Friday, January 27, 2012

Mobile Technology for Conservation

The Washington Conservation Guild is a  professional organization for conservators in the Washington DC area.  Every January we hold a mini-conference the "3-Ring" meeting which offers three series of programs on three different topics.  This year my fellow Guild member Lisa Young and I developed a "Mobile Technology for Conservation" Ring.  The capabilities of mobile technology are growing by leaps and bounds and we wanted to share the ways in which people are using mobile technology and encourage our colleagues to explore the world of tablets and apps and perhaps report back next year.

The first presentation was by Amber Kerr-Allison, a paintings conservator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Lunder Conservation Center.  Amber has been using an ipad and the app PDF Notes to do on-site condition assessments of paintings.

The second presentation was by Jenny Wiley of Heritage Preservation.  When I started looking for apps to feature at this session, one of my first thoughts was "wouldn't it be nifty if the Disaster Wheel was an app?", and in a delightful coincidence, the response from Heritage Preservation was, "Yes, it's in beta testing right now".

The third presentation was by me and Lisa.  We talked about various apps we had found to be useful in our daily conservation work; I like the free light meter app for iphone and Lisa likes molecule and plastics related apps.  I had ipads and a droid tablet loaded with demo apps for people to experiment with after the talk.  We were not trying to present a definitive list but rather ideas for getting started and exploring this rapidly growing world.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Hands On

There are many different skills necessary to being a book conservator.

You need research skills to track down information about the history of a book, or to find modern equivalents of historic materials.

You need fine hand skills so that you can place a small drop of paste along the edge of a scarf tear and then smooth the edges together so that no one can tell there was a tear to begin with.
And you need to know how to maintain your equipment, including the big paper cutter, more commonly known as a board shear.  The board shear is like a giant pair of scissors, with a fixed blade in the bed of the shear, and a movable blade in the handle.  Both blades need to be sharpened on a regular basis according to how much the shear is used. 
So there's hands on with a fine brush and then there's hands on with a big crescent wrench.  I take the top blade off...

...and bolt it to a piece of plywood to protect the blade and the mailman when the blade is sent out for sharpening.

Then I crawl under the bed of the board shear and remove the lower blade.

These are the 56" blades from the big board shear in the lab, bolted down for shipping. They're shipped to a vendor who will sharpen them and then bring them back and re-install. 

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

bad plastic

I took the dust jacket off the book so that the wrinkles in the plastic would be more apparent.
As a conservator my eyes have become attuned to very fine details.  I notice things even when not actively engaged in documentation of an object.  When this book, an edition of Catcher in the Rye published in the UK  in 1951, was handed to me at the circulation desk I immediately noticed that the plastic wrapper on the dust jacket was wrinkled and distorted and that it the dust jacket had been damaged.  Note on the "back" of the dust jacket that the paper has a horizontal compression fold that obscures the last title in the "list of fiction". 
Here's an inside view showing the vertical wrinkles in the plastic wrapper and tears in the paper dust jacket.  The wrinkles are a result of the degradation of the plastic which shrinks and warps as it ages.  It is surprising how much damage a plastic wrapper can inflict, but clearly the plastic is stronger than the paper given the fractures and creases in the dust jacket.

Not all plastics are bad, we use archival polyester in a number of preservation applications, but if you see any that is wrinkled and distorted, be sure you're not using it to store or protect an artifact as you may wind up inflicting damage that you had hoped to prevent.  The wrapper is now off the dust jacket which will get an upgraded wrapper made of archival polyester and then the book can go back to the shelf.