Selection and Disposition of Vault Materials for Conservation TreatmentCornell University has five libraries responsible for the care of rare books and manuscripts: the Carl Kroch Library, the Law Library, the Mann Library of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Industrial and Labor Relations Labor Documentation Center, and the Music Library. The Kroch Library, however, has by far the greatest number of rare and unique materials. All conservation work is centralized at the John M. Olin Library with additional paper conservation treatment carried out at the library annex at the paper conservation facility.
Typically, materials in need of conservation treatment are identified through five main sources:
Most surveys carried out on vault collections are comprehensive, in that every item within a particular area is examined and the need for conservation action noted. These surveys are not condition surveys, in that they identify materials for specific forms of treatment rather than by condition.
Book collections are surveyed by the Conservation Liaison, Joan Brink, with the survey results tabulated to provide data to help with the drafting of grant proposals. Books are drawn from the collection for treatment in accordance with the rate at which the books can be treated and within the limits of the grant award. The Conservation Liaison selects books from the shelf in groups according to the type of treatment needed, and ensures that they are fully charged to Conservation and that the treatment documentation is created.
Non-book materials (i.e. paper documents, maps, art-on-paper, drawings, etc) have been difficult to systematize in a similar way because of the condition and survey variables. Surveys have been conducted as needed by the Paper Conservator with the assistance of interns and/or student assistants.2. Acquisitions
The procedures in place for books require that items newly acquired be examined by Rare Books and Manuscripts (RMC) staff. If an item(s) is clearly in need of treatment before first-time shelving, it is brought to the attention of the Conservation Liaison who prepares the documentation and transfers it to the Book Conservator. If the item can be treated within a short time frame, it is treated and returned to the vault through the Conservation Liaison. If the treatment cannot be completed within a short time, the item is stabilized prior to shelving---usually by placing it in a phase box---and the item noted by the Conservation Liaison for future treatment.
At the present time, there is really no systematic method for dealing
with the same category of non-book material. The practice that has developed
is for RMC staff to simply send items that they suspect require treatment
to the Conservation Liaison who then simply passes them on to the Paper
or Photograph Conservator. Often, the items are not in need of complex
conservation treatment but may require more effective housing/stabilization
and more minor repair. This usually entails a return of the items through
the Conservation Liaison to RMC.
Materials in need of treatment are referred for treatment though the Conservation Liaison with a clear stated deadline for completion. It is preferable that materials selected for exhibition be shown at their best so that this treatment takes some priority.
In general, the current practice for surveying, selecting, and treating books is working well but systematic surveys for non-book materials are more difficult to organize because of the need for more specialized staff to conduct the surveys. However, it is important that non-book collections considered to be of current importance should be surveyed with a view to improving housing and general arrangement as well as selecting items for treatment. Ideally, conservation staff and the staff of RMC could launch and sustain occasional joint survey projects. For example, an important group of architectural materials could be targeted, examined by a conservator, who would make recommendations on rehousing, which would be carried out by RMC staff. At the same time, items from the group in need of conservation treatment could be flagged for treatment and dealt with as conservator time permits. The role of the Conservation Liaison would be to act as facilitator when the items are requested for treatment.
One method of selection for the treatment of non-book materials is the following. An area of the vault is set aside as a decision area. When a non-book item is found to be in need of treatment it is placed in the decision area by the person responsible for the item. On a regular basis the paper and photograph conservators meet with the appropriate RMC person and review the materials in the decision area. The conservators determine if, and what form of treatment, the materials would receive, who would carry out the work, and record their recommendations for each item. The Conservation Liaison then follows up and creates treatment records and/or a database entry for each item, and arranges a treatment schedule. If an item requires urgent treatment because of its condition or high level of use, it would be regarded as a priority item and treated accordingly.
The advantage of this approach is that it establishes a regular schedule
and causes the conservators and curatorial staff to interact for the
good of the material. The resulting dialogue ensures that issues relating
to cost, value, and context, are a part of the decision-making process.
It is useful to locate the decision area in the vaults so that items
can be examined in the context of a collection or common group, and
perhaps lead to a project approach appropriate for grant funding.
John F. Dean. April 2, 2004