The University of Kansas

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.

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 Рincluding title and date Рwere 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

On a Roll

May 30th, 2013

We receive many rolled posters, maps, photographs, and other paper items in the conservation lab. Oftentimes the cataloger or processor hasn’t been able to open the item to determine what it is. For most of these items, humidification and flattenting is the standard treatment.

Image of a rolled photograph

Image of a rolled photograph before dehumidification.

High humidity environments can be deleterious to paper if not closely monitored. However, sometimes we use humidity to our advantage: to relax rolled paper in order to flatten it. I often use the sink in the conservation lab to create a humidity chamber. On the bottom is the water. We use rubber stoppers with a layer of plastic eggcrate sheeting to make a platform above the water level. On top of that is a blotter paper to protect the collection item from the grid of the eggrate. The rolled item is placed on the blotter and the lid is put on the chamber.

Image of make-shift humidity chamber in the sink.

Humidity chamber created in a sink.

I closely watch the rolled item to determine when I might begin to gently unroll it or when it’s ready to come out of the chamber. Especially for photographs, this step has to be done with utmost care.

Image of unrolling a humidified photograph.

Unrolling a humidified photograph.

Once it is completely unrolled or very relaxed, I remove the item from the chamber and press it between blotters and a spun polyester cloth called Hollytex, with a Plexiglas sheet and weight on top.

Image of photograph after humidification treatment

Finished photograph after humidification treatment.

Sometimes items aren’t 100% flat after treatment. In this case, the photograph is flat enough for a patron to use it, without overstressing the layers comprising the photograph.

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services