Internship Report: Ashleigh Russell

October 23rd, 2013 § 1 comment


July 2013 saw me begin an eight week internship at UCLA Libraries Conservation Center, under the skilled supervision of collections conservator Kristen St. John. These past 8 weeks have sadly flown by and my time at UCLA Libraries Conservation Center (LCC) has been inspiring, challenging, rewarding and incredibly valuable to me in terms of my continued development as a conservator looking towards graduate level study.

My interest in Rare Book Conservation stems from having a strong affinity with paper based objects and the sentimental attachment I have to books as significant and beautiful objects keeping knowledge available throughout history. The conservation of these objects is challenging as we are dealing with multiple materials used in the binding and the idea that these objects must remain usable. Therefore, a rare book conservator must approach the treatment of a book almost with the eye of an engineer.

Going into this internship, I had a clear set of academic and technical objectives I wanted to develop based on my prior experience and education. Firstly; I wanted to develop my understanding and skills in reporting; before, during and after treatment. Specifically in relation to books, as a different language is required to adequately describe the condition and treatment procedures of these three-dimensional objects. Secondly, I wanted to gain experience creating the many different housing methods used in diverse library collections, as this is one of the primary and essential steps in the conservation of collections. Finally, I wanted to progress in my theoretical knowledge of bookbinding and conservation.

As Kristen is dedicated to providing an internship program that mutually benefits both the intern and the UCLA LCC, the projects I was given for this 8 week period met and exceeded my primary objectives, providing me with a very thorough education in a very short period of time.

California Rare Book School; Survey and Treatment of Mexican Pamphlets from the 18th & 19th Centuries.

My first major project was surveying and treating a selection of Mexican pamphlets used as teaching materials in the California Rare Book School (CAL RBS) class, The History of the Book in Hispanic America. This project was an invaluable experience for me, as I was able to gain training in a very typical library conservation process involving a collection, as opposed to treating objects one by one. One of the primary stages in the process was designing a survey template using Microsoft Excel. Applying Excel in this way can be very useful in terms of a survey because once completed, we are able to take an overall look at the collection surveyed and identify typical condition, method of binding and perhaps draw conclusions with regards to similarities within the collection and have insight into how we may preserve and/or provide treatment.

For the spreadsheet, I was required to create categories for describing the pamphlets and their construction, their condition and proposed treatment. This was my first experience working with pamphlets and I needed to figure out the best way to describe these bindings (from the binding to the text block or the text block to the binding) as not all of the pamphlets had a cover, let alone a binding. Therefore, I needed to redesign the survey process to accommodate these objects, this was of course challenging as I was required to not only develop a new vocabulary but also a different way to look at these objects so we could understand them.

The pamphlets in this collection exhibited a variety of different issues in terms of their condition and it was a challenge to create a comprehensive treatment proposal taking into consideration time deadlines, the necessary stabilization treatments and my technical abilities. At the conclusion of my treatment, I was lucky enough to sit in on the CAL RBS class in which the pamphlets I surveyed and treated were included, which gave me a great perspective into the lives of these books as was presented through the eyes of the curators Daniel Slive and David Szewczyk.

J. Michael Walker Acquisition
UCLA Libraries Special Collections recently acquired A Lyrical Map of the Concept of Los Angeles, by J Michael Walker, an artwork measuring 290” by 60”. During my internship at UCLA I attended several meetings where library staff met to discuss display options and preservation considerations presented by this very large piece. People in attendance included the owner of a display case fabrication company, a lighting designer, the artist and representatives from technical and public services of the library staff who will be using this piece in teaching and instruction. This project involved multiple stakeholders and differing interests and was a valuable experience in terms of gaining a perspective in the way UCLA Libraries undertake complex projects and how conservation input is sought and given within this realm.

Collection of Israeli Posters
This uncatalogued collection of Israeli posters from the 1950‘s and 1960’s required stabilization prior to digitization, and was the final project for my time at UCLA LCC. These posters exhibited some challenging problems; primarily due to the amount of tape adhered to the objects and associated staining, tearing, losses and creasing. In writing my treatment proposal for this group of objects, I had to keep in mind the time constraints and the objective; structural stabilization prior to digitization. This meant it was not my objective to consider treatments that would be too time consuming with regards to tape removal or treatments associated purely with aesthetic results in mind. With this project, Kristen was interested to observe my abilities to estimate treatment times and how I would structure the treatment process as I had just over a week to complete the treatments. As I have learned, after significantly underestimating the time it would take for this treatment process, the skill of time allocation and how long treatments actually take is one learned from years of experience. Accurate estimation of treatment times is an essential skill in conservation, as the efficient operation of the lab depends on prioritization of treatments and time budgeting.

Huntington Library Intern Exchange
Under the thorough and kind supervision of Jessamy Gloor at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, I had a wonderful week learning the basic modus operandi of this beautiful conservation lab. The projects for my week at the Huntington came from the Kemble Maritime Collection, (of which Jessamy is the conservator), the Manuscripts Collection and the Photographs Collection. I began the week working on two objects from the Kemble Maritime Collection which, thanks to Jessamy, already had treatments proposed and signed off by the collections curator, Mario Einaudi. Therefore, it was my role to carry out the proposed treatments with the support and supervision of Jessamy by my side. Both of these objects needed to be removed from degrading and acidic mats, tear repairs and one required washing. As it had been a significant period of time since I washed an object, specifically one printed on paper similar to newsprint (machine made paper likely to have mechanical wood-pulp content), it was a great experience for me to be involved in again. Subsequently carrying out tear repairs on papers that were very delicate or with a clay coating honed my tear repair skills as these papers were very sensitive to moisture and were also very thin.

Along with the objects I worked on, which were all exciting and educational, my time at the Huntington and UCLA LCC was made so special by the people who worked there and the conversations I was able to have with them. It was through these conversations that I had the opportunity to gain a wider perspective with regards to the pathways and opportunities in conservation and libraries, educating me in my future prospects and giving me a chance to appreciate the broad range of backgrounds and personalities of the wonderful people who make conservation their career.

§ One Response to Internship Report: Ashleigh Russell

  • Jacob Nadal says:

    Thanks for the report, Ashleigh. It would great to see the survey spreadsheets you developed. Kristen and I have talked about that process a great deal, and I’d be very interested to see this example. Any chance those could be added to the blog entry?

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