Friday, August 8, 2008

From the Preservation Lab

Over the next few weeks the preservation intern and I will be building phase boxes for twenty-nine editions of the Public Officers of the Commonwealth. This series, also known as the Bird Books, contain photographs and biographical information for legislators and public officials of the Commonwealth. These items are particularly useful for tracking the term of a legislator and for the pictures of early Twentieth Century legislators. The library maintains a copy of record, library use copies in both the main library and in the Special Collections Department and digital access copies available through the Internet Archive.

The library use copies located in the Special Collections Department are the focus of this boxing project. The leather covers on the editions from 1919 to 1943/1944 are deteriorating, a condition known as red rot. Red rot is a process of leather decay caused by the interaction of sulfuric acid within the leather fibers. It results in weakened leather and a powdery rust colored dust. By housing these volumes in phase boxes the leather covers will be protected from further deterioration due to abrasion from pulling these items off of the shelf. The picture above shows the volumes to be repaired as they are shelved. You'll notice that some appear to be bound in brown leather. In fact that coloring is due to red rot - all of these items are bound with black leather.

For each volume we will be building custom-sized boxes made from acid-free folder stock. These boxes will not only provide the above mentioned protection from abrasion, but will also provide stability for these historic items and will facilitate easier handling by library staff and library users.

The State Library recently scanned all of the Bird Books from the early 1900s to the most recent edition. While digitization is an exciting means of providing greater access to an item and a digital copy can diminish the need for handling the original item, technology's forward moving hardware and software requirements prove a challenge in creating a digital copy that can be guaranteed to be readable in 100 years or more. Traditional preservation, on the other hand, can provide the conditions under which an item can survive for hundreds of years and still be readable. Both digitization and preservation have complimentary points and the processes dovetail nicely: the digital image provides an access copy to legislative researchers the world over and preservation of the primary source provides access to legislative researchers into the future.

-Lacy Crews, Preservation Assistant