Staff Spotlight: Conservation Lab
Anyone passing through Level 1 of Lutnick Library will undoubtedly notice the Conservation Lab, and may stop to watch the work happening there through the windows. This work is undertaken by Library Conservator Bruce Bumbarger, assistant Jim Pollard, volunteer David Cook ‘64, and student assistants to preserve the Libraries’ collections
Conservation Lab staff provide a number of different services for the Libraries, including printing, framing, hanging, and display organization of Libraries exhibitions, and community activities during College-wide events like Friends and Family Weekend. But the bulk of their work is conservation of the Libraries’ collections, which generally falls into two categories: passive and active conservation.
Passive conservation efforts aim to provide proper storage conditions—light, temperature, humidity—as well as supplying individual items with protective enclosures. In some cases items are protected in this way rather than “fixed” by mending torn pages or reattaching worn loose covers because they are not frequently handled; in other cases doing so would eliminate their value as artifacts, destroying evidence of their manufacture, and perhaps eliminating traces of use by previous owners. The ways in which previous owners have interacted with their books—homemade repairs, or notations on endleaves—could easily be lost if every item were completely repaired.
A smaller number of items receive what can be termed “full” treatment under the second, active or interventionist category of conservation work. When simple protective storage will not stop an item’s deterioration, intervention is necessary to protect it. This often arises from the nature of the materials used to make the object— something referred to as “inherent vice.” For example, one of the objects recently in the Conservation Lab’s care was a large poster from the 2020 student strike for racial justice, which was donated to the Libraries’ strike archive. Made by students from four sheets of poster board and paint, it is fastened together with heavy layers of duct tape—a quick solution at the time that would lead to problems later on. The tape adhesive would deteriorate, causing staining and damage to the paper. To prevent this, a stream of heated air was used to soften the adhesive, allowing for removal of the tape and any adhesive residue that remained. If the tape stayed attached, chemical changes to the adhesive would increase the difficulty of removal, so the treatment of this item was of fairly high priority.
The staff of the Conservation Lab can’t hope to stop the processes that lead to the slow deterioration of items entirely, but providing a sound environment, along with selective intervention, will allow the Libraries to provide safe access to materials for many years to come. So if you’re in Lutnick Library, stop by and take a look at what our staff are up to!