April 21-27 is Preservation Week, sponsered by the American Library Association. DePaul University's Special Collections and Archives would like to take this opportunity to share some of the preservation activities that we take part in here.
Here at SPCA, we regularly encounter materials that are not in pristine condition. Over time, leather bindings begin to crumble, paper yellows and begins to flake apart, photographs peel and warp, and metal rusts. While aging is a natural process, material degredation often puts into jeopardy our ability to provide future access to our collections. Therefore, we need to take some steps to both mitigate any existing damage, and preserve materials in such a way as to minimize future damage.
"Shouldn't I be wearing gloves to touch this stuff?" This is one of our most-often asked questions. The answer is NO! Handling rare materials with gloves often does more harm than good. They are generally dirtier than just-washed hands and reduce a patron's manual dexterity, meaning that it's easier to tear or bend something. At DePaul SPCA, we just ask you to wash your hands before touching an antiquarian book or manuscript.
The photograph to the right shows the kind of damage that can happen to books over a few hundred years. Bindings wear away and flake off, exposing a book's spine. The stitching the holds the pages together can also snap, so loose leaves can fall out and be lost or torn. We think you'll agree that books in this condition could use some TLC. The most dramatic type of preservation that can be done to a book is a complete rebinding. Here at DePaul SPCA, we send our books to be rebound by a professional antiquarian bindery. There, they can transform an old, crumbling tome into a beautifully rebound one. Pages are cleaned, spines and resewn, and the book is rebound. This can be an expensive process, but for those books that are heavily used or particularly valuable, it's worth it.
Within our department, we don't rebind books. But we can create containers to make antiquarian books last much, much longer. Our boxes are built to keep books away from dust, light, and air, exposure to which can cause damage over time. As long as the book's basic integrity isn't threatened, it can remain in a box for quite a long time without further degredation.
Two-dimensional items like maps and photographs are often encapsulated in a plastic called biaxially-oriented polyethylene terephthalate (bo-PET for short). This incredibly thin and strong plastic allows delicate materials to be handled safely. Additionally, bo-PET filters UV light, so encapsulation performs the same function as the book boxes above.
The bulk of the materials in SPCA are pieces of paper that reside in our archives and manuscript collections. These collections come to us in various states of order, and aside from imposing an order on them, we also seek to preserve them for future use. As collections are processed, we may come across rusted paperclips and staples, rubber bands that have fused to the paper itself, and even insects. All these are removed and disposed of, and processed materials are placed in acid-free file folders, and then into acid-free boxes.
Finally, once all SPCA items find a place on our shelves, they will spend the majority of their lives in special climate-controlled environments. Our shelving areas have a special filtration system that minimizes dust and humidity, and keeps temperatures at optimal storage levels. We do all of this so that patrons like you will be able to use all of our collections well into the future.
If you have any questions about how to preserve your personal treasures, please visit ALA's preservation tips at http://atyourlibrary.org/passiton, and if you'd like to know more about how we preserve SPCA items, feel free to stop in to find out more. DePaul's Special Collections and Archives is located on the 3rd floor of Richardson Library, room 314, and online at http://library.depaul.edu/Find/Collections/index.aspx.