Conservation Since 2000

Conservation Since 2000

Valinda Carroll (Hampton University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8624-3.ch020
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This chapter describes changes in conservation practices in the twenty-first century. As public spaces were repurposed from storage to study and work space, collections were moved into dedicated spaces that could sustain tighter environmental controls than an open stack environment. Digital access relieved pressure on print collections in many libraries, while digitization projects required intervention by conservators. Rehousing replaced repair as a default preservation strategy for many materials, and improved housing materials played an increasingly important role in conservation. In this chapter, conservation for disaster recovery is examined from the perspective of short-term in situ response techniques, and longer term laboratory treatments to restore access to affected collections. Surveys have suggested that routine practices have evolved slowly since 2000. With an emphasis on novel and unique techniques in the peer-reviewed literature, many important questions about routine conservation procedures in disaster recovery have remained unanswered.
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The 1966 flood of Florence’s Arno River is widely credited with creating the modern field of library conservation. Certainly, there was a previous generation of art conservators, some of whom served as “Monuments Men” during World War II, and founded many of today’s professional organizations and training programs for art and artifact conservation (Edsel, 2013, 2014). However, the response to the Florence Flood galvanized the library conservation community in an era when the systematic preservation of artifacts was just beginning to take precedence over restoration and craft traditions.

Early conservation efforts tended to focus exclusively on rare materials, leaving most library materials in book mending programs that did not adhere to standards for preservation. In 1990, the Research Library Group articulated a strategy for collections conservation as part of a general preservation program. Collections conservation was driven by use or circulation and condition (Merrill-Oldham & Schrock, 2000). Discussions about the state of library conservation in the 1990’s addressed the trend toward rehousing as a substitute for invasive treatment and the tension between reformatting and “the book as artifact” (Fredericks, 1992). In 1992, the Library Collections Conservation Discussion Group of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) began to expand the discussion of processes and techniques for circulating and non-rare materials with a collections approach, rather than the single-item method typically presented at AIC meetings. The focus of the collections approach was to establish protocols and specifications to allow a library to sort items into batches, based on the pre-defined parameters for a finite range of treatments (Grandinette & Silverman, 1994). The principal role for the conservator in such a conservation program was to set standards and to provide guidelines for their application.

In recent years, there has been a growing appreciation of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century cloth cased bindings. Most public libraries had already weeded these books on account of their age, yet many of them have remained in academic libraries. Unfortunately, research libraries frequently categorized these books as non-rare, so many of them had been rebound as part of standard collection maintenance (Silverman, 2007). To ameliorate this problem, research libraries have created new workflows for rehousing or transfer to off-site storage for this group of “medium-rare books” (Baker and McCarthy, 2006).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Rehousing: Preserving an item by using a container that provides structural support, counteracts acidic gases, and/or moderates climate fluctuations.

Microclimate: The local environment inside a room, vault, exhibit case or storage box, as it differs from its surroundings; microclimate frames can protect vulnerable parchment documents from fluctuating relative humidity levels.

Chromophore: A colored compound or the color-making functional groups on a compound.

Consolidant: An adhesive or binder added to halt the loss of flaking or friable media.

Reducing Agent: Part of an oxidation-reduction reaction, this chemical gives up electrons to another reagent; a reducing agent may convert an acid to a pH-neutral alcohol or a chromophore to a colorless compound.

Iron Gall Ink: A traditional ink made from oak galls and iron sulfate (vitriol), resulting in residual sulfuric acid and unstable iron(II); treatments are aimed at removing excess iron, converting iron(II) to stable iron(III), and neutralizing acids.

Anoxic: Free from oxygen gas, an environment usually created by purging a storage page or exhibit case with nitrogen, argon, or carbon dioxide; oxygen-absorbers may create anoxia on a small scale inside a sealed framing package.

Oxidizing Agent: Part of an oxidation-reduction reaction, this chemical receives electrons from a reducing agent.

Gampi: A long-fibered paper made from bast fibers found in the inner bark of a Japanese shrub; usually shorter-fibered and glossier than mulberry bark bast fiber paper.

Chelating Agent: Chemical that preferentially binds metal ions; these are often weak acids, so conservation treatment includes thorough removal or neutralization of chelating agents after use.

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