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Administration and Programs

Weissman Preservation Center

Weissman Preservation Center

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The Weissman Preservation Center (WPC), which is named in honor of Paul M. Weissman '52 and Harriet L. Weissman, sustained a high level of service to the Harvard community during a remarkably tumultuous year. All WPC programs strive to support the preservation of library collections across Harvard, employing complex, collaborative strategies.

  • The Special Collections Conservation Program produced a large number of remedial treatments while incorporating new techniques to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

  • The Photograph Preservation Program expanded its conservation and cataloging services by serving additional repositories, assessing and treating a wide range of photographs and photograph collections, and cataloging significant research collections.

  • Education and Outreach provided free services, programs, and products to the Harvard libraries, especially in the area of emergency preparedness and response, and in the development of a key Audiovisual Survey Project.

  • The Periodicals Index Online (PIO) Project continued to locate, copy, and index periodical articles from journals in the Harvard collections for inclusion in the PIO online database—a commercial product to which all of Harvard has free access.

Special Collections Conservation

The Weissman Preservation Center specializes in the conservation of the rare and unique books, manuscripts, maps, drawings, scores, photographs, and other objects that comprise Harvard's greatest treasures. WPC's special collections conservation laboratory provides centralized, professionally managed conservation services ranging from assessment and analysis of single objects and whole collections to comprehensive conservation treatments carried out at the highest level of practice. During FY 2009, the lab worked on 17,839 items—an increase of more than 10% over FY 2008.

Conservation of special collections materials grows increasingly complex as new and difficult treatments are performed on paper and parchment, as fragile items are prepared for large-scale imaging projects, and as libraries consolidate and collections are relocated. Throughout FY 2009, WPC conservators and technicians were challenged to learn new skills and to work in teams to accomplish ambitious goals.

For example, the use of re-moistenable and solvent-set tissues has a growing impact on the repair of paper and parchment. Originally used to facilitate on-site “quick repairs” in libraries rather than the Weissman Lab, the method has proven so effective and the treatment of such high quality that it is now used regularly in the WPC lab.

The Straus Center for Conservation at the Harvard Art Museum has loaned the WPC a highly specialized video spectral comparator (VSC), which can expose materials to different light wavelengths—e.g., ultra-violet, visible spectrum, and infrared—and capture high-resolution images of the results. The VSC facilitates examination of material composition and deterioration. Specifically, it detected fluorescence in the highly problematic iron gall ink found in the 90 Keats letters from Houghton Library, revealed text obscured by labels on the verso of photographs, and identified the adhesive layer between paper and cloth on Naxi scrolls from the Harvard-Yenching Library.

The WPC purchased an XRF (X-ray fluorescence) element analyzer to assist with the identification of media, particularly photographic prints. The analyzer's sensor detects the elements present on a photograph, and the presence or absence of certain elements can provide conclusive proof of print type. This is especially useful with photographic prints because they are often difficult to identify by eye.

A rare poster from Abraham Lincoln's presidential campaign is also of particular interest. The 40-by-60-inch woodblock-printed broadside is a powerful image of a federal eagle and shield bordered by stars and smaller shields. Before treatment, the brittle paper was riddled with a network of tears and splits, covered with heavy grime, and peeling away from a desiccated fabric backing. Fragments and loose pieces rained down each time the object was moved. WPC conservators bathed the poster in de-ionized water to reduce overall discoloration, removed the inappropriate fabric backing and associated adhesive, re-backed the poster with Japanese paper and wheat-starch paste, repositioned a multitude of fragments, and matted and framed the broadside.

A growing number of problems or projects are too large for one conservator to handle, so teams are formed to meet each new challenge. HUL's Open Collections Program (OCP) required conservators and technicians to work on ad hoc teams with OCP staff, a collection curator, and photographers. They assessed the condition of hundreds of items and performed treatments on 106 rare bound manuscripts before scanning.

Among the collections surveyed, cleaned, or re-housed were:

  • the Dun Collection of Credit Reports (for Knowledge and Library Services-Harvard Business School);

  • 30,000 glass plate negatives of theatre photographer Angus McBean (for Harvard Theatre Collection/Houghton Library—HCL);

  • 300 panoramas (for the Harvard University Archives);

  • 95,000 lantern slides (for the Fine Arts Library—HCL);

  • 15,000 photographic portraits (for Countway Library—Harvard Medical School); and

  • 18,000 experimental Polaroid images (for Knowledge and Library Services).

Among the items treated were:

  • 2,714 scientific papers, research notes, diaries, and photographs (for the Harvard University Archives);

  • 1,143 Naxi manuscripts (for Harvard-Yenching Library—HCL);

  • 92 Korean and 58 Chinese rare books (for Harvard-Yenching Library);

  • 36 daguerreotypes of African American slaves and others (for Peabody Museum Archives-Faculty of Arts and Sciences);

  • T. S. Eliot's personal photograph album (for Houghton Library); and

  • 106 items (for the Islamic Heritage Project—Open Collections Program).

Additional items relating to the Ballets Russes collections in the Harvard Theatre Collection of Houghton Library were prepared for exhibition.

Tracking

To track the thousands of items that are examined and treated in the WPC lab, staff members utilize a custom-developed software program called “A Conservation Records Network,” or “ACORN.” In June 2009, a new version of the software was released with significant enhancements. Now web-based, ACORN is more user-friendly and has better functionality. It can allow tracking of work by curators in the libraries and entry of non-treatment work or work done outside the lab (i.e., surveys and emergency response).

Photograph Cataloging and Metadata Production

Cataloging efforts focused largely on Harvard College Library collections being prepared for digitization or, in the case of the Fine Arts Library (FAL), for its move to the former Littauer Library.

The Fine Arts Library move, which took place at the end of June 2009, marked the completion of the official FAL cataloging project that was begun in FY 2007. During the past fiscal year, 49 collections containing more than 324,000 images were researched and cataloged. Many of the collections had been processed minimally and presented difficult challenges for analysis and description. As in previous years, creating catalog records in HOLLIS greatly increased access to these collections. In one notable example, a researcher from Kyushu University in Japan, trying to locate a collection of materials compiled by the archaeologist Umehara Sueji, was able to identify the collection in HOLLIS only a few days after the catalog record was created.

The George Augustus Gardner Collection of Photographs in the Cabot Science Library, which was used as a visual aid in teaching geology and geography at Harvard from about 1890 to 1920, includes many late-19th-century landscape photographs of New England. The collection was cataloged by creating a single collection-level record in HOLLIS and 1,316 item-level records in VIA. The photographs are currently being digitized for online dissemination.

Education and Outreach

The WPC supports preservation activities in all Harvard libraries and the Harvard community by offering free educational programs, specialized training sessions, brown-bag lunches, documentation, and reference services. In FY 2009, staff members shared their knowledge and expertise on a variety of preservation topics with a variety of people.

During FY 2009, the Weissman Center offered five key programs for the Harvard library community:

  • “Library Collections Salvage Workshop,” presented by Harvard's Library Collections Emergency Team;

  • “Facilities and Collection Stewards Working Together,” presented by Paul Bellenoit, director of operations and security in the Harvard College Library;

  • “Report on Mold Research,” presented by Ralph Mitchell, Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Biology in Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences;

  • “Doing Digital Preservation,” presented by Ross Harvey, visiting professor in the Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences; and

  • “Preservation of Treasured Works on Paper,” presented by Hugh Phibbs, coordinator of preservation services in the department of loans and exhibitions for the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Brown-bag lunches remain a popular way for staff members to exchange information in an informal setting. In FY 2009, the WPC held nine such events, with topics ranging from the Biodiversity Heritage Library (presented by Connie Rinaldo, librarian of the Ernst Mayr Library of Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology) to an overview of wheat-starch paste and its uses (presented by Debora Mayer, Helen H. Glaser Conservator in the Weissman Center).

As part of its outreach mission, the WPC responds to preservation questions and requests for advice from individuals across the University and the general public. In FY 2009 we responded to 147 requests, with 95 coming from the Harvard community and 52 from outside Harvard. The queries covered topics ranging from the proper storage and handling of books to dealing with mold on a gift collection.

Emergency Preparedness and Response

The Library Collections Emergency Team (LCET) provides advice and salvage expertise whenever library collections are threatened or damaged. Members of the team monitor a cell phone hotline and work with the University Operations Center to respond during emergencies. During FY 2009, the LCET was activated eight times to assist with materials rescue. We also began a closer collaboration with colleagues at the Strauss Conservation Center at the Fogg Museum to share our specialized knowledge.

The WPC conservation lab added two important pieces of equipment in FY 2009 that will greatly improve our emergency response capabilities. We purchased a commercial-grade freezer with the capacity to stabilize approximately 200 books, and a vacuum packer that can be used to dry rare books and papers more quickly and with less distortion than other methods.

Audiovisual Survey Project

To help Harvard's libraries establish AV preservation priorities, the WPC is piloting a web-based survey tool that assesses the format and condition of an AV recording and, together with a value rating, establishes preservation priorities. Development of the pilot is supported by the Harvard University Library, the Harvard College Library, and the Adler Preservation Fund.

According to Jan Merrill-Oldham, Harvard's Malloy-Rabinowitz Preservation Librarian, “We need to understand the AV universe in Harvard's libraries and archives, and pinpoint those materials that are likely to be reaching the end of their usefulness as physical objects. Following on our work, librarians, curators, and archivists can identify among them those that are most worthy of being digitized, stored, and delivered from the Digital Repository Service.”

The WPC team elected to develop an AV survey tool designed to fully meet Harvard's institutional needs. The pilot is a web-based, multi-user software tool, implemented in PHP and JavaScript with a MySQL back end. It employs user-access control mechanisms to ensure survey data security and integrity, and supports the use of library-defined tags, context-sensitive web-based help, and search and report generation. It also can be extended to support additional audiovisual formats as they evolve. Software will support the myriad formats found in the Library's collections, and allow for easy incorporation of new format types as they are discovered. It employs a standardized vocabulary for format attributes and values to ensure the accuracy, consistency, and integrity of survey data across the University.

The WPC is partnering with the University Archives to develop and test the AV survey. University Archivist Megan Sniffin-Marinoff notes that “the Harvard University Archives has an exceptionally good AV collection. This project will provide a much-needed assessment of the physical needs of these materials and enable us to determine not only how the Archives will preserve the collections but also how we will make them available to the community.”

Collaboration with Commercial Publishers

The WPC works with a commercial publisher to reproduce and index Harvard's library collections for the benefit of students, scholars, and researchers. It manages the Harvard libraries' significant contributions to ProQuest's Periodicals Index Online (PIO), produced under the Chadwyck-Healey brand.

PIO is a powerful resource to open up otherwise hidden journal content for scholars at Harvard and around the world. There are now indexes to 6,000 journals available through the PIO, which provides access to nearly 20 million article citations going back to 1665. Instead of looking through numerous printed indexes and bibliographies, researchers can search journal contents by author, journal title, subject, language, year of publication, and date ranges online. Within the PIO, there are direct links to both ProQuest's Periodicals Archive Online and JSTOR, which allow users to view the full text of 4.5 million articles. PIO also provides access to over 3.6 million articles within British Periodicals (BP). BP covers content from more than 400 journals, ranging across four centuries (1680-1930). From July 2008 to August 2009, the WPC identified and copied indexes for runs of 110 journals. Out of that number, 52 had never been indexed before.