(Research, Libraries, Archives Collections Conservation Task Force)

D. van der Reyden, CAL, 8/16/93

The meeting was attended by 27 members of the Research Collections, Libraries, and Archives Conservation Task Force (RELACT) Training Program. RELACT members attending represented AH's Archives Center; Anacostia; African Art; Archives of American Art; SIA; SIL; Hirshhorn; NASM; NH; Photo Services, etc.

The meeting consisted of four lectures and a tour, as follows:

Lecture 1) Welcome by Ken Harris, former head of the Preservation Directorate

Lecture 2) "Organization of the Preservation Directorate, with Emphasis on the Conservation Office," Amparo de Torres, Assistant to the Conservation Officer. Slide show included a discussion on LC's point system for matching resources to needs, and the phased conservation program to undertake holdings maintenance on a prioritized, step-by-step basis.

Lecture 3) "Collections Care: Concept and Practice," Debra McKern, Assistant Binding Officer. Discussed LC's needs assessment and general collections specialized care program.

Lecture 4) "The Washingtoniana Project," Michele Hamill, Paper Conservator. Discussed a co-operative inter-agency holdings maintenance initiative between conservators and collections managers, which includes the humidification and flattening of rolled documents to improve accessibility.

Tour of the Conservation Office Laboratories, LC Preservation Directorate.

Lecture 1) Ken Harris opened the meeting by explaining that the preservation directorate, initiated 25 years ago first as a binding office and then as a conservation office. There are several organizational units, including the Binding and the Conservation Offices, the National Preservation Office (which covers education, coordination and liaison, etc.), the Preservation Microfilming and Reformatting Offices, and the Preservation Research and Testing Office (for science and technical support). Currently LC considers education of managers and supervisors as one of its most important functions, in addition to promoting proper storage and environmental controls.

Lecture 2) Amparo de Torres discussed the functions of the Conservation Office and its three sections: the book conservation section, the paper conservation section and the phase conservation section (responsible for rehousing and preventive conservation care). She stressed the importance of phased conservation which provides a way to manage large collections and rationalize allocation of resources. She described steps in phased conservation as follows:

1. Assessment: Assess the environment and storage conditions and correct them; establish exhibition, loan and use policies; establish emergency planning policies; train staff in handling; assess items through prioritization and sampling surveys based on use, exposure, condition, risk, etc., and consider reformatting; identify needs and costs for short-, medium-, and long-term storage and treatment provisions; develop a schedule for allotting time and resources (see point system, below).

2. Maintenance: Maintain collections by removing acid materials, developing care procedures, stabilizing items for storage by mending, humidification and flattening.

3. Treatment: Prioritized, schedule and execute treatment of collections and items.

4. Evaluation: Monitor, evaluate, and modify research and treatments.

She described the LC "point system" for allotting staff time and resources. Each year the total number of hours of conservation staff bench-time (estimated for that year) is divided into to equal portions among the LC's 10 divisions, with two additional fractions being set aside as extra time for increased concentration on one division on a rotating basis, and for emergency contingencies. Conservation staff then meets with each division to determine how their allotment of hours will be spent for that year in the book, paper and phase sections. This process forces the divisions to evaluate and focus their needs with respect to short, medium and long-term planning. Amparo concluded with slides of the facilities and special projects, including a collaborative project with a Russian library to develop custom-sized boxes for damaged books. The boxes are die-cut from computer generated measurements: the measurements of every book are entered in sequence into the computer, which then modifies the die-cutting measurements accordingly so that precisely fitting fold-up boxes are produced in the same sequence as the books, along with labels for the boxes. She also illustrated new housing systems including new folder designs such as a "unimap" system consisting of a polyester enclosure within a buffered folder; hanging systems for posters; a flexible polyester L-seal for vellum; string mats for parchments, etc.

Lecture 3) Debra McKern, from the Binding Office, noted that research collections are often unique materials but are frequently found in general collections. Conservation assessment of collections is one way to safeguard these materials. She defined collection conservation as including both single items and general collections, and emphasized general principles maximizing the use of minimum resources, such as stabilizing condition to precluded the need for future conservation attention. She distributed and discussed prioritization survey forms, which the Library of Congress developed based on the system devised by the Research Libraries Group for the Commission on Preservation and Access. The Library of Congress version is set up to exclude low risk materials from random sampling surveys, and to include more information about condition (for instance, weighing the problem of pressure sensitive tapes as more serious than the presence of paper clips) in order to better access the risk of exposure. This system has enable the conservation staff to take a pro-active versus reactive approach to collections care, an approach which is use (and condition) driven rather than subject driven. It enables enlighten decisions about allocating budget resources, since need always outstrips resources. The findings from the surveys are added to a database which can be sorted and searched, for instance for tape problems, etc.

Lecture 4) Michele Hamill, a paper conservator who trained at CAL, discussed an example of a collaborative project between conservators and processors which resulted in humidification and flattening to increase accessibility of 18,000 drawings. To facilitate the project, processors were taught how to test the drawings for solubility and friability before selecting which drawings were safe for the humidification procedure. Drawings that did not require humidification were placed on buffered paper in polyester film housing of standard sizes such as 14x18 or 46x75 inches, with up to 10 drawings in one polyester folder unless the drawings were fragile, and stored in either large drawers or small flat boxes. Handling guides included information such as avoiding rolling drawings since this makes condition assessment unreliable, and how to position drawings within polyester folders using spatulas etc. Processors were trained to recognize problems (such as tape, tears, losses, etc.) so that they could undertake conservation surveys to assess condition of collections, and the processors entered the information into a database. One way of instructing the processors was to select two similar objects, such as two blue prints, and compare them with respect to value, use, risk, etc. Type and location of problem is also noted, such as whether pressure sensitive tape is inside or outside image areas. Processors were also taught to do Japanese paper repairs (since heat-set often does not adhere well), while treatments such as washing, lining, etc. was undertaken by trained conservators.

Tour: The lectures were followed by a tour of the book, paper and phase conservation laboratories, highlighting projects such as the development of new rehousing techniques called "book-bodices," etc. The phase conservation section address the problems of entire collections by concentrating on preventive conservation through appropriate rehousing and storage, while items requiring more individual attention are sent to the book and paper sections for more customized treatments.