Preservation – February 2010
UCLA's newspaper, The Daily Bruin, ran a great article this week about open access journal publishing. "GSA's print academic journal Carte Italiane moves online" is a clearly written article about open access publishing and the ways that libraries and universities are working on developing sustainable business models for open access. The article draws on a lot of our local favorites, including the inimitable Sharon Farb, UCLA's Associate University Librarian for Collections and Scholarly Communication, and the work of her staff in the Library Digital Collection Services.
Sharon's portfolio also includes the preservation department. If you're a grizzled veteran of the stacks, you might wonder how it is that the preservation department, cataloging and metadata center, digital library program and digital collections services all hang together. We might wonder that, too, if we weren't so busy.
The common thread, and the busyness, is that we're all working on making the collections discoverable, usable and widely available. Open access publishing makes sure that the scholarly community retains the rights to its own output and makes our scholarship available to the widest audience. The article will explain all of this better than I can, but at the core, people preserve the things they need and care about. The more people who can read an article, the more stakeholders we have for preserving that article.
Although most of the posts on this weblog are (and will be) about what goes on behind the scenes to preserve library collections, this article is a nice reminder that everything the preservation department does in order to keep the collections in good health is part of the larger goal of library service. We want these collections to be used. And used to pieces if need be.
And I promise that the next post will have something to do with paste.
Today's update comes from Laura Bedford, a Master's degree student in book and paper conservation at the University of Texas, Austin. Third-year students like Laura are expected to complete a nine-month residency under a master conservator, and Laura is working at the Huntington Library with our good friend Holly Moore. Holly arranged for Laura to spend a little time with us so that she could experience work in a different conservation setting.
In February I had the pleasure of spending two weeks working at UCLA’s conservation lab with Kristen St. John, Collections Conservator, and Jake Nadal, Preservation Officer. The purpose of this mini-internship was to experience the work of a high-use circulating collection lab, as my prior experience has been in special collections and archives.
I spent the first day with Kristen reviewing the treatments she and her staff complete in-house, which involved the familiar hinge-tightening, page tip-in’s, rebacks, recases, board attachments, double fan adhesive bindings, full rebinds, phase boxes and corrugated clamshell enclosures. Books are sent to the lab from all UCLA library divisions, where a two-tiered sorting takes place. The initial sort is to identify items that are too far decayed to be repaired, items that can be sent to the UC Bindery for repair, and items that will be treated in-house. The secondary sort is to select the appropriate in-house treatments.
We sorted through roughly 50 books to familiarize myself with the criteria for library binding candidates. I had a hard time not wanting to keep more of the books in-house, until Kristen reminded me that their library binding costs were cheaper than paying a student the two hours’ work it would take to repair the book. Once the books were sorted, we filled out repair slips for the roughly fifteen in-house candidates, ticking off boxes to specify how the treatments were to be handled (e.g. a hollow tube spine, or instructions to photocopy rear end sheets to replace the front ones).
Life is pretty hard in Los Angeles. Day after day, week after week, every month, year in and out, the collections and library staff throughout the LA metro area endure pleasantly warm temperatures and moderate humidity. On some days, when our poor sky doesn't even have a cloud to call its own, I can only console myself by taking a walk through the sculpture garden. Seeing all of that exquisite art forced to endure the onslaught of a temperate afternoon only reminds me of the temperate perils that face our collections.
The concept of a Time Weighted Preservation Index (TWPI) is used to describe rates of aging over time, relative to an environment of 68°F (20°C), 45% RH, that is assigned a PI of 50 years. A TWPI rating can be read as "these environmental conditions will cause 50 years of normal aging to occur in [TWPI] years." For those who think I was being facetious in my introductory comments about LA's weather, you are not wrong, but you you should also know that after reviewing the last three years of weather data for UCLA, the TWPI for LA's prevailing weather was 34 years. Los Angeles' climate on its own creates accelerated aging conditions that are about 32% faster than normal.
In Los Angeles, we employ many tools to stave off aging, and air-conditioning has allowed us to get a TWPI around 44 in most of our stacks. Better than 34, but not good enough. The cooler temperatures we get through air-conditioning do reduce the rate of aging, but the real key to optimizing environmental control is relative humidity. In a closed system, a decrease in temperature leads to an increase in relative humidity. As the relative humidity climbs above 70%, mold growth becomes a risk and when relative humidity reaches 100%, called the dewpoint, water condenses out of the air.
The UCLA Library has a collection of photos by Carleton Watkins including 85 of his mammoth albumen prints, which measure 18x22". Building enclosures for these was a large project for the conservation lab but now, thanks to the teamwork of our student conservation technicians, the mammoth prints are safely housed in a set of handsome green cloth-covered clamshell boxes.
A few years ago I attended a great conference on "direct digital image capture of cultural heritage" at the Munsell Color Science Lab at RIT. Their final report overturned a number of my assumptions about digtal color management and forced me (and many others, to judge from the lively discussions at the conference) to become more rigorous in my thinking on that aspect of our work. At UCLA Library, we follow the CDL guidelines for digital images to create consistent images, but the Munsell Lab's research adds another layer of guidance about objective standards of quality and accuracy for image color.
Without going into arduous detail, the conclusion was that a significant benefit could be gained from more objective approaches to imaging. Many of the participants in the study invested a great deal of effort into setting up their shots or doing visual editing of the master image files to achieve a better perceived match between the artifact and the on-screen digital image.
The word "perceptual" is the key issue. No matter how much effort went into improving the perceived match, the researchers were unable to demonstrate any actual improvement based on direct measurement of the source object and their digital versions. In many cases, the more editing that was done to improve perceived fidelity, the more the actual color data collected was out of step with the source artifact.
Many of the participants in the study came from analog photography backgrounds and were applying the craft principles they had learned in that medium in their digital studios. As analog photographers, the participants were first-class and many of the techniques they applied led to the creation of digital files that supported best-in-class analog printing from the digital photos. That is a are skill an important achievement for any lab, but for the purposes of digital preservation, the less affected image is the most desirable.
Kristen talks about the work that goes on in the Library Conservation Center and the video includes some great images of our lab space and the UCLA Library collections. Some of the wonderful artifacts that make an appearance are a rare (and very extensive) set Kabuki theater programs, an early copy of Machiavelli's The Prince, children's literature and one of our beautiful books of botanical illustrations. In addition, you can see Kristen and several of our students doing real benchwork. Conservation photo shoots have a long history of being only vaguely realistic in an effort to create some visual interest. Real conservation work is often small, slow, repetitive and it's hard to get an activity like scraping off oxidized adhesives to make for a great photo composition or to play well on film. The Daily Bruin staff deserve credit for capturing this work so well.
As Kristen said in her interview, we don't want to lock anything away because it's too fragile or can't be handled. We want the collections to be available in good condition, to support the work of the faculty and students. The interview video last for only one minute and 38 seconds, while a treatment can take hours, but I hope that watching this interview gives you a little insight into what it takes to keep these artifacts ready for research.
We're looking forward to hosting a tour for the Horn Press on Weds, Feb. 17. Our conservator, Kristen St. John will be giving a tour of the Library Conservation Center and afterwards I'll be speaking about the state of things in library preservation and showing photos from a few disaster response projects.
The Horn Press is a great group at UCLA that studies printing and fine presswork, and augments the MLIS program in the areas of book conservation, preservation, and analytical bibliography. Read all about them.
The UCLA Library is one of the nation’s great academic libraries. Its collection of more than 8.5 million cataloged items supports the work of one of our greatest universities, with UCLA ranked at or near the top of almost any metric you could choose. Along with core collections supporting the research and instruction of thousands of students, faculty, staff and community members, it is filled with wonders. The UCLA Library’s special collections have done any number of singular and incredible things - flown on the space shuttle, strutted down the red carpet, or launched a revolution – and together, they are witnesses to the entire course of recorded history.
Despite all that, the UCLA Library has had very little in the way of preservation support over the first century of its existence. In 1984 UCLA participated in the University of California Preservation Implementation Program. This lead to a collection survey and the appointment of a preservation administrator, Christopher Coleman. The Preservation Imaging Unit of the Southern Regional Library Facility (SRLF) was founded in the 1980s to offer preservation reformatting to both UCLA and other UC campuses. However, over the course of the next 20 years, adapting to budget cuts and changing library needs led to a reduction of preservation efforts. The preservation administrator’s role was diminished and combined with other job duties. Primary collection care activities were carried on within individual library units with dedication, but minimal coordination and oversight.
A weblog about preservation, conservation, and the stewardship of the UCLA Library's collections.
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