Preservation: Book and Paper Conservation Laboratory

Planning to Constructing a Book and Paper Conservation Laboratory?

A wonderful example of a conservation laboratory which opened after a long process of several years of planning and construction, is the Brooklyn College Library’s lab. They were lucky in receiving a Comprehensive Community Action Program grant for the creation of the lab, it was much needed for constructing a space devoted to the effective conservation and protection of rare and special materials in the library.  Slava Polishchuk, conservator at Brooklyn College since 1990, oversaw this state-of-the-art facility.

In 2002, the Preservation unit at the Special Collections was established at Brooklyn College which is the only CUNY institution to have both a conservator and a conservation laboratory.

It was in 2005 that Special Collections of The Brooklyn College Library received its grant of $300,000 to expand and build a Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory, completed with additional conservation equipment by the end of 2008.

The Preservation Laboratory is responsible for the care of all paper-based materials in the Special Collections, including books, maps, manuscripts, posters, photographs, personal letters and documents.

Conservation activities include dry-cleaning, washing, deacidification, mending, rebinding, pamphlet binding, encapsulation, paper repair, construction of protective enclosures, including several types of boxes, and tape removal. The Conservation and Preservation Laboratory monitors the temperature and relative humidity in the Special Collections and throughout the library.

Conservation Lab Opening

New Conservation Lab Saves Printed Matter

“The addition of the Conservation Lab will contribute to the preservation of the library’s precious holdings and benefit students as well as faculty.”
Polishchuk shows Mylar-preserved book pages to Professor Irwin Weintraub of the Library (center) and Provost Tramontano.

Polishchuk restores bindings and covers of books—some of which are four-hundred-year-old—to resemble their original form and creates slipcases for fragile, fine, or fantastic volumes. With a custom-designed space, at least five times as large as his former atelier, he will be able to work on more projects at a time—not only books, but photographs, maps, and posters, which can be washed clean in a bathtub-size sink and dried on special racks. If books cannot be saved, Polishchuk seals their pages in Mylar. “You lose the book as an object,” he said, “but the information is still accessible.”

Polishchuk with former NYS Assemblywoman Adele Cohen. An additional, if immaterial, way to preserve records, is now feasible. With the recent donation of a huge adjustable bed scanner, the lab can image photographs or books of any size. Soon a selection of the collections will be online. Since the material may not be removed from the library, Internet access will benefit scholars everywhere. “It will democratize the archive,” said archivist Marianne LaBatto.

To leave a legacy, the lab will do more than repair the collection. “The Conservation Lab will afford the opportunity to offer students enrolled in our interdisciplinary Archival Studies and Community Documentation (ASCD) minor a comprehensive course, cum workshop, in book and paper conservation”.

“Generally, such a concentration is available only to graduate students seeking library master’s degrees or certificates in archival management, but this is the first to offer this specialized course of study to undergraduates.”

There is a short guide available giving some advise on Planning and Constructing Book and Paper Conservation Laboratories, which is edited by Jennifer Hain Teper and Eric Alstrom.

The first book of its kind to be written on this topic with contributions from thirteen conservation professionals.

Overall, this book contains practical and technical advice for establishing, remodeling and updating book and paper conservation labs. Although the book is targeted to institutional book conservators, many of the chapters—especially Design and Layout, Water Purification, Lighting,  Ventilation and Exhaust, Ergonomic Considerations for Equipment, and Considerations for Private Book Labs—are likely to be of use to private practice book conservators and bookbinders.

Chapter ten specifically deals with the challenges of smaller or private practices, and includes many practical tips on evaluating and procuring used tools and equipment. It also discusses the pros and cons of industrial, store-front and home-based labs. It tends to view private practice labs as more personal than institutional ones, but they should present a professional image to the public which reinforces the ethical, conscientious conservation services performed within them. Additionally, it offer advice for fitting a fully outfitted lab into a small space. Much of the information in the chapter can be applied to book conservation labs and binderies.

Contents: (chapters 1 and 7 are available free)

  1. Project Management for the Construction of Conservation Laboratories- Donia Conn
  2. Design and Layout- Eric Alstrom
  3. Special Collections, General Collections, and Hybrid Conservation Laboratories-Whitney Baker
  4. Water Purification and Treatment- Jennifer Hain Teper
  5. Lighting- Diane Vogt-O’Connor
  6. Laboratory Ventilation and Exhaust Systems- Laura McCann and Kristen St. John
  7. Custom-Built Furniture and Equipment- Shannon Zachary and Gillian Boal
  8. Ergonomic Considerations for Furniture and Equipment- Heather S. Caldwell
  9. Quarantine and Segregation Rooms- Ramona Duncan-Huse
  10. Special Considerations for Private Book Conservation Laboratories- Jeffrey S. Peachey
  11. Special Considerations for Paper Conservation Laboratories- Claire Hoevel

This book can be purchased from the American Library Association store.

Planning and Constructing Book and Paper Conservation Labs, Edited by Jennifer Hain Teper and Eric Alstrom. 230 pp, Published by ALCTS, 6 x 9″, Softcover, ISBN-13: 978-0-8389-8601-1, $67.95, 2012.


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