43rd Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Group Session, May 16, 2015. “Multitasking on a Shoestring: Storage and Display Mounts for Oversized Maps at the Library of Virginia” by Leslie Courtois

The talk began with an introduction to the Library, which as a state resource, also houses the archives and is mandated to make all content accessible, from the original object to digital access. The original building was built on a Jeffersonian model, which is supplemented with a massive offsite storage comprising some 97 million items over fifty-five miles of shelving, and yet has a very small staff for conservation and exhibit preparation. The Library has a very enthusiastic curator of maps, a benefactor with a interest in sponsoring maps scholarship and a robust interest group that seeks to use the collection. As such, Courtois presented a solution she has come up with that allows her to access and mount for display their extremely oversize maps without much additional help, using a modular system of her own invention and implementation.
With insights into the use of maps, “a highly aesthetic visual documentary material”, Courtois discussed several of local interest, including: the Mitchell (1755), the primary map used to define the nation after the revolution; the Sayer & Bennett map of the Chesapeake bay (1777); the John Henry map of Virginia (1770); and the “monster” Boye Map of Virginia (1826), printed from nine copper plates. Indeed, the scale of these editions permitted the publisher space for extreme detail and decorative elements that formerly were best perceived by the original user up close in their folded, pocketed format. The irony of the preservation rehousing, a 5mm thick Mylar and map folder hybrid, which permits flat storage and prevents improper folding damage, is that it can prevent the observer from seeing the details due to enforcing a certain distance due to its dimensions (up to 40” x 60” standardized, and custom for sizes beyond that). The flat housings also take up space on tables, if not exceeding the surface area available for reference, thus limiting the number that may laid out at one time, and lastly makes for an ergonomically unsound, and risky relationship of viewer to the object. For these reasons, the goal was to go vertical, for the least cost, and without having to rehouse the object in yet another expensive format.
The solution arrived at was to use Hexamount panels (or alternately, double laminate cross-directional corrugated board) as the vertical panel support, which are fastened to arms on independent wooden floor stands (or stanchions), hand-built by Courtois of simple materials and construction. The stands themselves are sturdy and functional, and once the panel is attached to swiveling arms by hook-and-loop tape, the feet are only visible part. The stand bases are made up of 3/4” furniture plywood, and two-by-fours are used as the risers. The arms to which the panels are attached, are fixed to the risers with a hex bolt that may be loosed and tightened, to allow for an angled presentation. There is no cross-brace or frame other than the panel itself, allowing the independent stands to be adjusted in width to each other based on the size of the Hexamount panel, allowing for flexibility of size. All told, the stands cost about $184 or about $30 each to make up six, including drill bits, wood, paint, wide Velcro ™ strip; the Hexamount runs about $87 per panel not including shipping.

Front and back views of oversize maps mounted to independent wooden stands are shown
Vertical presentation of oversize maps on in-house built stands

The maps are supported on the panel using a pass through hinge system: the storage folder is pierced with wide slits above the map, and Mylar strapping is passed through matching slits in the panel behind and below and and affixed at the back.
Image shows a piece of Mylar slipping through a slot in a support board for a mounted object
A piece of Mylar is slipped through a slot in a support board for a mounted object.

Difficulties include supporting wide maps in the middle where sagging is a potential issue, but this can be resolved with additional strapping. Mounting and dismounting the large panel tends to be the stickiest issue, if you’ll pardon the pun. Once a large surface area of hook-and-loop tape attaches, it can be difficult to pry apart, so when setting up, it is helpful to place a removable barrier such as a slim ruler or other in between the hook and loop to allow for a break-away point if the strips are aligned improperly. For removal, it helps to have an assistant, and using a ruler to split the hook-and-loop as sort of zipper helps to peel them apart. (It was suggested during Q and A that leaving a few thin squares of Mylar or metal foil in place could also serve as a tool entry point for later removal; although visible tabs might present a security concern).  For the Boye map, which was previously treated and edge mounted with a fabric extension similar to that which is used for quilt-hangings, a folded over fabric tube at the top allows for a rigid strut piece of corrugated or other material to be slid through the tube and which is tied in with linen tapes to the support board.
Courtois suggests a couple of further tips during the Q and A:

  • To deal with a problem that also came up in the pre-conference 2015 STASH Flash II session (search this blog for that session review) – the tendency of hook and loop tapes’ adhesive to detach from substrates. The Hexamount surface is somewhat friable, and she suggests first lightly marking out the areas to which the tapes will be applied, and consolidating the stripes with PVA and allowing them to dry before laying down the tape.  During Q&A, she added that she may be using more Velcro than is necessary, which impedes the dismount.
  • For passing the mounting straps through the through the thickness of the support, it helps to use a slender tool such as a thin ruler, to keep the strip from bending and to find the matching outlet.
  • Always know your route, and that you have a path to safely transport the mounted work. Courtois suggests using a dolly to transport all the stands at once, since there may be many a double door, ramp or other obstacle to be managed on the way to the exhibition site. With limited staff on hand, the logistical concerns of movement must be thought through thoroughly.
    Michelle Facini, co-author of Big Paper, Big Problems (see also:poster and tables) noted that in responses to her Kress-funded survey even the use of the term oversized is challenging – every institution’s parameter for oversize is different!  However, all face the same expensive choices, as sizes increase, so do material costs. Inquiring about the Boye map, Courtois replied that indeed, that one is rolled on a core for storage.
  • Sarah Norris noted similar issues at the Texas State Archives, and noted that they have one extremely oversize map that is mounted with an extension with grommets at the top. Others are in standardized housing with a strip of corrugated board at the top, which allows for a monofilament to be strung through for hanging.
  • Courtois notes that this vertical, modular system allows the observer to get really close up in viewing the map, with little risk and much reward. The reward for all this hard work “is the engagement of the users – when you go to lengths to accommodate them, people really do value that effort.” In viewing candid shots from map society visits, and random visitors walking by encountering a map of size for perhaps the first time, this reviewer can only agree.