Monday, May 1, 2023

Preservation Week at the State Library: A Conserved Item on Display!

Happy Preservation Week! April 30 through May 6 has been designated by the American Library Association as time to raise awareness of the preservation measures that are taken in libraries, archives, and museums to ensure the long-term integrity of their collections. Here at the State Library, our preservation program covers book and paper repair, reformatting, environmental monitoring and disaster preparedness, and re-housing and cleaning our collection. The physical repair of items in our collection is called conservation, and while we undertake a fair amount of that work on-site in our preservation lab, we also occasionally send out items to be treated at the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC). This month, we are celebrating Preservation Week by exhibiting an item in our display case that has undergone treatment at NEDCC, along with a facsimile of it in its “before” state. Displaying these items side-by-side really emphasizes the transformation that an item undergoes when it’s conserved!

The displayed broadside is An Act to Prevent Profane Cursing and Swearing, published by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1798. It was part of an NEDCC project in 2017/2018 to conserve some of the historically significant broadsides in our Special Collections holdings. When we work with NEDCC, they begin by sending us a condition assessment and proposed treatment plan. Once the item has been conserved, we receive before/after images, along with a detailed description of the item’s condition upon receipt and subsequent treatment. Having thorough documentation of condition and treatment allows us to maintain a comprehensive record of the items in our collection. In this instance, the broadside had tape and residual adhesive removed, it was humidified and cleaned, and tears were mended with toned Japanese paper. Then the back of the page was lined with Japanese paper and wheat starch paste, making it safer for handling. The result is a cleaner and sturdier broadside that looks almost as good as it would have back when it was first printed in the 18th century!

And now a note on the content of item that so much work went into to conserve! This broadside was issued in June 1798 after an act was passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives that states, “if any person, who has arrived at discretion, shall profanely curse or swear, and shall be therefore convicted, such person so offending, shall forfeit and pay a sum not exceeding two dollars, nor less than one dollar, according to the aggravation of the offense.” The act went on to state that if swearing occurred in the presence of any Sherriff, Deputy Sherriff, Coroner, Constable, Grand Juror, or Tythingman, then they should report the act to the Justice of the Peace so that the offender could be convicted and punished. Broadsides such as this were then sent to Town Clerks throughout the Commonwealth to be read aloud at town meetings, and they were also sent to public teachers of religion (or pastors) to be read to their congregations annually. So in sum, if you wanted to avoid paying a fee in the Commonwealth in the late 1700s, you better not swear in the presence of any public official!  And while seemingly not enforced, blasphemy is still on the books of Massachusetts law! 

If you have an item in your personal collection that needs professional conservation treatment, you can find a list of local conservators through the American Institute for Conservation directory. But much of the information shared by organizations during Preservation Week can be applied to your collection on your own. We will be posting preservation content on our social media channels every day this week, so we hope that you will follow along as we celebrate all things preservation! And if you are in the area, be sure to visit us through May 30 to see our conserved broadside on display in our reading room.

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian