Details Most Curious

As is somewhat typical, we’ve been working on varied collections lately in the Paper Lab, from 18th century English legal documents to 20th century drainage maps of Indiana counties.  Along the way, some fun and interesting details have come up worth photographing and sharing.

 First off is a stain we’re calling the ‘Map Hedgehog’ that was on a mid-20th century map, likely a brown-tone diazotype.

We’re a few days late for St. Valentine’s day, but here’s a wax and shellac seal found on a document dated 1741, England.  William Allen’s seal appears to be a tiny Cupid, including a tiny winged heart flying above and to the left of him.

Within the same collection, we came across some interesting foxing-like marks on a 18th century paper, only they were a well-defined ring structure rather than the diffuse spotting normally associated with the term.  Magnification revealed a tiny blue-green deposit at the center of most, suggesting a copper salt. We’ll likely not know if a copper-based pigment fell into the paper vat, or if errant copper particles developed a patina over time, but the copper has clearly induced oxidation of the paper around it.  Incidentally, the core absorbs UV light very heavily in the center, bounded by a region of orange fluorescence, then the outermost ring absorbs heavily again.

Some other items are this 17th century Frankenstein-esque vellum repair…

…and these two naked chaps diving off a boat in a 19th century engraving of ‘Tynemouth Castle, & Bathing Place.

Craig Lab Annual Report – 2011

The E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab hit two milestones during the 2011 calendar year.

First, the General Collections Conservation Unit has treated over 125,000 items since July of 2000.  This unit is currently headed by Garry Harrison who is assisted by Anitta Salkola-White and Miriam Nelson plus our hourly assistants.  Second during 2011 Herb McBride noted that he has constructed over 100,000 enclosures using the Kasemake box making machine since its purchase in 2001.

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Personnel Changes at the Lab

In the realm of good news/bad news, the Preservation Lab is experiencing two changes in personnel.  First, the bad (for IUL) news.  Miriam Nelson has accepted the position of Head of Preservation and Conservation at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.  In her new role, Miriam will oversee the operation of both the preservation department and the Ohio University high density storage facility.  Miriam’s last day with IUL will be February 8, 2012; she will assume her duties at OU later in February.  We want to congratulate and wish her well in her new role.

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Mold in the Herbarium

Garry Harrison, Anitta Salkola-White and Miriam Nelson were tasked with treating a number of items located in the Herbarium Library for mold.  The project took several days but as can be seen from these examples it is obvious that their care and attention was needed. We did not get any post-treatment photos (sorry about that), but all of these were treated successfully and put back into circulation.


Craig Lab Quarterly Report (July – September 2011)

In spite of having nearly no student employees in any of the Preservation units during this period, our output for the quarter increased for both the General Collections Conservation and Kasemake units while both the Paper Lab and Bindery Prep saw slight decreases that are typical of the summer.

In the General Collections Conservation unit total treatments increased from 2,407 during the previous reporting period to 2,615 for this one. Of these, the higher level treatments declined while enclosures nearly doubled as staff spent considerable amount of time working on projects for the Fine Arts Library.

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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.

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Fourth Quarter (April – June) 2011 Activity Report

Staff from the Preservation Lab responded to a water emergency at the IU Art Museum.  Most of the items were clerical files which were brought to the Lab where a combination of both air drying and freeze drying was used on the affected materials.

Approximately 20 monographs were received and treated from the Herman B Wells Library that had suffered water damage.

Seven tours were provided by the Lab staff.  Some of the groups/individuals for whom these tours were conducted included: INDIGO (Indiana Government Documents Librarians), staff from the IU Music Library, Liz Dube – the conservator from Notre Dame, members of an IU Committee who are working on the design of a film preservation facility, and SLIS (IU School of Library & Information Science) alumni.

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Preserving your family Photos

Preserving your Family Photographs – a (very) basic guide

The Good News

You have discovered, or remembered, that you have a box of family photos.  Maybe one of your cousins heard that you were working on the family tree and sent you their family photos.  Whatever the source you are now the one entrusted with preserving these images from your family’s past.  This article will provide you with some basic steps you can take to help ensure that these photographs will last at least a little longer than they might if they were just left in a box in your attic.

The Bad News:  Almost all film deteriorates

When you look through your collection of family photographs, some of which may date back several decades, you will notice that there is a wide variation in their condition.  Some of the oldest may be in better shape than those taken more recently.   When the film was manufactured, who the manufacturer was, whether it was color or black and white, and how it was processed all factor into how well the photos have survived.  However, even “good” film if it has been stored improperly will show signs of deterioration.

For example, Kodachrome color film, dating from about 1938, will retain its colors for about 40 – 50 years if it has been stored in dark conditions.  Kodacolor film, which was introduced in 1942, will show noticeable signs of color loss within five to seven years.[1] By the 1960s color prints were showing some improvement but will still show 30% loss in their dye within ten to fifteen years for prints stored in average room conditions (75 degrees/40% relative humidity).[2] By the 1980s film had improved even more and consumers could expect that prints would last up to fifty years in normal room conditions.  Working as a preservation librarian and as a genealogist I personally do not think fifty years is all that long – it is better than the ten years that had been the norm, but not by much.

Causes of film fading

Controlling temperature is the first line of defense in film preservation.  One way to think about the chemicals in your photographs and how heat impacts them is to compare the photo to a pot of water you have put on the stove.  As long as it is cool the water is calm and the cooler the calmer.  As the water heats up it begins to move and change.  The same happens with the chemicals in your photos but at a lower temperature and over a longer period of time.   Normal room temperature is enough for the chemicals in your photos to start “bubbling” and within a few decades some of the colors will have “evaporated” much like the water in the boiling pot.  For storing film cooler is better.

The second guideline is to avoid excessive dampness, i.e., avoid storage conditions that exceed 50% relative humidity.  Excessive dampness is the most damaging condition for all color photographs as it can cause dye fading, mold growth and softening of the gelatin used on the photographs.[3] Mold growth and gelatin softening can happen within a period as short as a few hours if the conditions are right.

So, how important is controlling the temperature and humidity?  Studies by the Image Permanence Institute on color photographic materials have shown that film stored in an environment that averages 90 degrees and 50% relative humidity (for example your attic) will show noticeable deterioration within ten years.  The same photo stored at 70 degrees and 40% RH will take 60 years to exhibit the same loss.  If you can reduce the RH to an average of 30% it will last for 100 years.[4]

Things you can do

Decide what is important and how long you want to keep those important items.  You may have 50 photos of your father dating from World War II but are all of them important enough to spend the time and money on to preserve in their print form?  Pixels are cheap.  Perhaps the preservation strategy for the less important photos is to scan the photos.

After you have narrowed down your collection to those you want to preserve, evaluate the images and decide if the copy you have is “good enough” or if it needs to be worked on.  How faded is it?  Is it cracked?  Is it brittle or flaking?  Is it stained or showing signs of mold?  You might have a photo in which all of the above are true, but it is the only photo of the individual so it is important regardless of its condition.

If you have a scanner, some basic photo editing software and the only thing wrong with the photo is it has started to fade or the colors are off then you can make significant improvements in the overall image with only a minimum of effort.  I use Photoshop but most of the photo editing software share several basic features.  The original photo on the left was scanned.  Next to it is the image after a basic curves and levels adjustment has been applied.

I usually scan my photos in TIFF format and save the original file while working on a duplicate.  However if the photo is in good shape and needs little or no editing I may scan it as a high level JPEG.   Since both TIFF and JPEG are open formats I am relatively confident that the files will be able to be read by future generations of the software.

Once I have done whatever editing and cleaning-up of the photo I need to do the image is saved as a JPEG.  Both the TIFF original and the edited JPEG are assigned keywords.  I use Adobe’s Lightroom for this but other programs will work as well.  The images are then put into electronic folders.  My filing system is organized as follows:

My Photographs

Genealogy Photos



So, for example, if I am looking for a photograph of my maternal grandmother (Elfelda Marrett) I would open My Photographs, look in my Genealogy Photos folder, find the Marrett Family, then find Elfelda Marrett.

Next, you need to decide what to do with the original photograph.  One of the questions to ask is whether the photograph is important as an artifact.   The following example may help.

This photograph, taken in about 1900, shows my wife’s great grandfather and other members of the coast guard life saving station where he was working inside the station and surrounded by the tools of their trade.  The original photograph is very faded and the housing is showing signs of brittleness and is also probably somewhat acidic.  However this has high value to the family as an artifact.  I was able to scan the original and bring out more details as shown on the copy on the right.  The scanned image is one that will be shared with family while original will be stored for safe keeping.

I have other family photographs, many of which are half a century newer than the above, that are in much worse shape physically.  They may have sections of the image missing, have been folded, stuffed in envelopes, or generally mishandled.  The content of the photos can often be saved through digital restoration but the original photograph cannot be repaired so it could be discarded after scanning.

Those original images that pass your “preserve for posterity” test should be put into protective enclosures.  There are several companies that make preservation quality materials for photo storage.  Two that have long been used by libraries, and which also have good web sites and that sell to individuals are: Hollinger Metal Edge [ ] and Gaylord Brothers [ ].     Once the photos are safely enclosed, the enclosure itself needs to be stored.  Two good options for this are either an archival quality album or archival dropfront box.  If a dropfront box is a better choice for you given the size and number of prints you are saving then rather than using plastic sleeves you could place the photographs in the box and separate each layer of photographs with acid/lignin free paper or with sheets of Tyvek.  Both types of material are available at most framing stores or from many online sources.

The albums should be stored in as good an environment as you can find.  For me, this is a rarely used walk-in closet.  There are no windows and no HVAC ducts so the temperature is fairly constant and is as good as I can get for what I can afford.  If I find that the humidity levels are more than I would like I can add some sort of absorbent such as activated silica gel to the enclosure.  However, I know that if I had a cooler place to store the photographs that would be better.  For example, assuming that the closet averages 70 degrees and 40% RH the photos will last about 60 years before showing signs of color loss.  In the archival vault used by the Indiana University Libraries, materials are kept at 50 degrees and 30% RH.  Photographs stored in that type of environment would take 300 years before they exhibited the same level of loss.

In the short term I am more concerned with loss due to fire or water damage.  To address this I follow a trend used in academic libraries called LOCKSS which is short for Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe.  For my photos, this means that once the digital copies are the best I can make them then they are shared with other family members.  I also have a portable hard drive that has my important digital files that is kept away from my home.  While neither of these are ways to keep the original image safe, they do help to insure that copies of the images are likely to be around for the foreseeable future.

Finally, as a librarian as well as a photographer I am a proponent of print.  I just happen to like the idea that owning a copy that takes no more effort to view than having a light source is not a bad option.  Printing a family album using a service like Shutterfly, MPIX or Blurb is a reasonable approach.  Each of these printers offers printing on acid-free stock using archival quality ink.  These family books could be given as gifts and handed out at family reunions.

Reilly, James M.  Storage guide for color photographic materials [Rochester, N.Y.]: Image Permanence Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology, [1999];

— Lynn Hufford —

[1] Reilly, James M.  Storage guide for color photographic materials: 3.

[2] Reilly: 3-4

[3] Reilly: 12

[4] Reilly: 20