Conservation Department: My Summer Internship

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Intern Andrea Roehrs surface cleaning a map This summer, like many summers past, young students and graduates come to the Hagley Museum and Library as interns. Some are assigned a single project, in which they help to process some of the large manuscript, book, or pamphlet collections. Others get a taste of multiple projects and a sense of different aspects of the museum and library world.

I have just finished my summer internship in the Hagley Library Conservation Lab, where I experienced many facets of a conservator’s job. So, what goes on inside a conservation lab?

The shear amount of books, manuscripts, photographs and maps is quite astonishing when you look around at any library. It is important to know the condition of these items, so this summer I helped with an ongoing condition assessment, started in 2010 by Library Conservator Laura Wahl and Conservation Technician, Sharon Fickeissen.

This conservation survey records the condition of books, folios, maps, and other items in Hagley’s Imprints Collections. It would be incredibly time consuming to go through every book in the stacks, so one shelf from each bay was taken into the lab and thoroughly examined.

Most books were in decent condition and would not need a second visit back to the lab. However, on occasion, one did come across an item that needed attention. Some of the issues that were discovered were broken bindings, loose pages, warped covers, mold damage, and, most frequently, a layer of dust. Once the condition of these items is noted, the conservation staff can look at the created database to begin making the necessary repairs. The information in the survey will also be used by the Conservation Department to develop a long-range preservation plan.

Another project in which I participated was cleaning a portion of the Bingham Estate map collection. This is a fantastic collection of manuscript maps documenting land plots in New York, Maine and Pennsylvania, owned by William Bingham. Bingham was a Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress from1786 to 1788, and a highly successful land speculator who owned millions of acres of land. The maps requiring conservation treatment showed evidence of heavy use, including damage caused by handling and storage in rolls.

Several dozen of the rolled maps were covered with a heavy layer of soot and grime. In many cases there was inactive mold present on the strip of the map on the very inside of the roll. This mold was loose and powdery, creating a potential health hazard for those handling the maps. These maps had to be surface cleaned, but first a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter vacuum and soft brush were used to remove the inactive mold.

The next step was to use a vulcanized rubber eraser to remove excess surface dirt. In this process, one map was discovered with an attached canvas lining that was very dirty and separating from the paper map. Laura decided to take this back to lab and demonstrate to me how to wash the paper, remove the old fabric lining, and line the paper onto a better support.

The process of washing and lining the map will be described in next month's edition of Hagley Library News...

Andrea Rohers is a summer intern in the Hagley Library's Conservation Department