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Craig Preservation Lab

There and back again

Happy May Day!

This entry will be somewhat different from those that others in the Craig Lab have written. I am not going to talk about treatments or enclosures or any of the hands-on activities which the staff here are so capable of doing and describing. Rather I am going to highlight some of the programs and practices that I was introduced to during a sabbatical I was granted and which I took during the Fall 2013 semester.

It has been a number of years since the last planning document was written for the Craig Lab. In 1999, Paul Conway, then Head of the Preservation Department at Yale, came to IU to conduct a review of the IU Libraries preservation program. A few years later, in 2003, Jake Nadal, then acting Head of the Craig Lab, wrote a follow-up to Conway’s recommendations and discussed changes that had been made in the interim and what still needed to be worked on. For the next decade, much of the work within the preservation lab has gone on smoothly and has been largely driven by immediate needs. It was my belief that with some anticipated upcoming staffing changes, the addition of a second module to our remote storage facility, and changes in collection management and technology, that the Lab might profit from seeing first-hand what our Midwestern peers were doing. Unlike most of my colleagues, I do not come from a decade’s long tenure working in conservation/preservation and I have not seen many other ARL preservation labs in operation so my base level of knowledge is limited.

When I learned that my sabbatical proposal had been accepted, I contacted several of my CIC colleagues to see if they would be willing to host a my visit and discuss what they were doing that they felt was interesting and perhaps different from what each of our Labs normally do. All those I contacted were gracious enough to say yes and to carve out a “day in the life of” their operation. For the sabbatical I visited the following:

Wes Boomgaarden, The Ohio State University

Sue Kellerman, Pennsylvania State University

Shannon Zachary, University of Michigan

Jennifer Teper, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Nancy Kraft, University of Iowa

I had previously been to the University of Wisconsin while working on another project and had met with Andrea Rolich and her staff briefly during that visit.

Each visit was structured in a similar fashion with an initial meeting with the head of the preservation department, a general tour of the operation then meetings with various staff members selected by the head of the department. In general, the head of the department had identified those areas/departments within his/her unit whom they felt were doing non-routine preservation related tasks. These differed from one institution to another and what I found was that nearly every institution was doing something fairly unique and interesting but none were doing everything. Almost all handled the treatment of materials from the general circulating collection in a similar fashion although several are beginning to rethink this role. The differences in approaches lie not in routine work being done but rather in the approach and priorities that each institution has placed non-routine services.

One of the trends I saw during my visits, and the one that I believe will become a higher priority for preservation and collection management at IUL is a move to focus more of preservation’s resources and staff on the special/unique parts of the collection rather than the general collection. The feeling of several of those I met with seems to be that it is the special parts of each University Library’s collection that will set it apart in the future and that those items that “everyone” owns will be of less importance to the preservation lab. This is a sentiment that was echoed by some of those I spoke to within the IU Libraries. Using OSU as an example Boomgaarden has begun to shift his staffing levels away from those working on the general collection and hiring more staff, and at presumably higher levels of expertise, who can deal with the needs of the more unique items. At UIUC they are in the early stages of trying to develop a model for deciding which of the general collection items that are sent to preservation are rare enough to warrant an expenditure of time and materials to repair.

At the Craig Lab we have had an on-going question of how preservation can best meet the needs of not only the general collection but also how it can support the various special collections and materials located throughout the IU Library system. Shortly after returning from my sabbatical Elise Calvi, Head of General Collections Preservation, presented a proposal to the IU Collection Management Committee which they approved that is the initial stage of what may become a more formal program of review prior to an item receiving treatment by the preservation lab staff. Currently these are a relatively small number of items that are unrepairable often because of their brittleness, severity of the damage, mold or other significant factor. When these types of items arrive in the Lab, we now search to see how many other copies may be available in the IU system or nearby, and to determine if there are equivalent replacements available for purchase. The appropriate collection manager is contacted and options are given and they are then involved in the decision as to the fate of the item.

Binding is an area that has experienced significant changes at Indiana University – primarily decreases in overall importance but this area is still highly valued for the service it provides. In 2002, the Library spent $296,144 on binding. This amount had fallen in $65,233 by 2013. Much of this is undoubtedly due to the shift to electronic resources and especially the large packages of ejournals which the libraries subscribe to and the subsequent decrease in print subscriptions. On the other hand, some of our peer institutions are seeing an uptick in binding expenses as they shift some of the work that had been done in-house to external vendors. For example, Shannon Zachary at Michigan has mentioned that the preservation lab at Michigan is focusing on two types of care to be done in-house for general collection materials: those things that can be done very quickly and inexpensively or those that are very complicated and time-consuming. Items that fall in the middle may be able to be done by a vendor at a cost efficient level and in a timely enough fashion to warrant sending those off-campus. During this sabbatical I visited the HF Group, the company we work with for our binding, and it seems like they have the capability to do some of the low or medium skilled jobs. At the present time, we use hourly staff to do this and I believe keeping these in-house allows the staff at the Craig Lab to do an overall better job at a reasonable cost. However, should the cost of hiring hourly staff change much this might be an area worth exploring. With the retirement of the long-time Head of Bindery Preparation at the end of December, we began to evolve that unit to have a broader scope of responsibility including some very basic preservation services that can be performed in Wells rather than shipping materials to and from the Preservation Lab when that is not necessary. So far this change has resulted in quicker turn-around and a better use of the staff.

Preservation replacement, i.e., production-level digital conversion of brittle books, is not a service that is provided by the Craig Lab. The IU Library has done, and continues to do, a large amount of scanning of its collections through the Google Book initiative or Hathi Trust. In addition, the Digital Collections Services unit of the Library IT department does a significant amount scanning on demand (719,888 individual scans or over 10GB of data in 2012/13 alone). However with the construction of the Auxiliary Library Facility (ALF) and the use of the Kasemake box-making machine in the Preservation Lab, the brittle books initiative that was raised during Conway’s visit has been less critical. Paper based items stored in the ALF have roughly the same “life expectancy” as do similar items that have been deacidified. While the cost of constructing the ALF and maintaining it indefinitely is significant, expanding the Wells Library is not a viable option.

From a pragmatic point-of-view and based on what I saw during my visits a critical first step for the future of preservation within the IU libraries is to determine what area to focus on beyond the general services that have traditionally taken the bulk of the resources and personnel. While there are opportunities that can come through the preservation of the content of the collections via digitizing items I believe that the Library would be better served through an expansion of the staff of the Lab into higher levels of book conservation. I believe that the special collections, e.g., area studies, the Lilly Library, Folklore, the Tibetan, African and other area studies materials and the rare or unique titles scattered throughout the collections, plus the rare materials that will be purchased or received as gifts going forward, will distinguish the IU Library collections. In addition, the “branch” library at the Wiley House has a collection of about 900 monographs, many of which need the care of a book conservator. Although more than 50% the library’s acquisitions budget is spent for electronic resources during the past three years the library has added an average of over 137,000 print volumes each year to the collections. Paper based materials do not seem to be going away any time soon and the need for the expertise to care for and preserve this legacy will continue to manifest itself.

The preservation lab at IU has two operations that are relatively unique among our peer institutions. One is the paper conservation unit. Several of those visited who knew of this service and expressed a desire to have such capability within their own department although it was obvious from their recent hiring decisions that other priorities were also important and that the paper conservation position was less critical to their current needs. Having the paper conservation positions have allowed us to work with posters, maps, newspapers, letters and other “flat” paper items within the collections that were in desperate need of attention. One example of the differences in approach to handling these types of items came during my visit to Pennsylvania. The Penn State Library preservation lab had recently completed a scanning project of a number of posters which the Library owned that dated from World War I and II plus other posters from around that time period. The posters were in various physical conditions from relatively complete with little damage to those showing significant signs to physical stress and damage. The PSU preservation staff were able to scan the posters and make the scanned images available online. However it does not appear that they did any repair work to any of the originals. The Lilly Library at IU also has a collection of posters from this same time range (many are presumably duplicates of those from PSU). These were sent to the paper conservator and he and his staff did physical repairs of all of the posters, cleaned them as necessary and then encapsulated those posters prior to returning them to the Lilly. Since they have been repaired and encapsulated it is likely that they will withstand handling for a significant period of time especially if they are kept either at the Lilly and are under their watchful eye. However, the Preservation Lab did not scan any of the posters prior to encapsulating them. If it is decided to make them available electronically in the future either they will need to be removed from the encapsulating material for scanning and then have that replaced, or the scanning operation will have to take into account the possible reflective quality of the encapsulating material. An obvious better way of doing business would seem to be a combination of the two approaches. The paper lab staff could do the basic clean and repair work to the posters. The posters could then have be scanned by the digitization staff in Wells at the quality level desired, add the metadata necessary to find the relevant poster, and put the image online. The posters could then be returned to the Lab for encapsulation before being sent back to the Lilly.

Coordinating the various steps to make the above a reality is one of the challenges to be addressed. I believe the IU Libraries should consider creating a planning committee composed of representatives from preservation, digital collections services, collection management and technical services whose role would be to solicit proposals from collection managers for preservation/digital projects and then prioritize those projects to maximize the resources which the Library can devote to them. Penn State does an excellent job at this and would be a model well worth examining. The staff members on the Penn State committee are able to evaluate proposals from the collection managers, determine what steps need to be taken and in what order so that items are in processing for the least amount of time and that all steps are done in a way that ensures that the materials will be available digitally when needed. President McRobbie, in an IU Presidential Update sent to the IU community dated October 16, 2013, noted that “one of the great and central missions of universities over the 25 centuries they have existed – the preservation of knowledge”. He called for there to be prepared a “Digitization Master Plan that would describe a road map for the systematic digitization and preservation of all scholarly and research collections at IU.” Forming the planning committee as described and building on the work that has been done at Penn State would be one way that IUL could support this idea as set out by IU’s president.

The second area which IU has and no other CIC library, nor indeed, many other institutions anywhere have, is the Kasemake box-making machine and an excellent Kasemake operator. To date, the Kasemake has been used to construct in excess of 100,000 enclosures. Had we had to purchase these from a commercial vendor we would have spent between $1.25-$2 million. The Kasemake, salary for the operator and supplies have cost IU about 30% of that amount so this looks like it was a very good investment. In experiments I have done using discarded books I have found that books that have been placed in a Kasemake enclosure fare considerably better if exposed to water as happens, for example, when a sprinkler system malfunctions or during a fire. The same is undoubtedly true of other possible hazards that a book might face at some point. One of my recommendations was for all medium-rare or rare items in the collections be identified (a dedicated book conservator could have this as part of his or her charge) and have an enclosure made for those items. These should be housed in the ALF when possible. In association with this recommendation is the need for there to be some common agreement within the Library as to what a rare or medium-rare item is and how such items should be handled. The reason to move as many rare and medium-rare items to the ALF is fairly simple and is something that preservation librarians have known and spoken/written about for decades. As noted in a 1991 Technical Report published by the Northeast Document Conservation Center (Andover, Massachusetts) and funded by a grant from the NEH, “the best way to preserve library and historical collections is to control light, temperature, relative humidity, and air quality; to provide routine housekeeping; and to use good storage and handling techniques. Protection from fire, water, and theft is also important at this level.” In addition to the excellent temperature and humidity levels of the ALF, the facility if free of potentially harmful insects and provides significantly better security than any of the libraries on campus with the possible exception of the Lilly Library.

Preservation at Indiana University has not been called on to do much with preserving IU’s digital heritage but at several of the Universities that were visited, digital was an integral part of the work being done. Of particular interest to me is the creation of a digital forensics position at two of the institutions. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently hired someone in this role and the University of Michigan is moving to fill a similar position in Ann Arbor. In conversations I have had with some of the staff in the University Archives and in the Library IT department, I have come to feel that this would be worth exploring at IU as well. What I believe we will see on an increasing scale is for faculty to bring their research record to the archives as they retire and that these records will be on different types of print plus digital storage ranging from floppy drives of various sizes to hard drives from different operating systems. Determining what is on those drive that is of value to the archives and what format those files is in is the job of a digital forensics specialist equipped with the appropriate software and hardware. If this service is created it should include enough support staff to offer a complete set of digital archive services and not be limited to providing just a report of the types of files that are on the drives. At UIUC the person who does this work provides detailed reports of the types of files (e.g., document, JPEG, PDF…) that are on the drive but only rarely does she have the time to look for the correct software to read the file.

The preservation department at the University of Iowa implemented a wonderful approach that I think of as “crowd sourcing” some of its operations. The example I saw at Iowa was with their collection of pioneer letters and papers. These were scanned in preservation and basic metadata was provided. However since the letters were not OCR ready the text was not searchable. Much like the 1940 U.S. Census was open to the general public who were encouraged to enter the appropriate text onto a form that became searchable, the pioneer letters are open to the public. Individuals can use the basic metadata to search for relevant (to them) letters and then type onto a blank form the text of the letter. That then becomes searchable. In addition, the library works with the English department which has some of their courses studying changes in writing. Students in selected classes are assigned the task of “translating” a number of letters and entering the data into the library’s database. The students then analyze the writing style as part of their English class. When I mentioned this to Doug Sanders he remarked that a similar process could be done at IU using the Archives course that Phil Bantin teaches where students would find it useful to learn how to read letters from the 1800s. If a class like Phil Bantin’s were involved this could be expanded to teach the students how metadata is applied in a real world situation. If not Phil’s class, other faculty might be interested in partnering with the Library. I expect there are other collections in the University Archives, the Wiley House or elsewhere on campus that would also be strong candidates for this type of project.

Finally, an idea that was raised by Dean Barbara Dewey of Penn State was looking for an opportunity to do a cooperative project from several of the collections of the CIC libraries. I mentioned this to Shannon Zachary at the University of Michigan and said that I thought that a project that was focused on transportation and western expansion might be something worth pursuing. For instance, in the Lilly Library has over 260,000 items related to the Howard Ship Yards and Dock Company. Michigan probably has a significant collection of materials related to the auto industry while Penn State may have items from the railways. Other universities within the CIC are likely to have similar special collections. A few years ago, the CIC Preservation Officers discussed the possibility of seeking funds to do a large preservation project of materials related to this type of material but the timing for obtaining funds was off. However, it might be time to try this again and if nothing else, do a proof of concept project that would demonstrate how several of the campuses could combine their expertise and collections to preserve and provide better access to this rich resource.


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