Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Unseen Hands: Care and Preservation of KU Libraries’ Collections

July 30th, 2019

Conservation Services recently installed an exhibit in Spencer Library titled Unseen Hands: Care and Preservation of KU Libraries’ Collections. Jointly conceived by all staff members in Conservation Services–Angela Andres, Whitney Baker, Chris Bañuelos, Jacinta Johnson, and Roberta Woodrick–the exhibit highlights the work performed by our department to preserve library collections.

Wall graphic for "Unseen Hands" exhibit at Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.
Wall graphic designed by Nikki Pirch, KU Libraries’ graphic designer, featuring oversized versions of typical conservation tools. Click image to enlarge.

Staff in Conservation Services are responsible for caring for KU Libraries collections in all seven locations. In preserving our books, papers, photographs, audiovisual formats, and three-dimensional artifacts, we strive to make materials available for use by current and future library visitors.

Core functions of Conservation Services include:

  • Monitoring the environment
  • Constructing protective enclosures
  • Preparing new materials for use
  • Repairing and treating damaged items
  • Digitizing audiovisual formats
  • Constructing cradles and supports for exhibitions
  • Preparing for and responding to disasters
  • Training future preservation professionals
  • Engaging in outreach with the campus community and beyond
Examples of audio formats, University of Kansas Libraries
Three types of audio formats: 1/2″ reel to reel, microcassette, audio cassette. Click image to enlarge.

The display spans five cases, each of which focuses on a different aspect of our work: audiovisual preservation, general collections conservation, paper conservation, preservation measures, and special collections conservation. A digital slideshow and videos of recently digitized Spencer collections augment the case displays.

Before and after treatment images for RG 71_99_10, Aeo Hill scrapbook. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.
Before and after treatment of a student scrapbook created by KU student Aeo Hill in 1919-1921. Call Number: RG 71/99/10, University Archives. Click image to enlarge.
Wall graphic for "Unseen Hands" exhibit at Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.
Key to the tools in the wall graphic. Designed by Nikki Pirch, KU Libraries’ graphic designer. Click image to enlarge.

The exhibit will be on display on the third floor of Spencer Research Library until January 17, 2020. Please visit!

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services

Conservation Housing: Medieval manuscripts

July 2nd, 2019

I am in the finishing-up stages of a very enjoyable project to rehouse a group of medieval manuscripts in the Special Collections. The Abbey Dore collection (currently cataloged as MS 191, but soon to be located at MS Q80) includes fifteen parchment manuscripts from the 13th century. Some of the documents have pendant seals attached, and all were housed in a slim manuscript case in folders fitted with polyester film supports inside.

Abbey Dore manuscript with seal before rehousing. MS Q80: 14.
Abbey Dore manuscript with seal before rehousing. MS Q80: 14.

While this system allowed the manuscripts to be stored upright in folders, which is certainly convenient, it is not the ideal situation for such documents. The polyester film has sharp edges that could potentially cause damage to the seals or documents, and some of the seals are heavy or broken and in need of better support. In discussions with curators and the manuscripts processing coordinator, we decided to rehouse the manuscripts in flat enclosures. The collection will now reside in three flat archival boxes, a challenge for the stacks manager who had to find the space to put them, but all agreed that flat storage would be best for these materials.

Because these documents have information on both recto and verso, the curators desired that researchers could view both sides with minimal handling of the fragile items. I made a mock-up enclosure that we looked at together, and after some troubleshooting we devised an enclosure with two mirror-image, soft Tyvek-lined cavities. This enclosure can be gently flipped over and opened from either side to view both sides of the document. Plastazote foam bumpers protect the seals from shifting, and each enclosure will be labeled with instructions for use.

Abbey Dore manuscript with seal after rehousing (recto). MS Q80: 14.
Abbey Dore manuscript with seal after rehousing (recto). MS Q80: 14.
Abbey Dore manuscript with seal after rehousing (verso). MS Q80: 14.
Abbey Dore manuscript with seal after rehousing (verso). MS Q80: 14.

Enclosure Engineering: Housing a Japanese Triptych Woodblock Print

May 14th, 2019

This week I had the great pleasure of creating a special housing for a new acquisition, a tripartite Japanese woodblock print titled Joreishiki no zu, by the artist Adachi Ginkō. (This item is not yet fully cataloged. Its placeholder record is here; check back for full details soon.) Printed in 1889, this lovely piece depicts beautifully clothed women and girls writing, reading, and storing books, and belongs to a larger series showing fashionable women engaged in other pastimes such as sewing or arranging flowers.

Adachi Ginkō, Joreishiki no zu, 1889. Japanese triptych woodblock print.
Joreishiki no zu, a triptych woodblock print by Adachi Ginkō, 1889. Click image to enlarge.
Detail of triptych woodblock print by Adachi Ginkō, Joreishiki no zu, 1889.
Detail of center and right panels of Joreishiki no zu, a triptych woodblock print by Adachi Ginkō, 1889. Click image to enlarge.

As is often the case, this project began with a discussion between a curator – in this case, Karen Cook – and I about the anticipated use and storage needs of the item. This print is in three separate parts that may once have been joined, but we didn’t feel a particular need to unite them again at this time. This print is likely to be used in classes, which means two things: first, its enclosure needs to do double duty as both a storage container and a display, and second, its container should be compact, not taking up too much valuable space on the classroom table. I suggested a portfolio with a three-hinged lid, not unlike many tablet and mobile device sleeves, that could fold back to elevate the print for viewing. Karen agreed to this approach, so I set out to build some models and puzzle out the details of the structure.

After sketching a few ideas, I started with a tiny model made from scrap board, mainly to work out how the hinges would function. Next I built a scale model using the same materials I intended to use for the real housing. This proved to be a very valuable exercise; some features didn’t work quite as I’d expected, and I observed a couple of possible drawbacks to this design. I enlisted Collections Conservator Roberta Woodrick, who is something of a housing whiz, to offer her suggestions and we came up with a couple of small but significant modifications. Finally, I reviewed the model and modifications with Karen, and at last was ready to build the enclosure.

Enclosure models for Adachi Ginkō, Joreishiki no zu, 1889.
Enclosure models for Joreishiki no zu, a triptych woodblock print by Adachi Ginkō, 1889. Left: Tiny model and scale model (closed). Right: Scale model in the open/display position. Click image to enlarge.
Adachi Ginkō, Joreishiki no zu, 1889. Side view of Japanese triptych woodblock print in enclosure.
Completed enclosure, shown in display position, for Joreishiki no zu, a triptych woodblock print by Adachi Ginkō, 1889. Click image to enlarge.

The finished enclosure is protective, lightweight, and, I hope, will be user-friendly for Spencer staff and researchers. We make a lot of enclosures for many types of library materials here in the lab, and many of those enclosures we know by heart and can turn out quickly. This project illustrates how we can always be rethinking our practice to better serve the collections and users, and how important collaboration is to conservation work.

Finished enclosure for Adachi Ginkō, Joreishiki no zu, 1889.
Completed enclosure, shown closed, for Joreishiki no zu, a triptych woodblock print by Adachi Ginkō, 1889. Click image to enlarge.

Angela M. Andres
Assistant Conservator for Special Collections

Meet the KSRL Staff: Jacinta Johnson

April 23rd, 2019

This is the fourteenth installment in a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features Jacinta Johnson, who joined us in January 2019. Jacinta is the Associate Paper Conservator, Mellon Initiative, and splits her time between the Kenneth Spencer Research Library and the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art. Welcome, Jacinta!

Jacinta Johnson is our new Associate Paper Conservator, Mellon Initiative.
Jacinta Johnson, Associate Conservator, Mellon Initiative.

Where are you from?

I grew up in the Puget Sound area of Washington State, but have lived in many other cities throughout the Pacific Northwest, California, and the East Coast.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I joined KU Libraries’ Conservation Services Department in late January as the Associate Conservator for a three-year initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, aimed at bridging the conservation efforts of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library and the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art. I specialize in paper conservation and split my time between the library and the museum, working with staff at each site to prioritize conservation projects with common goals.

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

The collection of prints and drawings by Mary Huntoon (1896-1970). Huntoon was born in Topeka, KS and grew up knowing she wanted to be an artist. She studied at The Art Students’ League in New York and lived in Paris for five years. She returned to Kansas in 1930 and later became the state’s first art therapist. Her work, which is mostly portraiture and landscapes, depicts important people in her life and all the different places she lived and the places where she travelled. The collection contains several preparatory drawings for prints and artist’s proofs that illustrate her careful working process.

What part of your job do you like best?

The opportunity to interact closely with collections. I enjoy finding clues about the artistic process, techniques, and materials.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I enjoy exploring cities by bike, fumbling through knitting projects, and trying out new recipes.

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

Be sure to utilize all the great help and guidance the staff can offer, and don’t forget to visit the current exhibition!

Jacinta Johnson
Associate Paper Conservator, Mellon Initiative

Expanded and Renovated Audiovisual Preservation Labs at Kenneth Spencer Research Library

March 26th, 2019

2018 was an eventful year at Kenneth Spencer Research Library. In addition to the celebration of the building’s 50th anniversary, the Conservation Services department relocated from Watson Library into a newly constructed lab space on the second floor of Spencer. The dedicated space built for Conservation Services allowed the Audiovisual (AV) branch of the team to expand its operations within Spencer by moving into spaces formerly used by Conservation. By expanding the AV footprint within the building, we would be able to add equipment to create a film inspection/video digitization lab separate from the current audio digitization lab (which previously doubled as the film and video lab). Over the course of approximately three months, beginning in September 2018, several meetings took place between Conservation Services staff, the KU architect and KU Facilities to determine how the rooms needed to be adapted for their new uses, as well as what equipment belonged where.

Audio Preservation Lab in Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation.
The Audio Preservation Lab in Kenneth Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation. Click image to enlarge.
Audio Preservation Lab in Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation.

Another view of the Audio Preservation Lab in Kenneth Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation. Click image to enlarge.

In the audio digitization lab in particular, several changes occurred that completely changed the look of the work space. The room was painted in the building’s original “Spencer Green” hue, and carpeted with its original 1970’s carpet. Ultimately, we all decided that the carpet and paint job had to go, and that new lighting was necessary. Furthermore, we had to decide where the best locations for power outlets would be, and the land-line telephone connections had to be de-commissioned.

In order to replace the carpet and re-paint the room, every single shelf, table and piece of electronic equipment in the room had to be temporarily disassembled and moved to a storage location. My team of student workers and I devised a strategy of labeling all of the cords and ports on our pieces of equipment so that disassembly and re-assembly would go quickly. Once everything was removed from the Audio Lab, Facilities came in and ripped out the carpet. At this time, the electricians started replacing all of the lighting fixtures in both the Audio and Video Labs. They also installed dimmer switches, allowing us to control the levels of light we need depending on the day’s workflow.

Video Preservation Lab in Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation.

The Film and Video Preservation Lab in Kenneth Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation. Click image to enlarge.
Video Preservation Lab in Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation.

Alternate view of the Film and Video Preservation Lab in Kenneth Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation. Click image to enlarge.

In the Video Lab, the renovations to the light fixtures included breaking out the light switches to allow for independent control of lights in the front of the room as well as the back. Additionally, several new electrical outlets were installed in the ceiling and along the north wall of the room. Shelving was removed to allow us to bring in a Steenbeck flatbed motion picture film editing machine. My team and I then set up two film inspection stations and have begun to acquire video digitization and playback equipment.

For the Audio Lab, we chose new paint colors, including for an accent wall, which I think is a really nice bit of the renovation. We also installed new tile flooring, which is ideal for an audiovisual lab such as ours. The tile can be kept much cleaner than carpet, reducing the amount of particulate matter in the lab environment which could be harmful to sensitive media collections. Finally, once the shelving was re-attached to the walls, we were able to quickly re-populate the lab thanks to our labeling strategy.

The renovated Audio Preservation Lab at Spencer Research Library.
The renovated Audio Preservation Lab, complete with new tile floor, accent wall, and enhanced lighting. Click image to enlarge.
The renovated Video Preservation Lab in Spencer Research Library.

The renovation of the Film and Video Preservation Lab is nearing completion. New features include enhanced lighting and additional electric outlets. Click image to enlarge.

At this time, the Audio Lab is completely set up and our digitization efforts have re-commenced, and our film inspection stations, including the Steenbeck, are fully operational. The video component of the Film/Video Lab is still under construction; most of the necessary video elements have been purchased and are being built out. I am grateful for the support from KU and the Libraries for this project, which has allowed us to create updated lab spaces to the specifications I requested, and to purchase the equipment my team needs to perform archival quality work on Spencer Library’s audiovisual collections. The enthusiasm of my student workers should also be noted as I truly would not have been able to envision the working conditions within the new work spaces without them. The renovated lab spaces heavily influence and are heavily influenced by the work that the students do on a day-to-day basis and I cannot stress enough how important they are to the digitization and organization efforts we undertake in the department.

Chris Bañuelos
Audiovisual Preservation Specialist
Conservation Services