Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Celebrating the New Conservation Lab

September 11th, 2018

Earlier this summer, the Conservation Services Department completed a move from its former location in the basement of Watson Library to a new facility on the second floor of Spencer Research Library. After years of wishing and hoping, months of dreaming and planning, and some intense weeks of packing, hauling, unpacking, and arranging, we opened our doors to the new space in late July.

Working in this space has been everything we hoped it would be, and more. Here we are better situated to care for Spencer collections, while still providing service to all other campus libraries. Shortly after we opened, we held an open house for our Libraries colleagues. We were delighted that more than 50 people came to view the new space and share in our excitement. We three conservators – Whitney, Roberta, and myself – took turns offering tours of the lab to visitors. For those who were unable to attend, here is a quick look at some of what we love about this new lab.

Our new height-adjustable, wheeled workbenches and tables offer more flexibility to accommodate many types of treatments and projects – and even meetings, tours, and other activities. Each staff member can also configure their benches to the height and arrangement that is most comfortable for them.

Height-adjustable, wheeled workbenches and tables in the new lab space.

Adjustable workbenches and tables on casters in the new conservation lab (with windows!). Click image to enlarge.

We have a quarantine room for isolating and treating items affected by mold or pests. In addition to ample shelf space and our existing sub-zero freezer, this room houses a new biosafety cabinet which will allow us to mitigate the risks of handling and cleaning these vulnerable collection materials.

Quarantine room for isolating and treating items with mold or pests.

Inside the quarantine room: biosafety cabinet at left, shelving at right. Click image to enlarge.

The new wet lab will soon be equipped with a large sink in which we can treat oversize items, or do the messy work of preparing repair materials – such as lining cloth or paper – in a space that is easily cleaned up.

Wet lab within the new conservation lab for paper treatments and preparation of repair materials.

Wet treatment lab, for wet or messy work. Click image to enlarge.

We also have a dedicated area for photodocumentation just a few steps from our benches. This makes it so easy to quickly snap photographs of items before and after treatment.

Section of the new lab designated for photography of materials before and after treatments.

Photodocumentation area, with two different setups and a handy blackout curtain. Click image to enlarge.

A centrally located student work area is well placed to access all of the equipment and supplies. Like the staff workbenches, the students’ tables and chairs are on casters and are height-adjustable.

Student work spaces in the new lab.

Two groups of four student work tables occupy the center of the lab. Click image to enlarge.

We couldn’t be more pleased to be continuing our work caring for KU Libraries collections in this beautiful new conservation lab.

Improving the Physical Environment in Spencer Library: The Second Visit from Image Permanence Institute

May 8th, 2018

KU Libraries recently hosted Christopher Cameron and Kelly Krish, consultants from Image Permanence Institute (IPI), for their second visit as part of the planning grant we were awarded from the National Endowment for the Humanities, under the Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections program. The purpose of the grant is to work with our environmental consultants to study the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system in Spencer Research Library in order to better preserve our collections while also hopefully finding ways to save energy.

On April 24-25, 2018, Christopher Cameron and Kelly Krish met with members of the KU team representing Facilities Services, Campus Operations, KU Libraries, and Facilities Planning and Development. We first met to discuss building and mechanical system updates since their visit in October.

Staff and consultants conferring, Spencer Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Whitney Baker (left, KU Libraries) confers with Christopher Cameron and
Kelly Krish (Image Permanence Institute). Click image to enlarge.

We then took a tour of the building to retrieve information from all the dataloggers in various collections spaces and the mechanical room. We use Preservation Environment Monitors (PEMs) that were developed by the Image Permanence Institute to record relative humidity and temperature. The data is uploaded into eClimate Notebook, software that was also developed by IPI. Christopher and Kelly can remotely access our data from New York; we have met via conference call periodically to discuss anomalies since their visit last October.

Consultant using a datalogger in the Spencer Library stacks, University of Kansas Libraries.

Downloading data from a Preservation Environment Monitor (PEM)
with a thumb drive. Click image to enlarge.

Staff member using a datalogger in the Spencer Library stacks, University of Kansas Libraries

Whitney Baker retrieving data in the
University Archives stacks. Click image to enlarge.

Christopher brought a new infrared (IR) camera to continue analysis of the vents in the stacks. Some seem to be blowing cold air into the space while others produce hot air. It’s a puzzle, and the IR data helps pinpoint how the conditioned air is delivered into the collections spaces.

Consultant using an infrared camera in the Spencer Library stacks, University of Kansas Libraries.

Christopher Cameron using an infrared camera to locate
cold and hot spots in the stacks. Click image to enlarge.

The consultants and KU team ended the visit by discussing the data, making plans for some controlled studies, and discussing how we might use some designated grant funds to conduct further testing or make small improvements to the system.

We look forward to hosting the IPI consultants again in late fall or early winter, 2018. In the meantime, we will take monthly data readings for twenty-three loggers in the Spencer stacks, vents, and mechanical systems.

Whitney Baker, Head
Conservation Services

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. “Improving the Physical Environment in Spencer Research Library” has been made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections.

Ephemera and Binder’s Waste in Summerfield E397

April 10th, 2018

Last year, I wrote about my survey of part of the Summerfield Collection of Renaissance and Early Modern Books, and all of the lovely hidden treasures within that collection. One item that I identified during the survey as a candidate for future treatment is Summerfield E397, De statu religionis et reipublicae, Carolo Quinto Caesare, commentarii, by Johannes Sleidanus, published in 1555.

What caught my attention about this volume is the fragment of parchment manuscript that was taped inside the lower board. Actually, there are two fragments – halves of a leaf that long ago was cut apart and used to form flanges that were sewn onto either side of the text block and then adhered between the boards and pastedowns. At some later time, the book was repaired and the manuscript flanges were removed. Whoever removed them chose to retain them, piecing them back together with glassine tape and affixing them inside the back of the book.

Summerfield E97, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Manuscript fragments, previously used as binder’s waste,
taped into the back of Summerfield E397. Click image to enlarge.

In the front of the volume are affixed two letters dated in February 1896 that a one-time owner of the volume – one Robert A. Scott Macfie – received from a William Y. Fletcher in response to an inquiry he had sent about the book (Fletcher’s name appears in a 1908 list of members of the Bibliographical Society of London). The second of these letters mentions that Fletcher had shown the book (which Macfie had lent him to examine) to “Mr. Scott and Mr. Warner, the Keeper and Assistant Keeper of MSS in the [British] Museum, and they consider [the fragments] to have belonged to an English or Scottish MS (most probably the former) of the 15th century.” How fascinating and fortunate that these records of the book’s life have survived with it.

Summerfield E97, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Left: Cover of Summerfield E397. Right: Fletcher’s letters to Macfie
taped onto front flyleaf. Click image to enlarge.

At the time that I surveyed this book, I consulted with the curator about how to approach the treatment and made a note to revisit it at a later date. I recently reviewed my queue of projects and this one presented itself. In my discussion with the curator, we had agreed to leave the letters as-is, but to remove the tape from the manuscript fragments, reunite them with wheat starch paste and Japanese tissue, and tip them back into the volume with the same. Their presence in the volume tells something of the book’s story, but we felt it would be beneficial to remove the brittle, discolored tape from the parchment.

Summerfield E97, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Visible threads (top) and sewing holes (bottom) indicating
these fragments had been used as binder’s waste.
Click image to enlarge.

Luckily, if one has to remove tape, this type of tape is about as easy to remove as they come. The gummed adhesive layer on this tape responds very well and quickly to a light application of methylcellulose; after just a couple of minutes, the tape carrier and most of the adhesive lift away easily. I reduced the remaining adhesive residue by gently swabbing it with damp cotton, but I did not pursue this very far – overly aggressive cleaning would leave those areas of the parchment looking too starkly white. When the tape was all removed, I used a soft brush to dislodge some surface dirt that had accumulated in the creases.

Summerfield E97, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Removing the tape hinge that had held the fragments in place.
In the red circle, note the stain left by one of the blue manuscript capitals
from when the fragments served as binding material. Click image to enlarge.

Summerfield E97, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Detail of the seam where the two halves of this leaf were cut apart long ago.
Click image to enlarge.

Next, I used very dry paste and thin tissue to reattach the two halves to one another. I chose to do this in lapped sections rather than a continuous strip to allow the skins to expand and contract with subtle changes in the environment, and to distribute the stress of the repair evenly along both sides of the leaves, as well as to avoid placing adhesive over areas where ink was present. Finally, I reattached the fragments inside the lower board using a hinge of Japanese tissue and paste.

Summerfield E97, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

The finished manuscript fragments replaced into the volume.
Click image to enlarge.


Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Community Outreach: Preschool Bookbinding Activity

March 20th, 2018

I recently had the opportunity to combine business and pleasure when my son’s preschool teachers put a call out to parents interested in being “Mystery Visitors” to the classroom. Parents were invited to join the class at group time to read a story, lead an activity, or share a hobby or interest. I knew that my colleagues in Conservation Services had taught workshops in the past for school-age and preschool children, which sounded like fun to me. I was excited for the chance to test my skills at communicating some basic concepts of my job to a young audience, and of course to see the (hopefully pleasantly) surprised look on my son’s face!

After talking a bit with the teachers to get a sense of the kids’ skill levels, I planned to try sewing a three-hole pamphlet with the class. The teachers felt that the kids would be able to handle the simple folding and sewing, with the three of us and an aide on hand to guide them. The class supply closet had plenty of paper for text blocks and covers, and I provided colorful plastic needles and lengths of yarn from my stash at home. From the lab, I assembled some other tools and supplies: a piercing jig made of scrap binder’s board, a few bone folders, and a chunky, blunt awl that punched the perfect, extra-large holes for small hands wielding big needles. I also made a sample book to show the class.

Pamphlet making supplies

Ready, set, sew!: pamphlet-making supplies. Click image to enlarge.

On the day of my visit, I arrived at the time of the afternoon when the class normally has “large group” time. My son’s initial bewilderment gave way to excitement when the teachers announced me as the Mystery Visitor, and I was soon swarmed with kids wanting to know what I had brought to share. The teachers and I decided to do the activity in small groups by turns, while the rest of the children played at other activities around the room. I set up at a small table and, assisted by one of the teachers, helped groups of 3 to 5 kids at a time make their own pamphlet-sewn book. I was really impressed by their folding, sewing, and especially listening skills! They were a very eager and engaged group, and it was sweet to see how proudly they displayed their finished books to their parents as they arrived for pick-up time.

The school’s privacy policy prevents me from sharing photos of children other than my own, and in any case the afternoon was a bit too energetic and fast-paced for me to take any good pictures. However, I did manage to snap a quick shot of my boy with his book as we were loading up to head home. He was quite pleased with his creation, which he began filling up with a story as soon as we got home!

Child holding finished pamphlet

Pamphlet completed and ready for stories! Click image to enlarge.


Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Albert T. Reid: Conservation Internship

December 5th, 2017

During the 2017 fall semester I had the opportunity to work as the Ringle Conservation Intern at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. My time here has focused on treating and housing the Albert T. Reid Cartoon Collection, which includes 1899 original cartoons from various artists. This collection started as a generous donation of works from Reid in the 1930s, and between 1954 and 1956 the William Allen White Foundation and the School of Journalism at the University collected around 1750 items from around 600 different cartoonists.

The process of treating this collection required me to spend time dry-cleaning and housing every cartoon; this gave me the ability to read a majority of the cartoons, which gave me insight to the nature of the world in which these artists resided. Cartoonists, especially those who were creating political or editorial cartoons, were critiquing the world they inhabited. It was often hard not to draw parallels from our current political state while viewing cartoons of Russia’s influence on the world or a dawning of nuclear war. It was also particularly interesting that at the same time as these political cartoons were being created, so were early incarnations of some of our favorite pop-culture icons.

Collection, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.

Bugs Bunny, Warner Bros., 01/13/1954 (CS 326)
Click image to enlarge.

When working with this collection I was particularly drawn to the comic strips, especially the strips that were science fiction oriented, i.e. Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and Brick Bradford. There’s something wonderful about the worlds these artists developed with little knowledge of where we would find ourselves. Looking at these today is like looking at a nostalgic future. I also found it fascinating that many of these same tropes and design ascetics are used by contemporary science fiction creators. I wonder if contemporary creators were influenced by these characters and cartoonists as I was.

Collection, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.

Flash Gordon, by Dan Berry, 09/01/1954 (CS-312)
Click image to enlarge.

Collection, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.

Buck Rogers, by Rick Yager, 02/27/1956 (CS-308)
Click image to enlarge.

The Reid Cartoon Collection is a fantastic resource. It brings me great satisfaction that this collection will soon be accessible.

Matthew Willie Garcia
2017 Ringle Conservation Intern
Conservation Services