Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Meet the KSRL Staff: Chris Banuelos

January 9th, 2017

This is the eleventh installment in what will be a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Chris Banuelos is the Audiovisual Preservation Specialist for Conservation Services at the University of Kansas Libraries.

Chris Banuelos, Audiovisual Preservation Specialist, Spencer Research Library.
Chris relaxing in the lounge at Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Where are you from?

I grew up in and around Greater Los Angeles, or the Southland, as they call it. I have lived in the San Gabriel Valley, OC, Inland Empire (specifically the Pomona Valley), and Gateway Cities regions.

What does your job at KU Libraries and Spencer Research Library entail?

Officially, I am the Audiovisual Preservation Specialist. As such, I am responsible for the care, maintenance, and potential reformatting of the A/V materials housed here within the various collections at Spencer. The care and maintenance component involves adhering to the best practices and standards for the handling and storage of the myriad A/V formats living at the library (which runs the gamut from motion picture film to tape-based material to digital files), including the machines necessary to play back the content.

How did you come to work at Spencer Research Library?

For a brief time, a job listing for the position had been floating around the list-serv of the graduate program I attended at NYU. On a whim I applied and through a stroke of luck, participated in a series of interviews that lead to acquiring the job.

What is one of the most interesting items you’ve come across in Spencer’s collections?

By far, my favorite part of the library is the Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements. In particular, there is a VHS tape I really want to watch called Demon U.F.O.s. Because the only thing worse than a demon OR a u.f.o. is a combination demon u.f.o.

What part of your job do you like best?

The paycheck! No, but really, having the opportunity to create an A/V infrastructure that works in tandem with the extant (and wildly successful) Conservation Department is a fantastically noble challenge. The university houses some really great content that is begging for further study and I am rather excited to be a part of its discovery. Um, and the paycheck.

What are your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I don’t know that I have a pastime. I try to at least talk, if not Skype with my daughter every day. She’s eight and is absolutely hilarious.

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?

Don’t be afraid to ask for anything. Everyone that works in Spencer is extremely accommodating to patron requests and is willing to go the extra mile to obtain whatever it is that is being asked for.

Chris Banuelos
Audiovisual Preservation Specialist
Conservation Services

Housing Quick Pics: The Right Fit

December 19th, 2016

This year I spent some time upgrading the housings for Spencer’s N-size (very large!) items. I reviewed their current state with a curator and we identified those items that were most in need of housing improvement. Among these items was a very long and narrow broadside with a correspondingly long title: State procession from the Queen’s palace to the western door of Westminster Abbey, on the 28th of June, the day of Her Majesty’s coronation [1838?].

At the time of our review, this item was stored in a very large folder just like its neighbors in the N section. Unlike the other N’s, however, which are mostly oversize maps, this very skinny piece only occupies a small amount of the folder interior. It’s too big to fit in any of our map cases, but it didn’t feel quite right floating about inside the large folder, and it seemed quite unwieldy to retrieve and transport.


We decided to rehouse this item in a more efficient and user-friendly manner by fitting out the inside of a standard cubic-foot box with an archival cardboard tube that rests on two cradle supports on either side and can be easily lifted out of the box.


I rolled the broadside around the tube (followed by a protective layer of polyester film) and placed the tube back into the box. When this item is paged, it will be much easier for staff to carry – no more juggling a huge floppy folder. The item can be easily unrolled in the reading room when needed, and just as easily rolled back up onto the tube. And because the box is a standard size, it will fit well into existing shelf space.


Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Manuscript Monday Quick Pics: John Beach’s Selection of Airs and Marches

November 21st, 2016

Today I want to share a quick before-and-after of a treatment I recently completed on MS E23, John Beach’s Selection of Airs, Marches, etc., with Instructions for the Violin, German Flute, Clarionett, Hautboy, French Horn, Bass Viol, Bassoon, Piano Forte, & Guitar (whew!). A patron request brought this volume to a curator’s attention, and the curator in turn sent it my way.

This book, a collection of manuscript musical pieces, had been lovingly assembled and clearly experienced significant use in its lifetime. The volume required stabilization in a number of areas in order to support use and handling. Its boards were both detached, its spine was missing, sewing threads were broken, and many of the gatherings, which had been made by adhering separate sheets together near the spine fold, were detached or damaged along that spine seam. In addition, there was a good deal of particulate matter (dirt) accumulated in the spine folds.

The treatment involved taking down the sewing, cleaning and mending the gatherings, and sewing it back up over new cords, which were pasted under the pastedowns to reattach the boards. I also added a replacement paper spine piece to protect the spine and give the book a more complete appearance. In its improved condition, this book can be safely used by researchers without the risk of further damage.

Music manuscript from Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries. Call number E23.

ME E23, before treatment. Click image to enlarge.

Music manuscript from Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries. Call number E23.

MS E23, after treatment. Click image to enlarge.

Music manuscript from Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries. Call number E23.

Hand-drawn illustration in MS E23, possibly copied from printed sheet music. Click image to enlarge.

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

The Home Stretch: Wrapping up treatment of Summerfield D544

October 24th, 2016

Earlier this year, I wrote here about the treatment of Kazania na niedziele calego roku [Sermons for Sundays of the Whole Year], 1683, by Pawel Kaczyński. In those posts, I discussed the beginning and middle stages of the treatment, and at long last it is time to report on the completion of this lengthy project.

Shortly after the last post was published, I finished sewing the volume. The next steps were to round and back the book (gently hammering the book in a press to create its rounded spine and raise the shoulders along the spine), add linings to the spine, and sew endbands at the head and tail. Finally, I placed the book into a case of stiff handmade paper.

Summerfield D544 during treatment. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Clockwise from upper left: Completed sewing; rounding and backing the volume; a completed endband; the volume in its paper case, under weight. Click image to enlarge.

Just to rewind a little, here’s what the book looked like a year ago when it was brought to the lab:

Summerfield D544 before treatment. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Summerfield D544 before treatment. This is a view of the back of the volume, which had no binding, showing the fragment of manuscript pasted to the cords. The fragment is mostly concealed by layers of delaminated board.

In addition to treating the volume itself, I also cleaned, mended, and housed the manuscript fragment, written in what is thought to be Old Church Slavic, that had been used as binder’s waste on the back of the book. I did minimal stabilizing mends to this piece; the paper is fairly strong, but the media on this fragment is highly water-soluble, so I was careful to place mends very selectively so as not to disturb the fragile media. I mounted the fragment in a double-window mat, which in turn sits inside a simple mat board folio. In this folio I also included before-treatment images of the volume for researchers’ and curators’ reference, and for use in teaching.

Summerfield D544 after treatment. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Manuscript fragment after treatment.

The new binding for this volume is a conservation paper case. It is not intended to be a historical reproduction – for we have no way of knowing how the book was originally bound – but rather an aesthetically sympathetic binding that will integrate well with its mates in the Summerfield collection, and, most importantly, can be safely handled.

Summerfield D544 after treatment. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Summerfield D544 after treatment, in a handmade paper case.

The finished volume and the manuscript fragment are housed together in a cloth-covered drop-spine box. It is one of the great rewards of this job to be able to return to the stacks an item that had once been inaccessible, knowing that it can now be used and enjoyed by visitors to Spencer.

Summerfield D544 after treatment. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Item in box.

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services


Workshop Recap: Parchment Conservation

September 26th, 2016

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to travel to the International Preservation Studies Center (IPSC, formerly known as the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies) to participate in a 4-day workshop on the conservation of parchment. My nine classmates and I – conservators from a variety of institutions around the country – stayed in IPSC’s dormitory housing in the tiny town of Mount Carroll, Illinois (read about the interesting history of the IPSC campus here) and immersed ourselves in the subject under the guidance of instructor Sheila Siegler, a chemist and conservator with many years of experience treating parchment documents.

From her long experience working with parchment, Sheila brings a wealth of knowledge and a set of strong opinions, but also a refreshing lack of fussiness when it comes to working with a material that has a reputation for being difficult. Along the way she was always very encouraging, reminding us that parchment can be tamed as long as you know what you’re dealing with and accept its quirks and imperfections as par for the course.

We began on the first day with a morning lecture on the history of the use of parchment and how parchment is made. This part is not for the squeamish – the process of turning sheep or calf skin into parchment is a messy business! We also spent some time learning about the chemical structure of parchment and how it deteriorates; as a chemist, Sheila wanted us to understand how and why the parchment would respond to the treatments we performed in class.

We spent the afternoon of Day 1 trying out different ways of examining parchment – under various types of illumination and under different levels of magnification – and comparing the ways that parchment and “parchment paper” behaved under different kinds of stress. Using scraps of historic parchment, modern parchment, and modern parchment paper, we soaked, boiled, and burned samples and recorded the results. Some students had the idea to intentionally disfigure their samples quite severely so that later in the workshop they would have the fun challenge of trying to undo the damage. At the end of Day 1 we broke into pairs and were assigned a large folded historic parchment document (reportedly purchased on eBay) that it would be our responsibility to examine and treat over the rest of the workshop.

Examination of parchment under ultraviolet light.

Examining a parchment document under ultraviolet illumination. Photo by Kyle Clark.

On the morning of Day 2, we worked on cleaning our parchments and preparing adhesives to use in the afternoon session on parchment repair. Sheila’s preferred cleaning technique is simple – a plain cotton ball, slowly and gently brushed over the parchment surface. Very grimy areas could be cleaned with a swab moistened in water if necessary, but Sheila’s no-fuss approach calls for only as much intervention as is needed; after all, very old documents are bound to show their age, and the idea is not to make them look brand new again, but, for those of us who work in research institutions, to make their contents accessible to researchers.

The adhesive we made is called parchment size and is prepared very simply by slowly heating bits of parchment cuttings in water until the mixture thickens into a mild gelatinous adhesive. We put it to use in the afternoon session, experimenting with it and other adhesives (wheat starch paste and methylcellulose) and different kinds of repair tissues (Japanese paper and a material called goldbeater’s skin, made from ox intestines) to mend tears in parchment. We mixed and matched adhesives and repair materials and made notes on the effectiveness of each combination. We also discussed the types of historic stitched or embroidered repairs that are sometimes seen on parchment, and some students experimented with replicating this type of repair on our sample scraps.

Conservation tools and storeroom

The storerooms at IPSC are a little like a candy store to conservators.

On Day 3 it was time for the most harrowing part of our treatment – humidification and flattening of our parchment documents. Students traded horror stories – their own or second-hand – of parchment treatments gone awry, but in her easy way Sheila urged us to jump in and be brave. We laid down plastic on the table, then moistened absorbent material, then a layer of Tyvek (yes, that Tyvek that you see at construction sites – it protects the document from being saturated but allows water vapor through to gently humidify the object) followed by the parchment and then more Tyvek, another moistened layer, and finally more plastic. After around 30 to 60 minutes, most documents were humidified enough to be ready for flattening, a process that involves placing padded clips close together around the parchment edges and pinning them down (we pinned our to sheets of stiff foam insulation) so that the skin is pulled flat. As it dries, it will “remember” its new flat shape.

Parchment workshop

Sheila demonstrating how to flatten parchment with the assistance of students. Photo courtesy IPSC.

Sheila was right – it really wasn’t so scary after all, nor quite as time-consuming as it’s sometimes made out to be. The clips can leave some minor distortions along the parchment edges, but those can either be removed through a second, shorter humidification followed by flattening under weight, or they can simply be left alone if one is satisfied with just having removed the major folds. As for the scraps that had been intentionally damaged earlier in the workshop, we tried the same humidification and flattening technique on them and were surprised at how well it worked.

Parchment workshop

Sheila assessing a student’s flattened parchment. Photo courtesy IPSC.

During the periods of waiting for parchment to humidify or to dry, we did more experimenting, this time with various surface preparations such as those that scribes would have used to prepare parchment for writing upon. We tried an assortment of mild abrasives, liquids, oils, eggs, and combinations thereof to see how they affected the quality of the parchment surface. Someone even found a feather and carved its tip into a nib to make a pen for testing the writing surfaces.

And finally we came to Day 4, when we marveled at our nice flat parchments and did still more experimenting, this time with hinging and matting techniques. Sheila’s preferred method is characteristically simple: a fringe of closely-spaced Japanese tissue hinges all around the document, adhered with wheat starch paste. Using many small hinges (rather than one long one to a side, another common hinging method) allows the skin more room to flex with changes in environmental conditions, which parchment is apt to do.

This workshop was a great experience, and I certainly came away with a better understanding of parchment, as well as the confidence to approach treatment of parchment items in Spencer’s collections.

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services