Book and Paper Conservator (Evanston, IL, USA)

  • Position: Book and Paper Conservator 
  • Work Group: Preservation 
  • Reports to: Chief Conservator 

Northwestern University Libraries seek a skilled, creative and collaborative Book and Paper Conservator to work in a comprehensive conservation program. The position balances treatment with project management responsibilities. The Book and Paper Conservator has a keen understanding of the functions and responsibilities of a research library conservation lab working with special collections, circulating collections materials, and the wide-ranging material found in archival collections. 

Under the supervision of the Chief Conservator, the Book and Paper Conservator will assist in the management of the Libraries’ conservation program, including responsibility for circulating-collection workflows and active participation in special-collections treatments, housings, exhibits, and other activities. Excellent communication skills and the ability to collaboratively set priorities are essential to these endeavors. A planned major building renovation creates further opportunities to help shape how collections are housed, managed, and made available to patrons. 

Key responsibilities

  • Performs conservation treatments on a wide-range of library and archival materials, including circulating and special library materials. Provides full written and photographic documentation in accordance with the AIC Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice. Works with private conservators and contract staff as needed for special projects. 
  • Manages the activities of the circulating collections repair workflow, including setting priorities, treatment methods, and procedures; and training staff and students. Assists in the development and implementation of workflow for conservation projects which may include exhibits, loans, digitization, or collection moves. 
  • Assists in coordinating the work of temporary and/or full time support staff and student workers. 
  • Provides technical advice on the housing, storage, handling and repair of both general and special collections. Advises library staff on conservation principles and practices. 
  • Maintains lab statistics. Maintains treatment records and reporting systems. Tracks and maintains supplies; evaluates and recommends tools and equipment. 
  • Participates and supports outreach and education initiatives. Participates in local and national professional activities. 
  • Participates in disaster response planning and recovery initiatives. 
  • Participates in collection surveys and multi-divisional and multi-institutional grant-funded projects. 
  • Assists with preventive programs such as environmental monitoring and pest management as needed. 
  • Stays current with developments in the field of library conservation; engages in appropriate professional development, continuing education, professional service, and research activities. 
  • Performs other related duties as assigned. 


  • Master’s degree in conservation or related field. 
  • Extensive knowledge of current conservation principles and practices, materials science, and the history of bookbinding. 
  • Demonstrated ability to perform high-quality conservation treatments on general and special collections materials, primarily book and paper. 
  • Ability to communicate effectively about treatment options and decisions. 
  • A strong service orientation is also required. 
  • Applicants invited for an interview will be asked to present a portfolio of recent conservation treatments. 

Preferred qualifications

  • One year of post-graduate work in a library, archive, or museum preservation department. 
  • Membership in the AIC, Professional Associate membership preferred. 
  • Experience working with photographs. 

Northwestern University, established in 1851, is one of the leading private research universities in the United States with an enrollment of approximately 19,000 students. Northwestern University’s libraries hold over 5 million volumes. With collections of international standing in Music, Transportation, and African Studies. Northwestern’s libraries are at the forefront of innovation in library technology and advanced user services. One of the top-ranked universities in the country, Northwestern combines innovative teaching and pioneering research in a highly collaborative environment that transcends traditional academic boundaries. Northwestern provides students, faculty and staff with exceptional opportunities for intellectual, personal, and professional growth. Northwestern is a member of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA). See more information about University Libraries at: 

Northwestern University is an Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action Employer of all protected classes, including veterans and individuals with disabilities. Women, racial and ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities, and veterans are encouraged to apply. Hiring is contingent upon eligibility to work in the United States. 

To Apply
Please apply

Applications received by June 15, 2018 will receive first consideration. 


45th Annual Meeting, Book and Paper + RATS Session, May 31: “Contacts that Leave Traces: Investigations into the Contamination of Paper Surfaces from Handling,” by Karen van der Pal

In libraries, archives, and museums around the world, those in charge of protecting cultural heritage struggle with the topic: Gloves or No Gloves? Karin van der Pal’s talk on the contamination of paper surfaces from handling gives measurable data pertaining to the debate.

Van der Pal’s studies in forensic analysis are being conducted at Curtin University in Western Australia. She is currently collaborating with the Indianapolis Museum of Art on the chemistry of latent fingerprints and with Flinders University, in South Australia.

Van der Pal received paper samples from an Australian paper mill to conduct her research. She first solidified her own approach on how to not contaminate the papers she was testing: wearing cotton gloves underneath nitrile gloves she could take off the top layer and replace with a new set of gloves during the process without any of her marks coming through.

Historically, we know that dark fingerprints appear on paper. The edges of leaves in books become discolored as well. But is this a result of dirt, or could it be because of fingerprint oils? Van der Pal explained that the residue left by fingermarks include aqueous deposits, lipids, and dead skin. The proportion varies based on a person’s age, gender, and diet. Another variable on the kind of mark that is left is environmental exposure. If the pages with the contamination are left in the dark, there is little discoloration, but exposure to light causes the marks to darken.

Fingerprint deposits can be a combination of sebaceous oils and sweat from ecrine and apocrine glands. Typically, van der Pal explains that when a finger print is left, the oily sebaceous residue is on top, while amino acids sink into the paper, and the oil residue evaporates. In van der Pal’s experiments, the fingerprints are not visible to the naked eye, so it was necessary to apply an indicator agent that could show the intensity/saturation of the print left on her test papers. Ninhydrin has historically been used, that develops a fingerprint into a pink-purple. 1,2-Indandione/Zn Chloride exhibits color and luminescence and can show marks left up to 150 years old, so van der Pal selected this to use as an indicator.

The goal of the speaker’s most current experiments was to determine how effective hand washing is, if contaminants pass through gloves, and what effect hand gels and sanitizers have on papers. Using the 1,2 Indandione/Zn Chloride, van der Pal was able to determine that no contaminants come through nitrile gloves up to 2 hours. She cautioned that fingerprints and oils can still be picked up onto the outside of the nitrile gloves if one handles doorknobs and keyboards, for example. One also has to be mindful that wearing nitrile gloves for an extended amount of time is very unpleasant, so an option could be to wear cotton gloves underneath.

Van der Pal’s experiments show that 5 minutes after handwashing, the oils in the skin come back, and that 15 minutes after washing, there is more oil than prior to washing because the body is working to redevelop the oil lost.

Hand creams are left on the surface of the paper.

Antibacterial gels also do not prevent oils from being left on paper.

In the future van der Pal expects to study how drying/aging affects a wider range of paper, how long the fingermarks last on the paper, and what effects whether the marks darken.

Questions from the Floor:

Q1: Can you still detect marks on paper that have been washed? A1: Yes, you can still detect marks on paper that has been subsequently washed up to 3 months.

Q2: Regarding gels, how long did you wait until you tried to detect the oils? A2: we tested at different intervals of time.

Q3: Was there a transfer of the materials/paper to the gloves? A1: Reusing gloves can cause a transfer. Some gilding can attach to cotton gloves. Nitrile shouldn’t pick much up.