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Baker Library's Special Collections Conservation Initiative

The Kress Collection is world-renowned as a resource for the study of economic thought and history," says Tom Michalak, Executive Director of Baker Library. While the preservation of the Historical Collections is a key aspect of Baker's mission, new attention is now being focused on the conservation of the Kress Collection-an assemblage of rare materials relating to the history of business and economics that is remarkable in its depth and scope.

Earlier this year, conservator Priscilla Anderson joined Baker Library and the Weissman Preservation Center to work with Baker staff on implemention of a series of preservation initiatives involving Baker Library's special collections. Given the importance of these holdings, their preservation is a high priority according to Laura Linard, Baker's Director of Historical Collections. "Our preservation efforts to date have been directed towards reformatting and rehousing fragile materials in the Historical Collections. We now want to focus on the conservation needs of the Kress Collection in a systematic manner by gaining an overall view of the preservation issues and developing a program to address those issues," says Linard.

Anderson joins other faculty-based conservation staff members in the Weissman Center. While her appointment is an important step in the development of Baker's preservation program, it also serves as an important model for collaboration within the Harvard University Library (HUL) system. According to Barbara Graham, HUL's associate director for administration and programs, appointments such as Anderson's do much to ensure high standards for conservation treatment of special collections by creating a critical mass of expertise. "The Weissman Preservation Center was established in the University Library as a comprehensive venue for special collections conservators-as a laboratory that enables specialists to draw upon the knowledge of their colleagues. There are considerable challenges associated with the treatment of rare and unique objects, and each conservator brings to the task a unique skills set gained through years of experience and training."

Priscilla Anderson's first Baker Library project is to survey the Kress Collection. The survey is a planning tool that uses randomly sampled data to draw statistically valid conclusions about the condition of the collection. Factoring in information about the storage and environmental conditions in which the collection is housed, the survey will be used to set preservation priorities that balance the projected use, value, and physical condition of materials.

Baker Library currently is preparing for a complete renovation of its facilities, and the information derived from the condition survey will be incor-porated into strategic planning for the project. The physical condition and specific preservation needs of the collections will be important factors in working through the transition and in planning the new space.

Priscilla Anderson has a background in rare book and manuscript conservation well suited to the variety and complexity of materials held in Harvard's special collections. She holds an MS in Art Conservation from the University of Delaware (concentrating in rare books and manuscripts) and an MLS from the University of Maryland. Her undergraduate degree from Yale is in art history. She has worked at the Library of Congress and The Walters Art Museum, and interned in conservation departments at the University of North Carolina and the University of Texas. Karen Bailey, Rare Book Librarian in the Historical Collections Department, says, "We were looking for a conservator with substantial training and demonstrated bench skills in working on materials of the age, fragility, and caliber of the Kress Collection. We also wanted someone with a knowledge and appreciation of the objects themselves. A program of this scope requires a manager who can help us determine what we should do to bring the collection to a stable point, and how to set priorities for executing the program effectively and efficiently."

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Last modified on Thursday, April 18, 2002.