Book Treatments and Conservation Labs e-Forum

The Book Treatments and Conservation Labs e-forum was held December 11–12, 2012, and moderated by Jennifer Hain Teper, head, Preservation and Conservation Units at the University of Illinois Libraries, and Eric Alstrom, head of Preservation & Conservation at Michigan State University.

Conversations during the e-forum were generally led by a loose schedule of topical categories including a general introduction to conservation in libraries, designing and construction of lab or repair spaces, hiring and training staff, and purchasing and utilizing preservation quality supplies and vendors. Discussion was very lively and included 177 posts from 46 individuals, ranging from preservation and conservation professionals to library staff working in smaller libraries for whom repair is only one small portion of their work responsibilities. A few topics of discussion were of greater focus than others, including:

  • Most of us are not able to perform all the types of repairs we wish we could due to space, equipment or training constraints.
  • Most people prioritize repairs by usage, either by patrons or for exhibits/other uses. Some libraries involve subject selectors in the process. Sometimes cost of replacement (as well as staff time and costs) are factored into whether to repair a book or not.
  • Most labs still keep some sort of statistics, often based on the former Association of Research Libraries (ARL) statistics ( Whether trying to establish a conservation program or justify an established one, stats are always helpful.
  • Labs vary in size from a corner in a technical services area to a dedicated area with specialized pieces of equipment. To better utilize any space, creative work arounds are often used, such as putting equipment and tables on wheels.

Ventilation is a big issue. One of the more desired items in this area is an elephant trunk vent that can be swung into place right on the work bench.

Dedicated clean or dirty and dry or wet spaces in the lab are highly desired but hard to fit into many labs, especially older, rededicated spaces. A place for photodocumentation can also be difficult to fit into an existing lab.

There is a general consensus on skills to look for in hiring new student or even staff employees—utilizing hand-skill and dexterity tests, skills, areas of interest, and attention to detail and aesthetics can all assist in selecting quality staff—as well as their ability to self-critique.

Libraries approach the value and application of enclosures versus (or in addition to) repairs differently depending on the type of library and breadth of treatments available. Many libraries feel that the construction of enclosures is a lower cost—larger impact preservation methodology, though others utilize enclosures more conservatively, depending on funding and staffing levels.

Donor relations and working with development staff to help raise interest/awareness in conservation is critical to promote and build preservation and conservation programs.