42nd Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Group Session, May 30, “Conserving the Iraqi Jewish Archive for Digitization” by Katherine Kelly and Anna Friedman

Katherine Kelly and Anna Friedman presented on a two-year project funded by the Department of State and carried out at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to conserve and digitize the Iraqi Jewish Archive. This is not an archive that was collected in the traditional sense, but rather materials taken from the Jewish community over many years–the collections were discovered in the flooded basement of the Iraqi Intelligence Headquarters in Baghdad in 2003.
National Archives conservators Doris Hamburg and Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler traveled to Iraq shortly after the discovery to advise on recovery and preservation of the collection. The damaged materials were frozen and flown to the US, where they were vacuum freeze-dried. Following a smaller-scale project in 2006 to assess the collection, the hard work to clean, stabilize, and digitize the heavily-damaged and moldy collections was carried out during the two year project that was the focus of this presentation.
I am always amazed at the sheer scale of projects undertaken at NARA and the organization required to tackle the work within a limited timeframe. Katherine and Anna’s presentation included discussion of adaptations of the usual National Archives workflows to increase the efficiency of the project and to aid conservators in their work. For most materials, the first step in stabilization was to remove inactive mold. Distorted items were humidified and flattened, and tears were mended. Items that had originally been attached to documents with water-soluble adhesive, like stamps and some photographs, had often released due to the flood waters and subsequent humidity; these items were repositioned and reattached whenever possible. Once stabilized, materials could be rehoused, catalogued, and digitized. Through every step of the process, materials were tracked through the workflow using SharePoint software.
The culmination of the project is a digital collection of all 3846 items, which allows the materials to be made available to everyone. An exhibition featuring highlights of the collection was shown both at the National Archives in DC and at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. Another component of the project was the creation of a website with detailed information about the collection and its history, documentation of procedures, and an online version of the exhibit. I particularly enjoyed the short video describing the history of the project, featuring many of the conservators who were involved over the years.
I often listen to NPR while working in the lab, and last November I was excited to hear my former classmate Katherine Kelly in a feature on All Things Considered. If you missed Katherine and Anna’s presentation in San Francisco, I highly recommend a visit not only to the project website, but also to the NPR feature to learn more about the important work to preserve this collection and make it accessible.

42nd Annual Meeting – Case Studies in Sustainable Collection Care, May 30, “Becoming ‘Fit for Purpose’: A Sustainable and Viable Conservation Department at the British Library,” by Dr. Cordelia Rogerson

In this presentation, Dr. Cordelia Rogerson spoke about radical changes in the approach to treatment decision-making at the British Library under her direction as Head of Conservation. The changes in approach were sparked by deep cuts to the Library’s budget, resulting in a reduction of the number conservators working in the lab by half–from 70 conservators to 35. At the same time, there was increased demand for conservation work in the busy library where collections are constantly in use. These cuts forced conservators to evaluate the fundamental nature and purpose of their work to determine if they could do less treatment without compromising use of the Library’s collection.
In response, the British Library conservation department adopted a “fit for purpose” model to govern how much treatment to do for materials sent to the conservation lab. Items are evaluated to determine what treatment is absolutely necessary for the immediate projected use of the item, and only this necessary treatment is undertaken. “Vulnerable damage” (such as a long tear across a page) is likely to be repaired, while “stable damage” (such as a loss at the corner of a leaf that does not interfere with safe handling) will be left untreated in many cases. This represented a shift away from a previous emphasis on full (or more complete) treatment for the majority of the materials coming to the lab. The new model does still allow for high priority items and items selected for exhibition to receive treatment beyond stabilization.
After applying “fit for purpose” to seven discrete projects with positive results, the model was adopted as the guiding principle for all work in the lab. By doing only the work deemed necessary, the lab has greatly increased the number of repairs completed each year. At the same time, the efficiencies gained have actually allowed the conservators to devote more treatment time to high priority collections.
As one of only two conservators working in a lab for a medium-sized special collections, I found that many of the challenges, decisions, and compromises of the changing operations at the British Library sound familiar. I appreciated hearing how a “fit for purpose” decision-making structure works in the setting of one of the largest institutions of its kind and the dramatic impact it can have in cost-savings and efficiencies on this scale.
In the future, I would be interested to hear more discussion of “fit for purpose” decision-making in the conservation of library and archival collections, digging deeper into the diverse interpretations that might emerge for a range of materials in varied contexts.

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Session, May 10: “Treatment Considerations for the Haggadah Prayer Book: Evaluation of Two Antioxidants for Treatment of Copper Containing Inks and Colorants” by Season Tse, Maria Trojan-Bedynski, and Doris St. Jacques

Season Tse of CCI reported on collaborative research conducted with co-authors Maria Trojan-Bedynski and Doris St. Jacques. The research was designed to investigate treatment possibilities for an 18th-century Haggadah prayer book from the collections of Library and Archives Canada.

The Haggadah text is written on handmade, laid paper in iron gall ink with decoration and drawings in red and blue pigments and a green copper pigment. The green copper pigment was analyzed and identified as atacamite—not the verdigris they had expected. Over time, both the iron gall ink and the atacamite have contributed to significant deterioration of the paper.

The Haggadah was previously treated at the Library in 1987. At that time, breaks in the paper support were repaired with tissue and a carboxymethylcellulose adhesive. Initially, the treatment was to include treatment with magnesium bicarbonate applied on the suction table. Because feathering of pigments occurred during application, however, this treatment was halted, and the remaining leaves were instead deacidified with WeiT’o.

Although the 1987 treatment slowed ink corrosion, evidence of continued discoloration and breaks resulting from the iron gall ink and green copper pigment convinced conservators that the treatment was insufficient. Research was designed to determine if a non-aqueous antioxidant treatment could provide a safe and effective means to further slow deterioration of the Haggadah.

Test samples were created by applying iron gall ink, an iron-copper ink, atacamite, and verdigris to Whatman paper. All of the samples were pre-aged, then treated with WeiT’o and Bookkeeper alone and in combination with the antioxidants TBAB and EMIMBr.

Following treatment, half of the samples were heat-aged. All of the samples were then tested to identify any change in color, pH, and tensile strength.

Tse was not able to present all of the results in the allotted presentation time, but she reassured the audience that all details will be included in the paper submitted to the BPG Annual following the conference.

Tse first presented the results for the iron gall ink samples. The inks treated with WeiT’o appeared darker and more saturated, while the inks treated with Bookkeeper appeared lighter. Both WeiT’o and Bookkeeper raised the pH of the inks, but neither fully neutralized them. The pH did not fall after heat-aging. Deacidification did improve paper strength, but not enough to be considered sufficient for treatment. The antioxidant treatments did not contribute to an increase in paper strength.

The results of deacidification and antioxidant treatments differed for the atacamite samples. The two samples treated with a combination of an antioxidant and Bookkeeper (TBAB and then Bookkeeper, and EMIMBr and then Bookkeeper) showed the least color change of the pigment after heat-aging. Unlike the ink samples, for atacamite, deacidification did not improve paper strength, while the antioxidant treatment did improve paper strength.

For now, antioxidant treatment has not been undertaken for the Haggadah because Tse and her co-authors determined that neither of the tested antioxidants sufficiently benefitted the acidic iron gall ink. Tears and breaks in the manuscript were stabilized using a remoistenable Berlin tissue coated with gelatin and reactivated with a combination of ethanol and water.

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, Book and Paper Session, May 10: “Ozalids in the Music Library: Life before Xerox” by Melina Avery

Melina Avery first encountered ozalids during a fellowship at Northwestern University Library when a large collection of music manuscripts and reproductions arrived in the Conservation Lab. Avery reports that “Ozalid” is the patented name of a diazotype reproduction process, but in common usage in music libraries, the term “ozalid” can also refer to photostats, mimeographs, blueprints, and other pre-Xerox reproductions.

Many original music scores have never been published, and delicate originals (often written on thin, “onion-skin” paper) were frequently discarded once reproductions were made. As a result, ozalids may be rare or unique copies of a given music score. Because so many different processes have been used to reproduce music manuscripts over the years, it can be challenging to firmly identify the process used and determine best practices for treatment and housing.

Avery surveyed the ozalids in Northwestern’s collections and, through visual identification, determined that 37% were diazotypes. The diazotype process was invented in Germany in 1923 and involves a reaction of light-sensitive chemicals with ammonia to produce a blue, maroon, brown, or black image. Because the chemicals were not rinsed from the paper in this process, diazotypes tend to display distinct patterns of deterioration, including darkening or discoloration of the image-side of the paper and loss of image contrast.

Avery was fortunate to acquire samples of known types of ozalids from a local music publisher to use for further testing in order to establish treatment protocols. She focused her research on diazotypes, which were the most common type of ozalid held in Northwestern’s collections.

Despite visual identification, Avery hoped to develop objective tools for identification using FTIR. She analyzed the front and back of the ozalids, and compared results to known diazotypes. Unfortunately, the spectra gave only ambiguous results.

Avery subjected ozalid and diazotype samples to common treatments, including surface cleaning, humidification, mending, and tape removal with solvents. Although diazotypes can be sensitive to moisture and displayed feathering of the media on exposure to water, she found that humidification for up to one hour could safely be carried out. She does not recommend extended humidification due to the potential for feathering, bleeding, and sinking of the media. Diazotypes have also been reported to be sensitive to heat, but Avery’s test showed no color change when briefly heated with a tacking iron, as for mending with heat-set tissue. Ethanol and acetone both resulted in feathering or bleeding of the media, but toluene did not. Based on these tests, Avery concludes that many basic treatments can be undertaken to stabilize fragile ozalid collections.

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, Book and Paper Session, May 10: “Deceptive Covers: Armenian Bindings of 18th-Century Imprints from Constantinople” by Yasmeen Khan and Tamara Ohanyan

Yasmeen Khan and Tamara Ohanyan undertook a survey to better document the bindings found on Armenian printed books, especially those printed in Constantinople during the 18th century. Armenian manuscripts and their bindings have been well-documented, but previous reports claim that most Armenian printed books were bound in Western Europe. These assumptions were based on cover decoration that more closely resembles a Western European aesthetic rather than traditional Armenian style. While treating an early Armenian printed book at the Library of Congress, Khan and Ohanyan noted an interesting headband that appeared to be a hybrid structure of a traditional Armenian endband and a Western European front-bead endband. This discovery piqued their interest to know more about the history of the production of printed books for the Armenian diaspora communities.

The authors surveyed Armenian printed books in collections at the Library of Congress and in the Matenadaran Collection in Yerevan, Armenia, focusing on volumes in poor condition in order to examine the binding structure. Examination of the sewing, spine linings, boards, board attachment, endbands, edge decoration, doublures, and cover decoration suggest the books were bound by Armenian binders. Most of the structural elements examined appear to be based on traditional Armenian binding methods, with a general shift towards simplification and a Western aesthetic over the course of the 18th century.

Traditional Armenian bindings included thin wooden boards with the grain of the wood positioned perpendicular to the spine.  The survey showed that this practice continued well into the 18th century, with pasteboard appearing only towards the end of the 18th century.

Khan and Ohanyan believe the hybrid Armenian-Western endband may be unique to bindings from Constantinople, and may help to localize and date the bindings on Armenian printed books. Towards the beginning of the century, a traditional Armenian endband is common. For this endband, a primary endband structure is sewn through each section and through holes in the board; thus the endband extends past the textblock and onto the top edge of each of the boards. A secondary endband is sewn over this structure to create a decorative chevron pattern. Khan and Ohanyan report that hybrid-style endbands began to appear on books from Constantinople in the early 18th century. Several evolutions of the hybrid endbands were noted, including a simple front-bead endband in the Western style that extends onto the boards in a similar manner to the traditional Armenian endband. Finally, towards the end of the 18th century, simple Western-style front-bead endbands were most common.

In the future, Khan and Ohanyan hope to further their study of Armenian printed books through examination and documentation of tooling patterns in the decoration of leather covers. Their hope is that, as for the hybrid endband, documentation of an evolution of styles will aid in the dating and localization of bindings.

Although the evolution of binding styles is interesting in itself and as an aid to dating bindings, it also reveals shifting attitudes in the production and use of books by Armenian communities.