When you work for a large institution sometimes the work one does becomes very specialized and segmented. Often times preservation librarians do very little bench work, while the staff they work alongside spend the majority of their time at the bench or evaluating materials in preparation for the bench. Of course this is necessary to keep all the pieces of a lab in motion; but because one of the most important jobs of a preservation librarian is to advocate for the ongoing stewardship of the collection, and by extension the physical work done in the lab, it is important to me that I spend time at the bench.
How can I justify the time it takes for treatment if I don’t at least understand what the treatment entails or why it is the best option? How can I request additional resources (supplies or equipment) if I don’t concretely understand how they can make us more efficient? Participating in the department at the bench and observing what my colleagues are doing helps me answer these questions; and a myriad of other questions that must be considered to make sure our department is directly and robustly supporting the mission of our institution(s).
So, I try to take some time every week to work at the bench. As I am not nearly as skilled or practiced as my conservation technician colleagues (and of course our conservator!), I take a “do no harm/hands off” approach a la enclosures! I’ve been helping out with corrugated clamshell boxes and tuxedo boxes for a while, but this week I upped the level of difficulty by making my first cloth covered clamshell. This enclosure is almost exclusively used for special collection items that will be exhibited or are used frequently in classes – our treasures that are often accessed. It is the most time intensive enclosure to make, some say the most elegant, and it is of course incredibly good at protecting the object held within.
Normally when staff begin training they practice on a book from their own collection. I chose a book that is very important to me and that has rich ties to the lab. It is a book given to me by Keith Stewart, our longtime preservation lab volunteer, generous library supporter, scholar, gentleman, and friend. [Learn more about Keith, who past away in 2013, and one of his most loved donations here and here.]
On and off for 3 days senior conservation technician and trainer extraordinaire, Patrick Schmude, ushered me through the steps to create the cloth covered clamshell. Pat has done a wonderful blog post on the construction of cloth covered clamshell boxes [check out Pat Schmude’s blog post from May 2013] so I won’t go into the steps. I’ll just close by saying I’m thrilled to have another tool in my personal tool box that will allow me to work side by side with my colleagues more often. And let’s be frank, isn’t it just fun to be at the bench!
Holly Prochaska (UCL) — Head, Preservation Services and Lab