Arts, Crafts, and Preservation

These past few weeks have been a flurry of activity in the archives as fellow co-worker Amy finishes her exhibit of Robert Borkenstein, inventor of the Breathalyzer. She’s done a great job putting together such a large exhibit in so short a time, and it will be ready this weekend for the SAA-SC Conference being held at IU. If you can, come up to the archives office and check it out! There is a variety of materials in the exhibit, from Breathalyzer prototypes to newspaper clippings to photographs. It is a visually interesting exhibit!

While I had little to do with curating the exhibit, I was able to help out a little bit by mounting some of the photos. This was a big deal for me; I’ve never had this opportunity before. As an undergraduate student archival assistant, I was probably not trusted enough to try my hand at mounts that would adequately support and display the photograph. Dina Kellams taught me how to cut through thick foam board with an Exacto knife and straight edge, then attach strips of clear plastic to the corners to hold the photograph or newspaper clipping. (All these materials are, naturally, archival quality.) I found it a little nerve-wracking to size up and create the foam board backing – after all, one of the first principles taught in archival preservation is to keep knives and pencils away from the materials – but I would say that the four photograph mounts I created turned out all right. We have boxes of old mounts that can be recycled into new exhibits, but finding a mount that exactly fits your material is tricky. I had to leave one oddly-cut newspaper clipping on the table for a more experienced worker to handle. It will take a little work to become an expert in archival mounting, but my first foray into that project was a fun experience.

Reference questions for the archives, though very usual, have not been fielded my way in the past two weeks, so I’ve had time to finish up the publications series in Nugent’s papers. There is still a little cleaning up to do, but for the most part they have all been organized into 17 boxes. It’s pleasant to open up the boxes and see the neat, clean rows of manila folders. That might be one of my favorite results of processing. Of course, the organization and accessibility of the papers is an important result as well. For the most part, the publications series is organized chronologically, within the subseries of monographs, articles, and reviews. Nugent has been a very prolific writer and it’s not unusual for him to have written, and kept, over six drafts of one article, which takes up space quickly. I haven’t counted how many different publications are in those 17 boxes, but I would guess well over 100. Looking around me at all the boxes in this room alone, it boggles my mind at how much information and knowledge (institutional, professional, and personal) in so many formats is kept and preserved in archives.

In Nugent’s older writings, nearly everything in the boxes were bound with rusty paperclips or staples. Needless to say, this is undesirable from a preservation standpoint as the rust will stain and wear away at the paper, in addition to creating “rust dust” that is not pretty nor healthy for the papers. One of the main reasons processing can take so long is that all these paper clips and staples must be removed before the papers can be filed away. As I’m sure many processors have done, I used to have competitions with my co-workers to see who could fill up a jar with discolored metal faster. Newer paperclips and staples that have not yet become discolored are less of a preservation concern, since the climate control in archives helps prevent rusting, but it remains a problem to watch for in archives.

All in all, it’s been a good two weeks for learning new preservation skills and reinforcing old preservation standards.