Today’s update comes from Laura Bedford, a Master’s degree student in book and paper conservation at the University of Texas, Austin. Third-year students like Laura are expected to complete a nine-month residency under a master conservator, and Laura is working at the Huntington Library with our good friend Holly Moore. Holly arranged for Laura to spend a little time with us so that she could experience work in a different conservation setting.
In February I had the pleasure of spending two weeks working at UCLA’s conservation lab with Kristen St. John, Collections Conservator, and Jake Nadal, Preservation Officer. The purpose of this mini-internship was to experience the work of a high-use circulating collection lab, as my prior experience has been in special collections and archives.
I spent the first day with Kristen reviewing the treatments she and her staff complete in-house, which involved the familiar hinge-tightening, page tip-in’s, rebacks, recases, board attachments, double fan adhesive bindings, full rebinds, phase boxes and corrugated clamshell enclosures. Books are sent to the lab from all UCLA library divisions, where a two-tiered sorting takes place. The initial sort is to identify items that are too far decayed to be repaired, items that can be sent to the UC Bindery for repair, and items that will be treated in-house. The secondary sort is to select the appropriate in-house treatments.
We sorted through roughly 50 books to familiarize myself with the criteria for library binding candidates. I had a hard time not wanting to keep more of the books in-house, until Kristen reminded me that their library binding costs were cheaper than paying a student the two hours’ work it would take to repair the book. Once the books were sorted, we filled out repair slips for the roughly fifteen in-house candidates, ticking off boxes to specify how the treatments were to be handled (e.g. a hollow tube spine, or instructions to photocopy rear end sheets to replace the front ones).
I didn’t do the repairs on any of the books I’d sorted out, though, as Kristen had another project in mind for me: a group of architectural drawings by Richard Neutra that were to be loaned out for exhibit by the end of the month. I wasn’t going to be able to treat all of them in my two weeks, of course, but she wanted me to handle documentation and set up a treatment protocol that could be continued after my departure.
Here’s a brief summary of what I was looking at:
89 documents in all, 45 of which were diazotypes. These are original master drawings on paper that is prepared with a sensitizing solution that allows the diazotype process to create positive prints. Those drawings had unusual discoloration due to the aging of the sensitizing solution. The remaining 44 drawings were on various weights of drafting trace paper, many of which had been ripped off of larger rolls leaving fluttery, torn edges. Media present included graphite, colored pencil, black ink pigment from a block stamp and one instance of ball point ink.
Of the 89 documents, 30 needed mending. We also chose not to surface clean any dirt accumulations as the curator wanted to preserve the evidence of the documents being used out in the field. Various kinds of pressure-sensitive adhesive had previously been used on the drawings to mend tears; they were going to be left in place unless they could be mechanically removed. A fume hood in which to use solvents is still on the wish list for the UCLA conservation lab.
As most of the items were too large for trays and there was little available counter space to lay out Gore-tex packs, we made her entire sink into a humidity chamber and set up a folding table at the end for flattening the dampened items between blotters and museum board.
I set up a small portable light box in the middle of the island for mending and used pre-cut corrugated cardboard to build up the area around it to support the oversize drawings. For speed, we had hoped to use re-moistenable mending strips that Kristen had made with a 50/50 mix of wheat starch paste and methyl cellulose on Barrett paper, but they were dimensionally too noticeable on the trace papers. So we used lens tissue and straight wheat starch paste for tears and overlaid the lens tissue base with tengucho Japanese tissue toned with watercolors for any large fills. I managed to flatten 61 documents, mend 14 documents (mainly trace paper drawings) and remove one piece of pressure sensitive adhesive in 34 hours of work.
I alternated work on the drawings with participation in a collection-wide condition survey that Jake has organized for the entirety of UCLA’s roughly 8.5 million library books. He had already conducted an initial random sampled survey of the overall collection to establish a baseline of conditions, and is now conducting smaller location-specific surveys to augment his data before conducting another baseline overall collection survey in another few years. He based his data set off all inventory items containing an electronic record, used a randomizer function to get a sample set of roughly 400 items, and created an Excel spreadsheet which we used to record our findings.
I worked with another UCLA intern, Nicole Shibata, to sample roughly 200 books in the Art Library. The criteria we were noting down were item dimensions, and available shelf space and head room around the item (to determine if items are appropriately shelved by size, and how much room for growth there may be). We noted binding style and condition, leaf attachment, enclosure type and condition, text block attachment and integrity, paper strength, text contrast (how much the ink may have faded, for future reformatting options) and tested paper acidity with a pH pen. Condition data was recorded with forced choice scales of 0-3, 0 being the most severe damage and 3 indicating no damage. Once we’d synched our definitions of “mild” and “severe” damage, Nicole and I managed to sample all the books in two marathon five-hour sessions, resisting the urge to spend more time looking at the gorgeous glossy art books.
My two weeks at UCLA were a great introduction into group level treatment, both in establishing workflow to address multiple documents concurrently and efficiently, and working with tools that identify broad trends effecting collections overall. I look forward to applying many of the principles and techniques I learned with Kristen and Jake in my future career.