Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

For All Your Custom Housing Needs!

October 24th, 2017

One of the most useful tools in a conservator’s arsenal is a good basic box template. Once one masters a simple enclosure pattern, the elements of the pattern can be adapted to create custom housings for just about anything – and in library and archives conservation, many objects besides books are in need of protective enclosures.

Our audiovisual preservation specialist Chris Bañuelos recently came to me with a few reels of videotape that were in need of housing. Enclosures for many types of audiovisual materials can be usually be purchased from archival suppliers, but this particular format, 2-inch quad tape, is apparently so obscure that containers for it are hard to come by. Chris had original boxes for some of the tapes, but these were made of acidic corrugated cardboard. I agreed to try and replicate the style of the original boxes using archival corrugated cardboard – I always enjoy a good enclosure challenge.

I did not set out to reinvent the wheel here; I wanted to mimic the original boxes as closely as possible by adapting the pattern for a basic corrugated book enclosure. I unfolded one of the old boxes and traced it on a blank sheet of paper to get a rough outline, then I measured the box and added the measurements to the tracing to make a template. I planned to use B-flute corrugated board, which is approximately but not exactly the same thickness as the original cardboard. Because of this difference I expected that my first trial of the template would likely be imperfect, but I went ahead with it anyway. I wanted to see what would be off in the finished box so that I could go back and fine-tune the template accordingly.

Sure enough, my first attempt wasn’t quite right – the lid was a bit too short and an even bigger bit too narrow, causing it to fit too loosely to stay closed. I added an eighth inch here and a quarter inch there and tried again. This time it looked great, but the lid was now just a little too tight for a person to easily and comfortably open it. After yet another small adjustment to the template, I had a box with a well-fitting, easy-to-open lid.

The last step was to fit the inside of the box with a short hub that would keep the reel from shifting. I used my handy circle cutter (which dates back to my high school days!) to score circles in scraps of the corrugated board, then finished cutting them out with a scalpel. I stacked three disks together, adhering with double-sided tape, and centered the stack in the bottom of the box, again with double-sided tape.

The finished box is similar in style to the original. Now that I’ve perfected the pattern through a little trial and error, I have a reliable template that I can hand to a student worker who should be able to successfully recreate the box.

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Dressy Boxes for Special Books

October 4th, 2017

The Spencer Research Library is very fortunate to have a host of student employees to assist with the daily functions of the Library; certainly, the same is true for Conservation Services, the preservation department for all of KU Libraries including Spencer Research Library. One of the important and on-going projects performed by our student employees for Spencer Research Library is creating custom enclosures for some of the more fragile materials. Books with loose or missing covers, damaged spines, or warped covering boards are among those identified by curators, catalogers, and the special collections conservators as candidates to be housed. The enclosures, known as tuxedo boxes or “tux boxes” for short, are custom fitted, four-flap wrappers, constructed from acid-free card stock.

The books are measured using a wooden device known as a MeasurePhase. It is a wonderfully handy tool that functions much like a pair of calipers designed to map the height, width, and thickness of a three-dimensional object.

Tuxedo box, Conservation Services, University of Kansas

One of the great advantages of this tool is that the books (or objects) can be measured in situ and the dimensions recorded on strips of paper with a pencil. These strips can then be taken to the conservation lab, where the materials and equipment needed to construct the boxes reside. This minimizes the likelihood of damage that can occur during handling and transport of the delicate books. Conservation Services student employees use the MeasurePhase, paper strips, and pencils, as noted above. They might need to turn the book several times for each of the dimensions, until the point of greatest width is found.

Tuxedo box, Conservation Services, University of Kansas

Next they transfer the information from the paper strips to the card stock, cutting two long pieces of card to form the wrapper. One piece is cut to the height of the book and the second to the width. The thickness or depth of the book is added, as the students mark, score, and fold the card.

Tuxedo box, Conservation Services, University of Kansas

The two long prices of card are joined using double-sided tape, and a slot and tab is created on the outer two flaps of the wrapper. The tab, in particular, is a task that requires a skillful touch with the straight-edge and scalpel. All pencil marks are erased from the boxes, and the students place the completed boxes on a shelf where they are labeled by our bindery staff person.

Once a group of boxes is labeled, the students return the boxes to Spencer Research Library where they are united with their books. The label information is checked against the book itself  and the book is returned to the shelf. Conservation services student employees construct hundreds of tuxedo boxes each year for the more at-risk books in Spencer Research Library. These enclosures reduce damage from dust, handling, and light, and prevent loss of pages from loosely bound volumes. In this way, a small amount of preservation is spread among a large number of volumes.

 

Roberta Woodrick
Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

An Embarrassment of Riches: Highlights from a Survey of the Summerfield Collection

August 29th, 2017

This year I have been conducting a survey of part of the Summerfield Collection of Renaissance and Early Modern Books. It is not an exhaustive survey, but rather a cursory look at each volume to determine its general condition, immediately address minor refurbishment or housing needs, and note any issues that can be followed up on in future projects. I have not been recording every small detail, but I still get to handle and glance over each volume, which is a great treat – the Summerfield collection is truly a treasure. Summerfield’s many beautiful bindings, in particular the limp vellum and ornately tooled alum-tawed pigskin bindings, merit their own post someday. But today I want to share some of the hidden gems that I’ve encountered in the course of my work.

Summerfield Collection, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

This botanical text (Summerfield D519) has the most lovely line illustrations. Wouldn’t they make absolutely wonderful coloring pages?
(Click all images to enlarge.)

 

Summerfield Collection, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Summerfield E397 has two pieces of binder’s waste manuscript fragments taped into the back of the volume. Whoever put a new binding on this volume in the last century saved the fragments from the earlier binding.

 

Summerfield Collection, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Summerfield contains a wealth of pastepapers in classic crumpled-paper and combed patterns.

 

Summerfield Collection, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

There are also printed pastepapers in big, bold patterns…

 

Summerfield Collection, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

…as well as tiny, delicate printed patterns.

 

Summerfield Collection, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

These endpapers with an oversize printed floral design might be made from wallpaper or wallpaper samples.

 

Summerfield Collection, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Here are two examples of colorful decorated text block edges.

 

Summerfield Collection, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

It’s always fascinating to get a glimpse of a binding’s structure and the printed or manuscript matter that binders used in their work.

 

Summerfield Collection, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Traces of prior readers, such as this charming handmade bookmark, can be especially thrilling to encounter. Such evidence makes me feel particularly connected to the past and very lucky that I get to do this job!

 

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

 

Shirley Tholen, Jubilee Queen

June 27th, 2017

One of the most interesting items in our collection, from my point of view, is the full-length portrait of Shirley Tholen, KU’s Jubilee Queen. Spencer Research Library doesn’t actively collect oil paintings, so the fact that we have this painting is unusual in itself. Its size and its history make it even more so. We’ve been spending a lot of time with this portrait lately, and it’s a great example of how collections, experts, and supporters come together in the work of Spencer Library.

The portrait depicts Shirley Tholen, whose naming as Queen was part of the celebration of KU’s 75th anniversary, in 1940-1941. Painted by Raymond Eastwood, a KU professor of drawing and painting from 1922 to 1968, the portrait depicts Ms. Tholen in a dress inspired from the mid-1800s. The jubilee celebrations referenced the early history of the university, with touches like the installation of hitching posts on campus, a song contest, and many reunions.

Photograph of the Shirley Tholen portrait in the KU Alumni Association office, 1945

The Shirley Tholen portrait in the KU Alumni Association office,
as shown in the June 1945 Jayhawker. University Archives.
Call Number: LD 2697 .J3 1945. Click image to enlarge.

For years, the portrait appears to have hung in the office of the KU Alumni Association, as shown in the above photograph from the 1945 Jayhawker yearbook. It eventually made its way to University Archives, where it was stored in the fourth floor stacks of Spencer, surrounded by boxes of university records. Its size made it difficult to find appropriate storage, and it was obvious, even to those of us more accustomed to working with paper and photographs than canvas, that the painting and its supporting structure were in need of repair.

In 2015, Ms. Tholen’s son Tom Jasper and his wife Alexis planned to visit Kansas and inquired about the painting. To make it possible to view it, our Conservation Services staff hung the portrait in our North Gallery and created a temporary label. During their visit, the Jaspers gave us a copy of Ms. Tholen’s memoirs, which we added to our collections. The Jaspers also offered to help financially support the work needed to restore the painting. Conservation Services staff attempted to locate a professional paintings conservator who could work onsite, since the painting is too large to easily ship or move. In late 2016, we welcomed Kenneth Bé of the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center to Lawrence.

Photograph of Kenneth Be conservation work on Shirley Tholen portrait Photograph of Kenneth Be conservation work on Shirley Tholen portrait

Kenneth Bé working on the portrait. Click images to enlarge.

Mr. Bé began with a thorough examination of the painting, photographing it in its existing frame and the wooden stretcher to which the canvas was attached. He then removed the painting from the frame, and carefully repaired dented areas, removed the painting from the stretcher, and vacuumed and brushed away decades of residue. Mindful of the need to get just the right amount of tautness, he attached the canvas to the new stretcher. He used cotton batting and an enzymatic cleaning solution to clean the surface, and the background and especially the bottom of the dress appeared noticeably brighter after the cleaning. He performed a second cleaning of the background using a soft brush and a scooping motion to lift away any remaining dust and residue. He then treated areas of color loss on the surface, using just a minimal amount of paint that somehow managed to make the scuffs seem to vanish. The process was documented throughout with notes and photographs, in accordance with best practices for conservation treatment. After his departure, we moved the painting to a secure area where it was stored under a Tyvek sheet awaiting framing.

Then came the task of choosing a frame for the painting. On the recommendation of colleagues, we chose a local framer, again hoping to minimize the need for the portrait to travel any more than necessary. The choices at the frame shop were overwhelming, but the experts advised us to balance the width of the frame with the size of the painting and the height at which we intended to hang it. A decision was made, the portrait was packaged carefully, and loaded into a rented truck for the short trip across town. When the framing was complete, the results were impressive.

Photograph of Roberta Woodrick with the Shirley Tholen portrait

Assistant Conservator Roberta Woodrick
with the portrait. Click image to enlarge.

The portrait of Shirley Tholen is now hanging again in the North Gallery, awaiting new signage that explains who she was and why we have this painting. She will no doubt draw attention as visitors begin to appear in our recently renovated Gallery, and her story helps to tell the history of the University in a different way than the rest of our new permanent exhibits.

Photograph of the Shirley Tholen portrait in the North Gallery

The portrait of Shirley Tholen in the recently-renovated North Gallery.
Click image to enlarge.

This was truly a team effort. Whitney Baker and Roberta Woodrick of Conservation Services, Becky Schulte and Letha Johnson from University Archives, and staff from across KU Libraries researched, planned, and made the work happen. But it would not have happened without the support of the Jaspers as well. Not everyone can be responsible for helping conserve a historic portrait of their mother, but they can assist us to do extraordinary things that would not otherwise be possible with our limited resources.

Please come visit the North Gallery and see Shirley soon.

Beth M. Whittaker
Assistant Dean for Distinctive Collections
Director of Spencer Research Library

Button Collection Proves Hot Button Issues Can Be On the Button. Literally.

June 12th, 2017

One of the coolest collections in Spencer is the Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements. Established in 1965, the collection features materials in line with US left- and right-wing political literature from about 1960 to the present. Over the years, around 400 pinback buttons have been accessioned to the Wilcox Collection. This spring, I was tasked with housing these buttons for reasons of accessibility and preservation.

Wilcox button. Call number RH WL BT 40. Spencer Research Library.

Figure 1. Many of the buttons concerned AIDS awareness. This button also shows how many of the buttons used multiple types of materials when constructed. “Every Penny Counts. AIDS Emergency Fund,” RH WL BT 40. Click image to enlarge.

Following a housing method for buttons used previously at Spencer, I divided the buttons into two different groups based on size: one for buttons under two inches in diameter and one for buttons 2 to <4 inches in diameter. This was to accommodate the two sizes of polyethylene bags the buttons would be housed in.

Wilcox button. Call number RH WL BT 73. Spencer Research Library.

Figure 2. While many of the buttons were standard sizes, others sat on the extremes. This one is half an inch in diameter; the largest was almost 5 inches. “Let’s End Discrimination,” RH WL BT 73.

With the buttons divided, I cut the appropriate number of backings for each group out of 20-point board using our guillotine and boardshear, so they could fit in the 2” x 3” and 4” x 6” polyethylene bags. These could have also been easily cut with a scalpel or scissors, but due to the volume needed, I opted for the more industrial equipment. The backings served two purposes: to give rigidity to each individual button’s housings and to provide a place to write the call number for each button.

Wilcox button. Call number RH WL BT 62. Spencer Research Library.

Figure 3. “Capitalism Fouls Things Up. Vote S.W.P. [Socialist Workers Party] 1970,” RH WL BT 62.

Once all of the materials were prepped, each button was assigned a call number that was placed on the 20-point board backing. For the sake of efficiency and clarity, I made a stamp with the common portions of the call number and then handwrote the unique portions. The backing was then placed in the appropriate size bag, followed by the corresponding button. Once housed, the smaller buttons were put in the lids and trays of slide boxes and the larger buttons were put in cassette tape boxes. The slide boxes were then placed in a large artifact box to keep them together.

Wilcox buttons in housing Call number RH WL BT. Spencer Research Library.

Figure 4. Smaller buttons were placed in slide boxes like this in call number order. Each box fit about 30-40 buttons.

While this is not a complicated treatment, it makes the buttons easier to access and keeps them from touching each other so they do not have any negative effects on each other.

Wilcox button. Call number RH WL BT 127. Spencer Research Library.

Figure 5. Some buttons were sillier than others. “Ban Buttons,” RH WL BT 127.

In addition to the physical housing, I created an extensive digital database noting information such as the call number, subject matter, date, and bibliographic record number for items already cataloged. This makes it easy for us to find individual buttons and compare buttons across the same subject matter.

Creating the digital database also required some research. Approximately a quarter of the buttons were not previously cataloged, so many of the pieces of information identified in the database were not known. While some gave more information than others, for many the context was not readily apparent. For several of these stumpers, I was able to use information published online from similar collections, like the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan. In several instances, I would not have been able to determine if a button belonged in the collection without the help of other institutions like Spencer.

Jocelyn Wilkinson
2017 KU Graduate in Museum Studies
Museum Studies Conservation Intern, Conservation Services