Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dirty Map? Clean it up!

As mentioned previously on the blog, the library is in the process of digitizing roughly 400 maps in the collection as part of a grant awarded by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. One collection of profile maps that correspond to the railroad maps are being digitized in-house and a description of the process is detailed here.

The image above shows one piece of a profile map that corresponds to the railroad map, Proposed Connections to the Massachusetts Central Railroad. All told, this particular profile map is made up of six pieces and is 191.5 inches long. There are about 70 profile maps in total, all equally long and all equally dirty! I have been working over the past couple of months to clean the dust and grime that has accumulated on these maps during years of storage in order to prepare them to be scanned and posted in the library's digital repository, DSpace.

Although the condition of the maps may look daunting, cleaning them is actually a relatively simple process. I am using non-abrasive vinyl erasers and eraser "pencils" created to erase ink from drafting film. I use a brush to sweep away the eraser crumbs, so that I do not damage or dirty the maps further by using my hands to brush the crumbs away.

I clean the maps in small sections, usually using the graphing lines printed on the maps to isolate small areas. This way, I can check my work as I go and easily see the progress I am making. Using two different erasers allows me to clean carefully around a note written in pencil or clean larger areas quickly.

In the image below, I cleaned only the section of the map below the graphed area. The difference is obvious, especially when compared to the original image of the map before cleaning (pictured above). Although the map may still look somewhat dirty, this is due to staining from the dirt and cannot be removed even if I cleaned the area over and over again.

I then move onto cleaning small rectangular areas of the graph. This ensures that I do not miss any areas and also keeps me from re-cleaning sections that are permanently stained. Too much or too vigorous cleaning can also damage the surface of the map and make the paper fragile. Most of these maps are relatively sturdy to begin with and hold up well when cleaned. Only a few have brittle edges or tears, and these may eventually be repaired with Japanese tissue to keep them from being damaged further.

I also make sure to examine the map carefully before cleaning it. In the image on the left, what may look like a smudge above the blue line is actually a number written in pencil in extremely small handwriting (click on the image to zoom in and see for yourself). The maps also often have elaborate handwritten town names and titles in ink, but it is also possible to see the original pencil draftwork done before inking the final product. We want to keep these original pencil markings intact for study even if they were mostly erased by the original creators of the maps.

The map piece at the top of the photograph at left is the final, cleaned product. Compared to another uncleaned piece of the same map, the change is easy to see. While these maps may never be perfectly spotless, if I looked this good at 140 years old, I would be pretty pleased!

The next step in the project is to scan and stitch together the pieces of the map, so that users may view them up-close and personal online. I'll share the process of scanning sometime later.

-Chessie Monks, Preservation Intern