Bell Trace Art Class Visits the Lab

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!

I’m not sure who had more fun — us or them!



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.”

Preparing 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.

Openability of different binding methods, from Guide to the ANSI/NISO Library Binding Standard, 2000, by Jan Merrill-Oldham and Paul Parisi, illustrations by Gary Frost. Oversewn volumes (top right) may have tight bindings and text at the inner margins is sometimes obscured. Double-fan adhesive bindings (lower right) open flat.

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.

Detached boards — a common problem of 18th- and 19th- century bindings

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 cover material is adhered directly to the text block spine in a tight-back binding (top), vs. the hollow spine, which is attached at the joints.

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).

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:

Diagram showing the sewing for thread staples

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.

This is how it looks after the sewing is done.

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

Board in place on the text block. This is a different book than the other photos!

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.

The finished book, Lettres et pensees d’Hippolyte Flandrin, Paris, 1865.

We enjoyed the visit from the Guild of Book Workers Midwest Chapter, and it was fun sharing some of our work!

  1. “Integrated Book Repair,” by Gary Frost, Archival Products News, v.7, no. 3, Fall/Winter 1999-2000.
  2. “Book Repair in Research Libraries,” by Maria Grandinette and Randy Silverman, Abbey Newsletter, v. 19, no. 2, May 1995.
  3. “Identifying Standard Practices in Research Library Book Conservation,” Library Resources & Technical Services (LRTS), v. 54, no. 1, 2010, pages 21-39.

Of Baseball, Books, and Book Tape

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?

Ticket for a Cincinnati Buckeyes baseball game, 1869

Sophoclis tragoediae septem / ad optimorum librorum recensuit et brevibus notis instruxit I. [i.e., C.] G.A. Erfurdt.
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.”—–lot7358.aspx

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.

Inside covers with DeBeck’s bookplate. Note the crusty, whitish-gray residue from book cloth tape.

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:

The long, wide piece in the center was covering the spine leather, the two long narrower pieces on either side were stuck to the first and last pages of text, and the 4 triangular pieces covered the corners of the both covers. That orangey thing at the top is the only remnant of the original spine.

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.

Mr. DeBeck’s book, sans tape and once again in useable condition.

Future Book Artists

This week the Preservation Department hosted Bloomington’s Girl Scout Troop 3468. They came to learn about book arts so they could earn their Book Artist Badge.

They got to see some nice old books

and learn about how they were constructed.

Chelsea Hoover demonstrated pamphlet sewing.

Anitta Salkola-White taught them step-by-step how to make their own blank books using both 3- and 5-hole pamphlet sewing patterns.

Doug Sanders, Lara Tokarski, and I helped them make their pamphlets. It was fun for everyone!

Don’t Pull, Just Cut!

While working on this very damaged book, some words of advice from long ago kept ringing in my ears –



Come to Cincinnati, published by the Cincinnati Enquirer, [1929]
Brittle, oversewn book being taken apart

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.

She warned,

“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.




Roll Your Own, or, Frugality is the Mother of Invention


First, let us define our terms —

Roll Your Own

informal – make one’s own cigarettes from loose tobacco

noun – a cigarette that one has rolled oneself

And the Urban Dictionary provides this usage –

“A situation where someone needs to perform a task but the method to complete the task doesn’t exist so she has to create the solution herself. It derives from “rolling your own” cigarettes versus buying pre-made cigarettes.

Computer programmer #1: Is there a built-in function to filter the database?
Computer programmer #2: Sorry, man, you’re going to have to roll your own.”

How is this relevant to our work in Preservation?

We decided to take a do-it-yourself approach recently when an issue of the luxury art and fashion journal, Visionaire, presented us with something of a challenge.

This special issue of the journal Visionaire, titled “Larger than Life,” features Lady Gaga on the cover and measures 36 x 50 inches.

This journal issue was too large to be stored flat. And although rolling is not ideal, as it may introduce a permanent curl, an object can be rolled onto the outside of a large-diameter tube to minimize this problem.  This also avoids the damage that can occur when the object is put inside the tube. So we decided we would buy a 10” diameter tube, roll the journal issue (consisting of just a few pages) around the tube, and make a box to put the tube in. Easy. Oh, just one problem – one tube costs $100!

Being thrifty, and not shying away from a challenge, we decided to try to make our own darn tube. We were not sure it would work! But we took a large sheet of 40-point acid-free board, rolled it up so it was about 8 inches in diameter, and held it together with many rubber bands. Then we just let it sit there like that for few months.

Every so often, we do a group project on a Friday. We like to call these “Fun Fridays.” Sometimes we tackle a project that needs many hands; other times we learn and practice a new technique. Previous Fun Fridays have included making pre-coated repair tissues and forming an assembly line to construct a large batch of Kasemake boxes for delaminating lacquer disk recordings.

So, after a few months passed, we decided to set the roll free one Friday. We took off the restraints. It looked good!

We got the ends of the roll aligned and positioned so it was 10 inches in diameter. We debated how best to affix the inner and outer long edges of the board, both to maintain the diameter and keep the outer end of the board from forming a ridge. After considering PVA, packaging tape, sewing, and 3M 415 double-sided tape, we decided on the double-sided tape. Some of us were more confident about the efficacy of this choice than others, which created some suspense! We applied it to both the inner and outer edges of the board. It took three pairs of hands, but it held!

Then we cut a sheet of Volara, an inert foam, to cover the roll, so the two long edges would meet exactly. We stuck that on with double-sided tape too.

Anitta Salkola-White (left) and Lara Tokarski (right) marking a pencil line to guide the positioning of the Volara, after the long edges of the tube were stuck down.

Then we cut a piece of Hollytex the length of the tube, and about 8 inches wider than the object. We laid the object on top of the Hollytex and rolled the two onto the tube together, so that the extra 8-inch tail of Hollytex fully covered the object. We tied it with woven cloth ties.


The journal issue rolled onto the Volara-padded tube, with a Hollytex liner, and tied with cloth tie.

Finally, we made a box with a lid out of acid-free corrugated board on our Kasemake machine. The 40 x 60-inch board stock was not long enough to make the bottom out of one piece, so we cut separate rectangles with 3 flaps to cover each end and glued them in place.

img_0098So, no, we didn’t have to “roll our own” , we could have just bought the $100 tube. But we learned it was possible to make one using materials already on hand in our lab, and had a great Fun Friday working together to solve a problem.



Preservation Week Events in the Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington, April 2016

Preservation Week is April 24 – 30, 2016

pres week banner imagesEvery spring, libraries across the country participate in Preservation Week to raise awareness of the importance of preserving our collective cultural heritage. Talks, workshops, webinars, and exhibits are presented across the country on everything from caring for family treasures to disaster preparedness to personal digital archiving.

The idea for Preservation Week grew out of a study that assessed the state of preservation efforts in cultural institutions across the country. The study found that a majority of collection-holding institutions do not have any preservation staff and lack the capacity to care for their collections.

Fortunately, that is not the case in the Indiana University Bloomington Libraries! On the contrary, IU’s distinguished collections are well cared for by specialists in many formats, including books, paper, digital information, and time-based media.

In honor of Preservation Week, IUB Libraries’ preservation specialists have two public offerings: a set of talks on April 29th, and an exhibit on view from April 1st through 30th.

Content and Context in Preservation: Lightning Talks on Book, Paper, Film, and Digital Preservation

April 29th, 2016
12:00 to 1:30 pm
Hazelbaker Hall, Wells Library

Brief talks by IUB Libraries’ preservation specialists in books, paper, moving image, digital conversion, and digital preservation will focus on the theme of decision-making in preservation. Through case studies, each will address how the relative significance of content and context affect their treatment decisions.

The talks are open to the public, including virtually at:

Light refreshments will be served.


Carla Arton, Film Digitization Specialist, Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive
Elise Calvi, Head, General Collections Conservation, E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab
Jim Canary, Conservator, Lilly Library
Kara Alexander, Head, Digital Collections Services
Heidi Dowding, Digital Preservation Librarian, Library Technologies
Doug Sanders, Paper Conservator, E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab

Remember these?

April 1-30, 2016
Exhibition in Wells Library, West Lobby

This exhibit is a graphical presentation of the dizzying array of media on which information has been recorded over time, and also provides information about staff and departments in the IUB Libraries who are responsible for preserving all these media formats.

About Preservation Week

Sponsored by the American Library Association’s Association for Library Collections and Technical Services and partner organizations, Preservation Week inspires actions to preserve personal, family, and community collections in addition to library, museum, and archive collections. It also raises awareness of the role libraries and other cultural institutions play in providing ongoing preservation education and information.

Addendum: 5/3/16 A recording of the talks is now available here

Floating Disks

Sorry, this isn’t about alien spaceships. It is about how we designed an enclosure for delaminating lacquer disks so that their delicate surfaces do not come in contact with the box.

Delaminating lacquer disk
Delaminating lacquer disk

A large-scale preservation effort, known as the Media Digitization and Preservation Initative (MDPI), is underway at Indiana University to preserve all of the important time-based media held in IU’s libraries, archives, and research centers. Among the many time-based media treasures at IU are approximately 8,000 early lacquer disk sound recordings, almost all of them rare or unique. Most of them are from the fabulous collections of the Archives of Traditional Music and the William and Gayle Cook Music Library.

Lacquer disks are chemically unstable and therefore among the top priorities for preservation action. The lacquer (information) layer, which is made of nitrocellulose, deteriorates, begins to shrink, crack, and lift away from the disk surface. The conditions in which lacquer disks are stored (temperature and relative humidity) have the greatest impact on their rate of deterioration. Heat and moisture accelerate the chemical reactions that cause decay, so cool, dry storage is essential if they are to survive.

Lacquer disks in stable condition can be copied by playing the disk using a stylus, but those with delaminating lacquer can only be copied using an optical scanning technique known as IRENE.

So the immediate purpose of the floating disk box is to provide protection for the delaminating disks until they can be scanned optically. The usual storage method for sound disks is in sleeves and standing upright, but of course this is death to a delaminating lacquer disk. The boxes may also serve the purpose of permanent storage containers, since the majority of these recordings are unique, and future advances may provide better ways to capture and preserve the information they contain with greater fidelity.

We are fortunate in the IU Libraries Preservation Department to have a Kasemake automated box-making machine, which can cut, crease, and print on board stocks of various kinds from instructions transmitted from a CAD-like program. It can also cut circles as effortlessly as straight lines, which is a very nice thing!

Herb McBride, the Preservation Department’s Kasemake Specialist, and I developed the design for the floating disk box, made a few prototypes, and got feedback from Mike Casey, Jonathan Richardson, Melissa Widzinski, and Daniel Figurelli of the MDPI, until we were all happy with the design. Then we made a first batch of fifty boxes for 16” lacquer disks. (Lacquer disks come in other sizes too.)

Bottom tray of disk box
Bottom tray, assembled

The box is constructed from the following parts:

  • Bottom tray, all four sides are double thickness
  • Liner for inside the bottom tray, with a 1/8” diameter hole in the center
  • 4-layers of round window mat with finger cut-outs
  • 2 “donuts” with 1/8” diameter holes in the centers
  • 2 plastic washers
  • ½” aluminum screw post (the kind used in post bindings)
  • Lid, all four sides are single thickness

The bottom tray, liner, and lid are made from “E-flute” 1/16th inch thick acid-free corrugated board. The 4 window mats and 2 donuts are made from “B-flute” 1/8th inch thick acid-free corrugated board.

Bottom tray of disk box
Bottom tray, not folded yet

First the bottom tray is folded up.

Underside of the liner, with screw post in place and double-sided tape (with backing still on)
Underside of the liner, with screw post in place and double-sided tape (with backing still on)

Then the screw post is pushed through the liner’s center hole, and two donuts are pushed onto the post from the other side. Double-sided tape (3M 415) is used to adhere the liner to the bottom tray, and the window mats are adhered to the liner the same way.

The disk floats on top of the two donuts, then two plastic washers are placed over the disk on the post and then the screw half of the screw post is screwed in place.

Two donuts, two plastic washers, and screw post. MDPI staff remove the screw and washers, put the disk in place, and replace the washers and screw on top. They have the option of putting one of the two donuts on top of the disk.
Two donuts, two plastic washers, and screw post. MDPI staff remove the screw and washers, put the disk in place, and replace the washers and screw on top. They have the option of putting one of the two donuts on top of the disk.

The disk is immobilized and only the paper label surface touches anything. The depth of the window mats and the screw post keep the box lid from touching the disk surface.

Box and lid with disk inside
Box and lid with disk inside

We made fifty boxes on the Kasemake at the rate of about 8 minutes per box to cut and crease all the parts. Then we assembled them, which took about 15 minutes each to fold, stick on the tape, assemble the liner, post, donuts, and washers, and form the box lid (the corner flaps were adhered with PVA).

How to Eat an Elephant

As a new preservation librarian managing a large project for the first time, and faced with what I thought at the time was some huge insurmountable problem, I often sought advice from my wise supervisor, Carolyn Clark Morrow. Often, her response was a riddle:

“How do you eat an elephant?”

The first time, she told me the answer. But in each subsequent “crisis” she would make me say it:

“One bite at a time!”

Then we’d laugh, I’d calm down, put the problem in perspective, and be in a better state of mind to tackle the problem rationally.

I learned a lot of things from Carolyn Morrow. This was at Harvard when the library preservation program was brand new. There was a lot to do. A major effort in those early days was developing a methodology to survey the condition of Harvard’s vast and diverse collections. Each time we prepared a grant application or planned a new initiative was time for some sort of information gathering – condition surveys, time studies, cost analyses, or other data gathering.

We used surveys of various kinds to begin to define the scope of preservation needs, order our universe, plan projects, and get work done. One of the first item-level condition surveys was of a collection of 5,000+ H.H. Richardson architectural drawings to prepare a proposal for funding that included conservation treatment, re-housing, cataloging, creation of finding aids, and reformatting.

But surveys need not always be in great depth. One of the simplest but most effective was a one-page form for curators to nominate collections for preservation. It collected information on significance, use, size, formats, and level of intellectual control. It didn’t take a great deal of time, nor was it exhaustive, but it helped kick-start things. This simple survey is a predecessor to the checklists often used today as a first step in considering the appropriateness of collections for digital conversion.

Surveys help identify and quantify preservation needs, develop plans to address them, prioritize, and then organize work so it can be carried out systematically and efficiently. Surveys can support many kinds of preservation planning. They can be at the institution level, evaluating infrastructure, organization, and activities; or they can focus on the condition of a specific collection.

Surveys have a role in guiding long-established programs as well as new ones, because no library’s preservation program can afford to remain static. Rather, to be effective over time, preservation programs must be able to respond to patterns of use, collection development priorities, and information formats that are constantly changing. An institution-level assessment can help re-align/re-balance preservation programs with the changing world they exist to support. When there has been significant change in the environment, an institution-level assessment, with broad participation across the library, may be in order.

As for surveys at the collection level, they are but one method among several used to identify materials in need of preservation. Selection for preservation can occur:

  • at the point of use (e.g., after circulation, or prior to exhibition, digitization, or other kind of use)
  • upon acquisition or in processing
  • via review at the shelf (often in tandem with shelf reading, transfer, or other collection management activity)
  • by a condition survey, or
  • using a “great collections” approach to focus on collection strengths.

Each selection method has its place, and ideally a library would use many of these. Use-based selection has ordinarily been a top priority in academic libraries, for good reason. Although it is undoubtedly important to address the immediate needs of users first, the huge changes over the past two decades both necessitate and make it possible to devote more resources to other approaches. Some of the indicators of this shift are that:

  • Libraries provide access to information in many formats, each with distinct preservation needs
  • Digital information and time-based media are centrally important today for learning and research, and circulation of print continues to decline (with some exceptions)
  • Digital information requires proactive preservation action
  • Analog time-based media pose an urgent preservation problem due to obsolescence and media deterioration
  • An ever-larger proportion of analog holdings are in remote storage and/or available as digital surrogates
  • We are taking on new commitments to share collections and draw down duplicate print holdings; special collections and aggregate subject collections of distinction (all formats) take on greater significance

Surveys can help when it comes to eating the elephant.

Follow the Preservation Blog for future installments on some of the surveys being carried out by the IUB Libraries’ Preservation Department.


Postmortem [pohst-mawr-tuh m]


  • Medicine/Medical. a postmortem examination; autopsy.
  • an evaluation or discussion occurring after the end or fact of something: to do a postmortem on the decision of a court.
  • a discussion of the bidding or playing of a previous hand.

kinsey air dryingPreservation folks spend a lot of time preparing for library disasters. We identify risks and mitigate the ones we can; stock up on plastic sheeting, flashlights, and all sorts of stuff; make contact lists, and train staff to be ready to respond when disaster strikes. While all those things are very important, to me the best preparation for a disaster is to experience one! Living through a disaster response/recovery effort concentrates the mind more effectively than reading any number of how-to guides.

So a postmortem discussion can be very instructive, not to mention cathartic! By going over what happened after the fact, lessons can be learned and are etched more firmly in peoples’ minds. When disaster strikes, it is often chaotic, you don’t have all the information you would like to have, yet you have to come up with a plan in relatively short order. If several people were involved, you can be sure each one saw or experienced something that others did not. Talking about what worked and what didn’t helps disaster team members be better prepared next time.

Disaster response should proceed in a deliberate way. Despite that each disaster is different, the experience of how you organized yourselves to carry out the response is valuable for coping with the next emergency. By following these steps, the chaos and confusion can be managed:

1. Report the emergency
2. Notify the disaster team
3. Ensure safety
4. Halt damage
5. Stabilize the environment
6. Evaluate the extent of damage
7. Plan the recovery strategy
8. Activate the disaster team

Why am I talking about disaster response and postmortems anyway? It is because after sixteen months and thousands of sheets of waxed paper and Reemay, I finally completed recovering four hundred sixty-nine books that were water-damaged over the Fourth of July holiday weekend in 2014 in the Library of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.

The leak probably started at the beginning of the three-day holiday, judging from the condition of the books when we got there. It happened to be over the part of the collection with books about sex in art and in film, so about 90% of them were heavily illustrated. You know what that means – lots of coated paper!

When we got to the Kinsey Library, about five staff there were removing wet books from the shelves and bringing them to the reading room. When I saw that the majority of the books had coated paper, and how many there were, I devised a plan and explained what we were going to do, including why dealing with the coated paper was the top priority. Coated (glossy) paper sticks together permanently once it has gotten wet and begins to dry.

coated paper 1
Coated paper with pages stuck together

Coated paper must be interleaved with non-stick material between every page, or frozen right away while still wet. So the plan was to sort books into three groups: 1) coated paper, 2) regular paper, saturated, and 3) regular paper, damp. We packed the books in milk-crate-like plastic totes, which we labeled as coated, saturated, or damp, and brought them back to the Preservation Department in our cars.

Once back in the lab, we knew that there were way too many books to air dry. We didn’t take time to count, but we guessed 300-400. We kept out the damp ones (about 120), and put the rest in one of our walk-in freezers. Those would be dealt with in batches using our Wei T’o Freezer-Dryer.

We air-dried the damp books, with fans set up all over the lab. That took a week or two. As we worked on the damp books, we discovered that some had coated paper. In the rush of packing up, and because it is risky to open up a wet book (wet paper tears very easily), the sorting had not been perfect. We interleaved the damp coated-paper books with waxed paper between every page. The rest were interleaved with paper towels, which were changed frequently.

kinsey air drying
Air drying Kinsey Library books

My cranky grandpa Wei T’o, a freezer-dryer purchased by the Library in 1989, was my constant companion for over a year.

wei t'o
Wei T’o

I say cranky because he broke down twice during the sixteen months, each time full of frozen books. And when he was working, it was a challenge to keep the temperature at the optimal setting.

wei to thermometer
Weit t’o thermometer

I took books out of the walk-in freezer in batches and placed them in the Wei T’o on the drying cycle (30 degrees F, high rate if air flow). Slowly, the books dried as the water content was sublimated, or turned into a vapor from the frozen state without becoming liquid. I checked them frequently, and as the icy blocks opened up, I added Reemay interleaving to promote drying, and reshaped and weighted them to reduce distortion.

bks in wei to 2
Books drying in the Wei t’o freezer

As they became almost dry, I took them out, usually air-dried in front of fans for a while, then put them into the book press to flatten.

Later we learned the cause of the leak. Here in south-central Indiana our water has a lot of limestone in it, and deposits build up inside pipes. In this case, the drain pipes in the heating and cooling system (over the library stacks) became clogged and the water found another way out, as it always does. The same problem has plagued Wells Library, but now steps have been taken to avoid this happening, including, among other things, regularly scheduled maintenance to check and clear the drains.

The Indiana University Office of Insurance, Loss Control & Claims requested I keep track of staff time spent on recovery, so I can report that we spent 91 hours over sixteen months on the recovery effort. It would have been just as many hours, but over a shorter period if not for the two Wei T’o outages. We contract with an outside company for service, and this added about 4 months to the time the Wei T’o was out of commission. Fortunately we have other freezers, so we could keep the books in a holding pattern until the Wei T’o was back in operation.

The final count of affected books was higher than we had guesstimated originally. I counted them as recovery was completed and the books were sent back to the Kinsey Library. In all there were 469 books. Nineteen needed repair or rebinding (4%) and 16 (3%) were unusable due to blocked pages (coated paper permanently stuck together).