In the previous post, I mentioned some of the factors involved in choosing a consolidant for the job at hand. With this particular treatment I needed an adhesive that would obviously re-adhere flaking media, but I also needed one that would not dry with gloss on the relatively matte water-based paint Odets used, nor would I want one that would saturate the paint, causing it to appear darker where applied. Literature suggested both gelatin and isinglass would meet my requirements; I made some mock-ups to test the results and favored the isinglass.
So what is isinglass? It is obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish- in this case sturgeon- and is largely made up of collagen.
To prepare, one weighs out the amount needed and soaks it in water for 24 hours. The swollen mass is them mashed until pulpy and more water added to bring the solution to the percentage needed. It is finally heated to 55c for a short time. For an isinglass solution to be effectively vaporized in the ultrasonic mister, the concentration has to be quite low- in the 1%w/v range. This necessitates two or three applications for the consolidation to be successful.
Here are photos of the complete set up in operation-
Overall, the design developed back in the 1990’s functioned quite well. The parts were easy to procure through our campus chemistry storeroom (ringstand, three-prong clamp, LDPE bottle, tubing), Lowe’s (barbed connector to attach tubing to air compressor on suction table), and McMaster-Carr (fittings for the nozzle, and black rubber grommets to connect tubing to bottle*). This image shows a close-up of the nozzle held in my right hand. It features two reducing barbed fittings connected with 1/4″ tubing resulting in a 1/8″ stream of vapor.
From time to time, beads of condensed consolidant will form at the tip of the nozzle. In the above photo you can see a tube of blotter inserted into left side of the piece. Additionally, in my left hand I held a piece of blotting paper to absorb and drips that formed before they had a chance to fall onto the painting beneath. The biggest problem was with the airflow coming from the suction table compressor. The design has a 3-way T-connector placed along the supply tube before it enters the bottle. Its purpose is to bleed some of the air pressure off the hose so that it isn’t so great when leaving the nozzle as to blow away media flakes. I found the air pressure was still somewhat strong and required monitoring the angle and proximity to the artwork when in use. A much better, though more expensive, solution would be to attach some type of flow regulator to the air compressor valve on the suction table. Other than that, one other word of caution- it is important to flush the system after each use with water and air or the consolidant will build up in the tubing and nozzle. In the case of gelatin or isinglass (being organic) it could result in mold developing over time.
*other makers of this system have connected the tubes to the bottle with the use of hot-melt adhesives and epoxy. I found that the use of a grommet, with an inner diameter of the same size as the tubing or slightly smaller, gives a more effective and polished solution.
I’ve been busy the past several months in the Paper Lab getting together the parts, purchase requests and wherewithal to construct an ultrasonic mister in order to care for a group of paintings needing some attention.
Soon after the library received this gift, the Paper Lab hinged and matted nearly all of the paintings for storage and safer handling and access. During this process we noticed that a number of the artworks were suffering from condition issues related to the paint media that Odets chose. Much of the work relies on a layering method of drawing and painting over wax crayon. Odets would scratch through the pastel and gouache paints he favored to reveal the crayon beneath (a.k.a. sgraffito).
Here is a photograph of one such painting- on the back of a postcard- in raking light.
You can see how the teal blue paint has been scratched away to reveal orange, pink and purple wax crayon beneath. However, though the technique allowed Odets to create some wonderful images, it also created what we conservators refer to as inherent vice. There is little adhesion between the media layers and as the upper water-based paint layers dried, they began to shrink in place causing minute cracks and more seriously, flaking and loss. This close-up shows what I mean (poor little flaky fish!)
In these circumstances, conservators perform a process called consolidation. Typically, the consolidant is a type of adhesive carefully chosen for a number of factors including, but not limited to, compatibility with the object physically, visually and chemically, ease of preparation, ease of application, quality of bond strength and ageing characteristics. Normally, the process would be carried out under a low-power microscope using a small brush and delicately applying the consolidant to the cracks and underneath the lifting paint, fastening it back down. With these paintings the scale of damage prohibits such an approach- the fish above is 2cm long, which makes each of the tiny flakes far smaller than a millimeter in dimension. My fine motor skills are excellent, but not that excellent!
Another method is called for: that of Ultrasonic Misting. Developed by the Canadian Conservation Institute in 1990, the ultrasonic mister allows greater control of the whole process of consolidation of powdery paint and pigments. Unfortunately one can’t readily buy such systems- at least not at affordable rates for an aerosol generator- so I set out to construct one myself. There are a number of published articles explaining how to make one as well as a number of institutions who have blogged about it in the past, such as this account from the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program. Within a month or so I had purchased and cannibalized the necessary parts and had it up and running:
What the device consists of is a domestic ultrasonic humidifier, with the upper water reservoir removed. We use this very humidifier routinely in the lab for the relaxation of library materials, so it was good to have on hand! Resting in about one inch of water over the oscillator within the humidifier is a LDPE plastic bottle containing the consolidant adhesive. Ultrasonic frequencies generated in the base of the humidifier travel through the bottle and cause cavitation to occur, generating a fine mist of adhesive to rise from the liquid. A pump (the large white cube in the background to the left) was borrowed from our vacuum suction table to drive air into the bottle (through the clear tube entering the back of the bottle), and then the adhesive-laden water vapor finds its way out the top, through another length of tube to be emitted through a small applicator nozzle. Also sitting in front of the device is the consolidant of choice. Can you guess what it is? There is a clue in the painting I chose to include earlier…
Next week, I’ll cover the pros and cons of the design and talk about the success of the treatments.
The Preservation Department and the Auxiliary Library Facility (ALF) hosted a group of local students this week for a tour.
The students are taking art classes taught by Sandra Tokarski at Bell Trace, a senior living community just down the road from the lab. The art classes cover a wide range of media, and most recently they did book arts. So I guess their visit was kind of their capstone experience!
They were especially interested in some of our big equipment, such as board shears, book presses, and hydraulic guillotine, since their book making was done using only hand tools.
Above Lara Tokarski demonstrates the guillotine, which cuts cleanly through thick stacks of paper and can be used to trim the edges of text blocks.
Here is Vaughn Nuest dazzling the group with facts and figures about the ALF. They also were treated to a peek inside the vault where millions of the Library’s books, archival collections, and AV media are housed.
One brave soul, Sandra Tokarski, was treated by Brian Johnson to a ride on the lift truck!
In April, we had a lovely visit from the Guild of Book Workers / Midwest Chapter, while they were in Bloomington for their annual meeting.
In General Collections Conservation, aka the Book Repair Lab, we discussed the many changes in academic libraries that have led to an evolution in book repair practices, and showed the group some of the newer treatment techniques we are using today. Here I reprise some of that discussion, and then describe one of the board reattachment methods we demonstrated for them, called “thread staples.”
Changing Practices to Meet Evolving Needs
Preservation practices must be able to respond to new patterns of use, and to collecting strategies that are constantly evolving. In the earliest days of library preservation programs, for example, a new type of use — the photocopy machine — helped lead to improved methods in commercial library binding. Double-fan adhesive binding, which has for the most part replaced oversewing since the mid-1980s, allows volumes to lay flat for good capture without causing damage.
And so much has changed in academic libraries over the last two decades. Libraries have adjusted their collection management strategies for print collections in light of the wide availability of digital content, lower use of print, and demand for the space that print collections have occupied in library buildings.
Information resources lead long lives (if they survive) and their value may change over time, so preservation efforts must be able to meet the needs of current users while keeping the long view in mind. Today, selection for preservation and treatment decision-making both take into account these changing values and uses of the print collections. Envisioning the future value collections may hold, and factoring that into the actions taken today, is a challenging but fascinating part of the work of preservation.
Likewise, the approach to the repair and conservation of research book collections has evolved to support these changing strategies and needs. Advances in techniques have come via cross-fertilization among practices in different conservation specializations.
Traditionally, there was a “partitioning” of responsibilities for the remedial care of books in academic libraries1. Repair of circulating, or “general” collections adhered largely to standardized treatment protocols, or “treatment to specification” as described by Glen Ruzicka2. With this approach, the treatment for an item is selected from a set menu. This provides both consistency and efficiency. By contrast, rare book conservation treatment is customized for each item. Typically, different staff in separately equipped labs applied these two distinct approaches, using different materials and methods.
Also in the past, the high-use, circulating books for which standardized treatments were designed often consumed all the available resources for book repair. At the same time, rare book conservation focused on special collections. Older materials in the general collection sometimes fell between the cracks. This was partly due to their lower priority. But it was also because the procedures and skill sets of general collections conservation labs were designed for modern, case-bound books with strong, flexible texts, not for older binding structures or the kinds of deterioration from which they suffer. Options for older materials may have included deferring action by boxing, or reformatting to preserve intellectual content.
Today, new approaches to book repair, which began percolating in the 1990s, have led to greater integration of general and special collections conservation approaches3. Techniques appropriate for older or “medium-rare” books have become part of the repertoire of general collections conservation today. These methods tend to be more reversible, less invasive, and are often less time-consuming. And some practices from the world of general collections that lend efficiency have been adopted in the work of special collections conservation. So with more tools in the proverbial kit bag, we now have the capacity to address the preservation needs of our collections more holistically.
New Tool in Our Kit Bag — Thread Staples
During the MWGBW tour, we showed a variety of techniques used in our lab to solve a common problem of 18th and 19th-century books – detached boards. The attachment fails due to deterioration of the materials, structural design, use, or a combination.
Our repertoire of board re-attachment methods includes Japanese paper hinges, linen tabs, full cloth hinges, cutaway cloth hinges, Ramieband, and one called thread staples.
It is useful especially when you don’t have access to the text block spine, such as in a tight-back binding. It is stronger than Japanese paper hinges, so it can be used on books that are a bit heavier or larger. The first and last signatures need to be well attached.
The thread-staples repair has some things in common with another board re-attachment method called “new slips.” A description may be found in “Binding Repairs for Special Collections at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center,” by Olivia Primanis, published in the Book and Paper Annual, v. 19 (2000). http://cool.conservation-us.org/coolaic/sg/bpg/annual/v19/bp19-30.html
The basic idea for thread staples is that linen thread is sewn through the folds of the first and last signatures of the text block, and the thread tails are used to attach the boards.
Here is a diagram showing how the threads should end up after the sewing is done: one thread tail at the top and bottom, and two thread tails at every other sewing station:
Sewing can begin from the inside of the signature and come out at the point of the shoulder, or from the point of the shoulder on the outside to the inside of the fold, whichever is easiest. It depends somewhat on the depth of the shoulder. If starting inside, you un-thread the needle after the first pass, put the needle back on the thread inside, and then sew through the next sewing station from the inside.
I sometimes rub some thick paste into the threads right at the shoulder and press the tails toward the text block. This helps get the thread to lean in the right direction, but also protects against accidentally pulling the threads out during subsequent steps.
Next the thread tails are trimmed to the length that will fit under the lifted cover material (or paste-down), and then they are frayed out by untwisting the 3 plies first with your fingers, and then using a needle or awl to separate them further.
You should have something that looks like this:
Then the board is positioned on the text block
and the thread tails are adhered under the lifted cover material. The threads are splayed out, and made tight and flat using first a brush and then rubbing down/pushing inward with a spatula.
We enjoyed the visit from the Guild of Book Workers Midwest Chapter, and it was fun sharing some of our work!
“Integrated Book Repair,” by Gary Frost, Archival Products News, v.7, no. 3, Fall/Winter 1999-2000.
Occasionally unbound items come into the Paper Lab that are too thin to warrant a corrugated box, but they usually require a more substantial enclosure than a folder. The middle ground between those two enclosures is a four-flap portfolio made out of 20 pt. stock or, in some instances, corrugated board.
After the portfolio is constructed, the way to secure it closed is by simply tying a length of twill tape around it like a Christmas present. Then the tape is glued in place or threaded through the back of the portfolio. The result is neither very attractive nor very efficient. When setting flat on a table, the portfolio flaps often pull away from the rest of the enclosure, no matter how tight the ties are. When open on a table, the ties easily get lost underneath the rest of the portfolio.
Lately I have been making more of these portfolios than usual, and I wanted to come up with a less wasteful, more effective way to secure them. A technique used in the General Conservation Lab for fastening binder’s tape to board looked promising, so I tried it a couple of months ago with a portfolio made out of B-flute corrugated board. The result was very satisfying, and took care of all my complaints about the former method.
I wanted to be able to use the ties with portfolios made of thinner materials like 20 pt. stock, but I knew they would not hold up for long, if at all. A backing would be required.
Then I remembered Tyvek, which is easy to cut and almost impossible to tear. It also works well with PVA.
I put together some sample ties with and without Tyvek backing. The ties backed with Tyvek wouldn’t tear, no matter how hard I pulled. The ties glued directly to the surface of the board tore after the first big yank. I used the new method on an oversize portfolio that required two sets of ties, and the finished product looked as great as it is secure.
The advantages to this method are that there is less twill tape used per portfolio and the completed enclosure is stronger, more effective, neater in appearance, and more manageable for patrons and staff.
What could a ticket to a Cincinnati Buckeyes baseball game in 1869 have in common with a book of Sophocles’ works in Latin and Greek?
The ticket was signed by B.O.M. DeBeck, third-baseman for the Cincinnati Buckeyes. Here is the text of the advertisement of this rare bit of early baseball memorabilia:
“1869 pass issued by the first baseball team in American history, the Buckeye Base Ball Club of Cincinnati. Partially printed pass instructs: ”Admit Harry Heys and Lady to all games of the BBC” within a printed oval-shaped line. Verso is labeled ”No. 138” and is signed in black by the team’s former third baseman ”B.O.M. DeBeck” as Treasurer. The Buckeyes were the Cincinnati Red Stockings’ original rival, and were eventually absorbed into the Red Stockings. … A scarce baseball collectible.”
The connection is that B.O. M. DeBeck is the former owner of said book, now in the collection of the Indiana University Bloomington Libraries.
And from the number 2221 on the bookplate, it seems that DeBeck had quite a substantial library. A little more poking around on the old Internets reveals that besides playing baseball, B.O.M. DeBeck was a teacher in the Cincinnati public schools.
And he wrote this arithmetic book —
The sad state of DeBeck’s Sophocles is all too common. In the distant past, book repair in libraries meant the creative and copious application of tape. Now we spend our time removing it.
Here are all the pieces of bookcloth tape I removed from DeBeck’s book:
Fortunately, I have an effective method to reduce / remove the dry, crust of adhesive that this type of book cloth tape leaves behind. Klucel G in isopropanol is applied, and then “scrubbed” with a soft brush.
The crud softens, and can be wiped away. It usually take a few applications. I have used this technique with success on cloth and paper too, although it does nothing about the dark brown stains that penetrate the paper, as seen on the left edge of the title page below.
While working on this very damaged book, some words of advice from long ago kept ringing in my ears –
“DON’T PULL, JUST CUT!”
Some of our work is repetitive, tedious, perhaps meditative. For the hour I spent taking this book apart, stitch by stitch, I remembered this advice from long ago. That was way before I became a librarian, or even gave a thought to the idea that you could repair books.
I had a job working in the vast, dark, back room of a downtown retail furrier shop. My job was to repair all the coats brought in for cold storage and cleaning in the summer — all the holes in the fur’s skin, loose linings, fallen-off buttons, snaps, and hooks.
I worked with Bogdan, the furrier, who made new coats, and Stephania, who did alterations. The very first thing Stephania taught me was what to do if I saw a loose thread sticking out of the coat.
“Don’t pull, just cut. If you pull, you could pull apart whole coat!”
Said in the wonderful Polish accent with which she also told about her childhood experiences in a forced labor camp during WWII, and traditional recipes she liked to make, such as plum tarts and brains. I only tried the plum tarts.
The book, Welcome to Cincinnati, was brittle and oversewn. Many pages were broken off, leaving some text on the stubs still attached to the binding with gobs of thread and stitches, otherwise known as oversewing. The result of oversewing is much the same as when you rip pages out of a spiral-bound notebook.
Oversewing is a method of binding a text block that consists of individual sheets of paper, rather sections of folded pages. It is very strong, but also very difficult to repair. Oversewing has been replaced, for the most part, with double-fan adhesive binding — a durable, yet more easily reversible binding.
Oversewing combined with brittle paper is a recipe for disaster. Pulling on the thread would result in more damage and I didn’t want to make even more jigsaw puzzle pieces that I would have to put back together.
So, with tweezers, fine scissors, and a microspatula, I snipped and snipped and snipped until each each stub was free of the snarl of stitches. Then I rejoined the remnants of each page so they could be scanned. There are only a few copies of this book in libraries across the US, and our copy has circulated sort of a lot, which seems natural since it is about one of the big cities in a neighboring state.
I like to believe that no experience, however humble, is a waste of time. Little do we know how things we learn along the way may turn out to be valuable later on.
As a Paper Conservator, most of my time at work is spent on performing conservation treatments on the vast and varied collections within Indiana University Libraries. When not actively treating items, I coordinate with collection managers, curators, librarians and archivists to generate incoming work and establish priorities for the future. In the lab we also have responsibilities towards supervision of staff, disaster recovery across campus, establishing access protocols, environmental monitoring, and other minor roles that crop up here and there.
However, one task that brings me a great deal of satisfaction, though not strictly a job responsibility, is teaching. Each academic term I guest-lecture for a number of courses within our Department of Information and Library Science and the Department of Art History. These sessions provide me with a welcome break from the Lab and hopefully give the students a new perspective on topics being covered in classrooms. The greatest pleasure I get from being employed within a university is the exchange of knowledge across disciplines- and the fact that I’m able to add to that is a reward. To be a Conservator often means having knowledge in a number of associated fields beyond our strict job skills; knowledge that can supplement teaching in a way that may be difficult for an instructor to cover by themselves. Some classes are more theoretical: I teach library students preservation theory, the role of the conservator in special collection libraries and treatments conservators perform on library collections. Some provide supplemental knowledge to future catalogers: print and photograph identification, paper and parchment terminology. Others are more hands-on: materials and techniques classes or instruction in minor repair of paper-based collections. On top of this, we conservators get requests for a number of adult-education/public library sorts of lectures on preserving home collections, scrapbooking, etc. to which we’re always happy to consent.
Preaching to the choir is one thing, but I think a greater reward comes from sharing our enthusiasm with others. Establishing a positive image of the conservation profession early in a student’s career training goes a long way towards developing effective preservation efforts into the future.
I have a fondness for old textbooks, so it was nice to have a chance to help this one out. It was a pretty straightforward repair. Some hinging of pages and a reback with a Japanese tissue/linen laminate. But here’s the thing that really grabbed me about the book. It smelled of wood smoke. Not that familiar, musty, foxed, sat-in-the-stacks for 100 years smell. Fireplace smell.
I realize that the smell is probably because this little book survived the IU Library fires in 1969. You can read a nice history of those two fires, as well as other significant IU campus fires in a recent blog post from the IU archive. At the lab, we often see books with their top page edges blackened, and we generally assume that they are survivors from the 1969 fires. But this nicely smelling book didn’t make me think of destruction and student unrest. I grew up in a house that was heated with a wood stove. It smelled like home. Or like the house of a friend where sometimes we sit by the fireplace and read poetry. And I imagined young people in the late 1800s sitting at a table by the fireplace working studiously on their arithmetic lessons.
There are so many ways that books connect and transport us. Mostly, we think of being transported by the stories they tell. But with a bit of imagination, books can also bring us into contact with the craftspeople who made them, the people who owned and handled them, and sometimes, the rodents who chewed them up.
Sigh. I probably still have mouse DNA on my hands from that one….
In the General Collections Conservation unit, we don’t come across many very old books, but every now and then one will stumble into the lab. In the last months, we’ve had a couple of these that were just hanging out in the stacks waiting for someone to care about them. One is dated 1592. The other is from 1638.
I’m a Bloomington native, so every now and then someone in my family will stop by the lab to drop off homemade bread or pick up a bag of potholders or something. Elise is always happy to show off the amazing things she is working on and my Mom happened to come by on the day she was working on the book shown above. My mother was duly and volubly impressed and that evening I got a call from my Dad. Might he please come in and see the very old book as well? Of course! We love to share the coolness.
Dad showed up the next day. He took a lot of pictures and asked a lot of questions. We even let him hold the book, although like many lab guests, he was a little afraid to do so. I felt like I could see right through his skull into his brain where all of the tumblers and gears were whirring and clicking along. We went out to lunch and talked about how old items connect us to the past. What can we learn about artists and craftspeople by holding their work in our hands? Someone spent hours upon hours of time setting the elaborate type for the book. And who was it that stitched it together? Treated the leather for the cover? How many young people sat at a table by the fireplace studying it? How many fires has it survived?
At about the same time that my father and I were thinking about peoples’ relations to very old books, it seems that my favorite web cartoonist, Randall Munroe, creator of xkcd.com had also been thinking about peoples’ relations to more modern inanimate objects:
How often do we really think about the design of our water glass? How often did the child studying that arithmetic book think about its binding? Probably, not often at all. Perhaps never. Yet, now, we here in the Preservation Lab are fascinated with the old arithmetic book, and of course the older, and therefore more precious books as well. In 172 years, someone will probably be fascinated with our water glasses. And our e-readers.
I was pretty certain that my poet father was going to end up writing something about very old books. And he is far more eloquent than I am, so I waited to see what would come of my dad meeting that book and by extension all of the people who, step by step, brought it to us here.
Libri XIII Londini . 1638
Wood and leather cover
brown and brittle,
the scrolled details
faded and blurred,
burnished by the years.
Stiff, when I opened it.
Though I could not read
the Latin text,
pressed with movable type
nearly 400 years before,
are clear and elegant,
speaking of a god
of another time.
A palpable spirit emanates
from its enduring lines–
thoughts and beliefs
from ambitious minds,
the faith of someone
who reached me
with ethereal touch
from the small book
that rested on my hand.
Remnants of those ancient lives,
but neglected on a secluded shelf,
travelled slowly, unsteady…
still waiting to be found
by some curious stranger
who can read
the relic words.
Though the bodies of the writers
the lives of their thoughts
in that old book…