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veritas Harvard University Library Notes, For Harvard Library Staff, Number 1325 May 2005


Brenda Bernier, Senior Photograph Conservator in HUL's Weissman Preservation Center


Harvard University Library Notes / September 2005 / No. 1327

Senior Photograph Conservator Arrives October 1—
Harvard Launches New Conservation Program for Photographs

With the October 1 arrival of Brenda Bernier as senior photograph conservator in the Weissman Preservation Center (WPC), the Harvard University Library will officially launch a University-wide photograph preservation program. The University's holdings, estimated at more than 7.5 million items in 48 Harvard repositories, date back to the emergence of photography in the 1840s.

The new photograph preservation initiative, made possible through a $2.1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, complements ongoing preservation programs for Harvard's 15 million books and millions of manuscripts, printed documents, maps, prints, drawings, disks, tapes, and other media. The Mellon Foundation has played a leadership role in the field of photograph conservation for almost a decade, investing in training and the establishment of positions for photograph conservators in the US. With support from Mellon, a second conservator and two conservation technicians will join a project team at Harvard under Bernier's direction, staffing the new program for its first five years. In addition, a photograph cataloger will work under the direction of Steven Riel, preservation cataloger and projects manager in the Weissman Preservation Center.

According to Jan Merrill-Oldham, the Malloy-Rabinowitz Preservation Librarian in the University Library and the College Library, Harvard's photograph preservation program promises to be challenging and multifaceted. "We hope to advance the care of Harvard's photograph collections, and to work with other institutions to further shape and define this relatively new aspect of materials conservation. We intend to offer education and training throughout the University in areas such as identification of photographic types and emergency planning; to expand the monitoring of building environments and explore the need for specialized photographic storage; improve housing through enveloping, boxing, and replacement of deteriorated enclosures; conserve aging and damaged photographs so that they can be studied and exhibited; and catalog photographs and reproduce and disseminate them largely through digitization."

Brenda Bernier comes to Harvard from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), where she joined the staff as senior photograph conservator in 2001. At NARA she was responsible for assessing the nature and condition of the agency's vast photograph collections, performing conservation treatments, developing plans and guidelines, preparing storage specifications, conducting original research related to the deterioration and treatment of photographic materials, monitoring the work of conservation interns and junior conservators, and serving on NARA's Emergency Response Team. Bernier represented NARA on the International Standards Organization working group responsible for the preservation of photographic materials.

Previously, Bernier served as photographic materials and paper conservator at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. There she treated early- to mid-20th-century photographic materials and paper-based documents and works of art, and performed a wide range of associated activities. Bernier is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and earned an MS in conservation of photographic materials from Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. She completed conservation internships at the National Gallery of Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art, NARA, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

"The new photograph preservation program will have significant capabilities," stated Nancy Cline, Roy E. Larsen Librarian of Harvard College. "Brenda Bernier will play a leadership role, helping to integrate the activities of Harvard's libraries, archives, museums, and academic programs in unprecedented ways." She will collaborate closely with Pamela Spitzmueller, James W. Needham Chief Conservator (rare books); Thea Burns, Helen H. Glaser Conservator (senior paper conservator); conservators at Harvard's Fogg Art Museum and Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology; and librarians and curators across the University.

"A systematic, well-planned effort to preserve Harvard's magnificent collections of photographs has been high on the Library's agenda for some time," stated Sidney Verba, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library. "Caring for and disseminating Harvard's great scientific and artistic photographic works will prove to be an enormous challenge, but the outcome of the University's work will be of worldwide importance."

To learn more about Harvard's collections, see A Directory to Photographs at Harvard, located at http://preserve.harvard.edu/photographs/directory.html.

The Weissman Preservation Center, named in honor of Paul M. Weissman, AB 1952, and Harriet L. Weissman, enables the libraries at Harvard to conserve the University's most valuable collections of unique and rare books, manuscripts, photographs, maps, drawings, prints, and other materials. The Weissman Preservation Center works hand in hand with Preservation and Imaging Services in the Harvard College Library to manage programs and services dedicated to preserving and reproducing library collections so that they are available for study, teaching, and research in the very long term.


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