Help!  There is a mouse in my house and he is building his own.  One nice fall day, I discovered the calling cards of a mouse.  He hadn’t left them in the kitchen or storage room where one would expect him to be filling up on food.  I found his trail in my extra bedroom, the room where I have my loom and all of the yarn I have stored for future projects.  Now my task was to beat him at the game, track him down, and eliminate him.

Mouse nest.

Mouse nest.

My first step was a trip to the store to buy as many mouse traps as possible and some peanut butter to use as bait.  Once back home, I loaded on the bait and set the traps, scattering them around the house, but concentrating them in the extra room.  The next day I checked the traps and found the mouse dead on the trap in my yarn closet.  He was the plumpest mouse I have ever seen.  No wonder: he had been eating the rice which filled the neck warmer I had received as a gift.

Cleaning the closet was a slow and tedious job, removing all of the yarn to vacuum up the rice and calling cards.  Amongst the yarn, the house of the mouse was found.  He had helped himself to the soft and pretty alpaca and mohair yarns, a little bit of blue, a bit of pink, some gray and white.  Small pieces taken from the middle of the skeins and pulled apart to create a fluff ball of camouflage yarn for a cozy winter retreat.

New plastic bin for yarn storage.

New plastic bin for yarn storage.

Once the closet and yarn was cleaned and sorted, I made another trip to the store to purchase clear plastic storage containers and dryer sheets, the stronger the scent the better.  With the containers being clear, it is easy to see what is stored within the tote.  The tight-fitting lid will help to keep out unwanted house guests.  The dryer sheets also help to keep the mice away when placed on the outside of the totes.

The clear plastic storage bin means there will be no surprises when the bin is opened!

The clear plastic storage bin means there will be no surprises when the bin is opened!

The most important lesson I learned is to keep the doors to the outside shut, even if it means sounding like my mother, “SHUT THE DOOR!”

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t store grain-filled items in rooms other than the kitchen or pantry.
  • When a mouse is caught, call someone to remove the trap intact with the mouse and deposit it in the trash.  If no one is available to help, a shovel will do the job to scoop up the rodent and trap and deposit all in a trash bag.
  • Store yarn in a clear plastic bin with a tight-fitting lid.  This will allow you to see what yarn is being stored and impede the path of the mouse to gain access to the soft and beautiful building materials.
  • Scented dryer sheets help to repel mice and can be placed around the closet on the outside of the totes.
  • Good storage practices are vital for safe and clean storage of yarn.
  • Shut the Door!
Photo Credit: http://www.schachtspindle.com/our_products/shuttles.php

Photo Credit: Schacht Spindle Co., Inc.

As retirement approaches sometime in the next 3 years, it is easy for me to weave a picture of what life will be like for me after leaving the library.  I have shelves of books all waiting to be read, a floor loom to use with the closets full of yarn I have collected over 40 years, naps to take, and hopefully travels to thread memories.  I have few problems graphing out the pattern.

It is not as easy to think about what needs to be charted at work before retirement.  I am starting with the basic plan for the plain fabric of procedures.  This will include the patterns for my work and the work done by the staff that I supervise.  This creates a good review of the processes and how they are intertwined within the section, department and library.  I have previously written procedures for most of my tasks and will be reviewing them for updating.  The procedures of the staff in Preservation Services are somewhat similar and overlap to create the completed and more unique fabric of the work in the section.  Some tasks are repetitive and move as a twill fabric.  Others are completed with more complicated repetitions, creating large overshot patterns.  This will be a good time to review and examine the fabric of our work here in Preservation Services.

So, work continues with dreams of the future and knowing that “You have to be warped to weave.”

Light is very important to conservation labs: the right amount of the right kind of light particularly influences fine detail work and color matching. However, as anyone familiar with preservation issues knows, light is also The Enemy.  Damaging UV light may be the part of the spectrum that gets the most attention, but any light causes cumulative damage to paper-based materials over time.


The lab’s oversized window is coated with UV-filtering film, but all light causes some level of damage to paper-based materials.

Our lab workspace is mainly lit by overhead fluorescents with UV filters on them.  Likewise, our large, lovely window is also covered with UV-filtering film.  We store our colored tissues in flat files nearby, so it’s easy to hold them up to the window and take advantage of the natural light when selecting the right color for a repair.

Allen, Sue. American Book Covers, 1830–1900. Washington: Library of Congress, 1998. Leaflet LC 1.6/4:AM 3/2.

Allen, Sue. American Book Covers, 1830–1900. Washington: Library of Congress, 1998. Leaflet LC 1.6/4:AM 3/2.

In spite of our precautions regarding UV filters, the lab is still flooded with more light than is safe for paper-based materials over the long term, as the framed poster above regularly reminds us.  The colors have faded and shifted over time, simply from being exposed to the ambient light we need to do our daily work.


Another reminder of the amount of light exposure in the lab: this archival document box we use to store lab materials has also shifted color over time!

Aware of light’s insidious and relentless power, we take whatever precautions we can when working with Special Collections and Archives materials in the lab by covering them up with an enclosure, sheet of blotter, or other light-blocker when we are not actively working on them.

As part of our responsibilities as a land grant institution, we are charged with providing education and outreach services to the public. In the lab, this charge manifests as preservation consultations for Iowa residents and institutions.  When it comes to light exposure, we strongly encourage our visitors not to display treasured, original photographs or documents from their personal collections in heavily used or brightly lit rooms. Light damage is irreversible, so the precautions are worthwhile. Originals may be stored in enclosures or in dark drawers or cabinets, and displayed only on special occasions. Alternatively, originals may be scanned and a surrogate printed for display purposes, while the original is stored safely out of the light. If originals must be displayed, then we strongly recommend framing with a UV-filtering plexi, with the caveat that this will only partially mitigate one form of light damage.

Some of my favorite moments at the bench are those of quiet surprise, when turning the page of a book reveals a pressed flower, or a letter unfolds to reveal a lock of hair.  These small gifts from the past interest and delight me. These mementos communicate, in their own non-textual way, the everyday moments which ultimately make up that idea we call History.


Letter from Mary Adams to her sister, Catherine Robb.

Recently, I was assessing and stabilizing several folders of late nineteenth-century letters from the Adams Family Papers in preparation for digitization. (Look for letters from Mary Newbury Adams to be added to our Library Digital Collections in celebration of Women’s History Month, March 2014).  As I turned the pages of the letter pictured above, I noticed that its accompanying envelope seemed a bit puffy, as if something were still tucked inside. I opened it to find two swatches of fabric which are slightly crumpled but otherwise in excellent condition, sent from one sister to another in consultation over a new dress.


Look carefully: can you see the outline of the ephemera once tucked between these pages?

Archival materials speak to us in more ways than one. Another letter from later the same year shows evidence of “acid burn,” indicating that there was once a bit of ephemera tucked inside, something acidic such as a newspaper clipping.  Whatever was enclosed has been lost, but the physical evidence of its existence remains.

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the U.S., and among the things I am grateful for is the fact that my work at ISU Library is so varied. Each day during the scrapbook survey I discovered something I thought was worth sharing with someone in my life. I’m not sure how thankful everyone was with my sharing, but this one was an absolute winner in the lab.



I hope that has put a smile on your face. As always, we are grateful that you take time to read the blog.  Happy Thanksgiving from all of us to all of you!

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