Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My intern report

Recently, I posted the reflections of Cyndy my summer book repair intern. What follows is my own reflections on leading an internship.

Leading an internship has been the most rewarding experience of my career. I’ve done a lot of different things in my library work. I’ve dressed up as the Cat in the Hat (twice), I’ve travelled the state visiting interesting collections and cataloging their newspapers, I’ve taught workshops and library school courses, but leading an internship has been the most satisfying experience. I also think it has been the most effective educational experience I’ve participated in.

The two internships I’ve lead have been focused around learning and practicing skills. With Jolien, my first intern we worked on paper conservation, and with Cyndy, book repair. The interns came in with some theoretical knowledge, but very little hands-on experience. My goal was to provide them an experience of progressive learning and plenty of opportunities to practice, practice, and practice again.

Cyndy starting to sew a text block.
Cyndy contacted me this spring and expressed a desire to do an internship. The first thing that came to mind was a conservation internship and that felt like it would require more of me than I was able to offer. Then it occurred to me that what I really needed help with was repairing general collection materials, and that, coming in with no experience, what I thought Cyndy really needed to learn was good basic book repair, so I offered her an internship in basic book repair. 

I was glad for the chance to lead a book repair internship because I think there is a need for good basic repair skills and it would give me the opportunity to lead an intern in doing a common treatment over and over again. I think this repetition is important.

As Cyndy mentioned in her report, I took note early that she was a quilter. I saw this as a good sign. Jolien had previous experience making jewelry. Both of them had plenty of experience consciously and concisely manipulating physical materials. I’ve taught classes to people who had virtually no crafting experience, and it sometimes showed with clumsy, klutzy work. Both interns showed a quick and natural ability to explore and understand the tools and materials they worked with.

Nothing helps me understand my craft like teaching it to someone else. One of my best learning experiences for me was after I had completed a repair technique that Cyndy had done several times she looked at my repaired book and asked “Why does yours look better than mine?” I’ve been repairing books for around 15 years, I should hope mine looks better than a novice, but understanding why it looks better means I need to go back and pay attention to the details of what I am doing. I repair books with my hands and my eyes; my brain’s involvement tends to be more subconscious. Being asked why my repairs are more successful meant I had to step back and understand and explain what it was I was doing, and then observe more closely what she was doing. 

I think a key to the success of Cyndy’s training was repetition. She did a few techniques over and over again. This is the kind of important learning experience that can’t happen in workshops or university courses. The great thing about repetition in book repair is you eventually learn it’s not really repetition as you notice that every book presents nuanced differences from every other book you’ve worked on.  One other thing repetition helps build is confidence. Both Jolien and Cyndy initially approached the items or techniques I ask them to carry-out with some trepidation – which is appropriate – but is also not conducive to good work. Repetition builds up confidence and with that the work flows better and is cleaner.
Jolien working on paper mending.

Once the intern has developed some skill and confidence I’ll naturally give them more freedom in making decisions and carrying out treatments. I am quite content to stand back and watch an intern struggle and even fail (I’ll not let irreparable harm come to our materials but I may let them do something which I must later undo.) My reason for doing this is not because I’m cruel, but because I know that struggling and failure can teach much more than if I were to quickly swoop in and show them the correct way to do it. 

Similarly, upon completion of many of her repairs, I would ask Cyndy to look over her work and tell me what she thinks worked about the repair, what didn’t, and what she might do differently next time.
With both internships, the times working together were often filled with discussion about the broader preservation world talking about such things as preferred vendors, professional organizations, interesting people, books, and other resources, and other library and non-library topics. While I’ve been fortunate to have very engaging interns who have been wonderful to visit with, I also see this banter as helping the intern become aware of how the work they are doing now fits into the larger library preservation world.

I certainly hope to have more interns in the future, and I encourage others to be open to take on an intern. It can be a truly rewarding experience for all involved.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

On being a professional

I made one of the most challenging decisions of my professional career this week.

I was contacted by a nice library director at a nice university in a nice town and she personally invited me to apply for a very nice position. The position would be the perfect next step in my professional career. It is a position for which I am experienced enough to qualify for, but which offers enough new challenges to keep the work engaging. It is a small, but established preservation program.

After much consideration and hand wringing I said no.

The time spent pondering the decision, and the subsequent time spent second-guessing myself has led me to ponder my relationship to the library preservation profession and to the idea of being a professional. The whole work/life thing can be a difficult balancing act and there are parts of my non-work life that I highly value. My primary reasons for saying no to considering the position were economic (the prospect of trying to sell a home in a dismal housing market) and location (moving even further away from family and other associations that I value.) But I do sometimes regret that I am not more actively part of my profession and it seems like getting into an established preservation program in the academic world would have been a good step deeper into my profession.

I don’t mean to imply that in my current situation I and my employer are in the backwaters. But the facts are I work at a government, not academic library which leaves me out of some of those networks, the library had no conservation program before me, my conservation responsibilities account for less than 50% of my position description, and my employer provides very little in the way of professional support (this is mostly a budget and bureaucracy-caused situation and the library administration is increasing their effort to support whatever professional development they can.)

I’m not sure exactly what I think being a professional in the library preservation world looks like. And I know that I’m not alone in struggling with balancing the values of work and life. But I know that saying no to opportunities like this position hinders

To compensate for saying no to one professional opportunity, I decided I needed to say yes to some other professional activity, so I decided the least I could do is join and participate in a professional organization. So I joined ALA/ALCTS/PARS and committed myself to at least attend the next ALA conference. Paying dues to an organization and attending their conference is perhaps not the most creative or proactive way to participate in a profession, but it’s a start. I’ve had few opportunities to spend much time with others in the profession, and I’m really looking forward to the chance to buy Beth Doyle lunch. (Because that’s what professionals do, right?)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Repair Internship Report

I had the great pleasure of having Cyndy as a book repair intern this summer. She has now provided me with the following report of her internship which, with her permission, I am sharing. The aspect of the internship and her report that I particularly appreciate is how keenly focused it is on developing skills in good basic book repair. I enjoyed this experience of spending an extended amount of time working with someone to develop foundational skills. I hope to write my reflections on this internship shortly.

Library of Michigan, Conservation Department Internship
June 1, 2011 – August 26, 2011
Intern: Cynthia Carollo
Supervisor: Kevin Driedger

Introduction & Background
This is a report on the internship I completed at the Library of Michigan during the 2011 summer semester (June – August), under the supervision of Kevin Driedger, Librarian & Conservator. The internship came about after an inquiry I made of Kevin during the Spring 2011 semester while taking a course at Clarion University titled LS 588 Preservation & Conservation of Library Materials. During my research for this course, I developed an interest in the techniques used to repair and preserve books and other library materials and decided that I wanted to do more independent research in this area of librarianship.

I visited the Library of Michigan and toured the facility with Kevin, including a visit to his work area, where I was able to see first hand the type of work done by a conservator. After this visit, I wrote to Kevin for an internship and after a few pleading emails, Kevin relented and agreed to take me on as an intern for the summer. I suspect my background in crafts and quilting may have been an influencing factor.

My experience with Kevin at the Library of Michigan not only exposed me to the tools and methods used to repair and restore library materials but I also learned a great deal about the decision making process when determining what techniques to use and when a repair might not be the best choice for a certain item.

This internship lasted long enough to allow me to learn and practice my skills with enough repetition that I feel fairly confident in my ability to do even complex repairs or restorations. In addition to the repairs in which I actually participated, I was also able to observe Kevin making repairs to rare materials using Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste, creating pamphlet folders, sewing plat books into protective covers, and doing some creative repairs to very old and extensively damaged books.

Tools & Materials
After an initial tour of the library and introductions to all of the library staff, we began with an introduction to book repair. Kevin introduced me to the tools I would use for my work and we talked about how each of the tools were used and for what jobs. I was provided with a toolbox that contained many items that I was already familiar with through my use of them in crafts such as card making, quilting, and sewing.

The following is a list of the items in my toolbox and at my workspace:
Bone folder, Small & large scissors, Small spatula, Tweezers, Craft knife, Knitting needle, Various size paint brushes, Container for water, Glass container of PVA Adhesive w/lid, , “Pink Ties,” Metal Ruler Paper, binder clips, Erasers, Sand paper, Pencil, Self healing cutting mat.

Tools I borrowed from Kevin’s tool collection:
Large spatula, rotary cutter, measuring tape, Ace bandage, sewing thread – linen, sewing needles, tacking iron, scalpel, water pen

Additional Tools & Equipment:
Scrap paper, wax paper, blotter paper, Reemay (spun polyester release cloth), presses, large paper cutter, large clamp, Formica covered boards, weights, glass work surface.

General Supplies:
Pre-cut end sheets, starched fabric on a roll, document repair tape, starched or paper backed fabric, various weights of paper for spine liners, Japanese papers of various weights and colors, PVA (polyvinyl acetate), methyl cellulose, and wheat starch paste.

With each repair I worked on, and eventually did myself, I learned how to use these tools, the equipment, and the supplies appropriately, although not without a bit of fumbling at first. It helped to have Kevin demonstrate how he accomplished a certain type of repair or used a specific tool, however, the most helpful method of learning came from watching Kevin use the tools and techniques in the course of his own work. Repeated observation coupled with demonstration and my own attempt to apply the techniques seemed to be the most effective method of learning.

The Decision Making Process
The library items that made their way to the work area for repair were selected by other librarians who had the responsibility for those collections. Sometimes the books or other materials would come with a note requesting the type of repair. It was obvious that the some of the librarians leaving notes did not fully understand the repair process. An example might be a note to reattach a spine, when the book was falling out of the case and the signatures (oh yes, I learned terminology….) were literally dangling by a thread.
Making a decision about what to do with a book or other items that arrived at the repair table required knowing which collection the item belonged to. The collections at the Library of Michigan include general materials (fiction and nonfiction), Federal Documents, the Rare Collection, the Michigan Collection including books by Michigan authors or books about Michigan, the Genealogy Collections, and the Law Collection. There are also many maps, newspapers, and microfiche collections.

An item from the Rare Collection is always repaired using the most detailed and advanced techniques because these materials are considered intrinsically valuable and have historic and often informational value as well. The Federal Documents must be maintained in a usable condition because The Library of Michigan is a Federal Documents Depository. The Michigan Collection is an important and central collection at the library because this is the state library. The Genealogy Collection is a high usage collection and must be available to researchers. The Law Collection is important for the Legislative and government employees throughout the state of Michigan as well as being a legal resource for the public.

Once the item’s collection is identified, other factors must be considered. One question to ask is how much is the item used or how much will it be used in the future. A high usage item may need to be replaced or repaired in such a way that it can tolerate repeated and frequent handling. Another question to ask is what is the current condition and how long will take to repair the item. In some cases the book is damaged beyond the point of being repaired and a box or envelop must be constructed to hold what is remaining of the book. At times, the pages of the text block are so brittle, that a repair might not be successful and again an enclosure might be used to hold the book. In another case, if the book has intrinsic value to the library, but the usage is estimated to be limited and the repair would be extensive, an enclosure might be constructed to hold the book as this takes less time, will protect the book from further damage, and will hold it’s contents together. Some books are appropriate for a full repair that might include separating the text block, recovering the boards and creating an entire new case for the book, then reconstructing the entire book with a reinforced spine, new fabric, end sheets, and case complete with headbands. This process can be time consuming but it insures a much more stable and usable book as a result.

The Repair Assessment
Once the background information on the book is determined, it is time to decide what repair is most appropriate. It is important to get a good sense of the status of the whole book before making a final decision on the repair technique. This means opening the book and examining it for loose pages or whole signatures being loose, separation of the text block from the boards, tears of the outer spine material, tears or brittleness of the internal spine materials, and so on. The assessment process is a very important part of the repair.

One of the things that became clear during my internship was that short cuts are not usually recommended. It is often better and takes less time to take the whole book apart for a full repair that to try to piece it back together with patches and adhesives. The trick is to learn which repairs will be good enough with a little patching and which need the full treatment.

The Repair Process
Throughout my internship, I was given progressively more difficult and complex repairs as well as progressively more independence in choosing the technique and proceeding with the repair.

I started with deconstruction of materials under Kevin’s direct supervision. My first task was the deconstruction of a tightly bound set of federal documents that had been bound into a hard cover case. This was a somewhat tedious task but it provided a good lesson in how a book is constructed and I was able to identify the different parts of the book and the methods that were used to bind these pamphlets into a hardbound volume.

During the remainder of my internship, I did various book repairs that included the following:
1. Deconstruction of hard bound books
a. Removing the text block from the case
b. Scraping spine of old paper and fabric
c. Removing end sheets (paste down & fly leaf), and often the initial and end pages.
d. Scraping the remnants of the paste downs from front & back cover.
e. Separating/cutting the spine from boards if necessary
f. Removing spine lining
g. Preparation of the boards if the new spine fabric was to be placed under the cloth or paper cover.
h. Removal of dust jackets
i. Cutting apart the sewing between signatures.

2. Reconstruction of books
a. Applying new end sheets to create a paste down and fly leaf
b. Tipping in pages at the ends of the text block and a few internal pages.
c. Reinforcing and reshaping the spine of a book with a layer or two of PVA
d. Applying new fabric to the spine and if appropriate, paper on top of that for strength and stability of the text block.
e. Adhering new spine liners to existing spines or creating whole new cloth or paper spines
f. Attaching spines to the board under the existing fabric or over if there were no designs on the covers to preserve.
g. Using knitting needles to glue the paste down back onto the board in a simple repair that did not require the removal of the boards.
h. Application of Japanese paper on page tears
i. Construction of a hinge with Japanese paper for the attachment of end sheets
j. Use of Japanese paper in constructing a portion of a spine
k. Use of archival document repair tape
l. Application of heat sensitive tissue
m. Sewing signatures together to reconstructed a text block
n. Tattered corner repair with small boards, wax paper, and binder clips.

3. Additional repairs
a. Construction of a Phase box.
b. Construction of a Clam Shell box.

Summary and Conclusion
I am in complete agreement with Kevin regarding the ability to learn book repair at a one-day workshop. Single repair techniques could be taught and used by the attendees, but serious book repair, particularly the removal of the text block from the case and then reconstruction is a skill that takes repeated practice. Courses designed to concentrate on one skill such as creating a Phase box or a Clamshell box might make a good one-day class. Repairs of page tears, tipping in pages, tattered corner repairs, and the knitting needle repair would also make a good one-day class, as these are repairs appropriate to public or school libraries. Any class that involved the removal of an entire text block and reconstruction would be much more appropriate for a multiple day class as even the drying time between the steps needs to be included and doing this process multiple times is the only way to get the actual “feel” for how to manipulate the tools and the book itself.

My internship at the Library of Michigan did help me get the “feel” of library conservation and preservation. The experience gave me an inspiring glimpse into the whole process of book repair as well as understanding the decision making steps that go into the job of maintaining a collection of library materials.

There was much I was not able to see or participate in during such a short assignment but I think I was exposed to enough of the process that I could repair books in a public or academic library, especially small or partial repairs that would prolong the life of a book and avoid costly offsite repairs. When I find myself in a librarian position, I hope that I will be allowed to use these skills to maintain that library’s collection if even as a small part of my responsibilities.

As I have already said many times, I am extremely grateful to Kevin and the Library of Michigan for this wonderful experience and I hope that I may use my skills somewhere along the way in my career as a librarian or where ever the course of my life takes me in the future. I would also highly recommend Kevin Driedger, as many already have, as a great teacher, cook, and conversationalist.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Collaborating to Document a Community - a review


Cultural Heritage Collaborations: A Manual for Community Documentation by Melissa Mannon. New Hampshire: ArchivesInfo Press, 2010.

The first response I had to reading this book is "I need to hang out with archivists more."

Because one can only be so connected, or perhaps because I chose not to overextend my social network connections, archivists and archives are not a huge part of my interweb/social experience. I have some archives connections but I have to admit my extra-library attention has been more in the direction of museums. Reading this book will help push me a little deeper into the archives world.

Two things which shape some of my interests and caused me to be drawn to this title include: my time of working with newspapers and understanding the role they play in documenting a local community; and my interest in more proactively responding to the question of what should we be preserving – understanding the more creative aspect of preservation, not just collecting what exists, but also creating that which you want to preserve.

(I am aware that lots of people/professions creative document their community, but I was/am interested in coming at it from the perspective of a collecting/preserving institution.)

The title Cultural Heritage Collaborators grabbed my attention. Collaboration across cultural heritage institutions is a great thing, who doesn't like collaboration, although the presence of that word also causes me to raise my guards just a little. Collaboration is a current organizational buzz-word. Putting the word "collaborator" in every other line of your IMLS grant will double the chance of it getting funded. (Fact not verified by any actual data.) I was also taken in by the Community Documentation part of the title because documentation does have a creative ring to it.

Part of what the “cultural heritage collaborators” and “community documentation” also triggered in me is the idea of distributed authority. Collaborators and community imply that the authority to collect, preserve, and interpret the cultural heritage is not the property of the single official voice, but is distributed among a community of collaborators. (Perhaps I’m reading too much into the title.)

I ordered the book on Aug. 12, it was printed on the 14th.
The one other thing I'll say about the book before actually cracking the cover (train a book so the cover doesn’t crack) is that it is self-published. I mention this because for me, knowing this shaped my expectations of the book. I've seen a lot of self-published books and most of the times I can tell why their self-published - no commercial entity trying to make a buck would publish them. My experience of these self-published books has been: highly idiosyncratic, poorly written, and I get the distinct impression the author is quite pleased with him/herself. (This is the exact same response I get from reading my blog.) With that baggage, I must say I was gently surprised by the book. It does have its quirks, like erratic capitalization of the word archives, some missing text (p. 17), no hyphenation which results in a ragged right edge, and I thought it could have just used a little tightening up (but I think that of pretty much anything longer than a haiku.) That said, I've read many books published by large publishers that suffered worse editorial problems so I'd say this is one of the better examples of self-published work I've seen.

I've been putting off commenting on the substance of the book not because I didn't like the substance, but because the book is, as the title tells us, a manual. It tells the reader how to do things. Books of lofty (and not so lofty) ideas and theories are much easier for me to ponder and discuss. With a manual, it takes much more creative work to tease out any underlying concepts and theories. And, this book is a manual for archives - a discipline about which I know only enough to make myself look a fool. The first half of the book is about collaborative community documentation, while the second half is very much an introduction/manual for archives. I'll leave the second half alone and concentrate the rest of my energy on the first.

Mannon writes of the purpose of this collaboration for community documentation "By connecting cultural organizations to the heart of a community's pulse and character, we can attain a stronger awareness of our vitality and how we can benefit diverse members of society." (p. 2) She repeatedly expresses the need to document multiple historical perspectives.

"This book encourages institutions to incorporate a community documentation strategy. Such a strategy allows local repositories to find a collecting niche in their community, in a non-competitive fashion, to actively seek records related to their mission, and to work with other repositories to create a collecting network that seeks to be all-inclusive, focused, and accessible." (p. 8)

Mannon writes largely out of the experience of the local historical society which brings with it the blessing/challenge of the interested non-professional. She recognizes that professional, quasi-professional, nonprofessional cultural heritage collaborators must forge honest partnerships to attain success.

In the book Mannon equates documents with "physical culture" with no mention of the place of digital documentation. Admittedly, small repositories have a hard enough time maintaining physical collections that to introduce digital collections may be too overwhelming, but the digital culture exists, and is ignored at our peril.

One impression, correct or not, I have of the archival profession is that some of their concepts are, well, the word I like to use is quaint. Thing like the doctrine of preserving original order to preserve the "original intent" of the creator seems so 19th century. And so I find the traditional archivist stance of very detached collector who dares not impose their own subjective order on someone else's papers seems to conflict with the idea of archivists as active documenter of communities. Mannon recognizes this challenge between the active and passive roles - as reflected through her quote of Mark A Green "Archivists have to understand, accept, and work within the reality that we -- through our selection -- through our marketing -- do as much to create the documentation of the past as the individuals and organizations that generated the records in the first place." (p.28)

"To develop valuable collections that do not leave gaps in the documentary record, an archivist must be an active participant in collecting resources that are interpretive of society rather than just a possive collector of any documents that come his [or her] way." (p.41)

And to belabor my archivist stereotype a little more, one of the author’s point under "Why value archives?" "To provide primary information about societies activities to help citizenry and scholars recognize and evaluate these events for themselves, so that they may discern truth and reality from fiction and biases." (p. 32)I guess I'm just too jadedly post-modern or relativistic but I have a hard time with the language of "so they may discern truth and reality" as an academically honest endeavor. Language that would feel more comfortable to me is "so they may draft new narratives." I'd even accept (maybe) "so they may draft more authentic narratives." (I realize I am once again getting pretty far from the alleged topic of this blog.)

To get back to practical matters and the actual subject of the book, I noticed on the pages frequent reference to "determined" and "perseverance" as a necessity to make these kinds of collaborations successful. I think this is an important recognition of how collaborations often work. While a collaboration may involve many parties it is usually the determination and perseverance of a few individuals that keep the whole thing moving forward.

I’m glad I read this book and I think it is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in preserving the cultural heritage of a community. (While Mannon seemed to primarily used community as referring to a geographical place, it is easily extended to all other forms of community.) For the non-archivist, it is a good introduction to seeing the world through an archivist’s eyes. It is filled with good practical advice built on the author’s experience doing the very things she is writing about.  Now I think I’ll go online and find a few more archivist tweeters to follow. (I already follow the author!)