Monday, February 20, 2012

Work Update -- Chester Public Library

It's been a while since I've written in this space about work, so it's time. Last week, on a truly dark and stormy night, I gave my first solo workshop on "Caring for Your Family's Treasures," at Chester Public Library. Surprisingly, a stalwart little group of folks left their warm and cozy homes to brave the storm and later, the thick fog that seems to settle in Chester, to participate in the workshop.

During the last month or so, in between digitization projects, preserving library materials, helping patrons, and writing finding aids, I created a 19-page PowerPoint presentation for the workshop. It is dense with information about how to preserve and care for a wide array of materials that patrons might find in their collections. I then matched up the presentation with demonstrations using a few props from the library's collections.

For instance, to demonstrate how to handle maps, I used a small collection of cave maps one of my cowokers and I found in a file drawer next to her desk. Originally, these maps were folded in an envelope with a bulletin from the New Jersey Bureau of Geology and Topography. When we discovered them in the library, we only had the maps. I unfolded them, interleaved them with acid-free tissue, and rolled them around a legal sized archival folder I had opened and rolled lengthwise. I then used some cotton tying tape to loosely tie them in their rolled state and put them into a polyethylene plastic tube for storage.

I also demonstrated two ways to store fragile/rare books. In one instance, I used a custom acid-free wrapper to enclose an old minutes book from the library's board meetings spanning 1911-1945. In another example, I showed the participants a very large, fragile book housed in a drop-front, acid-free box and stabilized with archival tissue.

In the section of the presentation on photographs, I used an archival binder with polyester photo sleeves to show how we stored our color and black and white prints. It occurred to me during the workshop that I should have asked someone to photograph the presentation, but I'll just have to put it on the to-do list for next time.

I covered the essentials of preserving paper-based items (manuscripts, books, the aforementioned maps, architectural drawings, works on paper, ephemera, and more), film and photographs, recordings (audio/video), textiles, and metal objects. I avoided digitization, except to refer to it as a way of converting film and recordings into digital files. Digitization really requires its own workshop, and the library will be hosting a vendor in April (for Preservation Week) who will digitize all kinds of materials for patrons.

The workshop was attended by a mix of locals, Chester Historical Society members, and a few people from neighboring towns. Participants asked many good questions. My favorite question had to do with the work surface, because not everyone has a nice large, stainless steel worktable on which to do their preservation projects. The query came from a lovely older lady from Mount Olive who wondered if she could do the work on her bed or the kitchen table. I suggested that she avoid the bed and opt for a solid surface that was clean of all debris and materials that might transfer to the archival bits. One might even cover it with archival paper just to be safe. Sometimes the floor is an option for home preservation projects, just because of the size of an item (and I would recommend it be covered as well).

There were discussions about cost, since preserving materials in archival housing is not a cheap venture. I suggested ways of making the most out of archival housing without injuring the materials. Importantly, two vendors provided me with samples of their wares and discounts for shoppers who mentioned the workshop. It was nice to send the participants away with thick packets of acid-free folders, cotton gloves, photo sleeves, and other enclosures. I also put a color copy of the presentation in the polyester bag, as well as the discount coupons.

Overall, the workshop went well, and I received very positive feedback from attendees. I enjoy giving these types of presentations. The more props, the better. It also gives me a good opportunity to meet more of our local and nearby patrons. Importantly, teaching others what I have learned helps me to solidify that knowledge in my mind and practice. Areas where I feel a bit weak or questions I'm unable to answer just show me where I need to focus a bit more. To that point, I will be attending the upcoming MARAC workshop on identifying 19th century portrait photographs.

Otherwise, soon I'll be posting an online finding aid for the cave maps, as well as one for some lively World War II newsletters written by a local English teacher. Those newsletters are some of the most interesting artifacts I have seen, and I can't wait for the local folks to be able to access them online and read the facsimiles I produced. The originals are too fragile to be handled, but the digital copies as well as the printed copies go a long way toward bringing 1943-1945 back to the present.

I will be sure to link to the digital collections when the new Chester Public Library web site goes live before April.

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