Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Preservation Update

It has been a busy couple of weeks in Special Collections and Preservation! Two major initiatives are underway and in the midst of these projects, I traveled to New Jersey to finish up my term at the Preservation Management Institute.

The Massachusetts Room Preservation Project
This is a multi-year project focused on rehousing unique documents produced by state agencies and concerning the Commonwealth. Many of these items were produced during the era of brittle paper (approximately the 1850s to 1950s) and are very fragile as a result. The preservation intern for the fall is working on rehousing fragile and thin items into acid-free folders and envelopes to provide support on the shelf and protection from light damage that can further degrade brittle paper. So far this season over 150 items have been preserved as part of this project. Stay tuned to the blog for updates on the project and posts about interesting items discovered in the process.

Mapping Massachusetts: the History of Transportation in the Commonwealth
This year the State Library received a grant as part of the Library Services and Technology Act to digitize collections relating to transportation systems in the Commonwealth. These materials include manuscript maps of railroads (built and proposed), materials from the Land and Harbor Commissioners, and materials relating to canals and tunnels in the state. Preparation for digitization has begun and that includes making sure that items look their best before they go under the cameras. Over the next few weeks I'll be cleaning up and making any minor repairs necessary to our first batch of items to be scanned, approximately 300 railroad maps. It is a great experience to see and work on these hand-drawn maps. With some stretching to over six feet long, they are really a testament to the care and diligence of state mapmakers of years past.

Preservation Management Institute
As mentioned in previous posts, the Library was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Preservation Assistance Grant last year to support my year of study at the Preservation Management Institute, a program of the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information. This October I traveled to Rutgers to complete my third and final week of the program. The class had some very interesting discussions about mission statements and current trends, the future of libraries in light of growing digital collections, managing change during times of restructuring and budget shifts, and a very enlightening presentation on digital imaging and what saving as a jpeg means for data/image loss. This week of discussions and presentations brought together ideas discussed in the previous two weeks of class and the hands-on experiences I've gained at the State Library over the past year.

The highlight of week three for me was our "backstage" tour of the New York Public Library (Mid-Manhattan Library). We spent a rainy afternoon there touring the preservation and conservation labs, the microfilming lab, the Office of the Registrar which handles exhibits, the main reading room, and the map room.
There were so many amazing things it is hard to express all we saw, but I guess I can sum it up by saying, we walked right by a Gutenberg Bible and only noticed it on a second pass through. What could be the crown of some collections is just sitting quietly in its own exhibit case with no fanfare. A slightly dark picture of the Bible is included at left. (No flash photography was allowed.)

We ended the day by visiting the Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division. I know their collections are amazing, but I was most taken by the compact map shelving and beautiful decor of the reading room. Below at left is a picture of the ceiling of the reading room. While I appreciate that new technologies can provide library services in remote locations, there's something to be said for providing library services in amazing reading rooms.

For those of you looking for a beautiful space to access library resources and wi-fi here in Boston, the State Library has huge windows for natural light, a beautifully renovated reading room, and a flat screen television on the balcony for viewing House and Senate sessions.

- Lacy Crews Stoneburner, Preservation Librarian