From the paper lab – playing on the job

Since we focus on preservation of flat paper items, the paper lab receives some of the most unusual items from the libraries.  As a collector and playing card afficionado, I was delighted when we received several incomplete decks of Persian Âs Nas cards from the Lilly Library for treatment.

Âs Nas, the probable predecessor of modern Poker, reached the height of its popularity in the Seventeenth Century.  The cards are slightly smaller in size than modern playing cards, and were usually hand-painted on cardboard and then lacquered, making them somewhat thicker than modern cards as well.

The layer of thick, tacky lacquer on each card was causing them to stick to each other, so we needed a housing solution that kept the cards separate from one another.  Since the backs of the cards are blank, it wasn’t of utmost importance that the back be visible, but we did want them to be accessible in case a researcher needed to examine them.

The cards were carefully measured, put in order by size and with the help of Herb McBride and our handy Kasemake box-making machine, we designed custom trays made of matboard with a bed for each card.

Âs Nas cards in tray

Once the cards were put in place, Mary Uthuppuru suggested making sliding mylar windows, to keep the cards secure while still allowing for removal if necessary.

Sliding mylar window

Now the cards can be stored flat in a custom clamshell box.

Card trays in custom clamshell box.

More information about Âs Nas can be found here.

– Nicole Wolfersberger, paper lab technician

Busman’s holiday

I was on vacation in Wisconsin this past week and had the opportunity to tour some museums and facilities related to the work we do here in the Preservation Lab. First stop was the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers. ham1

 I won’t go much into the history of the company or the museum, which you can get from their website, but instead show some pictures of the vast visual archive they have, documenting this phase of printing history.



Vast floorspace holding type, production machinery and printing presses.
Vast floorspace holding type, production machinery and printing presses.
Surfacing machine to prepare and smooth maple sections cut from the tree prior to carving the face.  Note the four drums of successively finer grits of sandpaper.
Surfacing machine to prepare and smooth maple sections cut from the tree prior to carving the face. Note the four drums of successively finer grits of sandpaper.
Pantograph and router head for scaling up and down then type cutting, when traced along the contours of a master.
Pantograph and router head for scaling up or down the type cutting, when traced along the contours of a master.


The created type comes in all manner of sizes and shapes to be utilized in newspapers, posters and packaging all the way up to billboard scale.










The Museum has an active program of visits and workshops for design and printing students throughout the region.  The historic type and presses can be used for the creation of new work- much of which is on display.  IUB Associate Professor Paul Brown has had an active role in promoting this aspect of the museum’s mission.ham7






Later in the week, I visited the Paper Discovery Center in Appleton. This is a small museum created to educate the public (mostly secondary school groups) about the manufacture and importance of paper in our lives. I was pleased to see that they had a temporary exhibition set up about the life and work of Dard Hunter, an artist and paper historian.  Some might consider him the grandfather of paper history: his book “Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft” is still considered the definitive book on the subject. We’ve got a copy of it here in the lab that is well worn.  There are a number of books by and about Hunter within the IUB Libraries, specifically at Wells, Fine Arts, and Lilly Library. He designed and cast his own type, made paper and handbound a number of his publications.

Finally, my tour of paper-related sites ended with a tour of the Neenah Paper Mill in Neenah.  There is a long history of papermaking in the Fox River area of Wisconsin, due to its proximity to good water, pulp and transit networks. Photography wasn’t allowed, so I don’t have any pictures of the very thorough tour.  It began with an explanation of how water is utilized within the factory.  Neenah Papers has done a lot to adhere to strict environmental regulations in their use and discharge of local water supplies- in some instances going further than the law requires.  Paper being made today on a large scale is a very complex blend of chemistry and artistry and my esteem for the finished product was heightened considerably.  The amount of engineering that goes into creating paper to meet a customer’s specifications is mindboggling. For us paper conservators, it helps immensely to learn contemporary manufacturing methods that create the materials housed in archives and libraries in the future.  I was able to bring back some samples of the pulp they utilize for the benefit of the Craig Lab.  Samples like this come in handy for fiber identification as well as educating employees to recognize different physical qualities present in paper. We love swatch books!

All in all, it was a great week seeing the historic and contemporary nuts and bolts involved in the creation of the materials we conserve daily within the lab.

-Doug Sanders, Paper Conservator

Manual update

The General Collections Conservation Unit’s online Repair and Enclosure Treatments Manual was updated recently.

The most outwardly obvious change is that the color scheme was changed to that currently in use by IU. The functionality of numerous menu and sub-menu pages (some of which still represented the very earliest versions of the Manual) was enhanced by converting from the old list display to the newer table format. This allows each of the menus to fit on one page, which they didn’t before. A couple of broken links were found and fixed, and a few others rearranged to make navigation more efficient. A few new images were added, along with documentation of one enclosure treatment.

The Complete Table of Contents for the Manual can be viewed at:

Enclosure for artist book1

We receive a number of artist books from the IU Fine Arts Library that require some creativity in the construction of an enclosure.  We have decided to start posting photos of the more interesting/unique of these as they are completed.  Angela Lorenz is the author of “Lay text.”  Annita Salkola-White is the staff member in the Preservation Lab who designed and constructed the enclosure for the book.

Question on the relative strength and durability of two different types of binding options

Original Question:

“Is there any research dealing with the relative strengths/durability of stab binding sewn signatures and double adhesive with threaded notches?  I am producing a limited edition of 100 breviaries and binding and printing single pages is much easier but I don’t wish to be embarrassed by the book probably falling apart after a few prayers”

Our Response:

The consensus from those asked was that rather than try to bind single sheets you should reprint the text in signatures and then sew through the folds.  If this is not a viable option then the next best approach would be a well-executed double-fan adhesive binding (any style, assuming the adhesive is PVA) over a stab-sewn binding.  It opens better and is less self-stressing assuming that the paper is receptive, has good inner margins and grain direction is long.  Finally it was felt that Stab sewing would be restrictive sacrificing openability for the strength provided by the sewing.

Question on sealing the surface of a collage

Occasionally we receive questions from the general public or the libraries we serve about some aspect of preservation or general treatment that the person who is asking the question hopes we can assist with.  We’ll be posting some of these and our response in this forum.  Here is our first Q&A post:

The Question:

Hello, I am a collage artist in Brooklyn, NY. I am writing to ask for your opinion concerning the conservation of my work. I construct collages on flat wooden surfaces, usually plywood or a higher quality grain, which I paint with gesso and sand. I repeat the gesso and sanding process three or four times. Onto the surface I glue magazine clippings as flatly as I can, in layers until I achieve the desired subject. In order to get a flat bond with the wood, I use acid-free craft glue sticks or industrial grade sticks. The problem is with the finished collage’s exposure to light, humidity, and other various changes in climate. The magazine has a tendency to warp and “bubble” with age. Is there any substance you could recommend to seal the surface of the collage? Any advice would be greatly appreciated – I have experimented with different substances over the last few years and have yet to discover one that has a lasting and professional effect, ! without warping or distorting the magazine. Even lamination has crossed my mind.

Our Response:

We had a sort of similar question last year from an IU student who was using collaged magazine clippings in her artwork.  Magazine paper is very difficult to work with, from the start.  It is groundwood pulp and very short fibered which makes it very reactive to water, dimensionally speaking.  On top of that, you’ve got the printing inks and varnishes to cause problems.

For a start, I’d get away from using the glue sticks- they’re often starch and vegetable gum- based adhesives which can cause difficulties.

Try using PVA glues (elmers, or a number of higher quality ones used in the conservation field, such as Jade or Elvace) or else Beva adhesive. These can all be found at Talas in NYC, among other suppliers. BEVA can be mixed with alcohol and other solvents, which may be the way you need to go as the magazine paper might react better to non-aqueous adhesives (as long as the ink won’t solubilize)

Also with glue, less is often more- you can apply it with a foam roller to get a thin, even layer.  I’d try not to dilute it though (don’t want to introduce more water).

A better quality adhesive will go a long way to improving the quality of your artwork over time and you may find no need for a sealer or ‘varnish’ over the top.  Try acryloid (a.k.a. paraloid) B72 if you still want something.  Of course it’ll change the surface reflective qualities quite a bit, and will saturate the colors.

The gesso might be creating a little bit of adhesion problem (just a guess), especially if you’re using modern, acrylic gesso rather than old-fashioned chalk and animal glue mixtures.  You say you’re sanding it though which may give it the tooth you need for adhesion by the magazine clips.

Treatment of water-damaged books from Kinsey Institute Library

When books wrinkle due to being wet, there is no guarantee that they will ever be less wrinkled. When inks and dyes bleed and run and when coated paper sticks together, that is irreversible. Freeze-drying will limit and often even eliminate these problems but will not reverse them if they have occurred before the materials are frozen.

When large numbers of books are water-damaged and mass replacement is not a feasible option, the objective becomes returning the books to a usable state. Such was the case with many of the books from the water incident at Kinsey Institute Library which were treated by the General Collections Conservation unit.

After freeze-drying, books are re-humidified under controlled conditions, then placed in a standing press. The actual labor of the flattening process requires relatively little time, but it takes rather a lot of time overall, due to two factors. First, our capacity for doing the work is small, re-humidification chamber space and press space both being quite limited. Second, the books must remain in the presses for 24 hours or more. So, the job takes considerably more time by the calendar than by the clock.

A few examples are shown above in before and after condition. These books were soaked the same as if they had been submerged, so their reaction was pretty extreme. For instance, the first book pictured isn’t fanned open; it wouldn’t close any further. As you can see in the after image, the books are not restored to as-new condition. They still have wrinkles and tide lines. But they are at least book-shaped and functional.

Statistical Report – Craig Lab – 1st Quarter 2009

Preservation Lab

1st Quarter 2009 – Report

This report covers the period January 1, 2009 – March 31, 2009.

Attended ALA midwinter where I chaired the meeting of the CIC Preservation Officers group.  I also convened a CIC-PO conference call in March.  At also I took part in the LITA PARS meetings on Friday and Saturday.

Serve on the IUL Assessment Committee and have recently been added as a member of the AIP Steering Committee

Attended the Librarians Coffee and Conversation get-togethers, Customer Service Training, Librarian Faculty meeting with the Dean, Teaching with Web 2.0 and the PA Performance Evaluation meeting.

Met with the librarian at the Lakeview Elementary School to review her plans for remodeling that school library.

Garry Harrison and the staff from General Conservation accomplished the following:

  • Responded to two nearly identical water incidents at Geology Library in January and March. Source of both was the machine room above library. Draped stacks with plastic. Damage to collections was minor; about 100-150 books, edge-wet only. Fanned books on tables to air-dry on-site, left air movers.
  • Responded to water incident at Education Library. Source was a roof leak, rain while construction in progress. Appeared to have started in an area not over collections, prompting someone to drape nearby stacks with plastic. They wanted us to check under the plastic sheeting for wet books, which we did using moisture detector. We found none.
  • Met with Charla Lancaster to discuss rebuilding the Preservation database in the current version of Access. It had become non-functional with the upgrade. We are trying to find someone who can write a program to import data from WorkFlows as we enter materials.
  • Pending the upgrade of the Preservation database, as an interim step, we began performing circulation functions to allow us to better organize the intake and return of materials. The process shows us when the book was received, what level of treatment it is here for, and which shelf it is on. After the treatment has been performed, books are discharged and put into transit.
  • After a lengthy search for a competent service tech, the hydraulic guillotine was finally repaired and is back to full operational vigor.
  • Constructed clamshell boxes for 13 oversize books from Fine Arts Library’s special collections. Most were double-wall with stepped joints. The procedure for constructing this enclosure was documented and added to the online manual.
  • Constructed a built-up clamshell box for a ceremonial peace pipe from Archives.
  • Photo-/text-documented book vacuuming unit for Ramona Duncan-Huse, conservator at Indiana Historical Society.
  • Hosted tour of department by Peggy Houston and students.
  • Hired three new student bench technicians.

Conservation Treatment Statistics


Level 1

Level 2

Level 3





















Doug Sanders and his assistant performed the following treatments:

Lilly- 6 jobs- mending, fabrication of housings. Also, the 2-year newspaper project is nearly finished (2Q09 target)

Geology- 15 map encapsulations

Fine Arts- non-aqueous deacidification of 144 arts newspapers

I also gave a talk (with Nicole’s assistance) to a SLIS Rare Book Cataloging class on the topic of paper and parchment cataloging terms.

Peggy Houston and her two student hourly assistants processed the following:

January 14th shipment total:    288 items    (214 serials) (impact of Christmas break)

February 11th shipment total:  813 items   (651 serials)

March 11th shipment total:    1,200 items   (1108) serials)

Total: 2,301 items

Herb McBride constructed 1,548 enclosures.  Of these, 833 were Lilly Library, 279 were Lilly Lab (i.e., items brought to Preservation for treatment), 149 from the Lilly puzzle collection, 94 were Lilly puzzle corrugated enclosures, 12 for the Music Library and 181 were from the general collections.

Mary Graham Uthuppuru with her hourly staff, working for the Lilly Library, constructed 78 phase boxes, 2 clamshell enclosures, 5 built-up phase boxes and encapsulated 40 items.  They also performed regular treatment to 26 items.  They were also involved in working on seven major exhibitions including the installation of the Abraham Lincoln exhibit and the Rubik’s Cube Exhibit in Lilly and the Islamic Book Art exhibit at the IU Art Museum.