A Day in the Life – January 22, 2009

Not to make a detour from a somewhat established format, but it recently came to my attention that a former Special Collections student employee, Caitlin Moore, ’04, is doing some really wonderful work in the area of conservation. I wanted to feature her work and that of a few other former Special Collections’ students here in this issue of “A Day in the Life.” I hope it will provide you with a broader view of the type of work that is done in this field and show off the talents of some really exceptional people with whom I am proud to have worked!

Caitlin became interested in book and paper conservation when she fell into a job in Albion College Special Collections as a freshman, mending books for the library and making creative acid-free housings for our rare books and manuscripts. She became more engrossed in what she was doing as time passed and, after taking a book arts class her senior year, decided that her career would somehow have to involve books and conservation. Following her graduation from Albion, she took a month-long course in historical bookbinding; eventually travelling to England to study conservation work with a bookbinder. When she returned to the United States, she began searching for a conservation program. She started with the graduate program at the Iowa Center for the Book in the spring of 2006, where she focused on book and paper conservation and worked in the University’s Conservation Lab, under the tutelage of Gary Frost, a man whom the American Libraries Association calls “a role model for a generation of conservators and preservation librarians.”

Recovery Objects

Caitlin (right) and two of her co-workers unpack boxes of damaged items in the University of Iowa Conservation Lab's remote storage facility. They were careful to wear Tyvek suits and respirators in order to protect themselves from contaminants deposited on the objects during the Iowa floods in June of 2008. Photo courtesy of Caitlin Moore.

“I never thought that two years later I would be involved in the aftermath of a natural disaster,” Caitlin stated. She was offered a position with the Conservation Lab doing collections recovery for local museums and historical societies that suffered damage during the Iowa floods in June of 2008, when heavy snow fall and spring rains caused an unprecedented 500 year flood of the Cedar River. Nine square miles of the city of Cedar Rapids were evacuated, and much of the surrounding area and that of Iowa City and Coralville were devastated by floods. The University of Iowa Libraries were prepared by floods that had occurred in 1993 and erected multiple barriers of sandbags and caisson levees in order to stem the crest of water that eventually rose 11 feet above all previously recorded levels; collections in the Libraries were relocated and evacuated with the help of student volunteers. Other Cedar Rapids institutions, including the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library and the African American Historical Museum and Cultural Center of Iowa, were not so lucky, and their collections were devastated by the floods. The Czech Museum and Library had flood water rise to the top of their shelves, eight feet. Their exhibits were completely destroyed. Many smaller archives and historical society collections were flooded as well.

Record Cleaning

The Lab's method for cleaning and drying damaged LPs. Photo courtesy of Caitlin Moore.

Much was damaged, including LPs, baskets, gourds, tools, sculptures, ledgers, newspapers, books, and too many artifacts to count. As Caitlin was trained solely in book and paper conservation, she had to receive training from objects conservators and other experts in the field of conservation so that she could work with this wide range of materials. In many cases, it was unknown what materials had been salvaged from the buildings until the mud was rinsed off in an outside triage area that was erected from a tent. Works of art were removed from their frames and sent to the State Historical Society of Iowa Conservation Lab for cleaning; textiles were left in the mud for a specialist to examine and determine the best course of treatment; wooden objects were set aside for a wood conservator; books and documents were packed and shipped off for freeze-drying, a process that removes water by changing it directly from a solid to a gas, avoiding the expansion, buckling, sticking, and wicking that usually occurs with water-sensitive and soluble media; and all other items were set aside and dried as best as possible, packed, and sent to the University of Iowa Conservation Lab for treatment.

Recovery Objects

Caitlin Moore, lab technician at the University of Iowa Conservation Lab, works on a feather fan from the African American Museum and Cultural Center that was damaged during the June 2008 flood of Cedar Rapids. Photo courtesy of Caitlin Moore.

You can read more about Caitlin’s work and that of her colleagues at the University of Iowa Conservation Lab in the December 30, 2008 issue of the Des Moines Register and the January 6, 2009 edition of the Press-Citizen. Caitlin also writes for the Lab’s blog, Preservation Beat, which records their flood recovery efforts.

French Posters

This Web page is the result of a project by Ben at the History, Philosophy, and Newspaper Library at the University of Illinois, where he scanned French WWI posters, entered them into a database, and created the appropriate metadata (or indexing).

Amanda Keep, ’07, held the book mending position in Special Collections for two years. She is currently studying Textile Design at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and works in their library doing much the same work she did at Albion. “Learning bookmending and enclosure construction in Albion’s archives and special collections gave me a definite advantage when seeking work after graduation. I was hired on the spot for a similar part-time position at the RISD’s library based solely on my past experience.”

Julie Pepera, ’03, worked in Special Collections during her senior year at Albion. She went on to obtain a master of science degree in information/archives and records management at the University of Michigan School of Information in 2006. Her professional life so far has consisted of working at the National Museum of American History, the Bentley Historical Library, the Henry Ford Museum and Benson Ford Research Center, the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, the Zahnow Library at Saginaw Valley State University, and JStor. Julie currently works as a Customer Training Consultant for Gale Cengage Learning and trains librarians and faculty on how to use Gale research databases.

Julie Pepera

While working at the National Museum of American History, Julie began a pilot project to reformat selected finding aids into a new template that would be compliant with DACS (Describing Archives a Content Standard), which is the U.S. implementation of international standards for the description of archival collections and their creators across material types. Photo courtesy of Julie Pepera.

While it is rare, occasionally students come to work at Special Collections with prior experience in archives. Trenton Ross, ’08, spent his last semester at Albion working in Special Collections, having previously worked at the Palestine Exploration Fund in Marylbone, London as part of an off-campus study program. The PEF promotes historical and archeological research in the Levant, while maintaining an impressive library of material concerning Palestine and the surrounding areas. Trent is now applying to graduate schools and hopes to start an archival program in the fall of 2009.

Map from early 1650s

Trent was able to work with an extensive map collection created through a survey commissioned by the PEF and conducted by Lt. H.H. Kitchener (later Lord Kitchener of WWI reknown) and Claude Conder. He ensured that the maps, such as this one from the 1650s, were catalogued, conserved, and stored properly. Photo courtesy of Trenton Ross.

A former student supervisor for Special Collections, Rosemary Beyer, ’03, used her experience mending books and processing archival collections to set up an archives for the office of an entertainment lawyer with a vast collection of memorabilia. Whenever she sees archival and rare material now, she wonders “are they using [ultraviolet] lining on their windows, did they write in pencil, etc.”

Erika also helped me to create Special Collections' fall 2008 exhibit, "The Changing Face of Campus: Building Makeovers and Misfortunes." The exhibit spanned seven display cases on the second and third floors of the Mudd Learning Center and incorporated a number of digital copies of original photographs, newspaper articles, diagrams, artifacts, and ephemera from the College Archives' collections. Erika did the majority of the research, item selection, and photograph digitization for the exhibition. Photo courtesy of Michelle Gerry.

Erika Winter, ’07, worked in Special Collections both her senior year and this past summer in order to gain further experience in the archives field for her graduate school applications. She processed collections, intellectually and physically organizing them and creating finding aids; answered reference requests; and learned book mending techniques. Erika is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public history at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA and began an internship at the Heinz History Center on January 7, 2009. Of how Albion has affected her experiences at Duquesne, Erika said, “One of my first classes was Archival Studies, and one of the major course objectives was to create a finding aid for a collection. Since I had the experiences I did at Albion, I felt confident about the project as well as participating in class.”

Obviously, a variety of experiences are to be had in Special Collections, including everything from basic filing and data entry to the conservation of damaged library and rare books; the preservation of archival collection materials; the processing and description of archival collections; exhibit design and development; photograph, document, and rare books digitization; reference assistance; and audiovisual reformatting. In many cases, a single project will involve all of these things, which individually require a different level of training, practice, perseverance, and attention to detail.

We will have our first intern in Special Collections for the spring 2009 semester, Albion College senior Erin Powell, who is currently applying to graduate school programs for archives study. Erin will be implementing a new processing method in the West Michigan Conference Archives of the United Methodist Church that is meant to reduce the amount of time spent describing archival collections. It will be great to see how the project turns out and whether or not it can assist us in describing our backlog across all of Special Collections. It is gratifying to know that so many of our students are inspired by the work they do here and that it can help them to succeed in the “real world.” I hope Erin will have an equally good experience with us this spring and be able to use what she learns to her advantage as she moves on from Albion. Io triumphe!

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