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

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

 

Workshop Recap: Basic exhibit supports at MAC Omaha

April 10th, 2017

Last week collections conservator Roberta Woodrick and I, together with our colleague Sonya Barron, conservator at Iowa State University, had the pleasure of presenting our half-day workshop Exhibit Support Basics: Solutions for Small Institutions and Small Budgets at the 2017 annual meeting of the Midwest Archives Conference (MAC) in Omaha. We had a lot of fun bringing this hands-on workshop to our colleagues in the allied professions, all of whom kept the session lively with their curiosity, great questions, and good humor.

This workshop originated from our wish to share basic exhibit preparation skills with archivists and museum professionals who work in smaller institutions and are responsible for mounting exhibits but who have limited staff and resources to devote to their exhibit programs. Our participants were archivists, librarians, and curators from a range of institutions across the Midwest: small college and university libraries and archives, historical societies, local museums, even corporate and congregational archives.

Our morning began with a brief presentation covering the exhibit support structures and materials we would be working with that day, along with some related variations on those structures meant to inspire participants’ creativity and boost their confidence. As instructors, we wanted to emphasize that effective exhibit supports don’t have to be complicated or costly.

Midwest Archives Conference workshop

Sonya demonstrates how to make flat supports.
Click image to enlarge.

Following the presentation, Sonya demonstrated two simple methods for mounting flat artifacts. As she worked, she also discussed some basic tool safety tips, and we talked about the different materials we were using. After her demonstration the participants tried out the mounting methods for themselves; we three instructors observed their progress and offered guidance as needed, but this was a very focused group – they immersed themselves in the task and were very self-directed!

 

Midwest Archives Conference workshop

Our students watch Roberta’s book cradle demonstration.
Click image to enlarge.

By this time we were ready for a quick break before regrouping for Roberta’s demonstration of a basic mat board book cradle. With all of her years of experience training student employees, Roberta is a pro at demos! The group watched and took notes intently as she built one cradle, and then they worked on their own cradles along with her as she made a second one. As with the morning’s first activity, our students jumped right in. Despite their claims of having little experience working on such projects, they impressed us with their hand skills and adaptability, and everyone completed their projects with time to spare for discussion at the end of the session.

Midwest Archives Conference workshop

Workshop participants hard at work.
Click image to enlarge.

 

Midwest Archives Conference workshop

Samples of finished cradles from the workshop. They did an excellent job!
Click image to enlarge.

As instructors, we couldn’t have asked for a better group of participants; they were a cheerful and engaged group who worked very well together and created a friendly atmosphere in the room. Roberta, Sonya, and I are grateful to MAC for the opportunity to bring this workshop to their members, and we are hopeful it won’t be the last time we are able to work together!

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

 

A Good Mannequin is Hard to Find

March 13th, 2017

Actually, there are many quality mannequins readily available through a variety of sources – but a good, affordable mannequin that is appropriately sized for a nineteenth-century male of small stature is, in fact, quite hard to find. We were in need of such a mannequin to display a Civil-War-era vest worn by John Fraser, who served as the second Chancellor of the University of Kansas from 1868-1874. Later this year the vest will be part of Spencer Research Library’s new North Gallery exhibit, which will transform that iconic space into a showcase for Spencer’s rich collections.

Chancellor Fraser’s cream-colored wool vest will be featured alongside his sword and scabbard in the University Archives section of the exhibit. A professional mount maker will fabricate the supports for the sword and scabbard, but we in Conservation Services were charged with finding or making an exhibit support for the vest. Our search for a ready-made mannequin of the right shape, size, and price for our needs proved unsuccessful, so we decided to make our own. It’s one of those “other duties as assigned” that presented a fun challenge!

In preparation for building the mannequin, I viewed a webinar about mannequin-making for conservators, and found a handful of blog posts and articles by non-textile conservators like myself who’d built mannequins. It was great to see what others in similar situations had done; their work helped me to form an idea of how to approach this project. I decided to carve the basic mannequin shape out of archival foam, then add more detailed shaping with layers of cotton batting, and finally cover the form with stretchy stockinette fabric.

Prior to starting, I measured the original vest and sewed a simple dummy version of it to use for test fittings along the way. I also printed out some images of torso mannequins from the web to serve as a point of reference for the basic shape. I found a T-shaped jewelry stand, originally meant for retail display, on Amazon to serve as the armature for the mannequin. It has a sturdy weighted base and adjustable height, and the price was right. I began building the mannequin by using hot-melt glue to affix three planks of archival polyethylene foam to the armature and sketching out a basic torso shape on the foam, then set to work carving with a foam knife.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

The mannequin before and after the first round of carving. Click image to enlarge.

At this point the mannequin needed more bulk in the chest, so I glued on more foam pieces and shaped them with the knife, then put the dummy vest on the form to see how the fit was progressing. You can see in the image below (right) that the vest doesn’t look quite right on the form at this stage.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

Left to right: Adding more foam; the mannequin with bulkier chest; testing the fit with the dummy vest.

After yet another round of adding foam and shaping it down with the knife, this time bulking up the chest, abdomen, and upper back, the form began to take on a more natural shape and the dummy vest fit much better.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

Left to right: More foam added to the mannequin; the front and back of the increasingly shapely torso; a better fit.

As the mannequin’s surfaces became more curved, attaching stiff foam planks became more difficult, so in order to do the last bits of shaping I applied built-up layers of cotton batting, again using hot-melt glue.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

Shaping the back and shoulders with batting.

Now the mannequin was almost complete, but I wanted to be sure that the original vest, and not just its stand-in, would fit just right, so I brought the form and some supplies over to the University Archives, where the vest resides, to do the final fitting. I also brought along my colleague, collections conservator Roberta Woodrick, who has a background in textiles, to lend her eye and advice to this stage. We placed the vest on the form and identified a couple of places that needed a little more trimming with the foam knife. With the last adjustments made, it was time to cover the mannequin in stretchy stockinette fabric.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

Left: Testing the fit of the original garment on the mannequin. Right: Covering the form with black stockinette fabric.

After trimming and pinning the stockinette at the neck and base of the mannequin, it was finally ready! I placed the vest on one more time to be really sure of a good fit.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

John Fraser’s vest on its new form for display in Spencer Library’s North Gallery.

The vest fits the form, but there is one feature of the mannequin that remains unfinished. The shiny base of the mannequin stand might be too shiny – it may be too reflective under the exhibit lighting – but we won’t know that until the gallery renovation is completed and we place the form in its new home. If it’s too reflective, we plan to cover it with remnants of the same fabric that will be used to line the display “niche” in which the vest will be exhibited. However, if the consensus opinion is that the shininess is acceptable, we’ll simply polish away the fingerprints and the mannequin will be ready to go!

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
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.

n21_before

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.

n21_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.

n21_completed

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services