Preservation Week: 5 questions with Elizabeth Boyne and Sarah Newton

April 25, 2017
Richenda Brim
Elizabeth Boyne and Sarah Newton, Conservation Technicians in Conservation Services

Our Preservation Week Q&A series turns its focus on Conservation Services today. The Conservation Services team plays a primary role in the care of library collections. Conservators and conservation technicians treat, stabilize, and house collection items in support of patron use, digitization projects, and exhibition loans. Last year, they repaired 881 items and housed 1,806 items. Sarah Newton (right) and Elizabeth Boyne (left) share the responsibility for the collection housing work among the other tasks they describe below.

Read on to learn more about their work!

Sarah Newton, Conservation Technician

Tell us about your work.

As a conservation technician, I am responsible for selecting enclosures for much of the special collections/locked stacks material that comes through the lab, and then either building a custom housing or ordering a pre-made enclosure. Many items that come to me need a specialized housing for multiple parts, or are made from unusual materials, or aren't a standard book shape/size. For example, we've received editioned artists books consisting of a salt-shaker, a metronome, and a plastic rat, among other things.
I also prepare library material to go out on loan to other institutions for exhibition. For books, this might mean constructing book cradles to safely support the opening that will be displayed. For prints or photographs I will mat and frame them here in our lab before they are sent. I work with the art handling and shipping company to have a crates constructed for our materials that travel.
 

What is your favorite item to come across your bench in the past year?

I always enjoy working with the material that will go out on loan from the Libraries - this is an opportunity for so many people to interact with items they'd never otherwise have a chance to see! This year, the Oakland Museum of California borrowed a handwritten draft of the Black Panther Party Platform for the exhibition "All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50". I did the condition report on this item - a process completed for everything that is loaned out for exhibition - photographing each page and noting the existing damage.  Anyone can read the party platform online or in print, but only a manuscript like this is alive with the ideas of the writers; the corrections and crossings-out make present the effort that goes in to every word of such powerful ideas. 
 

Which part of the library do you wish you knew more about?

Recently we moved our lab and during that down time we had a chance to go to campus and visit the other units in our department, which we aren't usually able to do. I was always curious about how items come to the library and our short tour of Acquisitions made it clear how much goes into this - and that was just for circulating collections!
 

Do you have a favorite tool/operation/piece of equipment?

Just this last year Kristen St. John, Head of Conservation Services, found us a John Jacques board shear with a 60" blade. It probably dates from around 1900 and impresses everyone who visits our lab. I use it every day.
 

What’s something about your job that people would be surprised to learn?

People are always surprised to learn that libraries contain so much more than books and journals. Beyond photographs and maps and drawings, I have worked recently on scrolls, folding paper fans, hats, flags, sculptural models made of metal, robots, a circuit board from an early Apple computer, and plaster masks of the Stanford family. Often this requires doing some research into what supplies and storage conditions are appropriate for the materials themselves, or what other solutions technicians have already designed. There are some good online resources - for example, I found a great design for a supportive standed for folding paper fans displayed open on Storage Techniques for Art, Science, and History Collections
 

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Elizabeth Boyne, Conservation Technician

Tell us about your work.

 
I’m also a conservation technician for the lab, working with special collections items from all thirteen branches of Stanford Libraries. Like Sarah I assess items for their proper enclosures and make boxes for all different kinds of items in many shapes and sizes. Another aspect of my job is doing paper treatment for flat (or rolled!) items that are torn, have losses, or need flattening. This year I did some initial work on a group of piano rolls from the Archive of Recorded Sound to see how we could best separate and create new leaders or cores for rolls that were joined together with tape. I’ve also been working on repairing Egyptian movie posters from the 1950s-1980s; these were sometimes torn in half, crumpled, or marred by holes. My job was to repair and stabilize them prior to their digitization.
 

What is your favorite item to come across your bench in the past year?

Lately we’ve seen some original scores from the Memorial Library of Music—scores written by Beethoven, Chopin, and Wagner have all come in for some light repair and rehousing. I loved seeing how their handwriting reflected the feel of their music. I just finished making a presentation box for some original scores of Mozart that he used in his performances. That was a total “wow” moment that I won’t forget.
 

Which part of the library do you wish you knew more about?

We work closely with the rare book and manuscript catalogers and the manuscripts processing department, and I would love to know more about the work that they do. It is so interesting to see the variety of objects that come in with large archival collections—correspondence, posters, clothing, you name it. I’d love to learn more about how they arrange, record, and describe these items, and how cataloging and descriptive bibliography affects organization and access.
 

Do you have a favorite tool/operation/piece of equipment?

This fall I was able to attend a week-long class on the Care of Paper Artifacts at the International Preservation Studies Center. Here I learned how to make adhesive pre-coated strips of Japanese paper, which has been so helpful for the batch work that I’ve been doing to repair tears and losses on flat items. I can prepare lots of different weights and tones of tissue and have them at the ready, and they can be especially helpful for items where you don’t want to introduce a lot of moisture to the paper.
 

What’s something about your job that people would be surprised to learn?

While a lot of the work can be repetitive—lots of folding, gluing, and making many of the same types of enclosures—there is always something new to learn with each item. Make a new box with a different kind of cloth and you can see how that material reacts to adhesive; switch a tool and you can see how to be more efficient or create more precise folds or cuts. It’s fun not just to see the materials that come into our lab, but also to puzzle out what kind of enclosure made of which material would best protect the item, while making it accessible for use. 

 

 

 

 

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