Preservation in the LBI Library

Lauren Paustian

Caring for a library of over 80,000 physical volumes is a hands-on job, according to Lauren Paustian, an associate librarian who handles many of the LBI Library’s preservation efforts. During “National Preservation Week” (April 26 – March 3, 2015), Paustian offered visitors to the Center for Jewish History (CJH) an overview of what it takes to preserve these materials for future generations.

Evolving standards
Here you can see a variety of past preservation measures that actually compromised the condition of the books. Acidic tape was used in an effort to stabilize these books, but now it is decaying. In some cases the covers were cut off, and in one case, the dust jacket was affixed permanently with acidic tape. We can’t undo these measures without damaging the books, but if we were to receive a donation of any copies in better condition, we would replace them.

Acidic tape decaying on a book

Acidic tape decaying on a book

The dust jacket of this book was permanently affixed to the book with tape.

The dust jacket of this book was permanently affixed to the book with tape.

This book was improperly rebound into a new cover.

This book was improperly rebound into a new cover.

The cover of this book was removed and an attempt was made to stabilize the pages with harmful acidic tape.

The cover of this book was removed and an attempt was made to stabilize the pages with harmful acidic tape.

Enclosures—a sturdy home for books
Today, we make every effort not to alter or affix anything to books at all. Nearly every book that’s not a recent hardcover gets its own enclosure, which ranges from a Mylar wrap to protect the dust jacket to custom built boxes with stiff backing to protect the spine and cover of the book.

A range of different enclosure types, from mylar wraps for dust jackets to custom clamshells. Also included are tough library bindings, used for reference works that see heavy use.

A range of different enclosure types, from mylar wraps for dust jackets to custom clamshells. Also included are tough library bindings, used for reference works that see heavy use.

A semi-custom made enclosure fabricated by a vendor based on measurements made at LBI

A semi-custom made enclosure fabricated by a vendor based on measurements made at LBI

While many hardcover books do not need an enclosure, a bookmark was used to hold the barcode and bibliographic information for this book with a unique velveteen material on the cover

While many hardcover books do not need an enclosure, an acid-free bookmark was used to hold the barcode and bibliographic information for this book with a unique velveteen material on the cover

Rare books—the gold standard
Even when they’ve been digitized and their content has long been in the public domain, rare books see a lot of use, mostly for exhibitions. The gold-standard for protecting such fragile and rare books is a custom-made clamshell case like this one. I’ve taken courses on building these, and they are made to such exacting specifications that each one takes several hours of work. We use an external vendor for our clamshell cases, and they start at about $70 for a small book like this one and go up from there.

A custom clamshell enclosure for a book from the Frank L. Herz Rare Book Collection

A custom clamshell enclosure for a book from the Frank L. Herz Rare Book Collection

Custom Clamshell

Custom Clamshell

Custom Clamshell

Custom Clamshell

Periodicals—delicate spinal surgery
Before the early twentieth century, the printing and bookbinding industries used more durable materials like animal hides and recycled textiles. We have a good idea how those materials hold up over time, but no one is really sure what’s going to happen to the wood-pulp paper used for newsprint. Libraries have typically bound these materials in large volumes, but even so they often become too fragile to handle without damaging them.

At that point microfilming and digitization is really the best way to preserve them.

This is an example of newsprint that was bound in a volume too thick to be practical for use. It won’t lay flat for the camera, but microfilming and digitization are the only ways we can provide access without destroying the originals.

Bound periodical

Bound periodical

In cases like this, I get my tools and do some surgery.  First I find the threads used to sew the binding.

Threads in a sewn binding

Threads in a sewn binding

Then I break the book into smaller segments and snip the threads.

Snip

Snip

Snip

Snip

Sometimes I have to also scrape off the glue coating the spine.

Scrape

Scrape

This volume took about two hours to unbind. As you can see, it’s a messy job that leaves the originals a bit worse for the wear, but once they are microfilmed and digitized, we can leave them safely in their enclosures while researchers read them online!

Unbound periodical

Unbound periodical

Funding—half the battle
Planning and securing funding for preservation is at least as much work as the actual preservation measures. For example, we often apply for NEH grants for preservation, but it’s a two step process. First we apply for funds for a preservation specialist to survey the collections and identify books in need of special protection measures. Then, in a separate process, we apply for the funds to actually measure the books and have the enclosures made. It’s a painstaking effort, and the entire cycle can take three years. It’s worth doing, though, because if we don’t get it right, the collections are at risk.

lauren

Lauren Paustian

Lauren Paustian is Associate Librarian for Technical Services at Leo Baeck Institute, where she manages preservation measures, processing and cataloguing of acquisitions, and the LBI’s disaster prevention and management plan. An LBI employee since 2008, she has she has dual Masters’ degrees in Library Science and in Art History from Pratt Institute in New York and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

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