Monday, June 25, 2012

Book & Paper Interest Group @ #ala12


Sunday June 24 @ 1:30
(This will be my last note dump for ALA 2012. Same caveats of sketchy notes, minimal editing, and my apologies for any errors. The first session was done by Jeanne Drewes and anyone who attempts to take notes trying to keep up as she talks and zips though the slides is doomed to failure. A couple abbreviations - MDA is sometimes used for mass deacidification, and MgO for Magnesium Oxide.)

Moving Preservation Research into Preservation Process: The example of mass deacidification
Jeanne Drewes
In early 1990s LC committed to development of mass deacid. technologies
Were reformatting - but that's expensive - looking for less expensive
Ken Harris was the moving force in doing testing and working with PTLP to refine deacidification system
Original idea was to drive truck into facility and use gas with DEZ
Over two year test period treated 72000 books with bookkeeper
Look for technology that does complete deacidification, adequate alkaline reserve, an increase in life of paper of 3x
In 1990 published technical specs
1996 started with the bookkeeper process
In 2002 the manuscript treater was installed
Initially, the particles of MgO were too large, left dusty residue
At LC's request, the contractor test one disposable test book per week to confirm effectiveness.
Company does test as does LC and they compare results
What is successful MDA?
LC does 250,000 volumes a year and 1 mil. manuscripts sheets
3 mil books by 2010
Collection selections
Look at new receipts and materials drawn from the stacks identified as appropriate
Special projects include comic books and some special series
Mark with white dot on spine and inside label those things that have been deacidified
Based on current receipts by country
Look at all the receipts and sort by country and what percentage on acidic paper
In 2003 India was 41% and 2008 it was 22%
USA has hovered between 2% and 3%
She's looking at papermills that make printable paper to see where that paper is coming from
In 2011 did a review of studies of mass deacidification. Couldn't correlate studies
Need effective method to compare mass deacidification treatments across parameters


4 panelists, Scott Divine, Renate Mesmer, Sue Kellerman, and Kate Contakos
2 have established programs, 2 are planning programs

Sue Kellermen - Penn State - doing this for 17 years
In 1995 sent 163 books. In 1997 did collection surveys to determine what to MDA
Sending circ collections needing some work (rebound then deacidified), and collections of distinction
Sending a hundred a month to PTLP
Record this action in the 583 MARC field
With rebound materials spine marked with infinity symbol
Sent entire US serial set

Scott Divine @ Northwestern
One of NW's best preventive tool
1992-1994 - 6000 books done with DEZ. Plant closed
1995 regular shipments to bookkeeper
Selection procedure - collection based (significant collections)
Not sending materials upon receipt
Acidic, not yet brittle paper. Demonstrate academic value of materials to help prioritizing
Are collections available in other formats, and if are, ask why preserve paper long term

Works with curators on what it will mean for the item to be treated - that paper will not feel the same.
Less likely to push for items to be treated that are stored in secure cold storage.
Case studies Counter Culture newspaper collection
Use MDA as impetus for other treatments and rehousing
Also do African Language Collection - usually printed on acidic not yet brittle (the only receipt based MDA program)
Fritz Reiner Collection - lots of handwritten anotations
Lots of variety of reprographics in mid 20th c and don't know what they are - cautious about sending this to MDA.
Archival collections
One collection was very uniform and a good candidate
One had lots of different types of media and not a good candidate
MDA with bookeeper tends to tide-line more.
Also do 583 tag
Investigating relationship between mold growth and bookkeeper. Treated material tends not to promote mold growth as much as not treated items

Renata Mesmer @ Folger Shakespeare Library
Cataloging and preserving Shakespeare collection - Cataloging, Phase boxing, Deacidification
Did a collection survey
Folger phase box with clear spine
Approx 3000 need to be deacidified
10% of books returned with some damage and large amounts of MgO on paper
Went back to talk with vendor - revised procedures
Do not send
Flaking and fragile spine, broken spine, weak sewing, threads broken, brittle paper, coated paper, uncut leaves
Do condition report for each item - very time elaborate
Entire process involves a lot of handling and results in more damage than wished
Lowering vault temperatures will reduce need for deacid.
Aiming for 58F and 42RHI
Most of what they will send is likely 20th century
Nothing just comes with benefits
Okay to say no to MDA with some things

Kate - Head of Preservation Dept at Stanford
currently no MDA program
To start the program - focus on special collections, and collections of distinction
Moving huge amounts to high density cool storage
Made proposal to director to start pilot project - was funded
Doing surveys and collection need reports to determine appropriate collections
She worked with PTLP in 2000

Adding bookkeeper changes surface tension of paper therefore tide line issues - Bob Strauss

Important to let all staff and reader to explain why items feel dusty

Promoting Preservation Interest Group @ #ala12

(Same caveat for this post as for my other ALA note dumps. These are relatively sketchy, minimally edited notes. Things in square brackets are my own personal asides/questions/comments.)
Sunday June 24 @ 10:30

Preservation Week 2012
Julie Mosbo
Similar content to provided yesterday at PAIG
Had some challenges with putting up Pres Week map. Try to do a different approach next year - with a little more control
She's trying to do some web searching to find all the events
Survey to discover participation
Participation did not include much collaboration with other institutions
Good attendance at events
Trying to come up with more family/youth oriented activities
Still working on developing social media approach
Suggestions - update logos/bookmarks, reorganize web page, provide Google map earlier, follow-up stories on events, coordination with May Day, focus on speakers bureau
Committee asked to push the @ your library: Pass It On webpage [Duplicates Preservation Week webpage content?]
Still working on improving this young program
2013 dates April 21-27

Suggestion was made to collect statistics about effort and impact [seriously, these people want statistics for everything. So much work for what value? You can always do more - and people love to tell you all the more you can do.]

Stephanie Lamson -  Preservation Librarian at University of Washington Libraries
7 Preservation Week Webinars - a quick overview
- survey data of webinars
- Personal digital photographs
- taking care family textiles
- personal digital memories
- protecting future access now
- protecting family treasures
- mold prevention
- archival 101

Have a webinar proposal form - for any ALCTS webinar
Aggregated data - average number of registrants keeps increasing.
530 (2010)- 720 (2012)
Numbers don't include viewing archived webinar
Survey responses show strong positive responses to webinar content, and presenters, and overall
60% learned from email
Most respondents were not ALA member
Well received and increased numbers

What is the focus or goals of the webinars?
Focus on university/public libraries?
Better strategy for outreach to public libraries?

"Public Library Community is a hard nut to crack." GTR

Dr. Howard Besser - NY University
Preservation week experience at NYU Community Archiving and the Occupy Wallstreet Movement.
In moving image collection world - basic principals of paper archives world are violated

Why digital preservationists looked at Occupy media
Vast quantity of user contributed material
No easy way to control for quality, format, metadata
Much of the material found on social networks
Need to find smart ways to harvest metadata and analyze files - influence behavior of potential contributors

Moving Image Archiving Program - Besser teaches in this program at NYU
Students or grads in this program formed "Activist Archivists"
their projects-
"Why Archive" postcard, 7 tips to ensure video or audio is usable in long term, study of metadata loss with social network loading,
toolkit for occupy archiving, coordinate discussion among various groups, explore methods for obsuring identity

Within Occupy Wall Street their is Archives Working Group - owning own past (don't want to place things in "traditional" collections)
Also the "Media Committee"
Preservation Week event
Several presentations from diff groups - included folks from OWS Archiving Working Group
People were really engaged - stayed for couple hours discussing after (cheap munchies work)
Did leaflet - challenge with being too wordy, did lots of pr on social netowrks, list-servs, etc.

Summary - for individual events - involve students both as speakers and audience
Send infor far in advance and then a few days before

For Central Planing
Try grouping events both geographically and topically
Get individual sites to post photo, audio, video of events to inspire and document
(slide for this talk available at)
http://besser.tsoa.nyu.edu/howard/Talks/

Katie Risseeuw
Preservation Week at Northwestern university
1st time to participate in PresWk
Trying to find audience as private academic library
Did daily demonstrations - plus offered handouts, bookmarks, measuring tapes (with NWU) & vendor catalogs
Workshop for staff
Daily conservation lab tours

Each day demos - book repair, Mounting paper and artwork, library pests (IPM), Film and magnetic media, Reasearch and training
Staff workshop - Preservation 101 - what is most important for staff to know
"What we might pam bind in-house versus outhouse." (she meant out-source)
Daily demos - lots staff returned
Staff workshop - mostly catalogers attended
Lab tours - nobody came
People really liked the free handouts

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Digital Preservation Interest Group @ #ala12

I probably won't post notes from every session I went to today, but I definitely will from the Digital Preservation Interest Group because it was the most relevant and interesting for me and my work. (We who work in state libraries are a lonely lot and love to hear and meet people who work in other state libraries.)

Once again - the notes are very sketchy and very minimally edited. I apologize for any errors in my reporting.

Digital Preservation Interest Group
Sunday, June 24 @ 8 am

"Collecting born-digital materials from the web: It's a CINCH!" Lisa Gregory @ North Carolina State Library
funded by IMLS grant
Capture INgest CHecksum too automate transfer of online content to a repository
Grabs online content, authenticates extracts metadata, repares for repository
Modular, flexible, easy to use, repository-neutral, open source
Focused on small and mid-size institutions
Why another digi pres tool?
State library shall be the official complete and permanent depository of state publications
Collecting born digital since 2004 and extensive digitization program
Get material by download, email or cd/hard drive
Very curated and manual process (4 staff members work on this)
Also crawl web using Archive-it (periodically dumped onto hard drives)
They do it every other month for most sites
Drawbacks - manual collection, not getting it all. staff could be doing something more value added with collection. Ingested objects may not be "authentic". We have to badger encourage contributors.
Drawbacks - website archiving - a web archive is hard to understand for users, harder to provide continuity from print to digital, you have tons of data
"How can we extract, use and preserve publications in an automated and prervation responsive way?"
CINCH
User uploads file list - use list generated through IA's Archive-It report (or use site map generator)
Checks to see if their are duplicates from previous stuff you downloaded. File size limited .4Gb, checksum is calculated
CINCH grabs files and does virus scan. last modified date/time is verified, metadata is extracted, checksum is calculated, duplicate checks for current downloads
Final steps - creates a ZIP file, emails user, user downloads zip file
Produces list of problem files, metadata and audit trail, and files
Pull in PDF metadata from file properties, and some natural language processing of title, keywords, subjects
Can get it from slnc-dimp.github.com/cinch/
In process of moving from Digital Archive to Duracloud!!!!!

Lori Donovan from Internet Archive (UM grad)
"The Web is a Mess or How I learned to stop worrying and love web archiving"
Internet Archive - a digital library whose motto is Universal access to all knowledge
Goal of web archiving is to document changes to resources over time archive them and make them accessible.
Not just screen shots but links are archived
95% of gov't info is born digital. (State of the Federal web report)
Libraries have task/duty/role to collect documents/records of the time - which most often are web only
Archive-It - created in 2006.
Web based application allows user to create, manage and preserve web content.
Archived content includes html, vido, audio, pdf, social networking
Archived content accessible within 24 hours
205 institutions using Archive-It
How/Why do they use it? institutional mandate, augment physical collection, topical or event-based web-archives, can be used with records retention policies
Eg. of collections, Stanford & New York - harvest and preserve Iranian blogs
UT @ Austin - Latin American gov't docs archive
Electronic Literature Org - archive born digital literature
NCState Library - pushed for need to archive social networking sites
Access to Collections - can use restricted/login approach
Provide enhanced access - landing pages on own website. Some partners host content on own servers
(my question which was answered before I could ask - What about discovery - can agency add metadata to enhance access?)
answer - user can add collection level, seed level, document level metadata

Digital Preservation of Dynamic Reference Works: Where do we go from here?
Heather Ruland Staines - from Springer - publisher
Reference works - both separate titles, and database type content
How does Springer preserve our eBooks - PDF & metadata or xmlepub
Database content is preserved if individual books are preserved
SpringerReference - living reference work - wikilike for content providers - tracking versions and updates is important
With dynamic reference works - what is it we are trying to preserve?
content, organizational structure, user experience, or concepts


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Digital Issues in a Small Shop

Digital Conversion Interest Group - June 23 @ 1:30
Once again I'll issue the caveats about these notes. They are not very complete or well edited and I hope they do not contain any errors or misrepresentations.

Adventures in Digital Curation, or, advice for the novice solo curator - Meg Meiman, University of Deleware
Director of undergraduate research program - digital curation in students' work
What is digital curation - maintaining preservation of digital content into perpetuity
She likes Butch Lazorchak's definition of digital curation from The Signal Aug. 23, 2011
Questions for consideration
How do we prioritize what to keep for the historical record?
In what formats should this be maintained?
How can be build digital curation into our current preservation practices and daily workflow?
Who else can help with all of this?

Triage - Data (senior theses), Metadata (info about researchers), Still more date (students' proposals)

Convert PDFs to PDF/A which presents some limitations/structures to what can be contained within.
Info about students in MS Access - export to XML for immediate backup and MySQL

Curaton from Alistair Miles' "Zoological case Studies in Digital Curation."
Front-end curation - guidelines for content creators. submit in pdf - all URLs are typed out.
Back-end curation - develop practices to incorporate curation into existing workflow and timeline

What other avenues available to assist with digital curation?
- instutional repositories
- college and university archives
- creators of digital content

"The more digital object is handled the longer it will endure." said someone she quoted

Helen K. Bailey - Dartmouth
Starting Small, Practical first steps in Digital Preservation
A case study
Only person with digital preservation explicitly in their job
School knew it was important, but didn't now what to do.
ICPSR digital preservation management workshop - very worthwhile. Now at MIT.
Uses Bag-it - run it on a folder, creates manifest, checksum, checksum validation
Backed up all material to two hard drives - distributed to different locations
Manage - runs checks on material every 6 months
Current system pros: inexpensive, minimal staff time, low barrier to entry
Cons: not scalable, "Dark archive" no clear access plan; lack of security
In the future, like to implement a full preservation repository
Their digital preservation policy is online
Her presentation is on slideshare.

I asked Meg about her ability to instruct/require students to follow guidelines in file formats - but mostly it was an opportunit for me to complain about my work having no such ability to exercise such authority over Michigan government agencies and the way they create files, which we are obliged to try and capture and preserve.
Both presentations were about the idea that the small shops can't do it all, but the little we can do can make a big difference.


My Morning with PAIG

This morning was the meeting of the Preservation Administrators Interest Group at the ALA annual conference. Below are my notes pretty much as a keyed them in. I've done only minor cleanup. I apologize for any errors or oversights they might contain.

Preservation Administrators' Interest Group
began at 8am in a warm room in the Hyatt (fortunately the AC kicked in)

PARS Chair - Ann Marie Miller
PAIG happening on Sat morning - ALA condensing conference to fewer days
changes to ALA conference to streamline/condense space and time
- programs held to 1-1.5 hr sessions
- Interest Groups limited to 1-1.5 hours, except PAIG
consolidated into convention center (less spread out to hotels)
Exploring hybrid live/online approaches
PARS used an emerging leaders group to investigate doing hybrid sessions

Julie Mosbo - pres lib at Southern Ill @ Carbondale on Preservation Week
improved social media presence on FB and twitter
building up content on @ your library
2 official webinars
family textiles 250+ attended
preserving personal digi photograph 500+ attended

Pres week 2013 Apr 21-27 (also gave dates through 2016. 2014 & 2015 include May Day)

IMLS Pres Ad Fellowship - 8 fellows
A program funded by IMLS at Yale and NYPL
Evelyn Frangakis - chief preservation @ NYPL

Kevin Cherry of IMLS spoke - they have a new strategic plan includes one part on collections/preservation
working with LC on Digital Stewardship residency
Designed to give opportunites to put theory into practice in context of seasoned preservation professionals

There were tons of applicants.
All 8 spoke - They each went through the different preservation units and then worked on a specific project. My notes are a pale reporting of the interesting projects they worked on. And my note taking had a tendency to fade away as the morning progressed.

Kimberly Peach @ Yale
Pres condition assessment of AV collection at Beinicke
Sha had no previous hands on experience in AV
Media with no built-in container (like reel-to-reel tape) more liable to damage
Most av formats not affected by acidic housing (except laquer discs)
Recommendations - mast majority of problems had simple rememdies
Include these steps into accesioning process - e.g. pop cassette safety tab
Brain of pres ad has to hand problems of all shapes and sizes (tupperware ball puzzle)

Emily Vinson @ NYPL - arrived amidst move
Developed shipping guidelines for AV
Handling guidelines for 78s
Planned move of archives of recorded sound
Inspected film, learned splicing
Discussed politics of prioritizing conservation
Research project - disaster plan
How to define disaster?
6 degrees of disaster

Kevin O'Sullivan - @ Yale
2nd half ofCondition survey of AV at Beinecke
4166 items surveyed from 196 collections
used Columbia AVDb tool
Great thing about these fellowhsips is funding to visit many conferences/institutions

Martha Horan & Jonah Volk
Administrative skills
Rotated through depts - registrar, audio preservation (disc cleaning & disc sleeve project), conservation lab, collections care lab,
Also worked on special projects - survey of AV materials, hiring decisions care and handling FAQs for website
worked on Preservation Week events
Their major project was a Microfilm Legacy Research Project. (Yay microfilm!)
NYPL holds 190000 masters - goes back to 1930s
Physical and intellectual control assessment
48000 uncatalogged.
Trying to correlate 1st and 2nd gen masters and catalog records
(It was a great demonstration on how qood cataloging is a preservation issue. Need to know what you have.)
Did physical assessment of mf - identify base, amount of acetate.
Discovered practice of storing 2 copies on 1 reel Master and print master. (This sounds like a ridiculously odd practice.)
Were able to pinpoint date of switch from acetate to polyester as May/June of 1990
With this date they could calculate ~74% collection was acetate

Annie Peterson @ Yale (then Pres Librarian @ Tulane)
Disaster plan for high density facilty
Followed FEMA Incident Command System - very scalable
"Plans are worthless, but planning is everything." Dwight D Eisenhower
Did table-top exercise during process - gave info to adapt plan.
web based survey tool

Nick Szzzzzzzzzzzz (I didn't get his last name but I think it had an S and a Z in it) and Kim Tarr fellows @ NYPL
Nick worked on a Redesign of Preservation Division Statistics Collection
This was in part a response to NYPL reorg.
Single database to store data related to production and time usage
Integrate project tracking with individual time tracking

Kim Tarr survey of audio storage spaces
IPI "Storage is single most important whatever to ensure long-term preservation" (My argument with that statement is it only is correct for items that see little/no use.)

Questions from Roberta Pillette
Where is our next genereation of pres admins coming from?
WHere are the jobs for this next generation?
What is the core theoretical knowledge for this next gen?
Is it possible to get this knowledge in a single course?

Ended with discussion of place of digital preservation in the fellowships, as well the the place of digital preservation within the larger preservation library organization.
Much hand wringing - not much for answers.

My question is the sustainability of such a model of professional development which looked like it took a lot of administrative work, and a lot of expense for sending these people all over the place to differnt libraries and conferences. Yes, these are all valuable experiences, but is providing this kind of oustanding training experience for a few limiting the training opporutnities for the many?

2nd half
Tribute to Jan Merrill-Oldham - preservation legend
directed Weissman preservation at Harvard
Paul Parisi  of Acme Binding - rewrote LBI standard with Jan and reduced use of oversewing - the long-time binding standard
Wes Boomgaarden of Ohio State spoke
Remembrances read from Gay Walker, Oliver Cutshaw, Jane Hedberg.

Beth Doyle, announced a Jan Merrill-Oldham professional development grant sponsored by LBI to reward young/new professinals
1st awardee - Helen Bailey (award at june 24 @ 5:30 ACC room 208c)

IMLS grant digitization data collection
Jacqueline Bronicki UM Validating the quality of digitized books for long-term preservation (Preliminary findings on digitization error looking at scanning by Google and Internet Archive)
"What is quality?"
"What difference does lack of quality make to users?"
"how low can the bar be set to be acceptable?" (This question asks the professional to look at quality and standards in a way that "traditional preservation" is not used to. I think the common approach would be how high can I set the standards and still be sustainable.)
Error model - 11 error types, severity scale
Metrics phase is (done) Measurement phase is (current) Use studies - does the user care about the errors will be in the(future)
Metrics of 3 aspects
Data / Entire page / whole volume (first 2 on scale, 3rd on binary)
broken and thick font - highest frequency errors
also have material errors (Paul COnway - He's seen the future of books and it is fingers)
Also looked at internet Archive - very different story - different error types - they try to keep background color
Divided study into 4 lots
Google pre 1923 English
Google pre 1923 serials
IA pre 1932 English
Non-Roman script

Most of the errors are low level errors - thick and broken
Internet Archive results are very different problems with colorization tone, skew, and blur - but still low level.
How do you determine what's a bad book - how many pages had a level 4 or 5 error
IA had very few books with catastrophic errors, not as good with Google
Also looked at physical characteristics of volumes which were scanned (which included interlibrary loaning a lot of material from other Hathi libraries)
The most significant corelated to errors was publishing year
(I really found this a fascinating report. It had a lot of data which I enjoy but it also asks challenging questions about quality and what are you trying to accomplish with a digitization project. I look forward to hearing about their future studies of how users respond to the presence of errors.




Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Where I'll be at ALA


Here's where I anticipate I'll be during the ALA conference this weekend. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am open to being swayed off course by invitations of food, beverage and conversation.

SATURDAY, JUNE 23 - 8:00AM
8:00am - 12:00pm
Preservation Administrators Interest Group

SATURDAY, JUNE 23 - 1:00PM
1:30pm - 3:30pm
Digital Conversion Interest Group

SATURDAY, JUNE 23 - 4:00PM
4:00pm - 5:30pm
Intellectual Access to Preservation Metadata Interest Group

SUNDAY, JUNE 24 - 8:00AM
8:00am - 10:00am
Digital Preservation Interest Group

SUNDAY, JUNE 24 - 10:00AM
10:30am - 12:00pm
Promoting Preservation Interest Group

SUNDAY, JUNE 24 - 1:00PM
1:30pm - 3:30pm
Book and Paper Interest Group

SUNDAY, JUNE 24 - 4:00PM
4:00pm - 5:30pm
Brittle Book Strategies for the 21st Century

MONDAY, JUNE 25 - 8:00AM
8:00am - 11:00am
OCLC CONTENTdm Users Group Meeting

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lig Free or Die (plus shipping)

Part of the danger of the Internet is it provides no resistance to a bad idea taken to an even worse extreme. And so, I bring you one of my favorite designs brought to its most absurd internetian conclusion... this Lig Free or Die image plastered over every piece of apparel, useless trinket, teddybear, and suede pillow Cafe Press could come up with.

Check out the Library Preservation 2 cafepress shop while it is still in business, because after a good night's sleep better senses may prevail.

(For those needing explanation, lignin (lig) is a compound found in wood pulp which causes paper to turn yellow and brittle.)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Preparing for ALA


One of my goals for this year was to go through the hoops of doing the “professional” thing by joining the big professional organization and attending the big professional conference. It is in two weeks in Anaheim. These kinds of events - lotsa people in large glass and brass buildings - are not near the top of the list of my ideas of a good time, but I’ll try to make the best of it.

My primary purpose for attending this event, however, is to meet you, and those like you. Meeting the people who are interested in any aspect library preservation will be the most valuable part of this trip. I’ve looked at the schedule – and even set up my own schedule on ALA’s conference scheduler – how fancy – and will likely be attending most of the standard preservation fare. Opportunities to go out and enjoy conversation and a beverage – whether brewed, distilled, fermented, mountain spring fresh, or fresh squeezed - will almost always take precedence over any programmed affair.

So, if you are going to be there, don’t be shy. I’ll be the guy who looks a little like the picture on my blog profile, and I’ll likely be carrying my spiffy new Library Preservation 2 bag – which was formerly an IMLS bag until I ironed on my blog logo. Be warned, however, if I you and I do talk, I’ll probably mention, encourage, harass you into participating in my Portraits in Preservation project. And if you are one of the select few that have already participated, I will thank you and gladly offer to purchase for you one of those aforementioned drinks.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

On the Death of a Detroit City Directory


I walk into the conservation area at work and notice the large object sitting on the table. It wasn’t there when I left work yesterday. Immediately, I recognize what it is. It is a Detroit city directory. The city directories are one of our library’s most popular and used collections, and as the state’s largest city the Detroit directories are particularly popular. They are also huge, especially the ones from the 1950s. This particular directory is “housed” in what our former library binder used to call a “book box,” which is constructed of a case – boards and a spine – with something like a slipcase attached to one of the boards. The slipcase only covers a third to half the book, leaving the rest exposed and allowing me to see the tattered and crumbly mess within. I groan. There is no note with the volume letting me know who left it or what they wanted done, but a note would not communicate anything that the presence of this book on my table already communicates.

After a brief pause I walk around the table and pull the book near me. I open the box and then the book, although both “open” and “book” don’t seem like the right words to describe what is going on. Pull back the sheet feels like a more appropriate description. The cavity between the spine of the book and the case is filled with crumbs occasionally big enough to recognize a name or two. The pages on top – or what is left of them – include listings of people whose last names begin with ‘D’. Pages are curled, torn, and tattered, if they are there at all. And gingerly moving though the first few pages I find an occasional piece of tape from earlier salvage efforts.

Imagine a child who has a beloved doll and one day a neighbor dog chews up the doll. Parts are torn, punctured and missing. And then the child hands you the doll and gives you that wordless, helpless look of “Please. Make it better.” And you feel completely inadequate to the situation knowing there is nothing you can do.

Yes, in my institutionalized, professional, adult job of working with books that is sometimes how I feel. These books both taunt and humble me “You think you’re so good. Fix this.” They are demoralizing. Sometimes I get angry that someone even left the book on my table. It feels like salt in the wounds.

Part of what challenges me about these books is that they are not victims of poor construction (though partly) or of disasters or of malice, but they are victims of their success. People like these books. They need these books. People use these books over and over and over again and that is why they are now virtually unusable.

I feel sadness when I get one of these books because I know that what will happen. Someone left this book on my table looking for a physician, but I will most likely play the mortician. I will make a box – an urn, a casket – and it will get housed in the cold, dark shelves of the rare vault placed neatly next to the others that have gone before it. It is available for those who want, but few show up to ask for it. It is still physically present, but its soul has departed.

Back in my conservation area, on my shelves of items waiting to be worked on I have a Detroit city directory. It has been there a while and I’m inclined to leave it there. Other items with detached boards or torn pages come and go but this book remains. It is a sobering reminder both of my own limitations and of what happens with life.

Sometimes I go down to the city directory collection on the second floor and look at the shiny new Detroit city directories that just came in. I look at these clean and agile directories and I think, “Enjoy it now, while you can.”