42nd Annual Meeting – Book and Paper, May 31, Library Collections Conservation Discussion Group

The theme of this year’s Library Collections Conservation Discussion Group was “Options for Sustainable Practice in Conservation”, which tasked speakers to examine how conservators could lessen the carbon footprint of conservation work. Speakers included Brian Baird, from Bridgeport National Bindery, Danielle Creech of ECS Conservation, Julie Newton from Emory University, and Marieka Kaye of the University of Michigan Libraries. The speaker line-up was notably diverse, in that it included speakers from commercial binderies as well as those from labs within academic libraries.
Brian Baird had some good points about why conservators and labs should focus more on reducing waste, rather than just relying on recycling, to lessen their carbon footprint. For instance, recycling some items, such as ink cartridges, doesn’t do much good – the cartridges are shipped to China, where they remove the last few drops of ink, and the plastic cartridges still end up in the landfills. His ultimate take-away lesson was that no recycling program can be as efficient or cost-effective as simply reducing consumption of materials.

Pile of books that can't be recycled for high-end paper waste, because they have print on them.
Slide from Brian Baird’s talk.

Danielle Creech spoke about the various iterations of ECS Conservation’s recycling program. Over the years, they’ve recycled everything from linotype and monotype waste, old equipment, old book covers, shrink-wrap packaging, and paper dust. They built a relationship with their County Solid Waste Management District, who helped partner them with a business-to-business recycling business called Quincy Recycling. With each iteration of their recycling program, ECS had to come up with creative solutions to reduce consumption as well as find ways to recycle various types of materials. Danielle made a very important point that recycling is NOT free, as it requires time and labor to train employees in the proper recycling procedures. She also mentioned that they have noticed some “recycling fatigue”, as employees constantly have to remember which of the 17 recycling barrels should be used for different kinds of waste.
Horse lying down in pile of paper dust bedding
Slide from Danielle Creech’s talk, showing a horse enjoying its new bed of paper dust, courtesy of her bindery’s recycling program.

Marieka Kaye outlined how both the library and her lab play a large part in promoting sustainability in the overall University of Michigan community, via the Library Green Team program. This program encompasses more than just recycling bins, by providing avenues for both staff and students to creatively reduce consumption as well as reuse materials within the library. For instance, their library staff intranet has a Craigslist-style office furniture swap listing, and the library sells reusable water bottles which can be used with the recently-installed water-bottle refill stations.  In the conservation lab, they replaced the incandescent bulbs in the overhead lights with energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs.
Julie Newton started her talk off with the statement that “a box of lab scraps is a hundred tiny art projects waiting to happen”, which will resonate with anyone who loves to collage or make other types of paper-based art. Through her vigorous efforts, Julie was able to extend the life of many materials before they went into the recycling bins. She noted that while conservators are usually very frugal with their materials, such as Japanese tissue, they tend to be less frugal with more plebian materials such as box-making board or paper towels. She encouraged her staff to re-use scraps in creative ways, either within the lab or outside of it. She also acknowledged that you do have to ask yourself on occasion if the effort and time it takes to accumulate and repurpose scrap is worth it, versus just getting new materials. Making scrap useful is again, not a “free” activity, as it requires staff time to sort and organize it in a useful way.
Piece of Japanese tissue torn into smaller and smaller pieces
Slide from Julie Newton’s presentation, showing how conservators can find uses for even the tiniest scraps of Japanese tissue.

I’ve made a list of the some of my favorite creative uses for scraps and “waste” that were presented by these speakers:

  • Several thousand pounds of paper dust were repurposed as horse bedding when it was donated to an Amish farm by ECS.
  • Excess rubber bands were donated by ECS to a teacher in Indiana, who is trying to break the record for the largest continuous rubber band ball.
  • Some materials can be composted, such as paper towels, old paste, used tea bags.
  • Scraps of board and paper can be donated to schools or local art programs and clubs.

All in all, the speakers acknowledged that recycling and reducing consumption requires some effort and staff time, but in the end it can make a big difference by improving the environment and providing a positive impact on our society. In addition, contributing to sustainability efforts helps strengthen our relationship with our surrounding community, by forging partnerships with local businesses and environmental groups.
What creative solutions for repurposing “waste” or reducing material consumption has YOUR lab undertaken? Share them in the comments!

42nd Annual Meeting- Book and Paper Session, May 29, 2014, "The impact of digitization on conservation activities at the Wellcome Library by Gillian Boal"

The Wellcome Library relies on cross-training and written policies to facilitate the increased involvement of non-conservators in the digitization workflow. Gillian Boal explained that the Wellcome Library, the UK’s largest medical library at over 4 million volumes and the public face of one of the world’s largest private charities, aims to digitize its entire holdings. In order to provide free online access to the entire collection, they have to involve a large group of internal and external partners. Some items are scanned in-house, while others are contracted out to the Internet Archive.
The role of the conservators is primarily to ensure safe handling of the original physical items. To that end, they have trained allied professionals to serve as digital preparators, empowered to perform minor conservation procedures. Treatments are divided into two groups: dry and wet. Dry treatment includes removal of paperclips and staples, for example. These dry procedures are often performed outside of a conservation lab by archivists and librarians in many institutional contexts where there are no conservators. Those procedures are an obvious fit for the non-conservators working on the project. Wet procedures include both aqueous and solvent treatments. Wet treatments are more likely to require the skills of conservation personnel with lab equipment.
Complex folded items presented a special challenge that was met with creativity. The presentation included examples where overlapping parts were lifted onto a cushion of Plastazote™ cross-linked polyethylene foam during digitization. Boal pointed out the shadows visible in the scanned documents where overlapping parts were supported by these foam shims. This is important because the customary use of a glass plate to hold materials flat for photography would have added extra stress or new creases in the absence of a cushion. The digital preparators were empowered to use their own judgement to open non-brittle folded items without humidification; such items were held flat under glass for scanning. Other items were photographed without glass, to accommodate three-dimensional paper structures.
The Internet Archive also acted as a preservation partner, re-routing items to conservation as needed. For example, a volume with a torn page was intercepted by the Internet Archive’s assessment process in order to receive treatment by the conservators.
The digitization of collections is primarily about access. To enhance that access, the Wellcome Library developed “the player” as a tool to view a variety of different types of content from the same interface. It enables downloading or embedding a zoomed-in part of a page, in addition to options for high-resolution and low-resolution images. “The player” also functions as a sort of e-reader interface for books, and it responds dynamically to create the appropriate interface for the type of item accessed, including audiovisual files. It supports both bookmarking and embedding content into other webpages. The Wellcome library is offering the digital asset player as an open-source tool through GitHub.
Boal emphasized the role of policies and documentation in ensuring good communication and trust between partners in such a large project. She also showed examples of handling videos that were created for the project. She would like to see the use of videos expanded to help to create a common vocabulary between conservators, allied professionals, and other stakeholders. The responsibility for collection care is not the exclusive territory of the Collection Care Department, so the key to the ongoing digitization process at the Wellcome Library is the distribution of that responsibility to all of the staff (and external contractors) involved in the project, guided by training, planning, and policies.

42nd Annual Meeting- Book and Paper Session, May 29, 2014, "Preserving the African American Scrapbook Collection of Emory University Libraries by Ann Frellsen, Kim Norman, Brian Methot"

This three-year Save America’s Treasures project was presented in a three person tag-team. The project represented a collaboration between the Emory University Libraries Preservation Office, Digital Curation Center, and Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL).   Emory University Libraries Conservator Ann Frellsen began the presentation with a project overview. The large scale of the project, combined with the diverse materials in the scrapbooks, required rigorous assessment and planning to fit the project schedule. The forty scrapbooks were narrowed to a group of 34 high-priority items.  Then the scrapbooks were assigned to three treatment “levels,” roughly approximating the categories used in ARL (Association for Research Libraries) statistics, based on time and degree of difficulty. The past preservation approach for the collection had been to simply limit patron access by “boxing and forgetting.” For this collection of African American scrapbooks, the library intended to expand access through digitization.
The initial project proposal would have relied on a conservation technician, but the complex construction and fragile materials required a conservator’s skills. The project plan was adjusted, and the second presenter, Kim Norman, became the project conservator. The initial decision tree was quickly abandoned as the diverse scrapbooks were assigned unique treatment plans, corresponding to the specific preservation problems presented by each item. Common problems included folded items, detached components, and overlapping elements.  Adhesive stains were generally left in place, where they provided useful evidence in positioning detached items.
In some instances, new support pages were created, but many of the album pages could be encapsulated or placed into unsealed Melinex sleeves to provide support at the page level.
The third presenter, Brian Methot, described the workflow for digitization. The reflectivity of the Melinex was a hindrance to photography, so the sequence of operations was adjusted to provide for encapsulation after digitization. Ehtafoam and binders’ board shims augmented cradles used during scanning. Custom-built platforms supported delicate fold-outs during photography. There was a vacuum table as a part of the photo studio, but the thickness of the materials made the vacuum ineffective. Instead, the photography used a sheet of Acrylite acrylic. Blank pages were also scanned to maintain the correct order and appearance of the pages.
Brian also described technical requirements for the project. The library needed a camera with a faster scanning back to capture details of these large and complex pages. Cool LED lights replaced hot tungsten studio lights as well. The Phase1 camera with Mamiya scanning back was tethered to a an Apple computer running Capture1 software, which handles both image processing and metadata. The process generated three file types: MOS native camera format files, Archival Master files (TIFF at 400 ppi with color target and ruler), and Production Master files (TIFF at 400 ppi, cropped to image).
The presenters further clarified the project details during the question and answer session. A major objective of the project was to make restricted items more accessible to the public. It is hoped that additional metadata can  be crowdsourced through the open online repository with the digitized scrapbooks. There will be a digital-first access policy, so researchers will have to request special access to the originals. Regarding the conservation treatment, the paper was not deacidified prior to encapsulation. Pages were not necessarily sealed on all four edges, so this should not be a problem.
The project was successful in providing structural stabilization for the original copies, while also enhancing access to the scrapbooks’ contents. The project was discussed in Kim Norman’s blog and in the New York Times, increasing public awareness of the collection. The project has also begun to yield broader results by connecting community members with collection items.