AIC 2011, Day Two Notes

Well readers, it’s been an interesting day. The weather in Philly has turned from ugly to lovely, and we got to have some lively discussions on philosophy, decision-making and conservation education. Wish you were here. Again, these are mostly unedited and un-enhanced notes but I wanted to get them up so you can follow along with what is happening in a timely manner. Be sure to check out the blogging being done over at the new AIC blog, too.

Archives Conservation Discussion Group “Digitization and Its Effect on Conservation Treatment Decisions: How Has Wide-spread Digitizing and Collections Changed Our Approach to Treatment?”

Grappling With Treatment Decisions for Large-scale Digitization Projects
Andrea Knowlton, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

  • Library is shifting from smaller digital projects to digitizing whole collections
  • “Taking Our Pulse” OCLC Research Survey of Special Collections and Archives served as a talking point.
  • Digital Southern Historical Collection (SHC) aims to digitize the entire collection, this has impacted the conservation workflow because of the shear number of items being imaged
  • How this has changed their workflow: they are not examining every item before or after digitization, they have trained library staff what to look for and they send items to conservation; Andrea also trains new Internet Archive scanning technicians
  • Range of treatments for SHC: minimal approach to stabilization, goal is safe handling and legibility, work is done mostly by student assistants
  • What is repaired: tears greater than ¾ inch in length, tears along folds, or through text; essentially just enough repair is done for the scanning tech to put it on the scanner and return it to the folder
  • Does digitization increase requests in reading room? they haven’t seen evidence that this is true and they can address any conservation needs through other existing workflows
  • A few minutes per page is average for length of treatment time.
  • For extremely damaged items they are putting them in polyester sleeves for scanning
  • Items with layers and attachments: rely on instructions to scanning tech for their safe handling
  • Bound volumes: most require little intervention, if they do not open flat they put it in a cradle on the Zeutchel; only major tears or structural problems are fixed prior to scanning
  • They generally do not remove tape, they might remove other prior repairs if they obstruct information
  • Many objects post-stabilization do not necessarily look like they have undergone treatment; they had to deal with the potential embarrassment of what these look like in the digital image; this kind of work is not what we are trained to do (our inclination is to do everything we can for an object) and it caused a lot of reflection and discussion; AIC Code of Ethics does apply even with this large scale, minimal treatment process
  • Feels they are not lowering their standards, simply doing less; means conservator’s time can be put to more complex projects
  • Role of conservators is as facilitators, to advise, train and treat materials to provide access to as much materials as possible

Stabilizing for Digitization: CONSOL Energy Mine Map Preservation Project
Amy Baker, Conservator at U. of Pittsburgh

  • Primary initiative was in reaction to the Quecreek mining accident which was due in part to not preserving an old mime map so people didn’t know it existed
  • Cataloged, surveyed and stabilized 400 maps in four years so far
  • Stabilize and clean the maps at Pitt, send out for digitizing, then returned to Pitt for storage
  • Large manuscript maps called “hardback mine maps”: paper backed with canvas, oversized (up to 40 feet long), date 1860-1950, hand drawn
  • Common damage: rolled tightly, brittle and in pieces, surface dirt, water damage, mold, tape (lots of tape)
  • Cruse table scanner CD 285/1100 ST/fA; 58×90 inches, 240-300 DPI, suction from below or Plexiglas on top of item keeps it in place
  • Maps are rolled and placed inside larger rigid tubes for transport in a truck
  • Cleaning: dry clean surface dirt, wet clean with poultice, wash, remove tape that is covering any media
  • Flattening: humidfy and flatten, roll for transportation, unroll for scanning, stored rolled; in some cases they would re-line maps in pieces if there was a good existing break which is better for map since it can be stored flat
  • Handling and Transport: they traveled the path of the object to determine risks, met with people who handle object every step of the way (high turn around of staff meant constant re-training)
  • Storage: rolled and wrapped in muslin and put into a rigid tube, tube wrapped in Mylar
  • Usage of originals has increased after digitization
  • Conservation is a by-product of digitization
  • Technology is determining the treatment
  • What they do is “preservation triage”
  • In the end we compromise on some levels, they “use conservation methods to stabilize maps” for digitization

Digitization at the Walters Art Museum
Stephanie Jewel, Mellon Fellow in Paper Conservation, Walter Art Museum

  • Islamic digitization project; Western digitization project: totals 366 objects to digitize over 4 years
  • Goal of project is to provide digital surrogates for these objects
  • Three phases: Examination and treatment by conservation, digital image capture, metadata
  • Uses the Stokes Imaging System with multi use capture station with codex cradle
  • Project started with a survey of manuscripts that resulted in a database that included info on binding, materials, condition, exhibition and treatment history of each manuscript; produced a rough time for treatment
  • A second survey was done mid-treatment because scanning was going faster than treatment to set treatment priorities with curatorial input
  • Treatment priorities broke into two categories, “necessary treatment” (media consolidation, tear repair, stabilization of pigments, attachment of loose leaves, repair broken sewing and joints) and “possible treatments” (treatment of insect damage in stable areas, stabilization of loose sewing where there is no point of access; splits in joints of concertina albums)
  • Stokes System makes it possible to scan some damaged items
  • Low moisture mending techniques: remoistenable tissue, 1:1 3% Dow A4M methyl cellulose and cooked wheat starch paste, applied to toned and untoned RK-0 (Paper Nao)
  • Created an “imaging mat” to allow for imaging of single sheets on the 45 degree angled cradle: magnetic receptive mat created with Coroplast/thin sheet steel/4-ply mat board/black suede (not sure it’s suede) [email her to ask for clarification?]
  • Imaging equipment plays a large role in treatment decisions

Digitization at the National Archives: The Widows’ Certificates Pension File Project as a Treatment Model
Amy Lubick, Conservation Digitization Coordinater for the National Archives

  • Most used collection, 1.28 million files, 2365 boxes scanned since 2007, if scanning continues at current rate it will take 53 years to complete
  • Records stored in envelopes inside accordion files
  • Conservation relies on NARA volunteers; each receives 16 hours of NARA training plus 10 hours instruction from Conservation staff to describe, identify damage and sleeve materials
  • Records are mostly loose paper, some parchment and photos have been found (and some objects, too).
  • Damage includes tears, glued attachments that obscure information, metal fasteners, ribbons and seals, oversize materials, photos, mold
  • When to mend: partially torn records may only be sleeved in polyester, records in multiple pieces will be mended, goal is to align text and increase legibility
  • Approach to mending: remoistenable tissue, heat set tissue, Japanese paper and wheat starch paste; quick and neat; unobtrusive; must align text; repairs do not have to extend from edge to edge; “band aids” followed by sleeving in polyester
  • Partial mends can be applied with more speed and do not require trimming
  • Stabilization vs. Access: object of initiative is to make information accessible
  • Volunteers will alert conservation staff to information under attached pieces, if information is considered unique, conservation will detached the glued-on piece that obscures information; if not, a “slug”  is added to digital image that says “all unique information is visible in this image” and the overlaid item is left attached
  • Turn around time for conservation treatment is approximately one week
  • Camera operators receive training from conservation staff on safe handling, and asked to tell conservation of any issues/problems
  • Use drapery weights to restrain ribbons during imaging, they show in the final image; multiple images are taken with ribbons in different positions so that all information is visible
  • Beanbag weights are used to keep attachments out of the way
  • Proper training of how to use weights is done (good visuals using mock ups of what to do and what not to do help with training)
  • Parchment records: as long as unique text is visible they do no treatment on damaged parchment records
  • Mold: sent to conservation for removal, mended and sleeved in polyester
  • Some photos have been found in the folders: minimal conservation treatment may be done on these, they are rehoused separately unless they are securely attached to document
  • Pension File Mole!!

“Harvard’s Chinese Rare Book Digitization Project”
Bill Hanscom, Weissman Preservation Center, Harvard University

  • Six year project to digitize Harvard Yenching Library’s entire collection
  • Workflow at HYL: superficial condition review is done by library staff, they flag items as “camera ready” or “preservation review,” batched and transferred to imaging services
  • Imaging services: page by page condition review, put into imaging or quick repair workflow, digital imaging and quality review are carried out, shipment of hard drives to National Library of China
  • WPC: preservation review and consultation, quick repair at Imaging services, more extensive treatment at WPC
  • Main concern is safe handling and readability of text
  • 45,000 digital images per month
  • Books must be able to open to 180 degrees with enough room in gutter to see all text
  • Conservation priorities: minimize potential damage during handling, facilitate best possible image, minimize treatment time while maintaining high standards, stabilize objects
  • Common problems: text inside gutter, broken sewing, insect damage, tears brittle covers, partial leaves, split fore edge folds (these are not repaired,  rather flagged for careful handling), creases that obscure text, leaves folded in prior to binding
  • Text close to gutter: these are partially or fully disbound to access text; a temporary rebinding with thread loops through top and bottom holes of thread binding is done to keep them collated during imaging; all disbound books are fully rebound with cotton thread after imaging
  • Replacement of brittle covers: a new toned Japanese paper cover inserted under existing sewing threads; cut to size of text block, sewing holes are marked, a small slit is cut from the sewing hold to the spine edge to allow the paper to be slipped under the existing sewing, these are then adhered with a small amount of starch pasted under the thread to secure the new cover
  • Compromises during treatment: disbinding of fascicles and removal of potentially original binding materials necessary for readability (samples are retained); elimination of paper binding when rebinding reduces structural stability of text block
  • 16% of fascicles so far required some level of treatment (so far 8200 imaged, 1300 of these were treated)
  • Misgivings/compromises must be weighed against increased access

Library Collections Conservation Discussion Group “Models for  on Educating Library and Archives Conservators”

Ellen Cunningham-Kruppa, U. Delaware/Winterthur

  • Each of three programs has designed curricula to accommodate people who want to specialize in library/archives conservation
  • Mellon Foundation has given recent support to help the three conservation programs to enhance these programs

 Lois Alcott Price, Winterthur

  • Each program is trying to build on their strengths and forge collaborations and advance research to provide the best possible education
  • Existing strengths of Winterthur:
    • conservation and materials science, and lab based training all culminating in a technical study of an individual object;
    • hope that a stronger emphasis on analytics will provide more research on library based materials;
    • focused-discipline approach combined with “general” materials and conservation study provides broad education while allowing pursuit of individual’s interest;
    • internships abroad strengthens partnerships and provides potential for new collaborations;
    • strong research library attached to school provides opportunities for disaster planning, surveys, etc. along with a range of materials to study;
    • library staff is engaged in education process;
    • strong preventive conservation program based on real-life facilities and collections
  • Existing voids that need addressing:
    • U. Delaware does not have a Library Science Program and understanding context culturally and institutionally is critical (Price is not convinced library conservators need MLS but do need exposure to some library instruction), they are partnering with Simmons College to address this, students will graduate with half the credits needed for Simmons MLS but will get a certificate in library studies;
    • some students need to develop binding skills in a short time, partnering with North Bennett Street to provide intensive instruction on bookbinding skills;
    • need to strengthen ties with SAA and ALA to become more active to make sure graduates are prepared adequately and they know about the program
    • Our charge is to move forward to meet needs as they emerge
    • Questions/Directions for audience: if you are mentoring pre-program students, if they are only working on circulating collections try to broaden their perspective in materials, library context, materials, history of paper/inks/books, encourage them to talk to advisors in programs; consider taking students for summer work projects or internships (support if possible but experience is most important), let programs know you are willing to take student interns

Judy Walsh, Buffalo State

  • No electives currently in their curriculum; to inject any other kind of curriculum is difficult but because they have faculty and labs for their 20 students they can tailor curriculum to individual interests.
  • Library conservation people are folded into the current three specialties (Objects, painting, paper conservation)
  • Excited about applying documentation, examination, etc., training into library conservation subject
  • They are building a new lab space; Mellon gave money to add bookbinding equipment
  • Mellon is funding two adjunct positions, James Reid Cunningham for bookbinding and an adjunct to teach issues pertaining to preservation within libraries and archives; also funding a rotating lecture series on library conservation topic
  • Will run intercession seminars that will be open to students from other conservation programs
  • Take ten students per year; do not try to balance specialties when accepting students; challenge is to try to retain students interested in library/archives specialty and not lose them to other specialties, they are providing extra funds for people who stay in library/archives specialty to attend conferences and to fund summer projects and to fund long interships
  • Students need jobs and fellowships after training; need internships during training

Peggy Ellis,  NYU and the Morgan Library

  • All training programs are working more closely which is a good thing
  • NYU originally opened its doors to the first library/archives conservation students and their pilot project reflects Paul Banks’ original goals to instill preventive care into library curriculum
  • At present NYU graduates one or two book or paper conservators a year but there is no doubt that they need to expand their training to provide education for library conservators
  • Building upon existing strengths and incorporating existing classes from library school; provide hands on training opportunities at Morgan Library and Columbia; provide intensive learning opportunities during summer and intercessions; they can readily incorporate library conservation training into current program but program must remain flexible to take advantage of unique training opportunities in NYC
  • Host institution is NYU Conservation Center, students earn a combined masters in art history degree with a certificate of advanced study in conservation
  • Program includes a long internship, French and German requirement, and a master’s paper
  • Students can specialize in one of many areas including “paper” which includes photos and books; those who want to specialize in library materials will take additional courses during intercessions
  • Partners: Columbia Univ. Libraries [provides context and work experience,  Palmer School of Library Science [has a masters program in rare books], Morgan Library and Museum Thaw Conservation Center [advanced treatment courses, internships]
  • Not the intention of NYU to replicate U.Texas program, most sensible course of action is to acknowledge there are important topics in library science they can’t offer but to concentrate on what they can offer in the best way possible

Michelle Cloonan, Simmons College

  • LISA, library information science and archives
  • It’s important as we move forward to continually evaluate how we educate conservators and preservation administrators
  • Conservators need to know core/traditional subjects (history of book/archives, organization of collections, preservation management, introduction to archival methods/services, management of photo archives) and contemporary subjects (archiving/preserving digital media, digital curation/stewardship, digital libraries, concepts of cultural heritage informatics, additional technology such as database design, a/v materials)
  • Advantage of this new collaboration is we can customize across programs the courses that would be ideal for individual people (including in person and online courses)
  • As definition of books expands do must pedagogy of conservation


  • We need to provide more jobs and post grad fellowships for new grads; contact any of the panelists to help advertise new positions and carefully consider the years of experience your job descriptions require
  • What structures are the programs putting into place to advance conservation science? Buffalo students take four courses in science, four courses in documentation/analysis, goal is to train conservators who can use analytical tools to find out answers to questions; NYU student will take up to seven courses in material science, instrumental analysis, degradation of materials, etc.; What’s new is the training programs will now apply the traditional art-conservation-science training to library materials.
  • Libraries are service institutions, they have high volume needs, they are there to help faculty with their research; libraries are becoming increasingly ambivalent about MLIS degree; libraries and archives are museum leaning, they collect primary resources and that is where conservator’s role is; libraries budgtets are increasingly displaced, they spend upwards of half their budget and staff time acquiring large data sets and e-resources and the question of what the library is and does is deeply at issue in the profession and will be a challenge to conservators (objects, place, identity); need to continue this open dialogue with the remaining programs.
  • What is relationship between job requirements and program offering? Cloonan: trying to build flexibility by providing a certificate in library studies then making the rest of the program available online if they want to pursue and MLIS degree; Price: trying to figure out what is most core and most critical and what will be most useful to a library/archives conservator; Ellis: our understanding that the need for MLIS is lessening but they are also required to give a degree in art history, they are limited in the number of LIS courses they can make students take within that structure, Palmer courses are designed to allow students to take courses while they are working so people can pursue an MLS with them after NYU degree as a working professional; Buffalo: as a field we should focus on offering a certificate of advanced study regardless of primary degree, terminal degree in field now is masters degree but the certificate of advanced study means you are qualified, seems unreasonable to require an MA in art conservation THEN another in library science for a job that doesn’t offer a lot of money after graduation; Price: We need to make sure students bring skills to the work environment that institutions need without requiring multiple degrees
  • Concern that there are not enough jobs to be graduating this many professionals, are they confident that their library/archives conservators will have jobs after graduation? Kruppa: aware this is an important issue, 2009 survey of UT grads indicated over 90% remained employed in the field in some way; Ellis: none of the programs are increasing the number of students they are taking so they are actually producing less library/archives conservators than when UT was viable; Price: entry level positions are particularly difficult to find; Walsh: students eventually find work it just takes longer, we haven’t hit the wall yet but we are all facing difficult times, must train students broadly so they can take opportunities where they find them;
  • The dissolution of the Texas model eliminates the opportunity to truly understand the library context; graduates have been able to advocate not only for conservation but for institutional mission of libraries, as we move away from the collections towards institutional assets, TX grads are better equipped to serve the needs of collections as a whole. Are we relegating students to low level jobs by not providing an MLS because they will not be able to move up in the library ranks? We need to communicate with SAA and ALA to be sure we are addressing needs of libraries and archives with our training programs.
  • Price: We still need the preservation administration piece.
  • Struck by things he didn’t hear that are critically important: one is how are libraries and archives are different than museums and how do we train conservators to deal with these differences? second is born digital works, libraries acquire more digital materials and will continue to do so into the future, we need to provide more training in this area.
  • Training programs are a learner’s permit to go out and get into collections and learn about context through internships; programs can only require so many credit hours then it is up to the students to continue learning on the job.
  • the craftsmanship is essential, nevertheless rare book/manuscript librarians are very aware of the pressures on their collections and have made a huge effort to use collections as tools and we need people to address the physical needs of objects, make room for the craft
  • Conservators in private practice are another way to help mentor and train people, don’t forget them when placing interns
  • Don’t forget about the Queens Program! they take American students; how much training are they doing to do grant writing, teaching business skills, etc. to help people go into private practice? Answer: very little.

Objects of Trauma, Finding the Balance
Jane Klinger, Holocost Museum

  • Display of Ladder 13 fire truck damaged on 9/11, should dust be cleaned? does it contain human remains albeit in minute quantity? what does a clean but damaged truck say? does it lose evidentiary value if cleaned?
  • Effective display, use and exhibit of damaged materials can go beyond the visual that cannot be displayed with merely text
  • Incorporate the pathos of the object within the logos of its treatment
  • Do not forget importance of establishing our authority as conservators based on ethics, practical experience, and our own voice regarding the heritage we preserve

The Frankenstein Syndrome
Salvador Munoz-Vinas, Universidad Politecnica de Valencia, Spain

  • Conservation changes the objects into Frankenstein/Robocop creations; we must be aware of this as we make decisions
  • The Frankenstein syndrome is the selective blindness to conservation-induced alterations. It affects conservators and allows us to believe that conservation is a neutral activity
  • Frankenstein syndrome advantages: makes us believe that conservation is a neutral activity and thus allows us to make decisions that would otherwise be difficult to make; it helps us discern good alterations from bad alterations in an automatic, efficient way, “if you notice it that’s bad”
  • Being aware of ‘syndrome’ allows better decision making
  • Be prudent because conservation alters the object
  • Be decisive because conservation does alter the object
  • Conservation alters the object yet we tend to ignore this alteration
  • Why do we care about some types of alterations only?
  • What makes some alterations acceptable for some people and not for others?
  • If the relevance of alteration is in the eye of the beholder, should we still aspire to objectivity?
  • If the relevance of alteration is relative to the observer, what are absolute measurements useful for?
  • If conservation alters the object, what is its real goal?

6 Responses

  1. Thanks for the updates. It sounds like an incredible day. I wish I had been there.

  2. […] post is what really prompted me to sit down and write this post, but both Jeff Peachey and Beth at PCAN have a good “who said what” outline of the discussion – if you weren’t […]

  3. […] Discussion Group in Philadelphia by Jeff Peachey on the newly revamped AIC Blog, Beth Doyle at PCAN, and Suzy at Digital Cellulose.  So might I ask you to click through for the background and notes […]

  4. […] Doyle’s excellent post covering this same session in the  Preservation & Conservation Administration News blog (PCAN) is well work reading. All of the presenters repeatedly emphasized that this was a pilot program, […]

  5. […] There are several very good summaries and responses out there – most notably from Beth Doyle, Jeff Peachey, Kevin Driedger, and Suzy Morgan. Last year, this discussion was geared toward […]

  6. Judy Walsh sent this clarification via email:

    “There is one clarification I’d like to make about the credentials that the graduate programs award at the end of studies.

    The graduate programs all award a master’s degree to successful students. At the end of the programs, students also earn a Certificate of Advanced Studies. This certificate is a real academic designation roughly equal to having completed all the classes necessary for a doctoral degree, without the dissertation. It includes about 30 graduate credits beyond a Masters, and requires a practica experience (internship).

    As the higher academic award, the Certificate of Advanced Studies or CAS, “trumps” the masters degree, whatever that degree is in, M.A., M.S. or M.LS. I hoped to encourage conservators who write job descriptions for libraries and archives to emphasize that credential in job descriptions as it is the common credential we award, and it is understandable to librarians as it is also available in library science in some programs.



    Judith C. Walsh
    Professor of Paper Conservation
    Buffalo State College

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