Before the Flood, After the Flood

Hey there! Are you planning to be in the Wells Library sometime between April 3 and June 14? If so, why not stop by our exhibit currently on display in the Scholars Commons?

The exhibit is all about the professionalization of library preservation, and one of the biggest catalysts for this was the Florence Flood of 1966. The exhibit has all kinds of information about this and other pivotal events in preservation history, as well as some super interesting displays of past, present, and (possibly) future preservation tools and techniques! Unfortunately we can’t possibly include all the information we’d like to into one single exhibit, so I’d like to take the opportunity on this blog to expand a little bit on the Florence Flood. Buckle up, this is a long one!

We begin our story in Florence, Italy; heart of the Renaissance, birthplace of Botticelli, Dante, and Leonardo da Vinci. Nestled in the gently rolling hills and famous vineyards of Tuscany, Florence was built straddling the Arno River, so they are used to the occasional deluge. However, in the early morning hours of November 4, 1966, the Arno River quietly slipped the confines of its banks and swept in to the city with a fury never before seen in the modern era. The last time the city had flooded to such a degree was 1557 CE, some 400 years earlier, and even then the waters were only half as high. The city was utterly unprepared for a disaster of this magnitude and could only watch as the waters, carrying mud, oil, debris, and sewage, roared through the streets and alleys. Thirty-five people lost their lives in Florence that day.

As the flood waters receded, the shell-shocked Florentines were faced with a crisis of almost unimaginable magnitude. Not only was the structural damage to the city immense, but the amount of cultural heritage at risk was daunting. Books, carvings, paintings, sculptures, all these things were currently sitting under piles of mud and debris.

A flooded museum, Accademia, in Florence Michelangelo’s David at the rear, 1966. (Photo by David Lees/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Nearly every library in the city was affected; private, public, and personal. In the collections of the Archives of the Opera del Duomo, 6,000 volumes of documents were damaged, along with 55 richly illuminated choral codices, representing the sacred music used in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore for the last six centuries. In the Gabinetto Vieusseux Library, all 250,000 volumes held at the time were damaged. In the Florence State Archives, which contain records dating all the way back to 726 CE, 40% of the holdings suffered damage of some kind.

The most well-known victim was the National Central Library of Florence, which is the largest library in Italy and one of the most important in all Europe. It was founded in 1714, when a scholar named Antonio Magliabechi donated his 33,000 volume collection to the state. In 1743, it was required that a copy of every work published in Tuscany be submitted to the library. Since 1870, the library has collected a copy of every work published in Italy. Approximately 1/3 of all the library’s holdings (about 1,300,000 items) were damaged in the flood, most notably valuable items from the Magliabechi and Palatine collections. This library is where the subsequent conservation efforts would be concentrated.

Then-director of the library, Emanuele Casamassima, rushed there as soon as he could to find books and papers buried in several feet of mud, with pages still stuck to the ceiling from where the flood waters had peaked. It was obvious that the first thing that needed to be done was to dig up as much as possible, as quickly as possible.

View of damaged books inside the Biblioteca Nazionale, photographer unknown.
A fraction of the aftermath of the Florence Flood of 1966 (Image: David Lees, Life Magazine, Fair Use) 

Casamassima issued a call for help, and students from universities all around Florence rushed to respond. They formed long human chains to pull books and manuscripts out of the mud, working tirelessly, paying no attention to the muck and filth they were surrounded by. The grateful Florentines called them“mud angels.” Some of the items were covered in sewage and oil from burst pipes. These were rinsed and disinfected as well as possible. Although their efforts were well-meaning, some of the steps they took resulted in further damage to the items. Sawdust was spread around to soak up moisture, but was difficult to remove later on. Books were placed in tobacco barns, brick furnaces, and textile mills to dry out, which unfortunately resulted in them being singed and cockled. As the rest of the world began to hear about the tragic losses facing Florence, adventurous students from around the world rushed to the city to help.

Gordon Ashbury – from Toscana Firenze 2016 facebook page

It quickly became apparent that there was simply too much work for Italian conservators to tackle on their own, even with the help of the students. With help from the Council of Library Resources and the Imperial College, London, British conservator Peter Waters assembled a team and headed to Florence. He would go onto to spend two years there, overseeing conservation efforts, designing new treatments, and training a new generation of conservators. Help quickly arrived from every corner of the globe, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Ethiopia, Germany, Ghana, Holland, Hungary, Poland, and Britain. 144 workers arrived in the first 6 months. Restoration stations were set up both in the library and in the Santa Maria Novella railway station.

Torah scrolls unrolled to dry in the great synagogue of Rome. (Courtesy of Opera del Tempio)
Books left out to dry in the Great Synagogue of Florence after the flood. (Courtesy Opera del Tempio)

Peter Waters was responsible for the organization of the cleanup effort. He began by devising a nine-step plan. This idea of phased conservation, treating things in stages, would eventually be adopted by many libraries and is now a pivotal principle of our work.

The nine steps were as follows:

  1.  Books were selected, then a card was filled out detailing treatment needed (with so many languages being spoken, the cards used symbols for ease of understanding).
  2. Books were photographed. The photos would travel with the book through the entire restoration process and would be kept and filed at the end of it all.
  3. The text blocks were pulled apart into signature or loose pages. The pages were then collated and verified and the covers were removed. The covers would be reused if at all possible.
    Waters, S. (2016). Waters rising : Letters from Florence. Ann Arbor, Michigan : The Legacy Press. p. 406. Photo: Peter Waters.

    Waters, S. (2016). Waters rising : Letters from Florence. Ann Arbor, Michigan : The Legacy Press. p. 419. Photo: Peter Waters.
  4. If needed, books were washed and disinfected.

    Waters, S. (2016). Waters rising : Letters from Florence. Ann Arbor, Michigan : The Legacy Press. p. 407. Photo: Peter Waters.
  5. If needed, books were deacidified and buffered.
  6. The text-blocks were then pressed to remove the water and flatten the pages.
  7. The books were dried in specially-designed drying cabinets.
  8. The pages were mended and the signatures were resewn.
  9. Lastly, the items were wrapped in anti-microbial paper, then sent to the binding area, where they were bound in as close to their original structure as possible.

Although the flood was undoubtedly a disaster, there was a lot of good that resulted from it. Simply by bringing conservators from all over the world together in one spot, the Florence flood acted as a catalyst for the professionalization of the field of library preservation. As one of the foremost conservators in the U.S., Don Etherington, wrote in Flood in Florence, 1966: A Fifty-Year Retrospective, “before, people who had some certain technique wanted to hide it; nobody wanted to share. In Florence, talking about our individual techniques was like lifting a curtain.” Techniques were shared, modified, and improved upon. Some of the most commonly-used conservation treatments came out of this experience. For example, phased conservation, freeze-drying wet books, using detailed treatment documentation, mass deacidification, non-adhesive bindings, use of Japanese paper, heat-set tissue, vellum tensioning, and encapsulation. There was also a marked change in attitudes surrounding preservation. Those working in the profession began to call themselves conservators, rather than book restorers, and shifted to minimal, non-invasive procedures, preventative measures, and holistic collection care. Libraries developed disaster preparedness plans and trained staff to know how to respond to floods and mold.

Although this is undeniably a success story, it is not actually over. As of November 2016, 50 years after the flood, there were still about 19,000 items from the Magliabechi Collection, 3,500 from the Palatine Collection, and 30,000 miscellaneous items awaiting restoration at the National Central Library. Many items were lost forever, and many of the sculptures and paintings on display in Florence now are actually reproductions, as the originals are either too fragile or too precious to risk again. But there is hope! As the years pass, and new treatments are constantly being innovated and discovered, more things may be restored that were once thought irredeemable. I’ll leave you with a link to a story about a important Renaissance painting, damaged in the floodwaters, that was fully restored only a few years ago using new technologies.

50 Years after the Flood, a Renaissance Painting Restored

Spring/Summer Cleaning

Items find their way to the preservation lab in a lot of different ways. Sometimes new items are sent to us the moment they arrive and other times items circulate dozens of times before coming to us for a face-lift. Collection managers and librarians contact us when they have a special project planned, but occasionally someone just finds an old, beat-up book sitting on a shelf and sends it over. We have a lot of allies in the libraries looking out for us, but sometimes the only way to really know the physical status of a collection is to go and look over the whole thing ourselves. We call this a Collection Improvement Project, and our current collection of choice is the East Asian Collection in Herman B. Wells Library.

The East Asian Collection at Indiana University was begun in 1950 by Professor Ssu-Yu Teng, Professor Emeritus of History at IU. Dr. Teng came to the U.S. from China in 1937 and immediately began work at the Library of Congress as Assistant Compiler of Orientalia. His love of books and libraries would continue for the rest of his life, and provided the foundation and impetus for the formation of the collection at IU. One of his colleagues once remarked that he was a “walking bibliography” when it came to East Asian sources.

Dr. Teng received his Ph.D from Harvard in 1942, and went on to teach history at the University of Chicago, Harvard, and finally, IU. He was one of the few people teaching Chinese history in the U.S. at the time and is considered one of the founding members of Chinese studies in America. Dr. Teng began the East Asian collection out of need for materials to use in his own classes, but worked tirelessly his whole life to expand it. The collection now contains about 320,000 items pertaining to China, Japan, and Korea, and supports one of the top-ranking East Asian Studies departments in the U.S. Dr. Teng passed away in 1988.

The main purpose of the collection is to support research and scholarship. As Dr. Teng himself once wrote, “Just as lively fish without water would die, so a research scholar without access to books could perish.” However, this is not the only reason why these items are so important. About 59% of international students enrolled at IU in the Fall 2017 semester were from East Asia (China, Taiwan, Japan, or South Korea). For these users and their families, the collection represents a source of leisure and enjoyment, in addition to a research option. The collection also provides materials through interlibrary loan to universities all over the U.S., but especially to smaller Indiana universities without access to large collections.

When making our decisions about how to conserve these items, we must first consider how they are used. Our first step was to meet with the Librarian for East Asian Studies, Wen-ling Liu, who gave us insight into what users value most about the collection and where problems may be found. We learned that the collection is browsed heavily, so it is important to have spine labeling clear and visible. We will also avoid putting the items in an enclosure unless absolutely necessary, as it can hinder browsing. These items are also less likely to be available in electronic format and are often not replaceable. Some represent new challenges for us, such as new formats and unfamiliar languages. We plan to carry out the survey by going through the collection methodically, shelf by shelf, pulling items that need preservation. At the same time, we have taken note of particular areas of need and will pay special attention to those. It can take a long time to go through such a large collection, but by the end of it, we will rest easy knowing that this important piece of IU’s library collection will persist for many more years to come.

These sorts of fold-out pages are unusual in Western bookbinding. When creating a cover for this item, I wanted something that would lay flat so that the sheets could be completely unfolded and examined without the cover getting in the way.
Another format commonly found in Asian bindings, not so much in Western, is multiple paperback volumes housed together in one wrapper or box. These poor things had only an old, acidic “red rope” wrapper and a bit of string keeping them together! Let’s see what kind of shape they’re in…
Because these items were not properly housed and were also printed on acidic paper, they were pretty crumbly! We could make them a Western sort of box, but in keeping with the spirit and intention of the original binders we decided on…
This! This type of enclosure is called a tao and is the traditional case that would be used for housing these types of items, with multiple paperback volumes. Often they only wrap around the sides, not the top and bottom, but for the sake of preservation, we used a template that covers everything.
We try to label items in their original language to facilitate browsing. If you don’t speak Chinese it can be a little tricky!

 

Sources:

Indiana University Bloomington, Libraries. “About the East Asian Collection.”

IU Office of International Statistics

IU Department of Honors and Awards

John K. Fairbank, “Obituary: S.Y. Teng (1906-1988),” Journal of Asian Studies 47 , no. 3 (August 1988): 723-724.

 

With a little help from our friends

With the pranks packed up and the chocolate rabbits devoured, you’re probably staring at your computer screen, sighing, and wishing it were Memorial Day already. But I’m here to tell you about one more celebration that you should get excited for! National Student Employment Appreciation Day is April 11th and this month we here at the lab are highlighting some of our awesome student employees and the amazing work they do for us.

Student workers are an incredible resource for universities like IU. Not only do they help us accomplish more than we could ever do on our own, they also bring in new ideas and attitudes that get us thinking about and questioning our established procedures, and give us an opportunity to provide on-the-job training and experience to the next generation (I, as a former student employee, particularly appreciate this part)! Plus, they’re pretty fun to have around! But they don’t always get the recognition they deserve. We, at the Craig Lab, have had dozens of wonderful student employees over the years, but I want to take this opportunity to applaud our current four. So let’s check in and see what they’ve been up to lately!

Tyler works on some custom enclosures for a collection of Atari games.
Sylva and Ben breath new life into old, worn-out books with beautiful (and durable) new bindings.
Alyse and Lara discuss the contents of a Russian item (sometimes our students bring in skills we never even knew we needed, like the ability to read Cyrillic!)
Often the items sent to us are not actually old or damaged, but rather new items that require some type of treatment or enclosure before being sent to the shelves. One of the projects being undertaken by our students currently is the methodical scanning of publishing information from each one of these 60 small, Chinese comics. Once that is done they can then be attached to larger, more durable pamphlets without losing any information.
Alyse recently finishing creating folders for 641 music scores from the Tischler Collection of Israeli and Jewish Composers.

Of course, our students do so much for us that anything I show you is necessarily only a small sampling of it. They are endlessly dedicated, inquisitive, and amazing! From all of us here at the E. Lingle Craig Lab, THANK YOU!

 

The Future of Commercial Binding

Hi all! I am Chelsea Liddell, the new Binding and Preservation Review Coordinator here at the Preservation Lab.

photo-1
Here I am, hard at work!

Erin McAvoy has moved onwards and upwards, and though we miss her dearly here at the Lab, we are so happy for her and excited for all the new opportunities she will have! I worked for Erin as a student employee for two years before taking this position, and you may have seen me around here a few times before. Today I wanted to talk about what exactly those of us working with commercial binderies do these days and how the position is growing and evolving.

As we are no doubt all aware, more and more information is becoming available exclusively in electronic form. This is a positive thing for many reasons, more convenient and accessible for users, less to store and maintain for universities, but it presents a problem for those of us who are in the business of binding. So what’s a girl in charge of a commercial binding unit to do when there are fewer and fewer serials to be bound? Well, that’s the question that we have been endeavoring to answer here at the Preservation Lab and we feel that we’ve come up with some great solutions.

The key to innovation in libraries is to expand our definition of them. They aren’t (and never were) simple book repositories, but rather community centers, technological trendsetters, purveyors of global knowledge, and protectors of history. In the future, we will no doubt find even more hats to wear! To move forward, it is important to understand how all these roles interconnect and what new roles it makes sense for us to take on. This is the key to redefining the role of commercial binding in libraries.

If we expand our definition of binding, then all of a sudden a lot more opportunities open up. The other wonderful staff here at the Lab have been teaching me how to bind items by hand, which helps me understand to a much greater degree exactly what is being done to our books at the commercial bindery. After all, commercial binding is just a mechanized version of many of these hand-binding techniques.

Another area that we have been able to expand my role to encompass is evaluation and boxing of items moving to the ALF (Auxiliary Library Facility). We recently began moving materials out to the ALF at the rate of 10,000 per week in preparation for our Fine Arts Library’s move to the Wells Library. The materials being moved are low use, and there is a high rate of brittle paper and damaged bindings. My role in this project is to evaluate the damaged items and determine what type of enclosure would suit them best, so that they can be placed in the ALF without undergoing further injury. The emphasis is on choosing the most efficient, cost-effective solution that will do the job, including tying with cotton tie, sandwiching items between boards in a Tyvek envelope, and Kasemake boxes. This sort of work is a natural extension of a binder’s job; evaluating what type of enclosure would preserve the item best, while ensuring that no undue damage is caused.

By taking part in the everyday workflow of the Preservation Lab, while also taking on new projects, I am able to help out my colleagues, learn new things, and ensure that I am always busy! Although I have only been in this position for a short time, I have already expanded my skill set so much and learned so many wonderful new things. It is my hope that I can continue to find new arenas to expand into and that the commercial binding unit will continue to become more integrated into the rest of the work done here at the lab.