Friday, April 27, 2012

Portraits in Preservation SE – Henry Hébert



The last, but definitely not the least of the Portraits in Preservation, Student Edition for Preservation Week 2012. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed hearing from these younger voices, and I hope you have too.

Bio
Henry Hébert is currently a second year student in the bookbinding program at the North Bennet Street School. He received a Master's degree in Library Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. During graduate school, he worked as a student technician in both the special collections conservation lab in Wilson Library at UNC-Chapel Hill and the conservation lab at Perkins Library at Duke University. In the summer of 2010, Hebert was a Lennox Foundation Intern at the Parks Library at Iowa State University. He is currently performing contract conservation work for Baker Library at the Harvard Business School and, in the fall of 2012, he will start as the Von Clemm Fellow at the Boston Athenaeum. You can follow his work on his blog Work of the Hand.

What experience or person has greatly influenced your desire to pursue preservation?

I’ve worked with a lot of really great people over the past couple of years, but there were really two people that I met early on who were pivotal in my decision to pursue a career in library preservation, specifically book conservation. They opened my eyes to the field and greatly influenced me as an emerging professional.  

The first was Jan Paris, the conservator for special collections at UNC Chapel Hill. She was the first library conservator that I ever met and the first to give me a job in a lab. Before that, I honestly don’t think conservation existed as a career option in my mind - so I was pretty naive about the nature of the work. Over the next two years, as I worked in her lab, Jan spent a great deal of time helping to re-orient my thinking about conservation within the context of a research collection. As she would teach me new repair techniques, we would often talk about the process of making sound treatment decisions. Jan was an incredible mentor to have so early on, and I feel a lot of my successes can be attributed to her instruction.

The second person who got me started in the field was Beth Doyle, who is now the head of conservation at Perkins Library at Duke University. Beth taught my preservation class in library school and gave me a job doing quick repairs for items in the library’s circulating collection. She gave me a lot of production-style repair skills and shared with me a great deal about a conservator’s role away from the bench. Beth always offered a good perspective on how a “hybrid-style” conservation lab (treating both special and circulating collections) functions within the wider library and really encouraged me to continue my training after graduate school.

What has been a particularly rewarding experience in your preservation training?

I have so much to learn at this point in my career, so every opportunity to be in a lab working on collection material is rewarding in some way. Each institution has different challenges to meet when it comes to the preservation of their collections, and it is really interesting for me to see the conservator’s approach to addressing those needs.

Recently, working with Priscilla Anderson at the Harvard Business School has been a really incredible experience. In addition to getting to work on some unique and amazing collection material, I've learned a number of new solutions for library exhibits that will be useful wherever my career takes me. Priscilla is also great about taking time out of her incredibly busy schedule to dialog about workflows and treatment decisions. She forces me to think critically about every aspect of a given project, and I learn something new every day there.  

What are you looking forward to personally contributing to the larger preservation world?

Since I have had to cobble together my own conservation training curriculum, my skill-set and perspective about the work is probably unique from other students entering the field now. I applied to the conservation program at the University of Texas the year that it was shut down. The art conservation programs in this country had not yet developed book programs to fill the vacuum, and I felt that getting a library degree, taking a load of chemistry classes, and training at the North Bennet Street School was the only way to get the skills that I needed. There seem to be a couple different training models for book conservators at the moment, so I can’t say how my experiences will compare to other students. Regardless, I feel incredibly lucky to get two years of full-time bench training. It has allowed me to develop a degree of manual dexterity and a knowledge of traditional binding practice and book structures that I would not be able to get anywhere else. I hope to use these skills to contribute in some way to the wider body of knowledge in the field. There are so many opportunities for research or the development of new treatment techniques that I’m sure I will find some area in which to apply myself.

What do you see is a pressing issue facing the preservation world?

I think outreach and awareness are probably the biggest issues facing the wider preservation community right now. In tough economic times, it is difficult to convey the importance of preservation to the public when issues like healthcare and social security so dominate the media. There is a huge (and seemingly endless) debate in this country over what our collective values are and which institutions should be funded because of them. Until we enter another era of economic growth, I think preservation professionals have to be very vocal about the importance of maintaining our cultural heritage, so that funding streams to museums and libraries continue.   

A lot of people have written about this topic, but regarding libraries specifically, I think that digitization is an issue that we will be grappling with for quite a while.  Evolving technologies for imaging, storage of digital media, and models of access mean that libraries, as cultural institutions, will have to keep re-evaluating how they are serving the needs of their patrons.  Certainly digitization presents an opportunity to make collections more visible and draw new users to the library; however, without realistic planning, the costs of creation and long-term storage of digital information objects can grow rapidly. I don't see library budgets getting significant boosts any time soon, so the return on investment for these projects is key. If preservation librarians and conservators are involved early and often in the planning and implementation of the project, digitization it can also be an excellent opportunity to improve the condition of a collection. Some people are already doing this well, but I think the organizational culture determines when preservation comes to the table.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Portraits in Preservation SE – Cheyenne Bsaies


Portraits in Preservation Student Edition, Preservation Week 2012

Bio
If Cheyenne Bsaies could choose a superpower, it would be a cross between the teleportation skills of X-Men’s Nightcrawler and the multi-limbed dexterity of Vishnu. Then maybe she could get everything done. Until such superpowers manifest, she does the best she can juggling an internship at the Library of Congress, a job at a trade bindery, a final semester of organic chemistry, a seat on the board of the Potomac chapter of the GBW, and the myriad duties of a single mother. She’s been bookbinding since 2007, and preparing for a career in conservation since 2009.  This summer, she’ll be working as a conservation intern at the Spencer Library at the University of Kansas. In the fall, she’ll attend the Museum Studies program at Syracuse. You can read about her adventures on her blog: www.loose-leaves.blogspot.com

What experience or person has greatly influenced your desire to pursue preservation?

I don’t think I can pin it on one experience in particular, it’s been cumulative. Growing up as a third-culture kid, travelling and moving constantly, I noticed very early on the difference between how rich societies are able to maintain their historical landmarks and works of art as compared to poor societies.

Before my mother became an engineer, her dream was to be an architect. My father, an economist, long harbored literary aspirations. I suppose it was natural for them to want to expose their children to the arts. I think I must credit my parents, my upbringing, most for laying the foundation for my interest in the field. However, my eventual discovery of bookbinding solidified what started as a hunch.

What has been a particularly rewarding experience in your preservation training?

The basic approach of preservation seems to hold true no matter where the collection resides. Managing the environmental factors, stabilizing the collection, channeling items through workflows created to address specific needs, all standard practices in any institution. The obstacles an institution faces in meeting these goals, and the people intent on overcoming those challenges make each circumstance unique.

From the start, I’ve known that I want to use whatever education and training I receive to work with institutions in other countries struggling against nearly impossible odds to extend the life of their collections. In October 2010, I moved to Manila to spend some time with family. I had visited once before for a few weeks, but this time I was there for months attending classes, making friends and otherwise learning about a new culture. While there I made a wonderful friend, a very talented printmaker named Ambie Abaňo. She took me to an exhibit of books, manuscripts and prints at the University of Santo Tomas, one of the oldest universities in Asia, founded by the Spanish in 1611.

As you might imagine, they have some very interesting and rare items in their collection. UST is located in the heart of Manila, an incredibly polluted and humid city. Ambie introduced me to Father Aparicio, director of the Heritage Section of the Miguel de Benavides Library. He gave me a tour through their stacks, discussed their preservation initiatives and the many challenges they face. His commitment, positivity and determination to make the best of a difficult situation inspired me. It wasn’t the first time I’d encountered a wealth of history and culture endangered due to a lack of resources, but it was the first time I’d seen it through the lens of my own desire to intervene and assist.

What are you looking forward to personally contributing to the larger preservation world?

Before I can answer that I have to make a statement about my perspective on the meaning of objects of historical and cultural value. If I may borrow a term from literary theory, I think I might assert that such objects are floating signifiers. Their value isn’t contingent upon what materials or techniques were used to create them (interesting topics, though they may be), but on the narrative framework their creation provides a culture about its own identity. And because cultures are not static, the longer an object exists the longer that culture can respond to and imbue the object with its shifting narrative. We need all these frescoes and incubula and quilts, etc., to remind us where we came from, who we were, and what we may still become. I don’t think anything is meant to last forever. But the ideas which are inspired by and evolve from such creations have the potential for a kind of immortality.  

That said, an object that is removed from the culture from which it sprang, whether by well-meaning foreign institutions or unchecked deterioration, can no longer contribute to the historical and narrative process—the Grail is just an empty cup without the story of Christ to fill it. What I’d like to do is facilitate the process of directing resources and training local students, artists, and professionals to be stewards of their own treasures. Forming partnerships and exchanging ideas, finding novel approaches to climatological and economic issues--that’s where I want to make a difference.

What do you see is a pressing issue facing the preservation world?

I’m still quite early in my career, so I’m not sure I’m qualified to make broad statements about the field or its issues. I often see parallels to the medical profession. There won’t ever be a lack of sick patients or objects needing care, and much of what we accomplish depends on the character and dedication of the people involved and the collective commitment of our societies to support that care and that we view the results as worthy.

Bonus question (optional) - What do you want to preserve and why?

As a bookbinder, the obvious answer might be ‘books’. However, I think I would reiterate what I was driving at while responding to your third question. What I really want to preserve are ideas, traditions, cultural identities. The technology or matrix on which they are preserved is incidental. Perhaps my focus on books and paper will define my career, perhaps other opportunities will arise and give new shape to my path. The one lesson I’ve been taught at every turn is to adapt.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Portraits in Preservation SE – Graham Hukill


Portraits in Preservation Student Edition, Preservation Week 2012

Bio
My name is Graham Hukill, an MSI student and soon to be graduate of the University of Michigan’s School of Information.  Specializing in Archival and Records Management and Digital Preservation, I have focused on the creation of digital objects through digitization, the management of digital assets, and the creation, management, and dissemination of their accompanying metadata. 

Before returning to school to purse a Masters in the information domain, I was a student of philosophy, a geo-spatial land surveyor, an English teacher in South Korea, and worked for a community hardware store recycling building materials.  My education and professional past has not been one of isolated experiences, but instead, what I believe to be a continuously developing understanding of the pivotal role information, and information management, plays across different disciplines and domains.

What experience or person has greatly influenced your desire to pursue preservation?

Though I could cite countless individuals and experiences that have collectively shaped my desire to pursue preservation, if hard pressed, a very influential experience was working as a geo-spatial land surveyor for a small family owned firm in Washington state.  I was hired on to assimilate new GPS surveying equipment into existing workflows and data management.  This new equipment, which integrated GPS data with more traditional surveying spatial data that relied on relative coordinates and positions, provided me with my first taste of “big data”.  As I learned more about the profession, it was impressed upon me how integral the management and preservation of data was, both logistically and legally.  Though the company had successfully managed their datasets for 30+ years, the sheer volume of data created from the new equipment was stressing the limits of their organizational infrastructure. 

I began to wonder how other institutions and organizations were affected by similar influxes of data.  This curiosity proved insatiable, I found challenges and opportunities abound, and here I am today.

What has been a particularly rewarding experience in your preservation training?

Almost daily, it feels like, I think about the tension between “preservation” and “access”.  One of the most rewarding experiences of my preservation training revolved around discovery and access of digital materials.  While an intern at the Internet Archive in San Francisco, working for the web archiving service Archive-It, I had the opportunity to work with engineers designing an OAI-PMH server for web archived materials.  For archived web content, where original documents are ephemeral in nature and collections can be in the tens of millions of documents, providing access is a primary concern.

Designing this OAI-PMH server, by breaking down the OAI-PMH protocol and replicating its core functionality with a SOLR infrastructure and XSLT transformations, helped me to better understand the complexity that exists between “access” and “preservation”.  It furthered my belief that preservation of materials is insufficient if access has not been adequately considered.  Which is not to say all materials must be immediately available, or for everyone, but I think that discussion should always take place when preserving materials.

What are you looking forward to personally contributing to the larger preservation world?

Shaking it up!  That is to say, by rigorous and thorough means.  With digital information and objects come concepts like migration, emulation, duplicity, and so forth.  As one intimately concerned with the relationship of digital to analog materials, analog to digital, I hope to help push the discussion of what digital materials mean to us as preservationists, individuals, and as a society. 

This past year, I worked on a project exploring the digitization of biological specimens.  This included the orchestration of digitization processes, the management of the digital files produced, and that tenuous link between these newly created files and their original, physical, counterparts.  More recently, I have been working with a couple BioInformaticists creating pipelines for sequencing “next generation” short read genome data.  Though radically different projects, in both instances I was struck with the difficulties the sheer volume of data presented for preservation.  Though I don’t believe the preservation community has ever been so naive as to assume information or preservation professionals have all day to spend on one item, I nonetheless see a need for these communities to step back and look at what is being produced; many of our current methods of preservation and access simply won’t scale to these levels, it will takes some really novel and innovate approaches.  I see this not as a re-thinking of traditional practices, but more applying those foundations and philosophies to new data management and preservation techniques, and something I excited to be a part of.

What do you see is a pressing issue facing the preservation world?

I think this is touched on above.  But to elaborate a bit more, I see both the porous boundaries between disciplines and domains, and the rapidly evolving relationship of analog to digital materials, as two major challenges facing the preservation community.  That said, I also think both provide vast realty for innovation and elegant solutions to problems we currently face.   When 1.7 million botanical specimens, an enormous physical preservation undertaking in itself, becomes the subject of digitization and analysis (as is currently underway at the University of Michigan and other institutions around the country), where are the boundaries between the botanist overseeing the specimens, the technicians digitizing them, the repositories providing storage for these digital files, and the scientists and communities using and annotating them?  These nebulous boundaries seem, at least currently, difficult to navigate, but also provide incredible opportunities for collaboration and sharing of resources.

With regards to the tension between digital and analog materials, examples abound.  In this space, as in many others, I believe how materials are used - that is, how they are useful - will prove to be helpful in better understanding that relationship.  It is an “issue” or a “problem”, I believe, only insofar as it something fascinating and extremely relevant to the field right now. 

Oh, and funding.

Bonus question (optional) - What do you want to preserve and why?

Personally, nothing excites me more than preserving both scientific data and visual images.  Often, scientific data looks almost meaningless at first glance.  It is usually only through explanation, contextualization, and re-representation that its intellectual merit is observable and appreciable.  At the other end of the spectrum, I am enamored with how quickly a photograph will pull you in; regardless of context, back-story, or even its original format sometimes, I love how immediate and visceral the arrangement of colors and shapes in a confined space can be.  It is on preserving one, that my appreciation and understanding of preserving the other is amplified.  So both I would have to answer, for ultimately complimentary reasons.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Portraits in Preservation SE - Tatiana Cole


Portraits in Preservation Student Edition, Preservation Week 2012

Bio
Tatiana earned a Bachelor of Science degree with honors in Biology from Florida International University. Her undergraduate thesis was on the application of fluorescent nanocrystals as labels in both biological and biophysical systems. While working on her degree, Tatiana returned to her birthplace in Italy to regain her knowledge of Italian, spending a year in Florence studying art history and art. Motivated by a desire to combine her scientific and artistic interests, Tatiana moved to New York City in 2007 to pursue a career in art conservation and interned at various institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim Museum, Gladys Brooks Book and Paper Conservation Laboratory, and Winterthur Museum’s Paintings Conservation Studio. She took part in the analysis and conservation of paintings, rare books, and ethnographic, modern, and contemporary objects. As a Graduate Fellow in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, Tatiana chose to major and minor in photograph and paper conservation, respectively. She spent summer internships in photograph conservation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, and Paul Messier LLC, Boston-based, world-leading studio specializing in photograph conservation. Tatiana is currently doing her third year internship at Harvard University’s Weissman Preservation Center working primarily with photographs, but also getting exposure to working with audio-visual materials. She has given talks on interviewing artists, a technical analysis of a mixed-media collage by artist David Driskell, and two case studies on the treatment of photographs on Gevaluxe Velours paper. Tatiana was recently awarded a Photographic Materials Group Professional Development Stipend to conduct research related to staining in contemporary platinum/palladium photographs. Her prospective graduation date is August 2012.

What experience or person has greatly influenced your desire to pursue preservation?

Such as the preservation profession requires varied strengths, there has not been just one experience or person to have influenced me to pursue preservation. My ancestors were artists and craftsmen, and my parents brought me up to hold art and creative expression in the highest esteem. Therefore, preserving art and our cultural heritage, and interacting with it in a more intimate way was very appealing to me. Furthermore, art conservation seemed to be the best fit for my aptitude for science, art and working with my hands.

I did pre-program internships in numerous conservation labs, and I was especially moved by my supervisors. They were passionate about their work, seemed to continue learning new things year after year, and appeared to be fulfilled by their work. This inspired me along my path towards becoming a conservator.

What has been a particularly rewarding experience in your preservation training?

Making photographs exhibitable and accessible again has been particularly rewarding–making photographs strong enough and bringing back their aesthetic integrity, so that they may be appreciated and studied by viewers and researchers.

What are you looking forward to personally contributing to the larger preservation world?

Photography related materials can be found in most cultural institution, if not all, and I look forward to being able to help in a variety of capacities, such as consulting on proper handling practices and storage conditions, and performing item-level treatments of photographs. I am drawn to the practice of researching the materials and methods used by individual photographers, and then making that information available to the conservation community to help inform treatment approach. I also hope to work with living artists and learn more about how photograph related materials are making their way into contemporary installation art.

What do you see is a pressing issue facing the preservation world?

There are many countries in the world with historically significant photograph collections that are in dire need of attention, but with no photograph conservators to help take care of them. More support is needed in this area.

Bonus question (optional) - What do you want to preserve and why?

I want to preserve photographs because so much of our history over the last 150 years has been documented using photography–a medium that is accessible by anyone regardless of the language they speak. Photographs are everywhere, and anyone can relate to them at some level. With regards to fine art, I am very drawn to the various photographic processes and the different ways they are used by artists as expressive media. As a conservator, working with photographs often means being confronted with new materials and new interesting problems to solve.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Portraits in Preservation SE – Jackie Divis Doyle


Portraits in Preservation Student Edition, Preservation Week 2012

Bio
Jackie Divis Doyle (née Smith) is a bookbinder, soon-to-be preservation librarian, and—hopefully—future conservator. A former English major who has worked for over five years in scientific publishing, Jackie has spent the last two years working toward a master’s degree in Library andInformation Science at Simmons College in Boston, MA. While concentrating her studies on preservation and special collections, she has worked at Beatley Library (Simmons College), repairing general-collections materials, as well as interned at Baker Library (Harvard Business School), working with special collections. Jackie blogs about book arts, preservation, and libraries at Binding Obsession, and an online shop featuring her hand-bound notebooks is scheduled to open later this year.

What experience or person has greatly influenced your desire to pursue preservation?

During my first semester of grad school, I took a course called Preservation Management, taught by Donia Conn. I already knew beforehand that I wanted to concentrate my studies on preservation, but Donia’s focus on the practical aspects really hit home for me. When I had the chance to work with her again over the summer in Collection Maintenance, where we learned basic book and paper repair, I was certain I was on the right path. Moreover, I realized that, long term, I wanted to work toward a career in conservation. I’m extremely lucky to have gotten to work with Donia, who has always been very encouraging, and getting hands-on experience in that summer class opened several doors for me later on.

What has been a particularly rewarding experience in your preservation training?

The above experiences certainly apply, but one of the doors that Collection Maintenance opened up was an internship at Baker Library. I worked for three months as an intern in the preservation/conservation lab with Priscilla Anderson, Lisa Clark, and Noah Sheola. It was there that I was truly able to make a connection between what I had been learning in my classes and the reality on the ground, as it were. That contrast was instructive on its own, but I also gained new hand skills during my time there, working on things like surface cleaning, flattening, mold vacuuming, and disbinding. Additionally, I improved my skills with cradle making and paper repair. I had a lot of fun during those three months, and it was really exciting to be able to work with manuscripts and other historical documents; previously, I’d only worked with circulating collections. It was a wonderful experience for me.

What are you looking forward to personally contributing to the larger preservation world?

One of the things that has drawn me to preservation, other than a passion for the overarching mission and a love of working with my hands, is the way preservationists and conservators approach problems, drawing what they can from other fields to apply to their own. I love seeing what new, unexpected materials and techniques my (future) colleagues come up with to solve unique preservation problems (some solutions for custom enclosures are particularly fascinating), and I’m looking forward to being a part of this dialog and contributing some solutions of my own.

What do you see is a pressing issue facing the preservation world?

I think it’s fair to say that digital preservation is one of the most pressing problems of our day. How to keep digital files accessible long term is a fascinating problem, and it’s especially knotty because benign neglect, which works reasonably well with many paper-based materials, is not an acceptable solution for dealing with digital files. We’re at risk of losing so much of our cultural history—particularly on a personal level—if we don’t actively preserve and curate these files. This isn’t where I see the focus of my career being in five, or ten, or twenty years (although, who knows!), but I’ve done some coursework in this area, and I do think that it’s imperative that public outreach and education be expanded, for the benefit of individuals, families, and society as a whole. It’s easy for us to look at how digital objects proliferate on the Internet and think it’s inevitable that these materials will be around forever, but that’s just not true. Cultural and academic institutions are at least starting to pay attention to these issues, but as a society I think we have a long way to go.

Bonus question (optional) - What do you want to preserve and why?

My primary interest is in book conservation. As a physical object, the book is not inherently complex—but, over time, human civilization has taken this relatively basic idea and applied so many different nuances to it. The book has always been something of a magical object for me, and I’ve loved learning about how multiple elements come together to create a unified whole. I’m looking forward to a lifetime of learning more about historic book structures, and applying that knowledge to my work in conservation and bookbinding.