The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Conservation
Even in the conservation lab of the Smithsonian Institution Archives, land of acid-free bookmarks and conservation-grade adhesives, I recently found myself looking high and low for a practical Post-it note. It was the perfect way to temporarily label a jar of adhesive for one day's use, instead of cutting out a small piece of paper and taping it to the jar. So much extra work! Created around 1960 by Art Fry and Silver Spencer (legend has it that they were trying to create a strong, durable adhesive but kept making this weak low-tack adhesive by accident), the humble Post-it note is now a fixture of office culture. So simple and easy to use, what is there not to love about them?!
Well…unfortunately, this bright and useful invention has a darker side for librarians and archivists around the world. Not too long ago, conservation scientists at the National Archives and Records Administration conducted a battery of tests on Post-it notes and their competitors (hereafter referred to as a sticky note), and concluded that all sticky notes leave behind a harmful residual adhesive that attracts dirt and sticks to other papers or objects, no matter if you remove it immediately or leave it on for years, and the dyes in some sticky notes will run if wet. Additionally, removing a sticky note from a fragile book can easily lift ink and tear pages, and the notes are often made of poor quality, acidic paper which will cause damage over time. Although the original Post-it note developed for the 3M Company uses an acrylic adhesive which will not stain paper, other sticky notes are often made with a butyrate adhesive that will discolor paper over time, so users beware! Consequently, most libraries and archives enforce a strict “NO POST-IT NOTES” rule.
So, if you will, imagine my joy tinged with horror when an unusual document, bearing some seventeen feet worth of sticky notes neatly tacked onto a seemingly endless scroll, came into the lab to be conserved!
Cordelia Rose, former registrar of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, created this lengthy blue, pink, green and yellow flow chart to describe how the registrar process worked in 1986-1987 and to explain the database system they were using at the time. But as you can see, the sticky notes had become most ill-fated! Having already come loose and been readhered with a deteriorating double-sided tape, they were stained, attracting dirt, curling at the edges and beginning to fall off, leaving a disordered sticky mess.
After discussion with my colleagues, it was decided to readhere the notes in-situ, making it safe for digitization and for researchers to use. To do so, each note was carefully detached with a heated scalpel, while any residual adhesive was removed with a crepe eraser and methyl cellulose crumbs. Once the surface areas were clean, the sticky notes were carefully reattached in the same position with small drops of Lascaux 360HV, a permanent yet reversible adhesive. The Lascaux 360HV remains slightly tacky at room temperature, which allows the sticky notes to remain slightly flexible as the scroll is rolled and unrolled. Finally, a custom scroll box was made following instructions from our good friends at the Freer-Sackler, who handle scrolls far more often than we do at the Archives.
Stay tuned for a follow-up post by my colleague, archivist Jennifer Wright, who will explain why we are preserving and archiving the sticky note thoughts of Cordelia Rose!
- Suited for Space exhibition, guest notes on what they would bring to space sketched on sticky notes, Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Service
- Art Fry: Post-it Note Inventor, podcast, Lemelson Center
- Record Unit 540: Cooper-Hewitt Museum, Office of the Registrar, Subject Files, circa 1937-1992, Smithsonian Institution Archives
During my time as a pre-program intern within the conservation division of the Smithsonian Institution Archives, I have learned a great deal about the preservation of scientific journals, field diaries, and specimen lists, through my work with The Field Book Project. Over the summer, I have been splitting my time between preparing various field books for digitization and surveying the collection of field books to see what treatments are needed. Through these activities, I have discovered many unique materials and have had the opportunity to treat some of them.
One such item is a diary of Leonhard Stejneger from July 26–November 26, 1901, written while he was traveling in Germany. When I first examined the volume, I found seventeen items in ten different locations loosely inserted within the book. The inserts are interesting because they provide a look at everyday life in Germany in the early 20th century.
This lovely little poem found next to the page dated April 1st, 1901 is a clipping from a magazine whose last two lines are cut off. Curious as to how the poem ends I googled the text of the poem and found it! Here is the link to the full poem To a Tortoise, though I warn you it has a startlingly dark ending and I prefer it in the version found in the diary.
Other inserts, such as these two restaurant tickets, are especially fragile because they are connected along a perforated edge that has survived over 100 years! To ensure their long term preservation I placed them in a Mylar L-sleeve. Each of these tickets allowed one person to enter the restaurant. If you did not have a ticket you could not get in!
A wine label for the wine EST EST EST VERO VINO DI MONTEFIASCONE, found next to the page dated November 2nd, 1901, is a wonderful little piece of artwork, with a great story to boot! The story goes that Johannes Defuk, a bishop following King Henry V of Germany to Rome in 1111, really liked wine. On their way to Rome, Defuk sent his butler ahead of him to find good wines in the villages along the way. If the wine was good he left the message "Est." If it were very good he left the message "Est, Est." But when he came to Montefiascone the wine was so good he left the message "EST! EST! EST!." Johannes Defuk settled in Montefiascone until his death in 1113 leaving a large sum of money to the city with the only stipulation that every year on the day of his death they pour a barrel of wine over his grave. This tradition kept up until the 18th century when they city began giving the barrel of wine to the local priests instead. (Please note that this means they poured a barrel of wine on his grave every year for centuries!)
Lastly, I wanted to share with you a shipping receipt found inside the back cover that had to be flattened and mended. The receipt is for a manuscript and photographs that Leonhard Stejneger shipped to Richard Rathbun, assistant secretary at the Smithsonian.
While this treatment represents only one example over the course of my internship, I have come across and conserved many items for the Field Book Project that are equally as diverse as this one. If you are ever in the need for something interesting to study, I highly recommend the Smithsonian's field books as a great place to start!
- Record Unit 7074 - Leonhard Stejneger Papers, 1753, 1867-1943, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Conservator Sharon Norquest talks about the conservation treatment of the antenna drive of the Ranger VIII, an unmanned spacecraft that traveled to the Moon in 1965 to take pictures of the lunar surface. [via AirSpace, NASM]
- At Dartmouth University, Metadata Games allows users to tag photos in archives. [via InfoDocket]
- Reach for the stars . . . An online image archive of high resolution film scans from every Apollo space mission. [via PetaPixel]
- Leslie Johnston at the Library of Congress shares about her path to a career in digital preservation. [via The Signal; Digital Presevation, LOC]
- The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library recently announced that five scrapbooks documenting the childhood of the Nobel Prize-winning author, Ernest Hemingway, have been digitized and are now available online. [via InfoDocket]
- Proving that one is never too old to be creative, 97-year-old Hal Lasko uses Microsoft Paint from Windows 95 to create artwork. [via Colossal]
- Digital photography has dramatically increased our ability to document our lives through images. Photographer Rob Gibson takes a different approach to documenting the people who come to his studio by using wet plate collodion photography. [via PetaPixel]
- Not just about the outdoors, staff from the National Park Service talk about their digital collection and preservation. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- Formats from the recent past, VHS and quad videotapes, document televsion from the 1950s to 1970s and the Library of Congress is in a race to preserve them before the can't be played anymore. [via The Washington Post]
- Another format from the recent past is 16mm film. When Director and Producer William Lorton and Jason Savage stumbled upon World War II Flight Surgeon Jim Savage’s (Lorton’s great-uncle and Savage’s great-grandfather) store of 16mm footage taken during the war and they decided to make the following documentary. [via PetaPixel]
- When digitizing materials, how much DPI/PPI is too much? [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- This past week the National Archives released more records related to Watergate. [via InfoDocket]
- For a blast from the past from the Museum Conservation Institution see the video below: Rescuing Records: Recognizing the Problems of Preserving Documents in Research Collections. [via Museum Conservation Institute]