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Duke University Libraries Preservation
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Duplicate Dukes: Your Eyes Don’t Deceive You

Fri, 2020-01-17 13:34
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By Rachel Penniman

As part of the planning process for the Lilly Library renovation, Beth was invited by librarian Kelly Lawton to consult on moving and storing the artwork. I had previously helped plan moving and storing paintings from the Gothic Reading Room during the Rubenstein Library renovation so Beth asked me to come along. The great people over at Lilly Library had already made an inventory of the artwork in their building so we had a solid idea of what we needed to manage.

I have been in Lilly Library dozens if not a hundred times over my 7 years working at Duke. They hold some of my favorite collections (DevilDVDs, graphic novels, and art books). But like most people I just never spent much time looking closely at the artwork that makes up the wonderful atmosphere of Lilly. However, I had gotten to know the Gothic portraits really well during the Rubenstein renovation. I had to find wall space throughout Perkins to hang them all temporarily while the Rubenstein building was under construction and most of them ended up in staff office spaces. I had the portrait of H. Keith H. Brodie keeping me company in my cubicle area. So I was surprised when I saw thumbnail pictures of a couple paintings in the Lilly artwork inventory that I was certain were actually up in the Gothic reading room. I actually ran up two flights of stairs to the Gothic to be certain I wasn’t losing my marbles and yes, those portraits were upstairs exactly where I remembered them.

Washington Duke by John Da Costa in the Gothic Reading RoomWashington Duke by John Da Costa in the Gothic Reading Room

 

Benjamin Newton Duke by C.S. Wiltschek in the Gothic Reading RoomBenjamin Newton Duke by C.S. Wiltschek in the Gothic Reading Room

A C1 bus ride over to East Campus and I walked into Lilly Library only to have deja vu all over again. The same portraits were in Lilly too.

Washington Duke by John Da Costa in Lilly LibraryWashington Duke by John Da Costa in Lilly Library

 

Benjamin Newton Duke by C.S. Wiltschek in Lilly LibraryBenjamin Newton Duke by C.S. Wiltschek in Lilly Library

 

It’s not surprising that Duke University would have multiple portraits of prominent Duke family members, but it was a little surprising to find that the library had multiple copies of the same portrait reported to be by the same artists. This required research! I mean, I work at a library, of course my response to any mystery is to do research.

An article in the Duke Chronicle from November 4, 1925 details the acquisition of a Washington Duke portrait by John Da Costa from the Duke family with plans to hang it in a parlor in the East Duke Building. Interestingly this article is right next to an article about construction of the Lilly Library building. The next trace of the Da Costa Washington Duke portrait comes from a 1929 letter from the Frank C. Brown papers where it is listed among paintings that need to be varnished.

In the University Archives Art and Artifacts records there is an inventory of portraits in the University library (now Perkins Library) from 1943 that lists a portrait of Washington Duke by Da Costa and Benjamin Duke by Wiltschek. But another inventory from 1957 of the Women’s College Library (now Lilly Library) also list the portrait of BN Duke by Wiltschek. So there have been duplicate Dukes for decades!

I finally came across an undated note about a J.B. Duke portrait painted by Da Costa that indicated Doris Duke had the original but that additional copies by the artist were in the Board of Trustees room and in Perkins Library. There is no date on this note so it’s hard to fit into the timeline but based on some other clues I suspect it was from sometime in the 1970s. Importantly, it does verify that John Da Costa made multiple copies of at least one Duke portrait.

It was Assistant University Archivist Amy McDonald that shed light on the big key detail about these portraits. She recognized the paintings as being copied from photographs not painted from life. Check out the photos in our collections. They look very familiar.

https://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/uarchives/history/articles/washington-duke

https://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/uarchives/history/articles/benjamin-newton-duke

It makes me wonder how many other duplicate Dukes might be out there. In my research I found at least one other JB Duke portrait by Da Costa at Rough Point, the Rhode Island mansion of Doris Duke. I also found a reference to another BN Duke portrait by Wiltschek that hung in the East Duke Parlor but I haven’t had a chance to go over and check if it’s still there. Perhaps I’ve been passing more Da Costa Washington Dukes and Wiltschek B.N. Dukes around campus and never even noticed.

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Don’t Do Crimes in Front of Monkeys

Thu, 2020-01-09 18:21

For a more adept criminal, it is probably obvious not to commit a crime in front of another person, as they can be called as a witness in court. Thanks to the scrapbooking efforts of Virginia Clay-Clopton in the late 1800s, today we learned that animals can be witnesses, too!

This scrapbook of Virginia’s (included in the C. C. Clay Papers, 1811-1925) came into the lab the other day for rehousing. It mostly includes correspondence from members of the Clay family in the post-Reconstruction period, but one little newspaper clipping caught our eye.

The clipping describes the murder of a traveling showman in India, which was apparently witnessed by one of his monkeys. I could not determine what eventually happened in this particular case, but the monkey was being detained as a witness.

The clipping’s mention of the Dog of Montargis lead us down a rabbit hole of stories about animal witnesses, historical and contemporary. In addition to monkeys and dogs, we read about legal proceedings involving a parrot named Echo, and a cat named Sal Esposito.

Here at the library, our primary position is that you shouldn’t commit crimes. I will leave it to experts in animal law to debate the admissibility of an animal witness – but if you are going to do some crimes, at least make sure there aren’t any monkeys around.

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Quick Pic: Frightful

Wed, 2019-11-27 15:29
Hand-colored plaster relief sculpture that demonstrates fetal fractures of skull and clavicle. Created by Charlotte Holt.Sculpture of infant (1961)

Today We Learned: Always read the label before opening a box from the History of Medicine collection. Moving aside the tissue paper packing, we were greeted by this sculpture a little too early this morning. We were not prepared for such a creepy surprise! Made by medical illustrator and sculptor Charlotte Holt in 1961, this hand-painted plaster relief sculpture depicts treatment of fetal skull and clavicle fractures. Holt’s attention to detail is excellent… which makes it all the more disturbing.

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What Will Publishers Do Next?

Fri, 2019-11-15 22:32

We regularly see book publishers’ attempts to set their products apart from the rest of the market here in the conservation lab – usually because the novel materials or structures they have chosen don’t hold up so well under normal use. We often find ourselves asking, “What will these publishers try next?” This week the answer to that question came in the form of robots.

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This very large and weighty volume depicts over 100 space-themed toys held by the Vitra Design Museum. Much like our copies of Audubon’s Birds of America, the book is so large because the toys and their original packaging have been photographed and printed at a scale of 1:1. And I will say the images are wonderful.

1, Showing robot toy packaging and the toyThe unique feature of this book, however, is a USB memory stick that has been integrated into the headcap. The stick contains a film by Luka Dogan, showing a selection of the robots in action.

 

Headcap of the spine with USB stickWe often see volumes with additional media included, usually as a CD or DVD inside a paper or plastic pocket that has been adhered inside one of the boards. Other types of media are too thick to be handled in the same way, so the location of this USB and it’s “holster” are interesting and unobtrusive. It includes some nice design elements, like a small magnet to hold the stick securely in place.

USB out of holder

The problem comes when you actually try to get the stick out. Grasping the stick and pulling it free puts a lot of stress on the headcap and joints, some of the weakest areas of the binding. As you can see, the front joint has already started to tear. Additionally, the glue holding the metal USB holster in place has failed and it now easily slides out from the spine piece.

USB stick and holder detached from headcapIncluding additional media with a publication can provide a lot of additional value to the reader. It also means loose components can easily become lost. As technology ages, it can be a challenge for readers to actually use the media. For example, the laptop I’m using to write this post doesn’t have a disk drive of any kind, so reading a CD or DVD would be a problem. I guess it’s only a matter of time before a USB Type-A port becomes scarce as well. The added media might become less accessible, but at least you don’t need a machine to read the book!

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Senior Conservation Technician Position Announced

Wed, 2019-11-06 20:45
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Duke University Libraries seeks qualified applicants for the position of Senior Conservation Technician in the Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab. This position is an opportunity to work at a major ARL member library invested in the long-term care of and access to its collections. The successful candidate will demonstrate excellent hand skills, the capacity to learn new skills, customer focus, and creative problem solving. We seek candidates who will thrive in an open, engaging atmosphere that focuses on production, continuous learning, and sharing of knowledge among staff at all levels.

Major responsibilities include treating materials primarily from the circulating collections; creating custom enclosures for both circulating and special collections; overseeing the workflow of materials from circulation points in the Perkins-Bostock Library and the branch libraries; and training and oversight of student assistants. You can read the full position description and position requirements online. Candidates will be asked to submit examples of their work during the interview process.

Salary and Benefits: $18.77 per hour (minimum). Comprehensive benefits package upon eligibility includes vacation, 13 holidays, sick leave, health, dental, disability, life insurance, educational assistance, and tuition grants.

Duke University Libraries is actively committed to a culture of diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect. Review of applications will begin immediately and will continue until the position is filled.  Submit an electronic resume, cover letter, and list of references to: https://careers.duke.edu/.  Refer to requisition # 12878.

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Hidden Hornbooks

Fri, 2019-10-18 19:14
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The humble hornbook:

Margarita Philosophica by Gregorius Ileisch (1504), depicting a hornbook

Long used as a primer in children’s education, the hornbook originated in England in the 15th century. The books commonly take the form of a wooden paddle inscribed with the alphabet or a piece of text, which is protected with a transparent sheet of horn. The materials of construction can vary, with the paddle made of wood, bone, leather, or stone. The text can be printed or in manuscript, on parchment or on paper. The protective transparent sheet might also be made from mica. The hornbook is referenced in literature as early as Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost  and is a format that was often used in both English and the American education until the late 18th century.

Woodcut vignette from the title page of Hornbyes Hornbook by William Hornby (1622)

We learned all this and more when a special edition of Andrew Tuer’s History of the Horn-Book came through the lab recently for boxing. The publisher’s use of the hornbook’s iconic shape in the decoration on the front cover and the spine label is quite appropriate.

Front cover of parchment covered book.

But while this parchment case binding looks fairly ordinary, it contains quite a surprise. The front section of the book has been glued into a solid block, which is quite heavy.

Adhered section at the front of the book

The blocked section features a textile flap along the tail edge of the front flyleaf.

cover of the hidden compartment with a label describing the contents.Opening the flaps reveals a hidden compartment with three facsimile hornbooks!

Small facsimile hornbooks in the hidden compartment.Don’t you wish every history book you picked up included little artifacts hidden inside a secret compartment? Thanks to Rachel Penniman for snapping some photos of this amazing object before it returned to the stacks in its new enclosure.

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Spot the Difference

Fri, 2019-10-11 21:30
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This letterpress book has been on our shelf for a very long time, too long admittedly. Mea Culpa. Letterpress books can be challenging. This one has paper as thin as Kleenex (TM) and as brittle as any mid-century newsprint. The iron gall ink has degraded and taken the substrate with it, leaving lots of tears, holes, and losses.

James Redpath was the Head of the Haitian Bureau of Emigration in Boston. I would tell you more about these letters but you literally cannot turn a page without breaking something. After a lot of consideration and consultation with Rubenstein Library we have decided the best thing to do with this item is digitize it so researchers can actually use it without destroying the original.

All the lovely brittle tissue paper you could ask for. A little humidification can go a long way. More flattening is needed but taking this treatment slowly and in stages will yield a better result.

But before we can digitize it we need to flatten out some of the heavy creases to uncover the writing, and do some very minor stabilization so we can turn the pages without tearing off chunks of text. The goal is digitizing, not a full treatment. This book will still have page tears and losses when it leaves Conservation, but putting in hundreds of hours of conservation time to repair every tear, sinking letter, or loss isn’t practical or feasible. We want to get it ready for the camera, and help our camera operators handle it as safely as possible while they are turning the pages.

It feels good to have digitization in our toolbox as a way to increase access to this item. It will go from completely unusable to readable. What better outcome for a primary resource that is so fragile?

 

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FY 2019: By the Numbers

Fri, 2019-09-27 14:00

It’s that time of year when we report our annual statistics to our administration. We thought we would share these with you, too.

839 Book Repairs (down 23% from last year)
1,439 Pamphlets (up 35%)
12 Treatments: Other (not reported last year)
2,434 Flat Paper (up 75%)
6,822 Protective Enclosures (up 14%)
13,966 Disaster recovery (up 21,067%)
34 Exhibit mounts (up 325%)
89.25 hours of time in support of exhibits (includes meetings, treatment, installation, etc.) (down 88%)
1,206 items repaired for digital projects (up 20%)
58 items repaired for exhibits (up 2%)
2 items repaired for multi-spectral imaging (not reported last year)

72% of total work was for Special Collections
28% of total work was for Circulating Collections

90% of work was Level 1 [less than 15 minutes to complete; 22,985 items]
9% of work was Level 2 [15 minutes – 2 hours to complete; 2,228 items]
1% of work was Level 3 [2 – 5 hours to complete; 280 items]
0% of work was Level 4 [more than 5 hours; 19 items]

Level 1 work was greatly skewed by the amount of mold removal we did for one Rubenstein project. For that project we removed mold from almost 13,000 sheets of paper. You can see that reflected in our 3-year trend.

The Lisa Unger Baskin Exhibit took a lot of our conservator’s time last year. The opening at Rubenstien Library was a huge success. We are preparing those materials for a loan to the Grolier Club later this year. We also did a significant number of Level 1 rehousings for two collections from Rubenstein Library. One was part of the mold-removal project, and the other was the boxing of the Curtis folio plates.

This year we also significantly changed our statistical reporting. We added a “Level 4” to the treatment levels. Until last year, Level 3 (over 2 hours) was as high as we parsed out complicated repairs. This year we decided that Level 3 would reflect 2-5 hour treatments, and Level 4 would reflect treatments over 5 hours. While statistically Level 4 treatments were zero, we did complete 19 of these repairs. We also started tracking the number of hours we spend doing administrative work such as meetings, curatorial reviews, training sessions, handling assistance, etc. This better demonstrates our cross-departmental work and shows how integrated we are in the larger library setting.

Other Things We Did Last Year

The most exciting thing about FY 2020 is that we will surpass the quarter-million mark for items sent to the lab. We are currently at 247,943 cumulative repairs/enclosures since FY 2003.

We hope you enjoy looking back at FY2019 as much as we did. We know FY 2020 holds a few interesting challenges including helping prepare the Lilly Library for renovation. We hope you will keep up with us through this blog and through our social media accounts. Happy FY 2020!

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Quick Pic: Tips!

Fri, 2019-09-20 18:53
Erin Hammeke describes a wooden board repair to Mary Yordy and Rachel Penniman.

Caring for library collections often requires experimentation and ingenuity. In supporting the needs of library programs or researcher requests, we are regularly confronted with unusual objects or condition issues that have no obvious treatment solution. When you happen upon a novel or particularly effective approach to these complex treatments, it’s always nice to share what you have learned with your colleagues!

This week, the Conservation Services staff were treated to some tips in treating very large books and broken wooden boards by senior conservator Erin Hammeke. Hint: Both involve the liberal and creative application of clamps.

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LIFE WITH CIPE

Wed, 2019-08-21 14:28
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By Rachel Penniman, Conservation Specialist

Occasionally an item will arrive in the lab that is so intriguing that I just have to know the story behind it. These five miniature photograph albums titled “LIFE WITH CIPE” caught my eye. The photographs were tiny but beautiful and I was curious about the meaning of the title. What is CIPE?

One book in hand, opened to show a small black and white photograph of a woman. to

The photographs mostly look like candid vacation snapshots but there are also some still life and city scenes.

Image of page with black and white image of woman and large desert plant. Page of album with black and white photo of woman walking through a doorway. Image of album page with black and white photo of a woman sitting in a chair on a beach, reading a book.

They are all so small and regular in size and proportion that they must have been printed from negatives as a contact sheet. One print even shows the holes from the film.

Image of album page with black and white photograph, featuring film holes in the print.

The images show a great sense of design and there is an eye to composition significantly better than your average family snapshots. They really felt more like an artist’s portfolio than a typical vacation album.

Image of album page with black and white photo of man at breakfast table, reading a book.

Image of album page with black and white photo of woman at outdoor market.

So it was no surprise when I heard back from archivist Rick Collier and Hartman Center Director Jackie Reid Wachholz that these are photographs from the personal collection of graphic design power couple Cipe Pineles and William Golden.

Portrait of man in a suit, leaning against a wall patterned with CBS logo.

While the Creative Director at CBS in the 1950’s William Golden designed the eye logo still used by the broadcaster today.

Image of album page with black and white photo of woman at work at a desk.

Cipe Pineles (pronounced Cee-Pee) was the first female art director of a major magazine and the first female member of the Art Director’s Club of New York in 1943. Working at big name publications like Glamour, Seventeen, and Mademoiselle she created magazines directed at young working women that appealed to their intelligence and independence. She is also credited as being the first to commission fine artists like Ad Reinhardt and Andy Warhol for work in mass media publications.

 A Life of Design"

In order to learn more about Cipe Pineles I borrowed a biography from Perkins Library and discovered it was written by none other than our very own conservation department volunteer Martha Scotford. Before becoming a volunteer in our lab, Martha was a professor of graphic design at North Carolina State University and is the reigning expert on Cipe Pineles. What a small world! I was so happy to be able to share this addition with Martha who recognized these albums from her visits to the Golden’s home when she was writing Cipe’s biography.

Duke Rubenstein Library also holds a collection of William Golden’s papers that I looked through for more insight into William and Cipe’s lives. One of my favorite discoveries in that collection was a letter with attached photographs that William sent to Cipe. The photos are from his time in Paris during WWII and illustrate the events he saw on VE day. The photos are the same size as the ones in LIFE WITH CIPE and I wonder if this was a precursor to the albums.

Two page layout with manuscript in ink and small mounted black and white photographs.

Rubenstein Library has also recently acquired a collection of Cipe’s papers too. I wonder if there are more tiny photographs there.

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Tours, Tours, Tours!

Fri, 2019-08-09 17:10

It’s so nice when folks come down to the Perkins Library basement to visit the lab, and this week we had quite a few visitors from very different parts of the campus community. Early in the week, around 20 incoming freshman came to learn about the conservation program as part of Project Search, a program designed as an introduction to undergraduate research at Duke. Then this morning, we were visited by a tour offered through the Duke Alumni Association.

Sara Neel shows a damaged book to six individuals as part of a tour. Technician Sara Neel describes circulating collections repairs. Conservator Erin Hammeke describes the conservation treatment of a very large book to seven tour attendees. Senior Conservator Erin Hammeke describes a recent conservation treatment. Conservator Henry Hebert shows two bindings undergoing treatment to six tour attendees. Conservator Henry Hebert describes some in-process conservation treatments.

It’s always a pleasure to share our work with Duke students (both current and former), because they are just so personable and naturally curious about the process of conservation and the library materials we have to show. Thanks for dropping by!

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Farewell Garrette!

Fri, 2019-07-26 18:26

Today is the last day for Garrette Lewis-Thomas, our second HBCU Library Alliance/University of Delaware Winterthur intern.  The end of this two month internship really snuck up on us! As you may have read in some of  Beth’s recent posts, we have thrown a ton of information and instruction at Garrette in the last eight weeks – and she has accomplished so much in that time.

We decided to wrap up with a fun little intro to some basic bookbinding: Coptic style bindings.

These books are a simple, non-adhesive structure that mirrors some of the earliest multi-section codices. An unsupported chain stitch serves as both the primary sewing and the board attachment.  The books are very flexible and open flat, which makes them wonderful little notebooks. We dressed them up a bit by covering the boards with decorative paper and stamping Garrette’s initials in gold on the front cover using our Kwikprint hot stamp.

We will miss Garrette so much, but wish her luck in the coming school year!

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Intern Update: Getting It Done

Fri, 2019-07-19 18:12
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It’s been a really busy two weeks for Garrette.  Her last day is next Friday, so we are trying to finish up projects and fit in any last minute training that we can.

Garrette has been working with the TRLN Disaster Interest Group team leads to research shared disaster recovery agreements, updated our training presentation, and has sent out a survey to TRLN libraries. The survey will help us understand our training needs and our readiness should disaster strike one of our consortium members.

Garrette attended the TRLN Annual Meeting last week. The meeting always starts with an inspiring speaker. This year the keynote was Dr. Louise Bernard, Director of the Museum of the Obama Presidential Center. Dr. Bernard discussed the thought processes behind designing the Obama Presidential Center and showed some preliminary site drawings. Her vision for this building and its programming is ambitious and on a scale not seen with other presidential libraries.

Garrette with Dr. Louise Bernard, Director of the Museum
of the Obama Presidential Center

We toured several conservation labs this week. We appreciate our colleague’s time and energy. It’s always fun to visit other labs and talk with conservators about their space and what they are working on. Not pictured is our visit to the N.C. Archives conservation lab. Emily Rainwater toured us through her space. We geeked out a little in their disaster supply room.

Garrette with Kesha Talbert, Associate Paper Conservator, Etherington Conservation Center (Browns Summit, NC).

 

Jennifer French, Objects Conservator, Garrette, and Paige Meyers, Textile Conservator, North Carolina Museum of History (Raleigh, NC).

Today we did a tabletop disaster recovery demo. Garrette and Kelli Stephenson, Coordinator in Access and Library Services, set up a recovery area for items that got wet in our imaginary pipe leak. They set up items for air drying, and prepped several for the freezer. We also learned how water soluble yellow highlighter can be.

Garrette and Kelli working on wet books and papers.

 

Garrette and Kelli get wet books into the freezer.

Garrette has also been spending a lot of time in the Lilly Locked Stacks identifying items that need enclosures. This building will be renovated soon, and we need to prepare the medium-rare materials for moving offsite during construction.

Flagging fragile items for enclosures.

Garrette is working on her final presentation that will cover what she did this summer. She is finishing up  work for digital imaging prep and the Ortiz posters. She is also learning how to make corrugated-clamshell boxes this week.

Garrette repairing posters from the Ortiz collection.

These seven weeks have flown by. One more to go. We are really impressed with how much work Garrette has accomplished so far.

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Evidence of Ownership

Thu, 2019-07-11 18:35

Some of the more intriguing objects in the collection have characteristics that show evidence of a previous owner’s interaction with them. A good example of this recently came through the lab for an enclosure.

This copy of Walter Crane’s The Bases of Design (1898) is wrapped in a protective cloth cover, likely handmade by a previous owner. The cover is signed Naomi S. Gray at the tail of the spine, so we can only assume that she was the person who made it. These kinds of home-made book jackets are not all that uncommon, but the amount of detail in it’s design and construction is pretty extraordinary.  The actual design of the publisher’s binding looks like this:

The design of the titling on the spine of the case is copied faithfully onto the jacket – but rather than continue with the floral motif of the publisher’s design, a small drawing of a crane is included to represent the author. A hem and single line of stitching at the head and tail of the jacket spine was added to prevent the cloth from unraveling where it is cut. The turn-ins on the interior of the boards show an equal level of care.

Lacing with ribbon or cord in this fashion is often seen in home-made book jackets of this style. In most cases, the materials used appear to be cheap scrap. Rarely do we see hemmed turn-ins and individual stitching around the lacing holes.

The attention to detail in so many aspects of the design and construction of this book jacket tells not only a great deal about the appreciation that Naomi had for this book, but showcases her excellent hand skills. In many ways, the evidence of ownership can stir a greater connection to the object than the text itself.

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Quick Pic: It’s July 4th Eve and Everyone is Boxing!

Wed, 2019-07-03 19:32
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Apparently the afternoon before a holiday is a good day for an impromptu Boxing Day We all decided independently that making boxes was a good thing to do today. There are so many boxes being made all at once it is epic.

Boxing Day: July 4th Edition

Somehow we are all working around each other at the board shear in a (mostly) seamless dance. All these stats are a great way to start the new fiscal year.

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Intern Update: Doing All The Things

Fri, 2019-06-21 13:00

As you recall, our intern’s first few days were a little hectic. Since our last post Garrette has learned how to repair manuscript materials for digitization, learned how to humidify and flatten architectural drawings, and continues to refine her boxing skills.

This week Garrette helped re-install the two Audubon double elephant folios in the exhibits suite. These were removed earlier in the year to make way for the “500 Hundred Years of Women’s Work” exhibit. It took four of us about an hour to reinstall these two volumes. The birds were greatly missed but they are back on display with new page openings.

Strapping a double elephant folio Audubon.

We toured the Library Service Center this week with colleagues from the University Archives and the Rubenstein Library. Earl Alston, LSC Access and Delivery Coordinator, gave us a behind the scenes tour of the stacks. Every time we visit LSC we are impressed with the amount of work the LSC staff do every day. It’s hard, physical labor that is mostly invisible to patrons.

Really big stacks at the LSC.

In the lab today we hosted a tour for our colleagues in the Digital Collections and Curation Services department. Garrette gave a terrific presentation on the humidification and flattening work that she is doing for the Duke Gardens collection. These are rolled drawings depicting the Garden’s hardscapes and greenscapes that show the evolution of Duke Gardens.

Garrette (R) showing colleague how to humidify and flatten architectural drawings.

Later this week we will tour the UNC-Chapel Hill conservation labs. We also have Garrette working on some disaster recovery projects for the Triangle Research Library Network as well. She is getting a good picture of what collections conservators do on a daily basis from treatment to disaster preparation to  meetings to surveys.

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Revamping Our Loan Documentation

Fri, 2019-06-14 20:24

The library loans a large number of items from various collections to other libraries and museums each year for exhibitions. The typical loan agreement is for a small number of items (usually less than 10), but occasionally we get a loan request that is much larger. It is important to document the condition of each object that is borrowed, and we do this by creating a condition report. Condition reports document any pre-existing conditions of a collection item (or lack thereof) and help to establish the responsible party for any future damage. A good report allows anyone handling the object to check and compare the condition of the item as it is packed and moved between destinations.

There are no standards for the length or format of a condition report. For many years, our reports have taken the form of a simple text document that includes an object’s identifying information, a brief description, and notes about any condition issues. In addition to the report, we take photographs of the object and save them to a networked drive.

This form has served us well until now, but in the next year we are facing some much larger loans. We began to wonder if there was a way to more quickly and accurately document the condition of an item, while still maintaining good record keeping practices. In recent years, a number of conservators have developed methods for adding photographs and digital annotations to their condition reports. With the increased functionality and reduced cost of portable touch-screen devices, the time seemed right to experiment with new documentation methods.

[Click to Enlarge]At the most recent AIC Annual Meeting, I attended a talk by Katrina Rush, Associate Paintings Conservator at the The Menil Collection, on digital condition reporting using Apple devices. While the method she presented appeared viable for our needs, we needed to use hardware and software that could be fully supported by our IT department. We recently acquired a Surface Book 2, which combines the versatility of a laptop and a tablet in one Windows device. The accompanying stylus allows the user to precisely annotate images and the portability means that we can bring it along with the items as they travel. The attached camera could be useful for documenting the item outside the lab.

I began designing a new condition report template in Microsoft OneNote. This program allows us to include all the same information from the old form, as well as insert and annotate images. There are also some handy time-saving features like working checkboxes and timestamps. I have included an example of an item documented with the new form here.

At this stage in development, I am conducting “trial runs” with the new form and device. So far I have not been timing myself, but completing the report seems to go very quickly. For much larger loans, I have successfully tested workarounds using “mail merge” to generate the tables of bibliographic data for many items at once. I’ve found it very easy to fill out the fields and to drag and drop images into the form. While the drawing tools are extensive, it would probably be helpful to develop a standard legend of specific colors to describe common condition issues. Exporting the report to a more preservation-friendly file format (like PDF) is easy enough, but can require some adjustments to keep page breaks from splitting an image.

As this new documentation method gets more use, we will likely continue to adapt it. In the coming months I hope to share some of the lessons we learn and the resulting workflows on this blog.

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