Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Cooked Books and Red Tape

What you see in the picture to the left is all that remains of a massive, multi-year preservation project to repair and re-house over 1700 items from the library's collection that were set aside during a shifting project. These items appeared to be 'cooked' due to their brittle pages and poor quality leather bindings. The books you see here are destined to receive custom phase boxes before they return to the shelves.

At the State Library we make all of our phase boxes custom to the book and everything is done by hand. The boxes are secured closed by flat cotton string. Since I've been in the preservation lab I've been using unbleached cotton string, but several spools of red cotton string remain in the lab from years past. I feel it is important to use all of the materials we have, often cutting small boxes out of the scraps from larger boxes. So I thought that perhaps we could use the remainder of red string for the cooked books' boxes, but first I decided to test it.

My main concern with using the red string has always been that in the event of a water leak or flood the red dye might run and damage the book inside the box and those books around it. To test the string, I placed a bit of it into a cup of hot water and a cup of cold water.

The first picture was taken within minutes of adding the water, and the hot water had already started to run the dye. The hot water cup is on the left.

I left the string in the water overnight and returned to find that the dye had run in the cold water as well, though not as much as in the hot water.

It was a simple test, but quickly ruled out using this string in the construction of preservation phase boxes. Instead we will continue to use unbleached flat cotton string in the construction of our boxes.

Over the next few months I will train the preservation intern and our Northeastern University co-op student in the construction of boxes. This collection of eighty books will receive their attention first, and hopefully all books will be back on the shelves by the end of the summer.

- Lacy Crews, Preservation Librarian