Back to School

On this blog, we often post about new techniques that we are learning in order to take better care of our collections. We are always trying to continue our education and ensure that we are able to take the very best care of the items entrusted to us. But sometimes the new techniques we learn aren’t actually “new” at all, as was the case this past September.

In mid-September, we participated in a three-day workshop on historic bookbinding materials and structures taught by Atlanta-based conservator, bookbinder, and owner of Big River Bindery, Andrew Huot. Andrew taught us nine of the most common European methods of bookbinding in use from the eighth to the nineteenth century, as well as four methods of board attachment, how to make a laced case binding, and even generously included an impromptu headband sewing session! It was a busy few days, for sure! Understanding how books are made helps us “unmake” them, so we can repair them. It is probably unsurprising to hear that the print collections at many libraries are circulating less as focus shifts to electronic subscriptions and online information. Less circulation for the print collection means we spend less time fixing the everyday sort of damage books normally incur. Although we still work on many new items, we are finding that we now have more time to spend assessing the older portions of the collection, so we were very happy to have the opportunity to enrich our knowledge of pre-19th century bookbinding.

Andrew shows us how to sew on raised cords.
Elise at her sewing frame (if you’re resourceful, you can even sew multiple books on the same set of tapes!)
Anitta sawing channels for recessed cords to sit in.
What a laced case looks like from the inside! We used colored Tyvek instead of the traditional vellum; much more affordable! And it looks great!
Our finished product! From left to right: recessed cords, raised single cords, raised double cords, herringbone sewing on alum-tawed thongs, all-along sewing on linen tapes, french stitching on linen tapes, catch stitching on linen tapes, abbreviated (two-up) sewing, and unsupported link stitching.

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.


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).

Picture Perfect

Hello again!

In order to explain how I do my work, I thought some pictures would be helpful.  Then I decided to go a step further, so I created a time-lapse video of a shipment being processed.

The Fleet has arrived!  They are brought to us from the Wells Library.
The fleet of book trucks has arrived! They are brought to us from  Wells Library, just in time for the arriving bindery shipment.
The big table is empty and the outgoing shipment has been processed and is ready to be picked up.
At this point, the big table is empty and the outgoing shipment has been processed and is ready to be picked up.

As the Bindery and Preservation Review Coordinator, I oversee the preparation of materials for commercial binding.  We send shipments to the HF Group in North Manchester, Indiana every fourth Tuesday.  The outgoing shipment is picked up at the same time the previous month’s finished shipment is returned to us.

The bindery has arrived; it is being brought in by the HF Group truck driver.
Now the return shipment is being brought in by the HF Group truck driver–ordinarily about 40 boxes.
It's all here!
It’s all here!

The return shipment must be processed quickly–within a week–so when the shipment comes, my students and I are all working on it.  The work pace is quite different than the rest of the month, as materials to be bound are picked up from the various campus locations, and then brought to Wells Library, and finally here in the daily deliveries.

Everything is in place.  This bindery shipment is ready to be unpacked, checked, and sorted.
Now that all the boxes have been brought in, everything is in place. This bindery shipment is ready to be unpacked, checked, and sorted.
After opening the boxes that were on the table, processing has begun!
Here we have begun unpacking.


For our assembly-line, we put all the boxes on one side of the table.  The first person opens the boxes and places the items on the table oriented in the same direction.  The second person opens the volume and moves the bindery slip so it is readable when the book is closed.  Then, they sort the items based on where they will go next.  The third person has stacks of duplicate binding slips and matches them up to make sure every item has come back.  Finally, the volumes are sorted onto trucks to facilitate the next steps, which take place in Technical Services in the main library.


The time-lapse video was fairly easy to make.  I set the camera to take a photograph every 5 seconds.  Almost 2 hours later, we had 1,137 photos.  I took out about 100 photos and put the rest into an image sequence at 15 frames per second.  After exporting the video, I posted it to my (newly created) YouTube channel.


The table is once again clear of boxes and books, and they have been sorted onto trucks.
The table is once again clear of boxes and books.



The day we process the returned bindery shipment feels exactly how it looks in the video.  After everything is on the appropriate trucks, we deal with any extraneous problems that need to be handled before the items go back to Technical Services in Wells Library.

The items get secured with a strap around each shelf.
The items get secured with a strap around each shelf.


The trucks are now ready for transport.  After they leave, the work space seems much larger.  It also appears like we don’t have any work to do, but that’s not true.  In 3 weeks, the shipment that was picked up will be returned to us, and the whole process starts again.

Special Thanks to–

  • all my colleagues for walking around the camera set up
  • Doug Sanders for thinking the time-lapse was a good idea and explaining the digital camera to me
  • Elise Calvi for editing and encouraging the post
  • my students, Chelsea Liddell and Katherine Siebenaler for starring in the video

A Collaboration of 3-D Modelling and Automated Box Manufacture for Library Special Collections Enclosures

The E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab routinely produces a large number of enclosures for both bound and unbound materials within our campus research collections. Enclosures range from simple pamphlet binders and folders to more complex phase boxes, tuxedo wrappers and special collection clamshell or drop-spine boxes. Construction can occur manually, semi-automatedly, or a combination of the two.

Generally, manually-made enclosures are constructed for special collections books and manuscripts as well as personal effects that often accompany our paper-based collections (medals, watches, tobacco pipes, trophies for example). Build-ups, wells and sink mats are relied upon to hold such materials.

The Kasemake is a semi-automated system developed by Conservation By Design, relying on an operator inputting length, width and height measurements into a CAD-based system with output to a machine that can cut, score and label form-fitting boxes; the designs for which come from a wide catalog of template options. Kasemake machines are being utilized in many libraries and archives throughout the world. Our Kasemake KM503A purchased in 2001 was the first in North America; fiscal year 2013/2014 saw 5000 enclosures constructed with this piece of equipment. It is worth noting that other box-making systems are also in place within many large libraries.

There are several limitations to the current approach which from time to time call on more innovative solutions. Enclosures made by both systems generally rely on wrapping simple shapes with right angles and slab-like forms. These methods cannot always follow three dimensional contours accurately and rely on stabilizing the irregular object at a limited number of contact points through collars, struts, slots and posts. Form-fitting wells of foam are the preferred choice, but very difficult to make accurately by hand.

verdi 3


In Spring 2015, the Preservation Lab received a painting on wooden panel from the Lilly Library. The panel is a single piece of wood measuring 35.5cm x 25.0cm x .5 cm thick. 1.0 cm battens run the full width along the top and bottom of the verso. Warping of the panel has occurred, resulting in a subtle saddle shape. Internal stresses also produced several longitudinal splits through the board. The painted surface suffers from active cleavage and loss.

The curator overseeing the project wished for the panel to receive an enclosure that would protect the item from handling, offer support in storage and be straightforward enough that staff could remove the item for access and return it without much manipulation of the panel, or its enclosure.

Typically, we would pad out a box with rolls or blocks of archival-quality foam to support selected areas.  In this particular case, conservation staff felt that localized support would not be enough, as the panel rested level on only two points of contact. There was vibration concern for the paint layer as well as a restriction that nothing could be placed directly on top. We also wanted to come up with a solution that would allow for subtle changes to the panel dimensions through environmental fluctuation.

After some discussion, it was envisioned that a form-fitting cradle, following the complete contour of the verso surface would meet our needs. 3D scanning and computer modeling was thought to be the best route to the construction of the form. A literature search revealed little published work applying 3D scanning technology to museum and library storage. Our scanning and fabrication options were initially thought to be either a rapid prototyping machine (ie. 3D printer) or a router-based CNC (Computer Numerical Control) system that would carve the void out of a block of foam. Neither was a good solution from a conservation perspective nor necessarily available to us. We realized that our Kasemake box fabrication machine could potentially be used to create a form, in an additive manner based on the build-up of layers of foam.

Conservation staff sought scanning and modeling expertise across campus departments at Indiana University, Bloomington. It was found that the Center for Biological Research Collections had recently purchased a scanner to begin a project of digitizing its vast consortial collection of biological and paleontological reference materials. Gary Motz, CBRC Project Coordinator generously offered to use his equipment for our purposes. Further help came from Jeff Rogers, Principal Project Analyst at the IU Advanced Visualization Lab who would digitally model the enclosure volume. With luck, we hoped that the team could generate files that could be exported to our Kasemake machine for fabrication.


The initial scan was generated with a FARO Edge ScanArm ES. This is a hand-held laser scanner and non-contact measurement system. The panel was gently inverted on the work surface of the scanner, to reveal the contour of the underside.



Several passes of the scan arm were needed due to the laser-absorptive capacity of the wooden panel. Once finished, the scanning process created a geometric mesh of 214,000 individual points, and polygons connecting those points to describe the surface of the panel: termed a ‘point cloud’


The scan data was then manipulated with Geomagic Design X to create a mathematically described surface which was exported to Rhino 3D for modelling. Surfaces were trimmed to create a volume which was scaled up roughly 2mm in order to create a marginally loose-fitting enclosure around it.



After a virtual enclosure was created that entailed a contour-fitting cushion as well as a 2.5cm margin around all sides with finger holes, the rendered volume was ‘sliced’ horizontally into 3.175mm thick layers to simulate the thickness of Volara foam. Volara Type A foam is a closed cell polyethylene foam used widely within the conservation community. Its smooth surface, 1/8” thickness, white color and relative ease of cutting made it the preferred choice, over archival sheet foams such as Ethafoam and Plastazote. The files describing the shape of each of these slices were exported in CAD .dxf format to our Kasemake machine, for the final cut-out supervised by our in-house enclosure specialist.

kasemake cutting


There was a minor complication with cutting in the form of a static charge that built up within the foam itself. Typically, the material to be cut is held to the cutting bed by air pressure generated from a vacuum pump underneath. In our case, a Teflon fitting on the cutting head and the Volara polyethylene foam built up sufficient static attraction to dislodge from the bed at times. This resulted in a slightly crooked cut in places, although the error was never greater than 2 mm in scale.

Once each layer was cut out, the stack was hand assembled with archival 3M #415 double-sided tape to create the final form as PVA glues and hot melt adhesives both present bonding difficulties. It should be noted that Volara Type A foam comes with an optional adhesive backing, reported by the manufacturer to be a non-yellowing acrylic base. We were unable to find any testing of this material within the conservation literature so decided to use our own bonding method. A fitted box, with separate tray and lid was also cut out on the Kasemake utilizing archival-quality E-flute corrugated board.

fabrication 2



Though there was a considerable time investment for this initial investigation, the project is considered a success. The fragile wooden panel is now held and protected by a cushion of foam. For those labs and institutions without an automated cutting machine, the files of each individual layer could be exported to a large plotter printer and cut out of paper, to serve as templates for manually cutting foam.

Other areas of development lie in determining alternate methods of bonding the foam layers together. Some experimentation has shown that passing a hot needle through the layers can bond them together. The foam layers could also be modelled and oriented vertically, in effect wedging them into place in the box, perhaps alleviating the need for adhesion.

As more 3D scanning and fabrication products enter the market, we foresee greater development in customized storage solutions for collecting institutions. The Center for Biological Research Collections has expressed an interest in pursuing this collaboration further for the storage of some very fragile human remains in their paleontological collection. At the time of this posting, the Advanced Visualization Lab has purchased two new hand-held scanners; promising greater ease of use and portability.

panel in box 2



The author would like to extend thanks to those staff members of Indiana University who made this project possible:

Cherry Williams, Curator of Manuscripts, Lilly Library

Arini Esarey, Paper Conservation Technician, E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab

Herb McBride, Enclosure Specialist, E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab

Gary Motz, Project Coordinator, Center for Biological Research Collections

Jeff Rogers, Principal Project Analyst, Advanced Visualization Lab

Spreading the Conservation Gospel

Hello all! My name is Chelsea Liddell and I am a student worker in the Preservation Lab. I work in the Bindery Unit with Erin McAvoy and also in the Paper Lab with Doug Sanders. Today I want to talk a little about preservation from the student perspective.

Chelsea Liddell mending paper tears
Chelsea Liddell at work in the lab mending paper tears using pre-coated repair tissue

What do you think of when you hear “preservationist?” A lot of us picture a bespectacled, lab-coated, white-gloved technician delicately cleaning manuscripts with a minute brush and repairing papers with fine-pointed tweezers. For many of us in library school, this image can be daunting; the field of preservation and conservation still retains a certain aura of esoteric mysticism. But libraries know the importance of integrating preservation closely with the rest of the library’s work. The most important conservation technique is prevention, and both librarians and conservators know that it is vitally important to involve workers at all levels to ensure that materials are handled and cared for properly.

Many libraries are not as fortunate as IU in having a dedicated preservation department, and for some librarians they are literally the only person working at their library. For these “lone rangers” especially, it is extremely useful to know some basic preservation techniques. IU has been making numerous efforts in this vein, one of which was a workshop organized by second-year MLS student, Katie Kuntz.

Katie Kuntz
Katie Kuntz sewing a pamphlet

When I asked her how she came up with the idea, Katie explained, “It’s a significant part of librarianship that many people don’t have a firm foundation in … knowing that your materials are actual, physical things and you can prolong their lives. A lot of people are interested and I just saw the need.”

Katie organized a four-hour workshop, given by Elise Calvi, Head of General Collections Conservation and Preservation, which taught ten library students some basic preservation principles and techniques, with the hope that they might go on to utilize these tips in their own libraries someday.

Trimming pamphlets prior to sewing
students at work
Making enclosures for books

Students learned how to sew pamphlets (a technique that can be used to bind thinner, flimsier items, such as newsletters), how to make a sturdy enclosure for a book (which can protect damaged, fragile, or special books from fluctuations in environmental conditions, light, and pollutants, and provide structural support on the shelf), how to mend paper tears with wheat paste and Japanese tissue paper, humidify and flatten rolled documents, and also how to dry water-logged books.

Wet book

Elise Calvi showing the damage that occurs when books get wet.

Now these students will be able to provide really good, primary care for items they might encounter in the future!

This is just one of the many things that the Preservation Lab at IU is doing to spread the conservation message across the world! As a library student myself, I know that I have found the knowledge gained by working in the lab to be incredibly valuable to the rest of my studies. Dirt, floods, mold, and hoards of locusts, I know that I am ready to deal with whatever may come! Stay tuned to see what other amazing things are going on at the lab!

How We Spent the Summer in General Collections Conservation

It started normally enough in May, as soon as Spring semester ended. As part of a larger effort to enhance services for the William & Gayle Cook Music Library, we began a blitz of their heavily used Reserves Collection.

The Jacobs School of Music at IU has one of the largest academic music libraries in the world, and we in General Collections Conservation can attest to the collection’s heavy and intensive use. Unlike some other disciplines, where use of print continues to decline, music materials there are still heavily used in print form.

Our goal was to repair all the needy reserve materials before the start of Fall semester. Alexis Witt, Reserves Coordinator, identified materials in need of treatment, and sorted them into priority groups — needed for 1st summer session, 2nd session, or (potentially) fall semester. We worked on them accordingly.

Many items needed the advanced skills of our Conservation Technicians, Anitta Salkola-White and Lara Tokarski. I pitched in too, while our student techs helped keep up with the regular flow of materials from other libraries. In all we repaired about 150 Music Reserve items, and spent an average of 2.6 hours per item.

Repaired Music Reserve books
Repaired books from the Music Library’s reserve collection

Now I’ll bet you’re thinking, “Wow, 2.6 hours per item. That’s a lot!”

And it is. That is what can happen when materials, such as those on reserve, can’t be spared long enough for commercial binding or in-house repair. If treatment services and turnaround time are not responsive to the needs of users, repairs may be put off too long, and there may be pressure to use expedient methods (i.e., tape) to keep books together for another circulation. The longer repairs are put off, the condition worsens, repairs take longer, they have to be off the shelves longer, the work piles up. Sort of a vicious cycle.

In addition, there are a lot of scores in the Music Reserves Collection, many on reserve almost constantly. These occupied most of our time! Musical scores are used in a very particular way, which results in damage to the text pages (rather than the cover or cover-to-text attachment). While performing, the musician turns the pages quickly, taking a hand off their instrument only briefly. You can almost feel the energy of this activity from the pattern of tears that results.

Bottom edge tears
Tears at the bottom edge

Multiple edge tears, usually at the bottom of the page, are common.

Long irregular tear
Sometimes there are long, irregular tears too.

On older scores, breaks and tears often occur all along the inner margins. Many needed guarding of the folds throughout, or mending at the bottom 2-3 inches of every fold.

All of these kinds of tears are more troublesome when they have been patched with pressure-sensitive tape.  Also, many of the multiple-signature scores we repaired were commercially bound in the 1960s and 1970s using stiff hinge cloth wrapped around the folds of the first and last signatures. The cloth forms a knife edge against which the pages break, one after another. While the content is in tatters, the covers of many of the commercially bound scores are still sound.

Breaking page at cloth hinge
Stiff hinge cloth causes breakage at the inner margin

We returned about 10 heavily damaged scores to the Music Library without repair so they could decide whether to try to purchase a replacement copy. These were generally brittle, covered liberally in tape, and more than about 6 folios. Those in similar condition but fewer pages could often be repaired with a combination of scanned replacement pages and tape removal with a heated spatula/hot tacking tool (when tape was in the way of a repair, such as in the folds, or when an irregular tear has been misaligned, obscuring information).

This brief but intensive project has spawned some new ideas for meeting the challenges of caring for this large, important, and heavily used collection, and we are working now to put some of those into place. At the beginning of the post, I said that our goal was to finish the reserve repairs before the Fall semester. We actually finished in late July, which turned out to be a very good thing.

My New Friend Wei T’o

On Monday after the long Fourth of July weekend, we were just settling into a nice routine with the Music Reserves when we got the call. As mentioned in an earlier post, the Library at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction discovered a leak from a drain pipe over its book stacks, affecting about 400 books. 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 the movies, so about 90% of them are heavily illustrated. You know what that means – lots of coated paper.

In my next post, I will talk about my new friend, old Wei T’o, and how we spent the rest of the summer together (and probably fall too).

wei t'o
Wei T’o

Tale of Two Books

The General Collections Conservation unit of Indiana University Library’s E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab treats an average of 13,000 items per year. Treatment may be as simple as reinserting single pages that have come loose to completely rebuilding and repairing a 300-year-old monograph. However, several times each year the Lab is sent items in a red biohazard bag; these require special handling or disposal. Often the contents of these bags are books thought to be hosting active mold growth, and the Craig Lab staff is asked to assess the item and decide whether it can be saved or needs to be withdrawn. This, Tale of Two Books, is an overview of the steps we follow when a monograph shows up that has mold and will give you an idea of the process we use to remediate this problem when the item is important enough to warrant the time and effort.

Usually the circulation desk staff will notify the Lab when a book that they suspect has mold is being sent to the Lab so we know to be looking for it. However, sometimes we do not know what the problem might be until we open the bag. Fortunately, red biohazard bags are hard to miss, so when one shows up we know to take special care in handling its contents. While we are not overly concerned with the supposed toxicity of mold, neither are we careless with it. Mold can trigger unpleasant allergy-like reactions and/or contaminate workspaces if its presence is extensive. Also, some books may have other, potentially more hazardous issues. Therefore, the contents of these bags are dealt with either in a controlled environment such as an exhaust hood or outdoors where there is unlimited air exchange.

About 25% of the time, the problem that was sent to us as mold turns out to be either just dirt or ink that has run, or a combination of the two. We appreciate this as erring on the side of caution. A more casual attitude on the sender’s part could result in our dealing with a major mold infestation in a collection space, so we do not mind receiving an occasional “false alarm” book.

Continue reading “Tale of Two Books”