Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Working as a Team to Make Collections Accessible

February 11th, 2020

Lynn Ward, Processing Archivist:

When new collections, or additions to existing collections, are accessioned into the Spencer Research Library, I arrange and describe the material so that researchers can access them.  More often than not, when I begin to look through the unprocessed boxes, I find some interesting surprises.

The Frowe and Lathrop families collection recently received a donation of many additional boxes of correspondence, photographs, diaries, slides, documents, and other material. This collection comprises several generations of the Frowe and Lathrop families from the 1840s to 2016, many of whom lived primarily in Kansas.

Addition to Frowe and Lathrop Families Records prior to processing.
The collection addition was received in multiple boxes. A photograph of Eva Lathrop can be seen on top of one of the boxes. Frowe and Lathrop Families Records. Kansas Collection. RH MS 1510. Click image to enlarge.

One of the interesting items that I found while going through the unprocessed boxes was a red satin Valentine box. When I opened the candy box, underneath cherished cards and invitations, I found an inscription on the bottom written by Eva Lathrop, “Feb[ruary] 14, 1924/ Fred had my diamond ring in this box of chocolates and presented it to me. The ring box was wrapped in the foil off of one of the pieces of candy.” She accepted A. G. (Fred) Phillips’ proposal, and they were married several months later. Spencer Research Library doesn’t always keep objects unless they have a good story to tell, which this candy box does. Kaitlin McGrath, a student in the conservation department working with Collections Conservator Roberta Woodrick, created a special box to house the Valentine box. 

Valentine candy box with inscription.
The Phillips’ valentine candy box with a ‘sweet’ story! Frowe and Lathrop Families Records. Kansas Collection. RH MS 1510, box 14. Click image to enlarge.

One of the most interesting sets of finds in this collection were very early family photographs inside hinged cases, dated from the 1850s-1870s.  There are over 20 daguerreotypes, tintypes, and ambrotypes of identified or partially identified men, women, and children related to the Frowe and Lathrop families. Some of the small, ornately-decorated cases appear to be made out of gutta purcha or vulcanite—common plant-based materials used in this time period. Normally, print photographs are put into acid-free folders and a document case. However, these fragile, bulky photographs in their cases needed special consideration for housing and accessibility.  

Valentine poem in a photograph case.
The interior of a photograph case containing a Valentine poem clipped from a newspaper. Frowe and Lathrop Families Records. Kansas Collection. RH MS-P 1510(f), box 1. Click image to enlarge.
Exterior of a photograph case containing a Valentine poem.
Exterior of a photograph case containing a Valentine poem. The case is possibly made out of gutta purcha or vulcanite. Frowe and Lathrop Families Records. Kansas Collection. RH MS-P 1510(f), box 1. Click image to enlarge.

Angela Andres, Special Collections Conservator: 

Most of the cased photographs that Spencer already holds are individual items within their collections, so they are housed individually in custom enclosures. The size of this group makes that approach impractical; it would be time-consuming to make so many special enclosures from scratch, and they would take up a lot of shelf space, which is always a consideration when housing our collections. Housing this group of photographs together also made sense from an access perspective; a single container is easier for staff to retrieve and for researchers to view than twenty-some separate containers.

I estimated that I could fit all of the photographs into one standard size flat archival box, provided I could safely arrange them in two layers. Lynn sorted the photographs by family groups into two sets, and then set about devising a lightweight but protective structure for the interior of the box. I created two trays from layers of archival corrugated cardboard, with cavities cut to fit each of the cased photographs. Each cavity is lined with soft Tyvek® fabric to prevent abrasion of the cases, and cases with loose covers are tied with cotton tape to prevent shifting. I attached strips of archival foam around the edges of the lower tray to support the upper tray, and added handles of linen tape to the upper tray for easy removal.

Upper tray of housing for cased photographs from the Frowe and Lathrop Families Records.
The upper tray of the photograph housing, with handles for lifting the tray out. Frowe and Lathrop Families Records. Kansas Collection. RH MS-P 1510(f), box 1. Click image to enlarge.
Lower tray of housing for cased photographs from the Frowe and Lathrop Families Records.
The lower tray of the photograph housing, with foam bumpers to support the upper tray. Frowe and Lathrop Families Records. Kansas Collection. RH MS-P 1510(f), box 1. Click image to enlarge.

Lynn Ward, Processing Archivist:

After the cases returned from conservation in their special box, I needed to come up with a way to describe the cased photographs. Normally for a print photograph, the description would be connected to the folder in which the photograph is housed. Since these cased photographs were arranged in layers in their special box, I decided to describe them by layer and by rows within each layer. Each photograph in its case was described with its location in the box, as well as the identification, or partial identification of the individual(s) when known.   

The Frowe and Lathrop families collection finding aid can be accessed online. For more information on how to access these materials, see our website: https://spencer.lib.ku.edu/using-the-library/use-collections.

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.

Angela M. Andres
Assistant Conservator for Special Collections

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

Button Collection Proves Hot Button Issues Can Be On the Button. Literally.

June 12th, 2017

One of the coolest collections in Spencer is the Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements. Established in 1965, the collection features materials in line with US left- and right-wing political literature from about 1960 to the present. Over the years, around 400 pinback buttons have been accessioned to the Wilcox Collection. This spring, I was tasked with housing these buttons for reasons of accessibility and preservation.

Wilcox button. Call number RH WL BT 40. Spencer Research Library.

Figure 1. Many of the buttons concerned AIDS awareness. This button also shows how many of the buttons used multiple types of materials when constructed. “Every Penny Counts. AIDS Emergency Fund,” RH WL BT 40. Click image to enlarge.

Following a housing method for buttons used previously at Spencer, I divided the buttons into two different groups based on size: one for buttons under two inches in diameter and one for buttons 2 to <4 inches in diameter. This was to accommodate the two sizes of polyethylene bags the buttons would be housed in.

Wilcox button. Call number RH WL BT 73. Spencer Research Library.

Figure 2. While many of the buttons were standard sizes, others sat on the extremes. This one is half an inch in diameter; the largest was almost 5 inches. “Let’s End Discrimination,” RH WL BT 73.

With the buttons divided, I cut the appropriate number of backings for each group out of 20-point board using our guillotine and boardshear, so they could fit in the 2” x 3” and 4” x 6” polyethylene bags. These could have also been easily cut with a scalpel or scissors, but due to the volume needed, I opted for the more industrial equipment. The backings served two purposes: to give rigidity to each individual button’s housings and to provide a place to write the call number for each button.

Wilcox button. Call number RH WL BT 62. Spencer Research Library.

Figure 3. “Capitalism Fouls Things Up. Vote S.W.P. [Socialist Workers Party] 1970,” RH WL BT 62.

Once all of the materials were prepped, each button was assigned a call number that was placed on the 20-point board backing. For the sake of efficiency and clarity, I made a stamp with the common portions of the call number and then handwrote the unique portions. The backing was then placed in the appropriate size bag, followed by the corresponding button. Once housed, the smaller buttons were put in the lids and trays of slide boxes and the larger buttons were put in cassette tape boxes. The slide boxes were then placed in a large artifact box to keep them together.

Wilcox buttons in housing Call number RH WL BT. Spencer Research Library.

Figure 4. Smaller buttons were placed in slide boxes like this in call number order. Each box fit about 30-40 buttons.

While this is not a complicated treatment, it makes the buttons easier to access and keeps them from touching each other so they do not have any negative effects on each other.

Wilcox button. Call number RH WL BT 127. Spencer Research Library.

Figure 5. Some buttons were sillier than others. “Ban Buttons,” RH WL BT 127.

In addition to the physical housing, I created an extensive digital database noting information such as the call number, subject matter, date, and bibliographic record number for items already cataloged. This makes it easy for us to find individual buttons and compare buttons across the same subject matter.

Creating the digital database also required some research. Approximately a quarter of the buttons were not previously cataloged, so many of the pieces of information identified in the database were not known. While some gave more information than others, for many the context was not readily apparent. For several of these stumpers, I was able to use information published online from similar collections, like the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan. In several instances, I would not have been able to determine if a button belonged in the collection without the help of other institutions like Spencer.

Jocelyn Wilkinson
2017 KU Graduate in Museum Studies
Museum Studies Conservation Intern, Conservation Services

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Box

December 21st, 2015

Enclosures play a very important role in the preservation of library collections by protecting fragile items from dust and fluctuations in environmental conditions, and by enabling safe and easy handling of heavy, oversized, or awkward objects. Whenever possible, standard-sized prefabricated archival enclosures are used; shelving like containers with like makes efficient use of shelf space and contributes to ease of access and retrieval. However, in all libraries and archives, especially a large academic library with very diverse collections, there are always exceptional items that do not fit into standard enclosures, and that is where we in Conservation Services are called upon to create custom-made housings.

Recently, two very large items in need of improved housings came to our attention. The first is an undated (likely 19th century) Japanese map mounted on a scroll. The primary support – the paper on which the map is drawn – is cracked in many places and is too fragile to withstand being rolled and unrolled, so the scroll must be stored flat. It had been stored in a folder inside a map case drawer, but this situation was problematic: the rods at either end of the scroll created an uneven surface and placed pressure on other objects stored in the drawer, the folder holding the scroll was not strong enough to support its unevenly distributed weight, and the folder could not be easily handled by just one person.

To create a more stable and user-friendly housing for the scroll, I started with a basic, easily customizable template for an archival corrugated clamshell box, or what we often refer to as a “pizza box.” A pizza box is cut and folded from a single piece of board; in this case, I had to use 4 foot by 6 foot sheet of board! After I measured, cut out, and folded up the box, I allowed it to sit overnight surrounded by weights to help set the box walls at a nice right angle.

Housing for mounted scroll

Top: The box after cutting out – nearly 5 feet wide and looking very much like an actual pizza box.
Bottom: Setting the assembled box overnight. Click images to enlarge

The next step was to modify the interior of the box with something that would support the fragile scroll and accommodate the bulky rods at its ends. Using archival foam sheets, I fitted out the tray of the box with channels at either end that the rods can sink into, allowing the fragile surface of the scroll to lie flat. This box achieves a goal I always have in mind when creating housings for fragile objects: it allows the object to be viewed unobstructed without having to be handled, reducing stress on the object without significantly diminishing the user’s experience of it.

Housing for mounted scroll             Housing for mounted scroll

Left: Foam inserts, affixed to the box with hot melt glue. Right: The scroll in its completed housing. Call number Orbis Maps 2:204. Click images to enlarge

The second oversize item is an 18th century map printed by Giovanni Battista Piranesi; the map is beautifully printed on several sheets of heavy paper attached to one another to form a very large single sheet – nearly 3 feet wide and over 4 feet long. At 53 inches, the map is too large to fit into the largest map cases (48 inches wide) in the special collections stacks, so a place will be found for it among the oversized flat shelving, where it will need a custom enclosure to protect it.

This housing is another modification of two basic enclosures – a portfolio and a four-flap wrapper – and again uses that extra-large 4 x 6 foot archival corrugated board. To begin, I pieced together sheets of 20 point board to form a simple (though giant-sized) four-flap wrapper for the print. I then built a corrugated portfolio into which the four-flap is adhered. The portfolio has a cloth spine for durability and four woven tie closures.

Open portfolio for oversized item   Open portfolio for oversized item

The portfolio with inner four-flap closed (left) and opened (right). Call number N23. Click images to enlarge.

Completed portfolio for oversized item

The completed portfolio. Click image to enlarge.

When making any custom enclosure, especially oversize ones, it’s important to consider how the housing will perform in all the stages of an item’s use, not only in storage but during retrieval as well. To ensure that this portfolio can be easily transported by a single person, I added a fabric handle to the front cover; despite its bulk, the portfolio is quite light and can be held comfortably at one’s side, leaving the other hand free to open doors and such.

Constructing custom enclosures is one of my favorite conservation problem-solving challenges. I enjoy pulling together and re-imagining elements of basic enclosure designs to devise just the right housing for every object that crosses my bench.

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services