May 112015
 

 

During Preservation Week, we featured daily posts about the department-curated exhibit, Beyond the Book: The Changing Nature of Library Collections. Aspects of digital preservation are also included in the exhibit to represent the increasing amount of audio, visual, and born digital materials coming into the collections and the pressing need to care for the physical and digital content. The exhibit highlighted five library collections of varying formats that have been digitized – films of Northwestern football games, audio tapes of a clarinetist, videos of improv classes, and two flat paper collections.

Film, video, and audio materials have a special set of issues that complicate preservation. Acetate film and magnetic media are made of materials that are inherently unstable and degrade. As the physical object deteriorates, digitization is the best preservation option to keep the contents accessible. Old media formats need playback equipment that can be hard to find, such as reel-to-reel tape players. After digitization, the audio and visual files are much larger than a JPEG or text file and require more storage space on a repository server. Digital files must always be monitored as technology and best practices change. Of course, the physical objects are also kept and stored in archival housings and environmental conditions.

University Archives is home to 2,400 film reels of Wildcat Football games dating back to 1929. The ongoing “Game Savers” initiative is raising funds to preserve these films. Digitized films are available on AVR, the Library’s recently-launched media repository. This video from October 1970 shows Northwestern’s first win of that season, beating Illinois 48 to 0.

Magnetic media is represented by both a video and  an audio collection. Videos of workshops led by improvisational theatre innovator Viola Spolin are just one part of the extensive Viola Spolin Papers housed in Special Collections. Audio recordings from the Robert Marcellus Master Class Archive were digitized are also available on AVR . The audio here is the master class from July 1, 1977.

Highlighting the importance of access to these library materials to students, faculty, and researchers is an underlying theme of the exhibit. Digitizing collections that aren’t readily available or cannot be easily handled is a good way to make them accessible. The Melville Herskovits Library of African Studies digitized almost 600 South African posters that are available to the public through the Digital Image Library. The Transportation Library Menu Collection includes over 400 menus from 54 national and international airline carriers, cruise ships, and railroad companies. Digital images of these menus are available through the online finding aid.

May 012015
 

 

This spring, the Northwestern University Library Preservation Department curated the exhibit “Beyond the Book: The Changing Nature of Library Collections,” which highlights some of the Library’s rare and interesting objects that have received conservation attention in the past few years. In celebration of Preservation Week (April 26 – May 2, 2015), the blog will feature daily posts highlighting exhibit objects that posed some of the more complex research questions and interesting treatment decisions.

Charles Deering (1852-1927), for whom Deering Library was named, was an avid art collector and artist in his own right. In addition to collecting Spanish and Catalan art, Deering formed lasting friendships with many of the leading artists of his day and amassed a rich collection of portraits by close friends such as John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn, Carl Larsson and Ramon Casas. Many of the paintings from Charles Deering’s personal collection were chosen to decorate Deering Library when it opened in 1933 and remain important works in the University Library’s collection.

The library’s painting of Erik Satie by Ramon Casas (El Bohemio, 1891) is one of our most requested paintings for loan and exhibition and recently underwent an extensive conservation treatment. Northwestern contracted with a local fine art conservator to perform the treatment.

El Bohemio, 1891. Portrait of Erik Satie by Ramon Casas. After treatment, unframed.

El Bohemio, 1891. Portrait of Erik Satie by Ramon Casas. After treatment, unframed.

In addition to repairs to the canvas, a varnish layer applied in the 1970s was removed. Polyvinyl acetate (PVA) was commonly used to varnish paintings in the 1970s. Over time, the PVA becomes gray and opaque and, as a result, the painting had taken on a hazy appearance. After conservators removed the PVA varnish, they noticed that there were still areas of the painting with a dull gray appearance. Sample testing and examination using a range of analytical tools, including scanning electron microscopy and Raman spectroscopy, indicated that these gray areas were likely a result of lead sulfate migrating up through the paint from the ground layer. The lead sulfate, which is insoluble in alcohol and other common conservation solvents, could not be removed. In order to minimize the visual disturbance of the lead sulfate, the decision was made to apply a thin wash of translucent pigment on top of the new Paraloid B-72 varnish layer in the gray areas. This is a reversible treatment that reflects the artist’s intent and allows the true colors of the painting to show through.

 

The painting was featured last year in a groundbreaking exhibition at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt. The exhibit, Esprit Montmartre: Bohemian Life in Paris around 1900, looked at Montmartre as a center of artistic life with a particular focus on individuals like Satie and Casas.

The Esprit Montmartre exhibition provided an opportunity to share El Bohemio with a large audience at an international venue after its recent conservation treatment. The exhibition also promoted Northwestern’s unique library collections in a global environment.

The Preservation Department is currently working on a comprehensive survey of other paintings in the collection in order to develop a plan for preserving Charles Deering’s legacy as an art collector.

Apr 302015
 

 

This spring, the Northwestern University Library Preservation Department curated the exhibit “Beyond the Book: The Changing Nature of Library Collections,” which highlights some of the Library’s rare and interesting objects that have received conservation attention in the past few years. In celebration of Preservation Week (April 26 – May 2, 2015), the blog will feature daily posts highlighting exhibit objects that posed some of the more complex research questions and interesting treatment decisions.

When this animation cel from Walt Disney’s 1939 The Ugly Duckling was brought to the attention of the Preservation Department, the duckling (spoiler alert: cygnet) and frog characters had detached from the background illustration and were floating loose behind a layer of warped and yellowed plastic.  The cel packet was taped to the signed mat using both water soluble and pressure sensitive (sticky) tapes.

An investigation of the materials used for animation cels reads like a horror novel to a conservator. Recent research about animation cels done by the Getty Conservation Institute and the Disney Animation Research Library has shown that the plastic films from this time period are most likely cellulose nitrate or cellulose diacetate.   Both of these films yellow, distort and become brittle as they age. The uneven shrinkage is especially bad because the inks attached to the films do not shrink at the same rate, often resulting in the media flaking off of the film. The watercolor background was painted on an acidic board and the adhesives used to attach the duck and frog have failed and discolored. In other words, treatment options to repair the object that involve water, solvents, heat or pressure are prohibitively risky due to the likelihood of paint and ink bleeding or flaking and the plastic film fogging, dissolving or cracking.

Conservation treatment recommendations have not yet been well established for these materials, so a very cautious approach was taken. In order to preserve the look of the original art with minimal disturbance to these fragile materials, Special Collections Conservator Susan Russick encapsulated the duckling and frog characters between two sheets of polyester film. The characters are positioned properly in relation to the background and held in place with microdots created using an ultrasonic welder.

Ultrasonically produced microdots seal the two layers of polyester film together in several spots surrounding the duck.  Two dots are visible on either side of its neck and a third is seen between the wing and the foot.

Ultrasonically produced microdots seal the two layers of polyester film together in several spots surrounding the duck. Two dots are visible on either side of its neck and a third is seen between the wing and the foot.

Ultrasonically produced microdots seal the two layers of polyester film together in several spots surrounding the duck. Two dots are visible on either side of its neck and a third is seen between the wing and the foot.

The encapsulated characters were placed in a window mat that holds them relatively flat but will allow some movement of the brittle film as deterioration continues. This non-adhesive window mat sits invisibly between the original signed Disney mat and the background illustration. The polyester film provides some level of protection to reduce interaction between the acidic background and the degrading film. No solvents, moisture, heat or pressure were used and the appearance of the object is similar to the original.

Like all conservation treatments, the decision to proceed with this one was made after careful consideration of the risks and benefits by the Special Collections Curator and the conservator. This solution is not perfect. Polyester film carries a static charge which could exacerbate paint flaking and the object format was significantly altered. While some risks remain, the many restrictions dictated by the materials of the object made this the preferred and most cautious choice in our efforts to slow degradation and preserve the object.   Although our duckling (cygnet) may never turn into a swan, we hope to prevent it from turning into a toad.

 

Apr 292015
 

 

This spring, the Northwestern University Library Preservation Department curated the exhibit “Beyond the Book: The Changing Nature of Library Collections,” which highlights some of the Library’s rare and interesting objects that have received conservation attention in the past few years. In celebration of Preservation Week (April 26 – May 2, 2015), the blog will feature daily posts highlighting exhibit objects that posed some of the more complex research questions and interesting treatment decisions.

Obama Lollipops_bt07

Lollipops with wrappers featuring Barak Obama. Kenafric Industries Ltd., Kenya, 2010.

Nations across Africa celebrated Barack Obama’s candidacy for the U.S. presidency with a profusion of commemorative paraphernalia, from T-shirts to comic books to cookies.  The Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies began collecting such items in 2007, with a resulting collection of over 500 objects from 34 countries.

A variety of edible ephemera such as lollipops, biscuits, chewing gum, water, beer, and whiskey was included. These materials present a unique storage challenge, since food in collection areas can attract pests and liquids can spill. Some of the materials, like the water and whiskey bottles, were drained at the time of collection, so no decision was needed.

 

Water and other liquids can attract pests, allow mold growth or spill in storage.

Water and other liquids can attract pests, allow mold growth or spill in storage.

Because of risks to the rest of the collection, the curators determined that the value of the items was in the packaging, not the food itself. Conservators removed the food, cleaned the packaging materials, and filled the wrappers with archival foam in an effort to replicate the look of the original items, providing a more authentic understanding of the object and its cultural context.

While the wrappers publicized Obama, none of the food inside appeared to be specially shaped or manufactured.  Some samples did not survive the suitcase ride between Africa and Evanston, Illinois intact. Obama Biscuits, United Biscuits Ltd., Ghana, 2010.

While the wrappers publicized Obama, none of the food inside appeared to be specially shaped or manufactured. Some samples did not survive the suitcase ride between Africa and Evanston, Illinois intact. Obama Biscuits, United Biscuits Ltd., Ghana, 2010.

 

Cookie sized pieces of  Volara® foam were inserted into the wrappers to simulate the missing food.

Cookie sized pieces of Volara® foam were inserted into the wrappers to simulate the missing food.

While this collection was featured in Africa Embracing Obama, a 2010-2011 exhibit, most materials have never been exhibited. Additional Obamarama has been acquired since that time thanks to the enthusiastic support of many students, faculty, and friends who have enjoyed scoping out the local markets on trips to Africa. And who but the library would consider an empty whiskey bottle a great gift?

 

 

Apr 282015
 

 

This spring, the Northwestern University Library Preservation Department curated the exhibit “Beyond the Book: The Changing Nature of Library Collections,” which highlights some of the Library’s rare and interesting objects that have received conservation attention in the past few years. In celebration of Preservation Week (April 26 – May 2, 2015), the blog will feature daily posts highlighting exhibit objects that posed some of the more complex research questions and interesting treatment decisions.

Cuneiform script is one of the earliest known systems of writing, first developed in Mesopotamia c. 3400 BCE. A blunt reed was used as a stylus to press wedge-shaped marks into clay tablets. The Library’s collection of 17 cuneiform tablets, available in the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections is frequently shown to students as examples of early writing technology, but until recently little was known about these particular tablets.

Cuneiform tablets must be viewed in raking light to read the text.

Cuneiform tablets must be viewed in raking light to read the text.

There is little provenance available related to these tablets and at least two different incomplete and overlapping numbering systems were previously used. In order to establish authority over the collection, a new numbering system was developed. The new numbering system needed to be distinct from the old numbers, but without obscuring either the old numbers or any of the cuneiform writing. It needed to be small, legible, easy to apply to a bumpy surface, and not damaging to the tablets.

Two tablets marked “5” in the previous numbering systems.

Two tablets marked “5” in the previous numbering systems.

NUL Special Collections Conservator Susan Russick, while specializing in book and paper conservation, has some experience with archeological materials. As a summer intern, she worked with ceramic materials of a similar age at the Gordion Archeological site in Turkey. After some consideration, each tablet was given a tiny paper label. Labels were laser printed on archival paper and adhered using Acryloid-B72, a method described by Thomas Braun, who was also at Gordion that summer.

Tablets in box

A box with foam sockets and removable trays was constructed, allowing the tablets to be viewed and passed around the classroom without being directly handled.

Tablet in box with label

The individually labeled sockets aid in security of the tablets.

Digital images of the tablets were submitted to the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, an international group of Assyriologists, curators, historians, and librarians working to make available online over 500,00 cuneiform tablets. Northwestern’s participation in this effort will allow our collection of tablets to be viewed, studied, and translated by scholars around the world. As an initial result of this collaboration, we have learned that the majority of our tablets are accounts from the 21st century BCE and a few are neo-Babylonian texts.

 

Apr 272015
 

 

This spring, the Northwestern University Library Preservation Department curated the exhibit “Beyond the Book: The Changing Nature of Library Collections,” which highlights some of the Library’s rare and interesting objects that have received conservation attention in the past few years. In celebration of Preservation Week (April 26 – May 2, 2015), the blog will feature daily posts highlighting exhibit objects that posed some of the more complex research questions and interesting treatment decisions.

Dr. Dale T. Mortensen (1939-2014) won the 2010 Nobel Prize for economics and is known for his work on labor economics and frictional unemployment. He taught at Northwestern from 1965 to 2011. After Dr. Mortensen’s death in 2014, his chalkboard was removed from the wall of his office on campus. It is included in his archive – along with documents, correspondence, computer files, and other personal effects – as a physical manifestation of his process.

Dale Mortensen's chalkboard awaits treatment in the conservation lab after having been removed from his campus office.

Dale Mortensen’s chalkboard awaits treatment in the conservation lab after having been removed from his campus office.

Before the chalkboard could be stored in University Archives, a method needed to be devised to affix the chalk to the board so that the unbound media would not dust off. Special Collections Conservator Susan Russick researched various adhesives and application methods to determine the best one to keep the chalk in place. Funori, an adhesive made from Japanese seaweed, was chosen based on its good aging properties and the fact that it dries matte, thus retaining the visual aesthetic of the chalkboard.

Funori in three forms: dried seaweed, purified as a film, and rehydrated in solution.

Funori in three forms: dried seaweed, purified as a film, and rehydrated in solution.

To prepare the funori, 6 g of dried seaweed was rinsed and then soaked in 200 ml water overnight. The funori-water mixture was heated to just below simmer for about 90 minutes and strained through a silkscreen fabric. The resulting viscous liquid was dried on silicone coated Mylar, resulting in a translucent film. The funori film was stored dry and later reconstituted to a 0.5% solution by warming in deionized water.

A John Bunn Neb-U-lite EV™ machine, normally used for delivering medicine for respiratory ailments, was used to apply warm funori as a mist to the chalkboard. This very delicate application method was the only one found that did not disturb the fingerprints, erasure marks and smears of chalk.

In this brief video, Susan applies a layer of funori to one chalked letter using the nebulizer.

 

After treatment, Dr. Mortensen’s fingerprints and smudges are still visible on the surface of the chalkboard.

After treatment, Dr. Mortensen’s fingerprints and smudges are still visible on the surface of the chalkboard.

Multiple coats of funori were applied as a mist, each taking up to 15 hours to apply. The chalk still looks like just chalk – not shiny or slick – and without drip or brush marks. The chalk could still be removed if directly rubbed, but is now well adhered enough to tolerate the vibrations of being placed on a cart and moved for storage.

Mortensen_AT23

Chalkboard in custom-made box.

 

Mortensen_AT26

Detail of fall-away walls.

To prevent the chalk surface from being touched in storage, a special box was fabricated using Tycore® board, foam and cloth. The box grips the chalkboard around the aluminum edges using fold-away “load bearing” walls. Even if the lid warps a bit, it will not touch the surface of the chalkboard and Dr. Mortensen’s notes will remain intact for future scholars.

Apr 152015
 

 

In recent years, Northwestern University Library conservators have seen an increasing number of unique and unusual objects – from neckties to paintings to lollipops –  in need of preservation. Integrated with traditional books and papers, these artifacts exemplify the breadth and depth of the library’s collections and act as primary source materials that support both undergraduate education and advanced scholarly research.

The Preservation Department is often where research on these objects begins. Though the fundamental principles remain the same, the specifics of how to best care for such a wide variety of artifacts require investigation into both the physical structure and cultural value of each item. In order to determine the most appropriate course of action for preserving and providing access to these objects, conservators must understand the production materials and techniques, patterns of deterioration, historical and cultural contexts, evidence of past use, and predictions of future use within the context of Northwestern’s distinctive research collections.

In order to highlight some of the rare and interesting objects that have received conservation attention in the past few years, the Preservation Department curated the exhibit, Beyond the Book: The Changing Nature of Library Collections, which is on view in the Deering Library lobby through May 8, 2015.

This blog, an outgrowth of the exhibit, is an effort to document and share continuing treatment and research projects that reflect the changing nature of library preservation and the potential for what conservation research can offer in terms of broader collaboration across the academic community.

During Preservation Week (April 26 – May 2, 2015), the blog will feature daily posts highlighting exhibit objects that posed some of the more complex research questions and interesting treatment decisions.