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It’s A Page Turner

December 4th, 2009

Nicole Wittig

MA Student, Program in Maritime Studies

For eleven months I have been working with the Preservation/Conservation Department in Joyner Library.  The department is divided into two core specializations handling general collections from the stacks and the other dealing with rare material from the archives, special collections, and North Carolina collections.  Ultimately the goal for preserving material from both general and rare collections is to stabilize the document so the item can return to circulation.  Preservation is not limited solely to books, but encompasses all documents in the collection.  As a graduate assistant my talents are applied to more delicate material from special and North Carolina collections.

            A typical day at my job consists of a multitude of tasks applied to the various documents in need of stabilization.  Before any actions are taken the material is assessed and treatments discussed with the senior conservator.  The very first step before applying any treatment is to clean the object.  Most cleaning is done with a dry cleaning sponge.  Then the appropriate treatment is applied.  In the instance that pages have been bent, they can be flattened mechanically with the application of heat, usually with a specialty iron.  If there are any tears, each tear must be assessed separately.  Some tears only require that an adhesive, usually wheat paste which is a natural, reversible adhesive made from wheat starch and water, be applied and the two edges of the tear joined.  If the extent of the tear is too great, Japanese paper acts as a band-aid for the document.  Japanese paper comes in a variety of thicknesses and colors and is applied over the tear with wheat paste.  These methods entail the basic treatments for book and paper conservation.

            Recently my skills have been tested with more severely damaged objects.  More difficult examples include books with damage to the cases.  Sometimes the document actually needs to be dismantled to be re-cased.  If sewing is damaged, the signatures or pages must be re-sewn before the text block can be replaced in its new cover.  Case, or cover, repairs can be quite difficult depending on the damage.  A leather case can suffer from red rot, which is remedied with Klucel G, a brand name for a consolidate.  Applying new material to the spine allows the conservator to reattach the case to the text.  This process involves adding new material, for example leather products or book cloth, to stabilize the outer structure of the book.  Ultimately the goal is to retain as much of the original object and applying as little new material to the document, while stabilizing the document so it may be used and enjoyed for years to come.  


For a brief explanation of paper conservation refer to the following web video: http://anacostia.si.edu/Online_Academy/Academy/academy.htm

General Conservation

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