Good intentions

Things have been relatively calm in our corner of the blogosphere for several months, so I thought I’d add a post about a treatment I’ve been working on in the Paper Lab. We received five leaves of correspondence from the US History manuscript collection at Lilly Library. The small collection of letters are written in German by Philip Boehm, a Union soldier, to his sister during the Civil War.  All have been laminated in a manner that was new to me: it appears a well-meaning, but ultimately misguided person placed each leaf in a plastic3-ring binder pocket protector and then used a domestic iron to melt and seal it all together. The film is perhaps polypropylene or polyvinyl chloride (I didn’t do the testing to confirm).

Most laminations involve a commercial product: either a heat-set or pressure-sensitive adhesive backed film is applied to both sides of a document. Over time, the films can oxidize, turn yellow, and possibly go brittle. The enclosed paper document becomes exposed to this oxidation and hydrolysis and can also become impregnated with the melted plastic or adhesive from the film. Removal generally follows methods associated with pressure sensitive tape removal- the use of solvents to swell or dissolve the film and/or the adhesive deposit. Heat can also be applied in a variety of ways to effect removal.

In this case, a combination of the two approaches is proving effective. Rather than applying heat from above, with a stream of hot air or getting in-between the materials with a heated spatula, I found that heat from below was the most effective.

Here’s the set-up, and another shot of it being used:

A conventional tacking iron that every conservation lab possesses is set to the lowest heat setting and stabilized in a face up position. Using the surface as a mini hotplate, the document is stabilized on the iron with a Casselli spatula in my left hand while I slowly pull the softened film away with the other. In this manner, strips are removed from recto and verso sides. The process takes around 45 minutes.

After film removal, the paper still appears translucent and darkened due to plastic that saturated the fibers. Testing of solvents reveals that an immersion in acetone for about 15 minutes reduces this effect by swelling remaining laminate substances and leaves the paper in a close to original state.  Mending tears with tissue and wheat starch paste follows. Humidification and pressing completed the work.

Digital Brown Bag talk

I’ll be speaking next week in the IU Libraries Scholar’s Commons about the 3-D enclosure developed last summer. There will be a simulcast on Adobe Connect as well as a feed on Twitter if you can’t attend in person.

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

March 9th 2016 @ 12:00pm
Hazelbaker Lecture Hall (E159)

Doug Sanders, Paper Conservator
E. Lingle Craig Preservation Laboratory

The manufacture of protective enclosures is part of routine work in many libraries and museums. This presentation summarizes a novel collaboration of 3-D scanning and modeling technology provided by digital technology available on campus with automated box making services internal to Library Preservation. A custom-fitted enclosure for a painting on wood panel within the Lilly Library collections was the net result. This developmental method holds promise for specialized storage and shipping protection of library, scientific research and museum collections.
Spring 2016 Digital Library Brown Bag Series
The Digital Library Brown Bag Series presentations are held in the Herman B Wells Library from 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm EST. The complete schedule is available at:

Watch the presentation here If you are not a registered Connect user, select “Enter as a Guest”.

Sign up for email reminders! Send an email to with the message body: sub dl-brownbag-l Your Full Name

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

Common School Wall Chart

In the Paper Lab, we recently treated a large set of educational wall charts dating from the 1890’s, printed by W.L.Bell & Co. of Kansas City, Missouri.IMG_2972

The set was purchased by a Bloomington resident in 1995 for $25 from a local antique shop. It was donated to our county historical society who in turn recently passed it along to a unit within the university library system. There are 25 intact charts, printed both recto and verso with all manner of subject- literacy, penmanship, geography, physiology, mathematics, and governance. At first the work- though complex- was fairly routine: disassembly, washing, alkalization, mending, pressing. The longer we had it in the lab, the more it revealed aspects of itself in terms of its immense value in documenting American life and education in the late 19th century. The poster reflects the Common School Movement- a development in American education that sought to develop a common curriculum. It began in the 1830’s but went through ferment and change in the 1890’s when this was printed. A parallel movement had risen in Germany in the mid 1800’s as well- the training of teachers could not keep pace with rapidly increasing numbers of students in schools. Wall charts allowed for clearer instruction for greater numbers. Coupled with german expertise in chromolithographic printing, the glory days of the educational wall chart reached a zenith in Europe in the mid 19th century. Our set of charts highlights both technical printing skill and contemporary educational thought in one.

before treatment
before treatment
after treatment
after treatment
before treatment
before treatment
after treatment
after treatment


One plate, with a particularly gruesome physiological theme, displays the effects of prolonged alcohol and tobacco consumption:


All of the physiological plates, this one included, had an interesting printing technique we do not see too often.  In areas that depict blood, viscera, and sometimes hair, it appears that an additional layer of glaze, perhaps just linseed oil, was added on top of the ink to create greater saturation of color.  During aqueous treatment (washing) this particular effect can often blanch- much like the ring left from a wet glass placed on top of a varnished table- in order to rectify it, we were able to swab the foggy areas with isopropyl alcohol to drive the water away that had become bonded within the ink’s oil.

These detail shots show before and after the treatment:

chart pic detail_DTchart pic detail_AT

After each sheet was treated, a cloth-covered drop front box was made to hold unbound charts, with the original roller in its own compartment. It will now reside in our Auxiliary Storage Facility (ALF).

Apparently, the Common School Movement was criticized as promoting Protestant values during the period when the US saw an influx of Roman Catholic immigrants.  Such strife eventually led to the Parochial School Movement.

Today’s debates over home-schooling versus public education and evolutionary theory versus creationism are just a continuance of how we, as Americans, are constantly struggling to decide how to educate our children. Different interest groups compete for dominance over curriculum depending on the social conditions of the time.

For more about changes in the American curriculum, read Kliebard, Herbert M. The Struggle for the American Curriculum 1893-1958. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Mass Humidification

We mentioned a month or two ago a long-term project we have going with the Wylie House on campus. Roughly 5000 letters of correspondence are being cleaned, repaired and rehoused for eventual storage at ALF– the compact off-site storage facility our library system has on campus. Surface cleaning and mending the letters has been relatively trouble free, but early on we realized that the stage of humidification (prior to pressing) was causing a workflow log jam. The first efforts involved utilizing the dome on our cold suction table. An ultrasonic humidifier feeds humidified air into the chamber and after a couple of hours, the letters are damp and ready for pressing.

We could only humidify about twelve to fifteen leaves at a go with this method, so we added on another humidification technique by turning our large sink into a chamber, supplied with wet blotters beneath a layer of Gore-Tex. Another dozen or so letters could be prepped this way each day.

sink humidification

Even with these two options, pressing efforts were being stalled, causing us to go back to our client library with a much longer than originally projected completion date. Thankfully, inspiration struck and it occurred to us that it may be possible to convert our print drying rack into a Mass Humidification Device.

drying rackWe constructed a slip cover of sorts out of plastic sheeting and Velcro tape that fully encloses the rack, except for the bottom. With a generous ‘dust ruffle’ of sheeting at the base, not much water vapor seems to leak out. The cover is constructed of two parts: the larger is a single sheet, with stapled ‘seams’ giving some rigidity to five ‘panels’ to wrap around the rack, with closure in the front; the second piece is a top that Velcro bonds to this upright portion.mass humid test1

The above photo shows initial tests introducing humidity into the chamber by way of the ultrasonic option. After several hours, the %RH was only up to ~70%. Opening up the cover revealed that the humid air wasn’t dissipating into the overall volume fast enough, before condensation occurred at the point of introduction. In other words, we had liquid water and dripping where the hose made contact with one of the shelves, but dryness elsewhere. A second set of tests with wet blotters proved much more effective with speed of humidification and distribution of water vapor.

We are now able to fill 20-25 shelves with correspondence per day. A wet blotter is placed between every 4-5 shelves of letters. Humidification takes place over about six hours. We empty the rack of its contents at the end of the day, and create a press stack for overnight drying and flattening.  The process is repeated the next day, ensuring that items are pressed for 24 hours, which is effective enough for single-leaved, stationery-weight paper.  Foldering and boxing then occurs.

papers on rackpressing stack

-submitted by Doug Sanders


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”