Reflecting on my internship at Baker Library

At the end of March, I finished up my three-month internship at Baker Library (Harvard Business School), where I worked with Priscilla Anderson, Lisa Clark, and Noah Sheola. Between end-of-semester projects, wedding and honeymoon planning, and other projects, though, I haven’t had a good chance to really sit down and reflect upon my experiences there. (I did write about my impressions about one month into the internship, so if you’re interested and didn’t catch that post, give it a look.) I’d like to go through some pictures from my time at Baker Library, as a form of review. Most of these have already been posted on Twitter (the quality of these is particularly low, since they were taken on an iPod Touch; apologies), but I hope that those of you who follow me there will forgive the redundancy. Onward!

The first chance I got to work on collection materials was for the surface-cleaning project, which I’ve already talked about. That said, I do have some new photos to share:

Here I am hard at work on the surface-cleaning project. Beneath the eraser in my hand are eraser crumbs, which I'm gently moving in small circles. This is enough to get some grime off of the surface—as evidenced by my before-and-after shot in the previous internship post.

Here I am hard at work on the surface-cleaning project. Beneath the eraser in my hand are eraser crumbs, which I’m gently moving in small circles. This is enough to get some grime off of the surface—as evidenced by my before-and-after shot in the previous internship post.

During this project, I spent a fair bit of time on documentation. Admittedly, I usually felt rushed for this step, and my photographs weren’t the best, but it was good practice for me to get used to the idea of documentation and to get used to setting up the camera and lights.

Documentation is done both before and after treatment. Here's the before shot. Note the information included within the shot; in a project like this, it's important that it be clear which item is being document (plus, in this case, which side of the item), and the scale and color indicators are also included for reference.

Documentation is done both before and after treatment. Here’s the before shot. Note the information included within the shot; in a project like this, it’s important that it be clear which item is being document (plus, in this case, which side of the item), and the scale and color indicators are also included for reference.

The end result. The difference isn't necessarily visible, but the effort will still help ensure that the image has a longer life. It's worth noting that the surface cleaning was only done on the white areas (e.g., the sky)—it was often tricky to maneuver the eraser crumbs around the positive space of the image.

The end result. The difference isn’t necessarily visible, but the effort will still help ensure that the image has a longer life. It’s worth noting that the surface cleaning was only done on the white areas (e.g., the sky)—it was often tricky to maneuver the eraser crumbs around the positive space of the image.

Photographs weren’t the only think I got to use my surface-cleaning skills on. Much later in my internship, I also worked up cleaning up an old blueprint. Here, instead of eraser crumbs, a vulcanized rubber sponge is used. It’s important to be careful around the edges, folds, and tears, but otherwise it’s pretty straightforward to use. (If you’re interested in learning more about surface cleaning, I highly recommend that you start with this leaflet from the NEDCC.)

This assignment served as a test subject to estimate how long it would take to clean this whole collection. These blueprints were extremely dirty, but the nice thing here was that I could really see the progress I was making. Can you tell what areas haven't been cleaned yet?

This assignment served as a test subject to estimate how long it would take to clean this whole collection. These blueprints were extremely dirty, but the nice thing here was that I could really see the progress I was making. Can you tell what areas haven’t been cleaned yet?

The second collection item I got to work one was an old manuscript. The binding had been badly damaged over time, and the librarians/conservators had decided that this item should be disbound, foldered, and boxed. Using a scalpel, I cut apart the sewing, separating the signatures from each other. Any adhesive that remained attached to the folds was gently (manually) removed. Then each signature was housed in its own folder, and the folders were placed into a box for eventual labeling and reshelving.

Here's the manuscript, in the middle of disbinding. You might just be able to make out where the parchment tapes are under the sewing. The parchment had become extremely brittle and therefore no longer provided good support for the pages.

Here’s the manuscript, in the middle of disbinding. You might just be able to make out where the parchment tapes are under the sewing. The parchment had become extremely brittle and therefore no longer provided good support for the pages.

Some days contained unanticipated projects and challenges. In particular, there was one day when the lab was tasked with constructing cradles for a number of books in preparation for a meeting. I had done some cradle making in my collection maintenance class last summer, but these cradles were constructed differently, and this time I had no written instructions to go by. It was a fun exercise in reverse-engineering, and in the end I think my cradles came out fairly well.

A book resting in the cradle I created for it. This was the smallest of the books I worked on, which ended up being a good way to ease into the project.

A book resting in the cradle I created for it. This was the smallest of the books I worked on, which ended up being a good way to ease into the project.

Here you can get a better idea of how this cradle was constructed. Whereas the one I had worked on last summer was created from a single piece of board, this one was constructed in multiple parts. Six pieces of matt board were glued together for each cradle.

Here you can get a better idea of how this cradle was constructed. Whereas the one I had worked on last summer was created from a single piece of board, this one was constructed in multiple parts. Six pieces of matt board were glued together for each cradle.

One of the common issues that preservation and conservation departments have to worry about is mold. Therefore, I’m happy (at least, as happy as one can be with regards to mold) to say that I got to work briefly on some mold vacuuming during my internship, as well.

These papers had been damaged by water. I spent some time vacuuming each page under the fume hood to help contain any mold issues.

These papers had been damaged by water. I spent some time vacuuming each page under the fume hood to help contain any mold issues.

Of all the things I worked on at Baker Library, the most long-term project was paper mending. In truth, this wasn’t so much a work project as a learning experience: I selected a book, tore it up, and mended my tears. More to the point, I worked on this throughout the entirety of my internship, and I mended with a wide range of materials and techniques, including some adhesives I had never worked with before. On any given day, I’d focus on a certain subset of repair materials, and within those constraints, I’d experiment with different variables to see what techniques yielded the best repairs. It was great experience for me, and although I am by no means suddenly an expert in paper repair, I’m definitely more skilled at it than I was before my internship. Moreover, I got at least slightly better at thinking about what kinds of mends are best for what kinds of materials. I know I still have a long way to go with regards to making those kinds of decisions, but I’ll get there.

I won’t bother showing any pictures from the book I beat up and mended for three months, but I can show off some projects I worked on subsequently, as a result of my hard work and experimentation. At the end of my internship, the lab trusted me with a few different paper-repair projects:

First, and the most exciting, was repairing this newspaper from 1854. It needed a fair bit of flattening, as well as mending with heat-set tissue.

First, and the most exciting, was repairing this newspaper from 1854. It needed a fair bit of flattening, as well as mending with heat-set tissue.

Here's a close-up of the newspaper. Pretty neat! (If you're a nerd like me.)

Here’s a close-up of the newspaper. Pretty neat! (If you’re a nerd like me.)

As part of a large project the lab is working on, I also got to hone my flattening and mending skills on these Moody's volumes. Although it might not be obvious, paper isn't just paper—each paper has different qualities, and therefore needs different treatment. It's always interesting to see how a repair that works on one paper doesn't work on another.

As part of a large project the lab is working on, I also got to hone my flattening and mending skills on these Moody’s volumes. Although it might not be obvious, paper isn’t just paper—each paper has different qualities, and therefore needs different treatment. It’s always interesting to see how a repair that works on one paper doesn’t work on another.

That’s the end of the photographic tour of my internship, but even this doesn’t completely cover my activities at Baker. I also worked quite a bit for the lab on labeling and statistics tracking, got some experience with pest management and recording light levels, and worked on some print/photograph-mounting techniques that I hadn’t learned previously. I was able to sit in on some conversations between the collection managers and the conservation department, as well as on exhibit-planning discussions. I was able to work briefly with poulticing, and, through shadowing, I learned some improved techniques for rebacking and recasing, some of which I’ve been able to apply to my work at Simmons. (Consequently, those tips have also helped me improve my bookbinding work.) In short, I got out of this internship exactly what I hoped to: a broad overview of how a preservation/conservation department operates, which I hope will make me significantly more employable than I would otherwise be—not to mention improved hand skills. Working with Priscilla, Lisa, and Noah was an excellent (and fun!) experience for me (as I noted recently in my interview on Library Preservation 2), and I’m sure their future interns will have similarly wonderful experiences.

Comments

  • Great post! So much can be learned by deconstructing an old book and working with experienced preservation librarians. Best of luck to you. Keep binding!

    • Thanks! I have plenty of binding projects lined up for the near future. Can’t wait to share them with everyone.

      Jackie Divis DoyleMay 10, 2012

Leave a Reply