation & Digital Initiatives, Special Collections, Stacks & Media, Circulation, the e-Library (library website), and the Digital Repository, but maybe more importantly he managed a group of very strong-willed department heads and was able to keep the peace–most of the time.

Side note:  R&A was created in 2003 after a reorganization that pulled Preservation out of Technical Services and united it with these other departments that we work very closely with on a daily basis.  When I interviewed here I thought this was pretty forward-thinking, especially since I believed that preservation had outgrown its Technical Services birthplace long ago.  We will be looking at reorganizing the Library again, and I wonder what affinities we should look at and where Preservation will land.  Please leave comments for us if you have any thoughts on this.

Beyond R&A, David provided his leadership to the LibQUAL+ Survey, the Distributed Print Repository Working Group, the Library’s pandemic planning, and much, much more. He has an uncanny ability to identify all of the stakeholders and keep them informed at just the right levels. (It’s only week two and I already feel like I am wandering through the woods blindfolded.)

What I found most impressive was not that he juggled all of this, but the fact that he learned about all of these things in detail. David was not a supervisor from afar who just wanted an executive summary, nor was he a micro-manager; he wanted to understand the reasoning and philosophy behind departmental decisions. It turned out to be my pleasure to be the first Preservation Librarian he had to deal with. Training one’s supervisor is never an easy task, and it’s always frustrating when all they feel they need to take away is: “because it’s acidic” as the only issue we face. On several occasions I caught David explaining something from the preservation perspective, and sometimes to me when he was making sure he presented our concerns or decision correctly.  He was always spot-on, and it amused me how humble he was about it. I knew he really understood when he did not think I was overreacting when I told him that the solar trash compactor outside of the library looked like a book drop and it needed to be moved. He even familiarized himself with digital preservation concepts and the problems digital objects pose from a preservation standpoint. He learned about archival masters, file format pros and cons, multiple copies, dark storage, migration, obsolescence, checksums, metadata, and authentication (he liked to refer to the “chain of custody,” something he picked up from our Digital Repository Coordinator).

In the last couple of weeks before his retirement, we had a burst pipe in Special Collections. After checking the building, talking with the Head of Stacks Management, folks from Facilities Planning & Management and Service Master, and updating the Dean, David was in the Conservation Lab helping separate frozen documents so they could be spread out to air dry. He even had treatment advice for us: “breathe on them a little and they come apart.” This was not the only water disaster he helped us salvage. He was always willing to roll up his sleeves and help out.

David and his wife, Mary, at his retirement party.

David and his wife, Mary, at his retirement party.

We will all miss our editor (he’s a great writer/editor; I may never write anything coherent again), leader, mentor, therapist, friend, and the PVA that held this library together. He has earned his preservation merit badge and retirement, and we wish him bon voyage on his travels around the world with his wife, Mary.

This is the final post in our series from the students in Honors Seminar 321V, Smelling Old Books: The Art & Science of Preserving Our Past.  The students were asked to consider ways in which learning about heritage preservation has changed their attitude about any aspect of their relationship to the objects around them in their daily lives and habits.

Katie Gerst

I have been toying with the idea of becoming an art conservator for a few years, but I’m not entirely convinced that it is the correct path for me. The best I can do right now is prepare for the graduate school application process, and see what I decide when the time comes. It doesn’t hurt anything to take a few extra classes. Regardless of my choice to be a conservator or not, my material choices as an artist will forever be affected. I could purposely choose a medium that does not stand strong through the test of time, or I could pick a more stable material depending on the project.

Click on this image to visit AIC's "Become a Conservator" guide to conservation education and training.

When looking at my family’s photographs, I now see the adhesive backing of the photo albums as more than a producer of an annoying sound.  You know the sound: kind of like Velcro, but stickier. It’s not pleasant. Today, with a fresh set of preservation goggles, I now know that that adhesive backing could be a photograph killer! What would we do if our photos of the 1973 family reunion were destroyed? How would we remember the good times and the bad hair? Luckily, I am now equipped with the knowledge that I need to get those photos into a more stable photo environment. Also, it’s probably time to digitally back-up those images.

Claire Wandro

As a child, my weekends were spent following my mother around auctions and flea markets.  We would scavenge and barter for treasures others threw away.  My mother’s favorite finds were old black and white portraits from the early twentieth-century in which children sit rigidly on their parent’s knees and ghostlike brides stand in their long lace dresses next to their ancient husbands, both staring mysteriously into the camera.

Instead of storing these prized possessions in an album or frame, my mother pasted the portraits to the walls in the back hallway of our home.  Layer by leayer, she glued.  And in between strangers, my mother added images of her parents, our cousins our brothers and sisters.  Portrait by portrait our back hallway became a collage of familiar faces, sending us off in the mornings and welcoming us as we arrive home.  Photos yellow, they rip, and from time-to-time, they fall.  Then, my mother adds another and it too becomes part of our home and of our family.

These photos are not preserved or conserved.  They are not protected safely between the pages of an album or in the archivesof a library storage room.  But, the images and stories the strange and familiar faces represent are important to and valued, as part of our home and our every day lives.

Today’s post is part of our continuing series of blog posts from the students in Honors Seminar 321V, Smelling Old Books: The Art & Science of Preserving Our Past.  The students were asked to consider ways in which learning about heritage preservation has changed their attitude about any aspect of their relationship to the objects around them in their daily lives and habits.

Sydney McKechnie

One thing that I’ve learned in this class is that clothing needs to be refolded about every six months. In my family we have a white, Chinese silk dress that all the girls in my family have worn for their First Eucharist. It’s kept in a box in a closet. It probably hasn’t been touched in 9 years. So, I’ve learned that we need to take it out once in a while, air it out, and refold it, so that it will still be in its original form by the time our various children can wear it. If we don’t refold it, the creasing can damage the fabric and leave permanent creases.

Kaylee Becker

I love sticky notes! In fact, I cover everything with them. I never thought sticky notes could be potentially damaging. That is until in class one day when Melissa mentioned an experience with her old college textbooks. She had put sticky notes in her textbooks years ago and had never removed them from the pages. Once she tried to take them out, the sticky notes left a residue mark on the pages. It makes sense because the sticky part of the note has glue in it. Now I am going to be more careful about where I put sticky notes and when I use them. I suppose I’ll have to start using sticky notes in moderation!

Amanda Bernemann

Before taking this class, I did not realize how eating in the library could affect the collections. I just assumed that as long as I was careful and didn’t spill anything directly on the books, it would be just fine. After we talked about pest control though, I saw things a little bit differently. Even if the food itself does not directly affect the collection, what it attracts does. Now I realize that spilling or leaving crumbs anywhere in the library can attract pests. These bugs can eat away at the paper or the bindings of the books. They can get smashed between the pages or leave other traces. They can even attract bigger pests who come to feed on them. While before this class, I probably wouldn’t have gone as far as to have pizza delivered to the library, I did still consume food and coffee in the library and not give a thought to it. Now I know that limiting where food and beverage is consumed has a purpose other than to just annoy me. Now that I know the damage I could have potentially caused, I will know how to prevent it in the future.

Today’s post is part of our continuing series of blog posts from the students in Honors Seminar 321V, Smelling Old Books: The Art & Science of Preserving Our Past.  The students were asked to consider ways in which learning about heritage preservation has changed their attitude about any aspect of their relationship to the objects around them in their daily lives and habits.

From Quinn Tipping:

Last fall I took over as choir director at Memorial Lutheran Church, just south of campus.  As choir director, I spend a large part of my time dealing with paper.  Music needs to be sorted, counted, filed, repaired, etc.  Fortunately, the church where I work has a designated music library, complete with several large file cabinets and shelves; however, though the music is, for the most part, neatly catalogued and stored, the manner in which it is kept is not ideal for preserving its integrity and ensuring its longevity.

Modern Schirmer edition of Ippolitov-Ivanov's "Bless the Lord, O My Soul"

Due to the lack of climate control in the church, the library experiences seasonal extremes in temperature and humidity, which is stressful and ultimately damaging to the documents.  Each musical selection is kept in simple cardstock folders placed inside metal file cabinets.  It is likely the folders are not acid free, and they provide no support to the documents they contain.  To make matters worse, I have found bugs of varying varieties within the folders.

Prior to taking this Honors seminar, I had never thought of the physical music as a historical document.  Now, I take pause.  A week ago I went to the music library to pull a piece for the choir to sing this November, “Bless the Lord, O My Soul” by Ivanov, a Russian composer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  I pulled the cardstock folder out of the file cabinet, opened it, and was struck by the intricate and beautiful red and black design on the cover of the now yellowed G. Schirmer edition.  Very Russian.  I opened the music to look for the edition printing year, and discovered that the copies were printed in 1913, nearly a century ago.  These pieces of music, held and used by choir members for almost 100 years, provide a unique link to our musical heritage.  They have a history.  And, I believe, a history worth preserving.

From Maria Arendt:

A few weeks ago I took a book off the library shelf and all I thought about was the information it contained and making sure that I checked it out before walking out of the library doors so that the annoying and embarrassing alarms didn’t go off.

Now, when I take a book from the shelf I think about how it may have been changed since its original printing.  If it was rebound, and if I think it has been rebound, I look at how good the craftsmanship is. I also think about what materials it’s made of and how they may react to each other in the future.  I wonder how the book will look in 20 or 30 years, and what damage may happen even if the book is never touched.  What chemical changes will this book undergo?  The honors seminar 321V has changed my understanding and outlook of the book as an object, not just a way to get information.

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