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.
Our Preservation Lab has, for many years had the help of some unsung heroes in the form of our student assistants and volunteers. Although we appreciate them very much, they rarely get the attention that they deserve. As the student supervisor for Preservation Services it has been my job to interview, hire, and train our student assistants. When I interview prospective candidates, I usually look for two basic things, one being on time, and the other being appropriately dressed. The rest is just instinct and gut feeling. Our department has been extremely fortunate in the high caliber of student assistants who have worked for us but sometimes it’s obvious that the applicant would not be a good fit. A few years ago we had a candidate who arrived wearing a barbed wire belt and who asked if it was okay if he sometimes came to work bruised and bleeding, since his hobby was ultimate fighting. Even though the applicant seemed like a nice guy, it was not okay.
Imagine a finely engraved map of London, circa 1749. The map is comprised of separate sheets that are mounted 8 across and 3 down. The 24 sheets are printed on cotton rag paper and mounted on coarsely woven linen. The map has been repaired, mounted, and framed by professional conservators. Though the conservation work was done over 20 years ago, the work is in-line with current best practices and the map has lovingly been cared for by the owners in the intervening years.