Preservation Week: 5 questions with Elizabeth Ryan

April 25, 2017
Richenda Brim
Elizabeth Ryan, Conservator, Conservation Services

Caring for our physical and digital collections relies on a dedicated team of experts across the Stanford Libraries. We hope you've enjoyed meeting a few of the people behind our preservation program this week. You can learn more about Preservation Week and find preservation resources, quick tips, and free webinars covering the spectrum of collection care from textiles to personal digital archives on the Preservation Week site.

We are wrapping up our Preservation Week Q&A series today with Elizabth Ryan, Conservator in Conservation Services.

Tell us about your work.

My work involves the physical conservation of materials in Stanford’s Special Collections. In Conservation we’re interested in understanding how damaged material is used or would like to be used (research, classroom, exhibit). We seek to balance making the book or document physically stable with respect for the evidence of each item’s history. I’m also involved in collection assessments and reviews to set conservation priorities in planning for digitization and exhibits.

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

I encountered a book about metallurgy called De Re Metallica Libri XII published in Switzerland in 1561. This book is filled with woodcuts that document the mineral industry in the 16th century. It’s fascinating and beautiful.

With so much change in preservation in the last few years, what has been most fun and/or most challenging?

Kristen St. John, Head of Conservation Services, has spearheaded a project to add hundreds of treatment documentation images from a collection of papyrus fragments we worked on a few years ago to the Stanford Digital Repository so they can be viewed in SearchWorks. I’ve been helping to locate the before and after treatment images. These photographs were taken when we began to record treatments digitally in 2008 and this ease of catalog access wasn’t an option. It’s wonderful that the images will be so readily available and I appreciate the work Kristen has done along with Ben AlbrittonLibrary and Michelle Paquette.

Has your work influenced your life outside of work?

Having looked at so many old books, I appreciate things that are thoughtfully designed and made.

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

I like the devices we use for measuring. When I came to work at Stanford, David Brock showed me how to measure things by folding slips of paper, using dividers, and adding thicknesses of board to cut things in the board sheer. These techniques eliminate the need to record measurements thus reducing time and possibility for error. I found this so elegant and apply adaptations of this approach to work to with other things, for example sewing, light carpentry, and even baking.

Can you recommend some books/websites/articles about your field?