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!



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.

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.