We love preservation. Of course we do. And as people who love preservation, we naturally love Preservation Week! Truly, we do. We love it so much that we take to the streets and invite people over to share it with us. We were so excited that we decided to start early this year, with live technical demonstrations in the mornings leading up to the big day. We wanted people to see what we were up to, ask lots of questions, and learn more about what we do.
We showed off the past year’s work, including some excellent pieces done by our pre-program volunteer, Catarina Figueirinhas. Everyone’s favorite, the hot stamper, made a return appearance. We topped off the festivities with a raffle for a book, handmade by one of our students, and of course, cookies (we don’t have open houses for the sweets, but they are a nice bonus!). We had such a great time with all of our friends and colleagues, and as always, we look forward to doing it again next year.
Last month our lab hosted a little workshop, taught by talented conservation technician, Chris Voynovich (PLCH), on collapsible book cradles. The workshop came about after our conservator shared images of Elizabeth Rideout’s collapsible book cradle with us and explained how beneficial this would be for the special collections holding libraries to have cradles like this on hand. Chris, who is usually the go-to technician in the lab for tricky enclosures, jumped at the opportunity to create a cradle. So without any instructions available he made a collapsible, adjustable cradle based on the images of Rideout’s cradle online. Chris then wrote up some instructions for a standard size cradle that fits most books. With the instructions on hand we went ahead and planned the workshop, inviting colleagues from both UCL and PLCH.
Chris explaining the collapsible cradle and how it works.
Recently I’ve had the opportunity to dis-bind a bound edition of our school newspaper, send it off for digitization and then to create a clamshell box to house the single pages when they return. The process of dis-binding bound newspapers is a very delicate one. In this case, The News Record 1971-72, was no exception. Newspapers, by their very nature are meant to be read and thrown away. The paper they are printed on is not meant to last and it fades and becomes acidic and brittle very rapidly. The solution to preserving the paper’s information back in the early 70’s, before digitization was even a thought, was to bind a couple years’ worth of the News Record together in a hard cover much like a large book. This was a good method for preserving a piece of U.C.’s history, however the binding was meant to be permanent and no thought was given to reversing the process at a later date.
I love to design and make things work! Recently I have had the opportunity to kick around a new contraption for displaying or otherwise supporting books, the collapsible book cradle.
These guys are handy for keeping a book stable for viewing which greatly reduces the wear and tear on the object through excessive handling. The cradle is also useful as a support for a book in delicate condition for the conservator or tech to perform repairs.
This particular cradle design also has the feature to collapse to a book like shape which can be stored on the book shelf next to the other books when not in use. Thus the name “The collapsible book cradle”.
Since creating one from a web blog by Elissa Campbell, I have made one for a miniature book (it’s so cute!) and several to distribute to various departments. I’ve just finished one for an oversize book that was just treated in the lab for the UCL’s Classics Library.
In about 2 weeks I am going to be holding a workshop to make the cradles here at the lab. I think these are a great versatile tool easy to make and easy to store when not in use.
The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County has a wonderful collection of materials about the use of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers known as the Inland Rivers Collection. Recently a group of photographs with accompanying film negatives from this collection came to the Lab.
What for? Well, film has been made using different chemicals over the years, some of which are very unstable. The Lab’s task was to divide and house the entire grouping according to film type. Special attention was given to identifying any cellulose nitrate negatives and isolating them in separate storage housing with the recommendation they be digitized and then disposed of in accordance with Ohio’s guidelines for discarding hazardous materials.
Cellulose nitrate film was the first widely used flexible plastic film. In the late nineteenth century it supplanted heavy, fragile glass plates. Great! Except nitrate is also a chemical component in gunpowder. As cellulose nitrate film degrades it goes through several distinct stages, beginning with silver mirroring and yellowing. Then it may become sticky and smelly (nitric acid odor). Gradually the negative changes to an amber color with the image beginning to fade. Eventually the negative can soften to a point where it may stick to adjacent pictures or its enclosure. In the final stage it turns to a brown acidic powder. As deterioration progresses it accelerates and in the last stages the film may begin to generate its own heat and ignite. A cellulose nitrate fire doesn’t need oxygen to burn so most of the usual firefighting methods won’t put it out. Any grouping of cellulose nitrate film increases the risk. Reels of motion picture film contained in metal canisters concentrate the off-gassing and accelerate the deterioration process.
The Preservation Lab offers a suite of services to our parent institutions, including conservation, storage and handling, pest management, and environmental monitoring. Recently we got to flex both our physical and mental muscles, assisting the Public Library with a special collections move. While there were many interesting objects that required special attention during the relocation, a collection of locally and historically significant oversized posters presented a fun and exciting challenge.
First of all, you might be wondering. Why do conservation labs conduct photography?
A picture is worth a thousand words:
Photographs are the most descriptive way for conservators to accurately document physical changes made to an object during treatment.
In conservation, producing photographic documentation is a conservation professional’s ethical obligation. In conjunction with written documentation, the photographs help to more accurately and efficiently document the examination, scientific investigation, and treatment of special collection materials.
Afterwards, the photography becomes an important part of the treatment record for a rare object and it is permanently archived with the treatment report. This information is saved with the object in hopes of aiding future scholars and conservators in understanding an object’s aesthetic, conceptual, or physical historical characteristics. For more information on conservation treatment documentation, visit the Preservation Lab’s digital collection located here: http://digital.libraries.uc.edu/collections/preservation/.
One of my favorite aspects of this job is learning about cool old stuff. I have just had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with stereoscopic images. In the process of surface cleaning and rehousing this project, I saw a lot of cool images and learned about the use of antique stereoscopes.
Antique stereoscopes, also known as stereopticons or stereo-viewers, were popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A stereoscopic viewer is a special device that helps us see 2 mounted photographs as one three dimensional image. The way it works is a stereo-view slide is inserted into the viewing device, and the person viewing looks through the device while adjusting the distance of the slide. The slide is adjusted either closer or farther from the viewer’s face until it comes into focus. The two images appear as one 3D image to us when looking through the viewer because we are seeing two perspectives merge into one – not too different from the Magic Eye books that were popular in the 90’s filled with stereograms. The two perspectives are taken with a special camera that has two lenses that mimic how we see the world through two eyes. The lenses are spaced slightly apart, roughly similar to the distance of our eyes.