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.

IMG_0563
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!