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!

I have come across some pretty interesting things looking through the scrapbooks in Special Collections. One of the more colorful items was an album of evaporated milk can labels compiled by an alum named Adrian Zachariah Hodson.


It was difficult to pick which labels to share because either the artwork or the names were so interesting. Here are just a few that caught my eye the day I was doing the condition assessment.




I will admit that I might have initially thought that Adrian Zachariah had a bit too much time on his hands, but further investigation showed that he collected the labels from 1942 to 1984 to track changes in the industry over the years. An internet search showed that Doctor Hodson held two patents for instantly soluble milk powder and its manufacturing process, as well as having published two milk-related books with Cornell University during the late 1930s. I continue to be impressed by the things that the alumni of Iowa State University do after they leave campus.

So, take that, baby!



Keeping the workspace clean might seem like a routine task which would be easy to accomplish. In the Library, dusting shelves and desk tops is routine.  However, there are plenty of areas which are not so easily reachable or often thought of when cleaning.  Time goes by and these areas continue to collect dust, which grows as fast as rabbits multiply.


When an event takes place which disturbs the collected dust, the dust bunnies go flying!  We had a few days this past summer when the air handlers were not working in the part of the library containing most of our offices.  Staff opened the few windows that we have in the area.  When the door to the room was opened, the dust bunnies were on the move!  It looked like I was standing by a cottonwood tree on a windy day.  The areas we had not been dusting had come alive.  My black dress had white, irregular polka dots.  The book I was preparing for reformatting had dust bunnies landing on the pages being cleaned.  Luckily, I was not mending the pages with paste or mending tape.


All of this made it clear that doing a thorough cleaning frequently is important.  One never knows when the circumstances will be such that the dust bunnies will multiply and fly.


I’m writing this post at the end of the first week of classes. It is always a bit of a shock to the system when the students return in the fall. We go from a quiet summer school campus to being surrounded by students wherever we turn. It is even more surprising this year, as Iowa State is experiencing a record enrollment of over 32,000 students.

It has been particularly noticeable at my house the last couple of weeks, because my spouse has been busy welcoming the new international students to campus. As someone who is a bit more aware of the behind-the-scenes work that goes on throughout the year to prepare for the fall, I had to smile when the scrapbook from the 1928 Freshman Days landed on my bench at the beginning of the week.


The scrapbook contains a record of all the letters, schedules and booklets used to welcome the freshmen to Iowa State College in 1928, a year when the total student population was 3,982.

Students received several small pamphlets when they arrived that covered university rules and procedures, academic policies and a schedule of Freshman Days. I thought this one with the Campanile on it was particularly lovely.


I’m sure the people on campus who organize what is now called Destination Iowa State would love to require excused absences from activities, though perhaps they would find the paperwork a bit overwhelming.


I laughed out loud when I discovered the original used to print the schedule of events.


It might be hard to see in the photo what it is, but the tab on the page makes it clear.


It seems that no matter the project, blueprints will always find me.


My State Fair outing with the Lennox Intern is one of the highlights of my job!

I had the pleasure of taking our 2013 Lennox Intern, Susanna Donovan, to the Iowa State Fair on Wednesday August 14th.  The weather was perfect for the long day we were about to encounter.  One of the highlights of my job is to spend a day with our intern, as I love showing them around the fair and sharing my knowledge of animals and exhibits.

This was Older Iowans’ Day so there were many elderly visitors traveling about the fairgrounds, either on foot or by motor carts.  One of our first stops was at the Stock Dog Trials directed by the Iowa Border Collie Association in the Outdoor Arena.  Black and white Border Collies herd (hopefully) cooperative sheep through a course at the directions given by their handler.  These dogs have a strong eye and stare down their wooly locusts.  My good friends, Ron and Kyle Kilstrom, were attending the sheep waiting for their turns on the course, and we had a nice chat about sheep.

Susanna and "Squirt"

Lennox Intern Susanna and “Squirt” the Super Bull

Next, we ventured down the hill to see the largest ram, boar, and bull, where people flock to see these huge animals.  Susanna is pictured with Squirt, the Super Bull weighing in at 3,032 pounds.  He is a Charolais breed and owned by Richard Berns of Postville, Iowa.  Of course you can’t pet Squirt, but you can pet the baby calves that come to the fair.  We even got to see baby animals after birth/hatching at the Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center.  Not a place for the squeamish!

Susanna pets a baby calf.

Susanna pets a baby calf.

We spent time in the 4-H Exhibits Building where 4-Hers from all around Iowa have their best projects exhibited.  It is an honor to have your entries chosen at your local county fair to come for exhibition at the Iowa State Fair.  Many wonderful entries of foods, crafts, photography, woodworking, and more fill this large building.   It’s always a good place to get ideas for home projects.


Susanna tries out the quilting machine.

Next, we went on to the second floor of the Varied Industries Building that houses fabrics and textiles from around the state.  Many quilts of all types were displayed on the walls in a wide array of colors and patterns.   Susanna got a chance to try her hand at the quilting machine and made it look easy.

Susanna enjoys dessert first!

Susanna enjoys dessert first!

Before we had lunch we had to have dessert first, so we stopped at the Dairy Store to have one of the best ice creams on the fairgrounds.  Can you say “the creamiest ice cream?  Oh YES!”  The beef cattle were busy going in and out of the show arena next door.  It is always fun to watch them lead those massive animals around and they make it look so easy.  We also sampled the Nitro Ice Cream by Blue Sky Creamery which was developed by two Iowa State University students, Thomas (T. J.) Paskach and William (Will) Schroeder, in the spring of 1999.  The ice cream was patented in 2000 and tested at the Iowa State Fair that year.  More yummy ice cream!

Enjoying my lunch, a "cowboy cone," with baked beans and shredded beef in a waffle cone, topped with cole slaw and a potato chip!

Enjoying my lunch, a “cowboy cone,” with baked beans and shredded beef in a waffle cone, topped with cole slaw and a potato chip!

We ventured over to the Anne and Bill Riley Stage to see my neighbor, Beth Titman of Boone, receive the Iowan of the Day award sponsored by the Blue Ribbon Foundation and Cookies Food Products since 1997.  Beth is very involved in volunteering in her community and it was fun seeing her receive her special and very well-deserved award from Speed Herrig of Cookies BBQ Sauce fame.


Tanned ostrich leathers.

And to be work-related to books, we looked at tanned Ostrich hides in the John Deere Agriculture Building and found some interesting leg leathers.  I happened to purchase a pretty black one for a future spine for a book for fun.  The hides were very soft and came in pretty colors, but they were pricey.

We ate, we saw, we petted, and we walked a lot.  It was a very long day and I can say Susanna was definitely tired and hoped she enjoyed her time at the Iowa State Fair.

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