Preservation Studios: Bears, Books, and Blessings

JOE BRUIN LEADS AN ACTIVE LIFE —running, cheering, and hugging fans in all temperatures can take a toll on a bear costume! So when the university archivist wanted to feature costume heads from the 1970s and ‘80s in a recent exhibit, they visited the Library’s Conservation Center for a little work (pictured right). “This may not be a typical project,” said Chela Metzger, head of the center, “but we approach it in the same way. We learn as much as we can about the object—how was it used? how will it be studied?—then develop a plan to repair, stabilize, and preserve it.”
After carefully vacuuming the flattened plush and repainting the bruised and flaking noses, Metzger built new storage boxes. “Next up is to work on the recently rediscovered Bruin Paws!” she added.
On a recent visit, the center’s new studio spaces in the Powell Library buzzed with activity. Experts work here on everything from books in circulating collections to audiovisual materials to artifacts like ancient cuneiforms.
“With generous early support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Library’s limited book repair unit has grown into a professional conservation center with highly trained staff,” said Preservation Officer Dawn Aveline. “We offer a comprehensive array of services and expertise and can work on an astonishing variety of formats. Not all academic libraries have facilities like this.” 
Aveline pointed to a fragile Civil War sketchbook created by Union soldier Frederick E. Ransom (top right) using a re-purposed garden nursery order book. It contains nearly 100 drawings and a brief autobiography. 
“I stabilized damaged areas while preserving its value as an object,” conservator Amanda Burr explained. Her repairs required flexible Japanese paper, blotter paper, wheat starch paste, and creativity, as when she scanned the pattern on the front cover to create a facsimile to replace a missing part of the back cover.
Some projects require high-tech tools such as a fume hood, humidity chamber, and microscope. Elsewhere in the lab, an eighteenth-century Armenian prayer scroll was submerged in a specialized sink. “Though water can be bad for books, it helps remove glue and other substances from paper,” explained Kress Assistant Conservator Christina Romanowski Bean (bottom right).
A linen backing added after the scroll’s creation came off after 20 minutes in a warm bath, but its glue residue required scraping with dental tools, then a final rinse. Now the scroll can be rolled and unrolled easily, ready for future centuries of education and inspiration.
”The Library’s unique collections are heavily used by students, faculty, and researchers from the around the world,” Metzger noted. “We love that they’re so popular, but we also need to preserve them for future generations.