44th Annual Meeting – Workshop, May 14, "Gellan Gum Applications for Paper-based Objects"

I was very excited to see Gellan Gum Applications for Paper-based Objects listed on the workshops for AIC/CAC, but I was also a little worried about signing up. My familiarity with gums in paper conservation was limited to reading the odd DistList posting. Would it be too technical? Would I be in over my head?
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I shouldn’t have worried. The facilitators from Library and Archives Canada and the Canadian Conservation Institute put me at easy immediately, and the group introductions reassured me I wasn’t the only novice in the group.
We began the morning with a presentation covering both a theoretical and practical introduction to gellan gum. Crystal Maitland did an excellent job of explaining the science behind the use of gellan gum without overwhelming us with too much technical detail. After the getting the theoretical grounding Doris St-Jacques, Greg Hill and Anne Maheux took over and shared some of the practical treatments which had been performed at CCI and LAC.
From there we headed down to the Canadian Centre for Architecture’s inviting lab. It’s always exciting to visit another institution “behind the scenes” and CCA’s facilities did not disappoint. Despite the large group everyone had their own workspace prepared for them with all the tools and samples we’d need for the day.
One of the real strengths of the workshop was exactly how much hands-on experience we gained. We split in to two groups to watch Doris and Greg prepare batches of gellan gum and then in to groups of three to give it a try ourselves. The process proved to be fairly simple, especially with the help of the excellent workshop leaflet. It included clear instructions and my favourite kind of diagram – one which does all the ratio math for me! In addition to the recipes the leaflet also included figures outlining the order of layers for different kinds of gellan gum cleaning and instructions for bleaching and deacidification. All together a very useful document.
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Every participant was provided with a print which had been cut in to four sections for testing cleaning, deacidifying and bleaching. Many participants also brought their own samples. This was an excellent bonus, allowing everyone to see the effects on a wide variety of materials.

Each group began by mixing up their own batch of gellan gum. These set by the end of the day, allowing us to test our handy work, but the facilitators had also prepared a large number of sheets of with a variety of concentrations and additives. It was very informative to be able to play around with the assortment. Very few institutions have to resources to create such a wide variety of gels just to allow their conservators to gain the experience of the different properties, making this an invaluable experience
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The gellan gum workshop accomplished something I was sure was possible at the start of the day. It allowed me to leave feeling confident enough in my skills that I’m looking forward to trying out gellan gum in my own lab. And if turning an intimidated rookie in to a confident tester isn’t the sign of a great workshop then I don’t know what is!
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