45th Annual Meeting – Book & Paper Session, June 1, 2017 – “Ionic Fixatives on Water-Sensitive Media for Aqueous Treatment” presented by Soyeon Choi

In her talk on ionic fixatives, Soyeon Choi, head conservator of works on paper at Yale Center for British Art, presented an overview of the history of ionic fixatives, an explanation of how they work, and the results of several experiments.  I had been looking forward to hearing Soyeon’s talk, due to the potential usefulness of ionic fixatives for library and archives materials.  As Soyeon emphasized throughout her presentation, this type of fixative is likely to be most useful in cases where saving the information is a higher priority over aesthetic appearance, such as in the case of modern and contemporary inks, which are sensitive to a wide range of solvents.  Soyeon’s experiments focused on a wide range of inks and included a variety of tests with numerous ionic fixatives and several different contemporary inks.

Prior to this talk, I hadn’t realized that ionic fixatives had remained more popular in Europe than in the United States since they were introduced as a treatment technique in Germany in the 1980s.  As Soyeon explained, ionic fixatives have been used for mass scale treatment in Germany since 1996, but simply have not caught on in the US, for a number of reasons.  One of the main challenges in translating this technique into practice is that these fixatives are industrial products which are used in processing textiles, and are not commercially available on a small scale.  A related challenge is that the names of the fixatives are proprietary, and therefore vary from country to country, so fixatives used for research and testing in Europe are either not available in the US or go by different names.  And, as with all things industrial, the exact composition of these fixatives is proprietary and subject to change.  Soyeon felt it would be useful to complete a study of ionic fixatives in the US, and having seen her talk, I agree!

Soyeon gave a brief and thorough description of the main categories of ionic fixatives, which can be either cationic or anionic, and explained how these differ chemically.  Interestingly, it has been found that cationic and anionic fixatives work best when used in tandem rather than when used separately.  She also explained that the main drawback of all ionic fixatives is that some permanent change in the color of the ink should be expected, and that these are most useful in situations where preserving legibility is the main goal.  Her research focused on dye-based inks, and compared 13 different fixatives.  The experiments included examining the effects of applying the fixatives, and then testing the efficacy of the fixatives using localized treatment.

The goal of the first experiment was to determine if the fixatives leave any residue in the paper after washing, and to see if it made any difference to wash before or after the fixatives dried.  Whatman filter paper was used, and the fixatives were applied to the paper on their own, as in not over any ink.  Samples were left either unwashed, washed before the fixative dried, or washed after the fixatives dried.   The fixatives tested included Polymin, Lupamin, Cartafix FF, Cartafix SWE, Cartafix WA, Cartafix WE, Cassofix FRN, Catiofast 159(A), Catiofast 2345, Mesitol NBS/Rewin EL, Nylofixan HF, Catiofast 269, and Appretan.  The samples were washed for 15 minutes, and were examined for fluorescing residue and compared under UV light.  There was a range of results in terms of fluorescence, and the fixatives which showed little to no fluorescence were chosen for further experiments.

In the next experiment, the effect of accelerating aging on the washed samples was examined.  In this experiment, unwashed and washed oven-aged samples were compared.  The oven-aged samples were aged at 70oC, 50% RH for 96 days. The fixatives used were Catiofast 159(A), Cartafix FF, Cartafix WA, Cartafix WE, Catiofast 269, Lupamin 9095, Catiofast 2345, Nylofixan HF, and Mesitol + Rewin.  The samples were examined in visible and UV light.  One fixative, Nylofixan HF, stained the paper even without aging.  The not washed oven-aged samples developed significant amounts of fluorescence, but the washed, oven-aged samples did not, which suggests that washing did a good job of removing the fixative.

Based on these initial test results, three fixatives stood out as the most viable, including Cartafix WE, Mesitol & Rewin, and Cartafix FF.  These three fixatives were then tested with contemporary inks. The inks tested, included Winsor & Newton Calligraphy Ink, Bombay India Ink, and Higgins ink.  The fixatives were applied over fixed and unfixed inscriptions, again on Whatman filter paper. The fixatives were mixed with methyl cellulose and applied on a suction platen to both the front and back of the samples prior to washing.  Both fixed and unfixed samples were washed.  As expected, the unfixed samples bled profusely.  Most of the fixatives gave acceptable results, and some fixatives worked better with certain inks.  Higgins ink did not do well with any of the fixatives.

As Soyeon summarized, there are many factors to consider when using ionic fixatives, and their use requires a lot of fine tuning.  The fixatives permanently alter the media to some degree in terms of hue and saturation, and rinsing is important for long term stability.  The fixative names change fairly frequently.  Future tests may include the use of ionic fixatives with blotter washing vs. immersion washing, gel vs. solution application, and air drying vs. quick drying.  Overall, I thought the experiments were helpful and thorough.  There was a lot more information presented than I was able to capture, so I hope that Soyeon publishes this work someday.

45th Annual Meeting – Book & Paper Session, May 30, 2017 – “Treatment 305: A Love Story” presented by Kathy Lechuga

In her talk “Treatment 305: A Love Story,” Kathy Lechuga, book conservator at the Indiana Historical Society, described a deep relationship with a treatment technique that was years in the making.  Kathy punctuated her talk with references to Prince lyrics, which she used to emphasis her love for the versatility of her new favorite treatment technique.  Treatment 305 was originally developed at Princeton and was presented by Brian J. Baird and Mick Letourneaux in 1994.  It is described in the Book and Paper Group Annual, in an article which may be found here.

The talk began with a summary of why Kathy has found this technique useful, what sort of books this treatment is typically used for, and how it relates to the Indiana Historical Society mission statement.  Typically, she has found it useful for printed books from the late 18th to 19th century, which fit into the “medium rare” category.  As this category of book treatment isn’t often addressed, I enjoyed hearing two talks related to medium rare books, including Quinn Ferris’ talk, “Medium Rare: An innovative approach to the space between special and general collections.”  As Kathy described, the books in this category within her institution included collections that are used frequently for research and exhibits, and the ultimate goal of treatment was to improve mobility and durability while maintaining an aesthetic appearance that was harmonious with the books’ time periods.

Kathy was inspired by the Treatment 305 technique, because it helped in many ways to meet her desired treatment goals.  She found this technique appropriate for books with a weak binding and a strong text block, and found that it would allow her to create a tight back structure while minimizing the inherent weakness of the historic structure.  However, she did decide to experiment with deviations from the exact Treatment 305 technique as described in the original 1994 article, in order to better accommodate the needs of specific volumes, and to incorporate more contemporary treatment practices.

The majority of the talk centered around four case studies which incorporated slight variations on the Treatment 305 technique.  The books included in the case studies were similar in that all were missing significant portions of their original binding components, such as their spines, one board, or both boards, and dated to the late 18th century or 19th century.  The treatment was varied slightly in each case study, in order to accommodate the needs of each particular volume. All four case studies varied slightly, although common features included minimal spine linings and new boards constructed from two pieces of 4-ply board which had been laminated together.

One component of one case study which really caught everyone’s attention, and resulted in a few audience questions, was Kathy’s use of a screen-printing kit to replicate the title information on the spine of a book.  I also thought this was a great new tool to consider, because replicating an original spine is called for on occasion, and using new materials to replicate an aged aesthetic can be a challenge.

43rd Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Session, May 16, "The Effects of MPLP on Archives: 10 Years Later" Panel Discussion Moderated by Andrea Knowlton

Andrea Knowlton, Assistant Conservator for Special Collections at UNC Chapel Hill and moderator for this panel discussion, began the session with a brief introduction about the origins of MPLP, short for “More Product, Less Process”, and its impact on archives collections over the past decade.  The concept of MPLP originated with a 2005 article in the American Archivist, entitled “More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing.”  Authors Greene and Meissner sought to address the massive processing backlogs which were, and are, a common concern and source of inefficiency in archives collections.
In order to receive maximum benefits from this blog post, I strongly encourage you to review the article, which may be found at: http://www.archivists.org/prof-education/pre-readings/IMPLP/AA68.2.MeissnerGreene.pdf
As Andrea explained, this article encouraged a reduction of arrangement and description activities, as well as a reduction in the initial time and resources invested in preservation activities, such as refoldering, rehousing, and removing staples, in order to facilitate access to collections.  She described that this approach to processing was controversial in the archives field, but is now widely accepted and practiced.  As Andrea pointed out, though MPLP is a major topic in archives, its impact has not been widely discussed in conservation.  I personally can vouch for this; since volunteering to write this blog post, I have explained the concept of MPLP to several conservator friends, so if this is new to you, you are in good company!  As someone who is currently working with an archives collection, I was truly looking forward to this panel discussion.
Laura McCann, Conservation Librarian at NYU Libraries, “Partnering for Preservation and Access.”
After Andrea’s introduction, each of the panelists gave short presentations about the impact of MPLP on conservation in their institutions.  Laura McCann, Conservation Librarian at NYU Libraries, was the first speaker, and said that their experience with MPLP has been “a happy story.”  NYU Libraries have archival materials held in 3 separate repositories, and these archives had 3 separate management policies until recently.  Their policies have become consolidated and streamlined largely thanks to MPLP.  Laura described that MPLP allowed them to rethink their core values, to refocus on ways to be more user-centered, and to better understand their resources in order to plan and manage more responsibly and sustainably.  She pointed to three main areas in which MPLP has impacted their institution:
-Organizational changes: a new Archival Collections Management Department was formed, headed by Chela Weber, which included a new position for a Preservation Archivist, Fletcher Durant, who functions as a preventive conservator and liaison between conservation and archives.
-Workflow changes: there was a shift in the type of materials treated, with higher emphasis on materials that were being actively used for teaching, exhibitions, and loans.  This in turn has led to a better understanding of how conservation work increases access.
-Methods/Materials changes: efforts were made to house and store items in a more efficient manner.  Instead of creating custom housings, they decided to move toward modification of standard sized boxes because they found that this saves space.
Laura also mentioned that she had recently published an article on the impact of MPLP, and suggested this resource for those who were interested in learning more:
Laura McCann. “Preservation as Obstacle or Opportunity? Rethinking the Preservation-Access Model in the Age of MPLP.” Journal of Archival Organization 11, 1-2 (2013): 23-48.
Michael Smith, Collections Manager at Library and Archives Canada, “Acquisition, Preservation and Immediacy- A Different Approach to Balancing the Demands of Making Archival Material Quickly Accessible.”
The second panelist, Michael Smith, a Collections Manager at Library and Archives Canada, discussed two examples of the impact of MPLP in his talk.  The first example Michael described was a major project involving The Sir John Coape Sherbrooke Collection, which includes 37 notebooks, 79 maps, paintings, and other documents and artifacts.  They were faced with the challenge of making these items digitally available by a tight deadline, and this required a streamlined approach to processing, treatment, and digitization.  Treatment and description activities were carried out concurrently, with archivists working side by side with conservators during treatment.  The materials were tracked using temporary numbers during processing so that they could be processed efficiently, and once the materials were described, they were digitized, bar coded, and stored.  Michael emphasized that collaboration between archivists and conservators was an essential part of this project.
The second example Michael described was their First World War Records Digitization project.  The records in this collection included medical history documents, pay sheets, casualty forms, etc.  Processing this collection involved the removal of every imaginable type of fastener, and Michael included a great image of a large bin full of fasteners.  In total there were 3.5 kilometers of documents which needed to be digitized.  This differed greatly from their usual digitization workflow, in which, Michael described, items are usually digitized as requested by clients.  Prior to digitization, they carried out “material triage,” or minor repairs, and a Banctec, or high volume, scanner was used. While this scanner is not normally used for archives documents, they found it was needed for this project and could be slowed down and used safely.  This project also required both archivists and conservators to rethink and modify their previous workflow model for processing, treatment, and digitization, and consequently required archivists and conservators to work together as a team.
Michael concluded by summarizing lessons learned, including the importance of clear communication, adaptability, and teamwork.
Kim Norman, Preservation Manager/Conservator, Georgia Archives, “MPLP and Conservation at the Georgia Archives.”
Kim began her talk by questioning if MPLP is to archives what phase treatment is to conservation.  She went on to describe some conservators’ concern that phase treatment often results in simple, quick fixes, after which the objects are returned to storage and their greater needs are forgotten.  Kim emphasized that the size of unprocessed collections often makes full treatment of every individual item too overwhelming, and that treating in phases allows materials to be accessed sooner.
She then described examples from her institution of how their workflow has been adapted to better suit the goals of MPLP.  In the Georgia Archives, archivists are trained in some minor preservation and treatment techniques, such as making custom enclosures and sleeves.  She discussed how, while conservators might want to remove fasteners and complete minor repairs, archivists feel these steps are not usually high priorities, and the overarching goal is to ensure access quickly. She provided an example of a group of courthouse documents which were arranged and described but received only minor treatment, including humidification and flattening, so that they could be accessed in a timely manner.
Open Discussion
After the panelists’ presentations were completed, members of the audience were invited to ask questions and to comment on their experiences with the impact of MPLP.  The major discussion points are described below:
1) Laura was asked to speak more about the initiative for rehousing odd-shaped items.  She explained that this practice was started about 2 years ago, due to a combination of factors including a major renovation, new staff, and policy changes.  They are still dealing with rehousing items in the off-site storage, and are slowly calling back odd-sized boxes to replace them with standardized boxes, but items that are not housed at all are their first priority.
2) Laura was also asked to elaborate on the impact of the goals of being data driven and making collections quickly accessible.  She was asked if items that receive minimal attention and rehousing during preprocessing are coming back later to conservation.  Laura replied that all items have a small amount of preservation initially, after which they track use of the items and then enhance description and preservation as necessary.  She emphasized that if they notice an item is being used frequently, then it may be identified for further treatment later on.  Kim mentioned that in her institution items do not come back frequently and treatment is generally need-based.  She gave an example of a large group of fire-damaged courthouse documents that were treated because they needed to be immediately accessible.
3) A point about audio/visual materials in archives was raised, and it was mentioned that these materials pose a major processing challenge because they are being sent to high density storage with minimal processing with little expectation of reformatting or use, but are decaying quickly.
4) An audience member from a small National Park Service site commented that MPLP has created a feeling of going from maximum to minimum in terms of processing, and as a small institution they are faced with the challenge of finding a middle ground where they can address their inherent problems while also balancing their resources in a thoughtful and efficient manner.  Laura emphasized the value of collecting data and defining goals.  She suggested starting with fairly low, sustainable goals, and progressing from there.  Michael commented on the challenge of keeping up with a processing backlog while more material is constantly coming in.
5) As expected, the issue of fasteners reared its rusty head.  An audience member confessed that this issue keeps her up at night, and questioned if we should be disposing of these, because they are evidence of the history of archiving.  She suggested maintaining fasteners, or at least maintaining evidence of the original filing system.  Michael mentioned that they had considered melting down their giant box of fasteners and making something out of the metal.  Laura, on a more serious note, agreed that fasteners are great objects, and can tell a story, but often interfere with the larger goal of making materials accessible.
6) A private practice conservator who works with small institutions in the South brought up the great point that MPLP fundamentally assumes ideal climate control is already in place, especially in regard to leaving fasteners on documents. She asked for suggestions for how to advise local collections without adequate climate control as to how to implement MPLP.  Both Kim and Laura emphasized the importance of addressing the building envelope first while simultaneously considering how MPLP approaches should be adapted to best fit the needs of the individual institution.  Other audience members supported these suggestions.
7) The issue of mold was introduced, in terms of adding time or inefficiency to the processing workflow.  Michael discussed that mold remediation was included in their workflow from the beginning, and while it was definitely an extra step and caused slight delay, it fit in well with the rest of the workflow.  The option of using a vendor for mold remediation was discussed, although it was agreed that vendors were most cost effective when large amounts of materials were involved.  This segued into a discussion of Integrated Pest Management, and museumpests.net was suggested as a good resource for finding vendors.
8) The final topic of discussion was managing workflow schedules in terms of time, and managing the expectation that major processing/digitization projects need to be addressed as quickly as possible on top of other ongoing projects. The audience member who raised this point asked others to elaborate on who determines the work schedule, how they negotiate for more time, and how they deal with the pressure of these expectations.  Michael responded that, at his institution, they are generally not in the position to negotiate deadlines, but can generally negotiate in other areas, such as hiring extra staff or accepting high risk of damage, in order to better meet the deadline.  Kim commented that the needs of her institution are much more fluid and patron driven.  Laura also mentioned that the digitization initiatives at her institution are not as aggressive, but that having a preservation archivist working equally closely with archivists and conservators helps with scheduling major projects.  Other audience members reinforced Michael’s suggestion that, in cases where other parties have determined deadlines which are non-negotiable, other compromises should be suggested, such as stopping work on all other projects or hiring extra help.  It was also mentioned that this may be a good opportunity to point out how previous conservation work may have allowed digitization to be completed faster.
This blog post is a beast, but a necessary one.  As was emphasized by the panelists and audiences members, MPLP has had a major impact on conservation workflows in archives, and both the theme of this conference and the 10 year anniversary of MPLP made this a great time for this discussion.  I thought the point about assumed climate control was an especially good one, as was the final point regarding the pressures of digitization on top of the many other responsibilities conservators have outside of treatment work. This is directly related to Julie Biggs and Yasmeen Khan’s talk “Subject and Object: Exploring the Conservator’s Changing Relationship with Collection Material.”  While it was great to hear that the effects of MPLP have been overwhelmingly positive, I would have liked a more in-depth discussion of why MPLP was controversial in the archives field, as well as if we as conservators have noticed any of the negative effects that initially worried some archivists.

43rd Annual Meeting- Book and Paper Session, May 14, "The Brut Chronicle: Revived and Reconstructed by Deborah Howe"

In her talk about the treatment of Dartmouth College Library’s Brut manuscript, Collections Conservator Deborah Howe addressed the history of the manuscript, its condition and intended use, and the process involved in determining an appropriate binding structure. The major challenge she encountered was that the Brut was bound in a historic binding in poor condition that was not contemporary to the text block.

Dartmouth Brut Before Treatment

Deborah began her talk with an overview of the Brut text and its historic significance. According to Deborah, The Brut text is a chronicle of both English history and mythology, and covers the history of England from its settlement until 1461; it contains records of battles and histories of rulers, as well as tales of Merlin and King Lear.  While variants of the text were written in Latin, French, and Middle English, 181 of 240 existing Brut manuscripts are written in Middle English, including Dartmouth’s Brut manuscript.  Dartmouth’s Special Collections Library acquired their copy of the Brut with the intention that the manuscript would be used heavily for research and teaching.  Dartmouth’s Brut is of particular interest because it has a significant amount of marginalia which is now available for scholarly research.  Prior to being acquired by Dartmouth, the Brut was in a private collection, and was not available to scholars.
This manuscript was unusual in that it was bound in a stationers binding that was in poor condition and was no longer functional.  As Deborah explained, this created a dilemma, because while the binding dated to around 1600, it was not contemporary to the text block, which dates to about 1430.  In making her treatment decision, Deborah consulted with conservation colleagues who suggested stabilization of the stationers binding in conjunction with limited use.  Because this book was intended to be used frequently, Deborah felt that a different solution was necessary.
First, the Brut was disbound, surface cleaned, mended, and digitized.  In the process of disbinding Deborah found evidence of a previous binding, which she conjectured might have included wooden boards.  Prior to determining an appropriate new binding, Deborah created a model of the stationers binding.  She also had the opportunity to consult with a group of Brut scholars who were visiting Dartmouth for a conference, and asked for their opinions regarding binding possibilities.  Through this consultation, Deborah decided that a binding was needed that would reflect the history of the book but would also suit its current needs.
Deborah chose to resew the Brut on tanned leather supports which were left long.  She created new boards from multiple layers of handmade flax paper, and three slots were left in the boards where the supports could be inserted.  Later, in response to a question, Deborah also mentioned that she attached strips of parchment to the supports as stiffeners in order to facilitate putting the leather supports into the boards.  She then created a chemise of alum-tawed leather to cover the book as a whole.  This created a reversible binding; there are no linings or adhesive present on the spine, and the cover can be easily removed to show the sewing.  The stationers binding and sewing materials were saved and are stored with the Brut.  In conclusion, Deborah emphasized the practical nature of this solution, in that the new binding references historic materials while making the book accessible and stable.
Dartmouth Brut After Treatment: showing supports inserted into boards

Dartmouth Brut After Treatment

In the questions session, Deborah elaborated on how often Dartmouth’s Brut is used and how the new binding was holding up. She mentioned that it has been a few years since the treatment was completed and that the book is accessed, either for teaching or research, at least once per week.  Despite this frequent handling, the new binding is still in great condition, and functions well.  One audience member asked Deborah to elaborate on her collaboration with scholars, and Deborah emphasized that this opportunity was both rare and essential.  Another audience member asked about the impact of digitization on access, and Deborah responded that digitization has increased access greatly, but that the digitized manuscript is mainly accessed by scholars, while the physical book is frequently used for classes.
Deborah’s talk tied in nicely with the two talks that followed, including Evan Knight’s “Understanding and Preserving the Print Culture of the Confederacy” and Todd Pattison’s “The Book as Art; Conserving the Bible from Edward Kienholz’s The Minister,” in that all three speakers devoted time to in-depth discussions of their treatment rationale and their inner debates regarding a possible range of treatment options.  Many thanks to Deborah for providing the images!