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The Fix – Outfitting a Satellite Conservation Lab

We recently carved out some space in the Natural History Building for a Conservation and Digitization Annex. The Annex allows us to do low to medium level repair on site where many of our Library books are housed. Preservation staff share the space with our digitization team. The goal was to reduce the amount of shipping between our main conservation lab  (located offsite in Maryland) and the majority of our materials located on the National Mall.  Our main concerns were books that are very large and fragile that we are reluctant to put through the stress of packing and shipping and volumes  that require simple repairs in order for them to be scanned.

Conservation & Digitization Annex
Conservation & Digitization Annex

Step one was to decide what level of repairs we wanted to be able to execute in the Annex. We decided that repairs taking up to 2 hours were ideally suited to the Annex. Examples of repairs that can be completed in less than two hours include simple paper repairs, board re-attachments and re-backings.


The Fix - mini lab
Left: Interleaving Tissue Adhered to a Chromolithographic Print. Right: Print After Treatment.


With these repairs in mind, the Annex was outfitted with some equipment – book presses, a tabletop board shear, a sewing frame and a lying press.  Basic smaller equipment such as a variety of bone and Teflon folders, spatulas and glue brushes were added. Then we added a variety of Japanese repair papers, linen thread and needles for re-sewing. Lastly toned Moriki paper, a variety of bookcloth and airplane linen (that can be toned and used as a re-backing material) were purchased.




The Annex is staffed two days a week by conservation staff – one day a week for rare repairs and one day a week for general collections repairs. The repairs we are able to complete ensure that rare materials are shipped only when necessary and have sped up the scanning process.





One Comment

  1. What I am arguing since a few years is: a) while we need to urgently preserve the currently extant “older” books and paper-based information sources (esp. those that tend to oxidize due to sulphur compounds mixed in with the paper for the last about two hundred years) we even more urgently need to b) make sure everything gets digitized as soon as possible. However, we risk a huge duplication (that’s a gross understatement!) in efforts that could be completely saved and put to better use: If worldwide ONLY the institution with the best-kept specimen of a certain book or document would digitize it, then feed it into an international database to be shared by everyone else then you, e.g. would only digitize those that you were best equipped for while others would do the same “for you”. Even if you had the same book on your shelves – go ahead and conserve it, but no need for digitization. In this time … bind another book! c) Then we need an international migration policy for legacy digital data. So far, much that has been stored e.g. on 8 inch floppy disks is by now lost because hardly any one can read these, if they can read them, they can’t interpret them due to loss of knowledge as to the coding and even if they could do both, they might find the information has been rendered unreadable due to “magnetic dissipation”. CDs await a similar fate, though not dissipation but chemical degradation. And so it goes on and on. For millennia humankind had a compatible storage system – paper, leather, papyrus – and agreed-upon coding (alphabets/kanji). Now we go back to some dark ages and with each day lose the equivalent of a library of Alexandria due to incompatibilities!

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