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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.

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


What is That?: Book Snake Edition

April 4th, 2013

One of the most common questions we receive when new patrons enter the reading room is “what are those things on the desks?”  Most users are able to identify the clear acrylic (plexiglas) stands as book cradles (used to support a book while it’s being read), but the cushion-y, fabric-based “things” lying next to them present more of a mystery.

Acrylic book cradle and book futon rolled around book snakes.

These are in fact another type of book support: one that consists of a roll-able, padded mat called a “book futon” and two long, pliable, cylindrical objects called “book snakes.”  Since some of the volumes in our collections can be quite fragile, it is important to limit the stress on their bindings during use. By rolling the ends of a book futon (or futons) around book snakes, you can create an adjustable support to accommodate books of various sizes.  The goal is to arrange the futon and snakes so that the volume lies open at a safe angle, with its “boards” supported.  This minimizes the pressure on the book’s spine and hinges.  Smaller book snakes (sometimes referred to affectionately as “book worms”) may be positioned on the book to keep it open to a given page.

book in book futon cradle, with book "worms" keeping page open.

Book snakes are not only an essential tool when handling rare and fragile books; they can also prove quite handy for the average reader at home! (Think about all of the times that you’ve struggled to keep a cookbook open while following a recipe or have needed to prop a book open in order to take notes).  Fortunately, making your own book snake is a relatively easy craft project. Roberta Woodrick of KU Libraries’ Conservation Services has made a wonderful video tutorial to walk you step by step through the process.  The tutorial is based on the guidelines of Jennifer Hain Teper, Conservation Librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Enjoy!

How to Make a Book Snake, with Roberta Woodrick

Roberta Woodrick
Assistant Conservator, Conservation Services


Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian