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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Books on a shelf

Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

Not the End of the Track

August 29th, 2016

Summer is a time for both large and small projects for the students and staff in Conservation Services. Summer 2016 was certainly no exception, as our crew tackled a somewhat daunting and very dirty re-housing venture. This was an amazing group effort, with lots of help and good advice coming from many corners of the KU Libraries.

In the early nineties, the Spencer Research Library took possession of a massive set of technical drawings of the Kansas City Terminal Railway track system. The drawings date from the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth  century, and are reproduced in a number of media including cyanotypes (aka blueprints), Photostat copies, and hand-drawn images. They range in size from smaller than a piece of notebook paper to rolls over thirty feet in length. There are just under five hundred sets of drawings varying in amount from one to more than twenty-five drawings per set.

Housing railway drawings at Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

A sample drawer from the metal cabinets. Click image to enlarge.

The drawings arrived at Spencer Research in their original storage cabinets. The cabinets were metal, painted dark green, and came in four different depths, the largest of which could not be accommodated in the building. The drawers of the largest cabinet were thus removed and stored with boards separating each layer. Some of the drawers containing the drawings were lined with kraft paper, while others were not. Many of the drawings had been tightly rolled and secured with rubber bands. The rubber bands had become brittle with age and had also adhered themselves to the drawings. Because the cabinets had been stored in the train station, there was a great accumulation of grime and dust on cabinetry and drawings alike.

Housing railway drawings at Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Previous storage of the track drawings. Click image to enlarge.

Six student employees and I began the project by talking through various options for staging and cleaning the drawings, setting up the new storage area, and housing the drawing sets. Meetings were also held with Sherry Williams (Curator of the Kansas Collection), Meredith Huff (Operations Manager for Spencer Research Library), and Whitney Baker (Head of Conservation Services) to discuss the logistics of the project.

It was quite the puzzle to work out where and how to stage the drawings, since the incoming storage unit needed to be assembled where the old cabinetry had stood. The drawing sets in their drawers were eventually staged in four separate locations and the old cabinets were removed.

Housing railway drawings at Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Moving the cabinets required a lifting device. Click image to enlarge.

Using existing shelving hardware, the team put together a framework of upright brackets and placed shelves at strategic locations to give strength and support to the soon-to-be-constructed honeycomb of tubes. A total of five-hundred and thirty mailing tubes were assembled to house the drawings. Each tube was lined with a heavy-weight, acid-free piece of cardstock, and then placed into the shelving unit.

Housing railway drawings at Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries Housing railway drawings at Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Modified shelving units empty (left) and with cardstock-lined tubes inserted (right). Click images to enlarge.

At the same time, the student staff began removing the desiccated rubber bands from the drawings and gently cleaning each roll with a soft brush. It was a grungy task that took more than two months to complete. As throughout, the students handled this portion of the project with a great deal of aplomb and good-natured ribbing, and only a couple of grossed-out moments involving truly disgusting rubber bands.

Special Collections Conservator Angela Andres was instrumental in helping solve the issue of how to corral the drawing sets in the tubes, making retrieval and return go smoothly. Through her research, she found a medical supply company that was able to provide us with a continuous virgin Tyvek sheath that could be cut to the correct length for each set.

Housing railway drawings at Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Tyvek sheath securing a set of drawings together inside the cardboard tube. Click image to enlarge.

After cleaning, the drawings were slipped into the Tyvek sheath, secured with cotton tying tape, and loaded into the honeycomb.

Housing railway drawings at Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Honeycomb structure. Click image to enlarge.

As each bay was filled, labels were created that correspond with the set numbers and adhered to lids, and the tubes were capped.

Housing railway drawings at Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Caps and labels attached to the tubes. The final product! Click image to enlarge.

This project was a tremendous group effort, involving the cooperation and assistance of many library staff, including those mentioned above and also the Annex team, Michelle Curttright, Doug Hatton, and Ryan Swartz, and the Libraries procurement officer, Kristin Vickers. Most importantly though, was Conservation Services student staff: Brecken Liebl, Valery Herman, Sara Neel, Rebecca Younker, Monica Funk, and Jocelyn Wilkinson. Their hard work was graciously recognized by others in the KU Libraries, as the team won the Jayhawks of the Quarter award for the third quarter of the year.

Roberta Woodrick
General Collections Conservator

A Find in Fraser

September 20th, 2013

This summer I was the Stannard Conservation Lab Intern at the University of Kansas. I worked on many projects, but the most challenging one was treating a large collection of architectural plans. University Archives already has many architectural plans of KU campus buildings, so it was a surprise when more original plans were found in the attic of Fraser Hall. The plans had been rolled up, tied with string, and left for years in the attic. They were stacked on top of each other and very dirty, some showing signs of bird droppings and cobwebs. Due to this rough storage environment, some of the plans were severely damaged, although most were in fairly stable condition. The plans were moved from Fraser’s attic to University Archives until a more appropriate and permanent storage situation could be found.

Photograph of architectural plans temporarily stored in University Archives.
Rolled architectural plans temporarily stored in
University Archives. Click image to enlarge.

It is best for architectural plans to be stored flat, not only for their preservation but also to save space. Since the plans were stored rolled for so long, they needed to be humidified and flattened before they could be stored in horizontal files in the Archives. This required some creative thinking by the KU conservation team because a humidity chamber had to be specially made to accommodate these large plans.

The construction of the humidity chamber was finished when I started my internship, so I was able to start right in on developing the work procedure for humidifying and flattening the plans. I developed a documentation process to keep track of the plans that were treated and instituted an efficient work flow to keep the project rolling.

Photograph of the humidity chamber.
The specially-built humidity chamber at KU’s Conservation Lab.
Click image to enlarge.

The rolled plans were sorted by what building they depicted and then moved to the work room in their respective groups. Next, the drawings were prepared for humidification: staples were removed and important information about the plans – including title and date – were recorded in a database. The plans were then humidified and flattened. Lastly, the plans were placed in labeled folders and stored in the Archive’s new horizontal storage cases. The work procedure I developed allowed the other interns to continue the flattening and filing process even after my internship ended.

Photograph of Summer Conservation Intern Erin Kraus.
Summer Conservation Intern Erin Kraus removes
water from the humidity chamber with a wet vac.
Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of horizontal storage cases.
New horizontal storage cases in University Archives.
Click image to enlarge.

These historic plans were an important discovery because they can still be useful to architects today when improvements are being made to buildings. The conservation of the plans so far turned out beautifully, so it was very satisfying to see the progress made on the project.

Photograph of humidified and flattened plans.
Architectural plans after humidification and flattening.
Click image to enlarge.

The conservation lab at KU was a great place to spend my summer and I learned a lot from this project. Having an internship in Kansas allowed me to not only spend time in my home state, but to also get to know all of the wonderful people at the Stannard Conservation Lab. Thanks for a great summer!

Erin Kraus
2013 Conservation Summer Intern