In celebration of National Preservation Week in 2015 the Preservation Committee is putting the spotlight on library employees who work behind the scenes to keep our collections in pristine condition– Conservators, Preservation Librarians, Preservation Specialists, Conservation Technicians, Bindery Clerks, and Student Assistants.
If you would like to put the spotlight on an employee doing preservation work at your library, please ask him/her to answer the questions posed below and send to Maxine Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SHERRI THOMAS, CONSERVATION TECHNICIAN AT GEORGETOWN LAW LIBRARY
In a nutshell, tell us what you do.
I make sure library materials are repaired and maintained using sound techniques; and they are readily available for use by the Law Center community.
How were you introduced to conservation work?
I was always curious as to what library staff did in the room with all the tools, glue, pretty paper and big huge paper cutter. I would walk by the room, peek in and ask questions. The Conservation Technician at the time was out on maternity leave and so I mentioned I would be happy to learn how to do some of the work. The Conservation Technician did not return from maternity. Therefore, the Preservation Librarian remembered I had expressed an interest in learning and asked if I wanted to help her with some special collection materials.
I gladly accepted her offer and began to help her identify foxing on rare books. Soon thereafter I applied for the position and got the job. I apprenticed under the Preservation Librarian for three years. She would give me assignments to test and observe my eye, hand and tool coordination. The first thing was to build a “rust free” rack with pegs to mount on the wall in the lab. This rack still hangs on the wall today. Eventually I learned how to sew a book (using many different techniques and stitches), how to repair books, create custom housings, and the rest is history.
How many years have you been doing this work?
I have been in this position for 13 years.
What are the core tools and materials you need to do your work?
The core materials are: scalpel, good pair of scissors, spatula, bone folder, PVA adhesive, weights, book cloth, acrylic or wooden boards, acid free paper and paper/board cutter.
Describe a typical day for you.
My days are not really typical. I have to be able to change as needed from book repair to disaster prevention.
What is the best part of the job?
The best part of my job is using my hands; fixing or creating something tangible that will be functional for years to come.
What is the biggest misconception about conservation work?
People think conservation work is arts and crafts, no big deal, anyone can do it. It’s true that it is not rocket science but training is necessary.
What is the longest amount of time you’ve ever devoted to repairing a single item?
I believe two weeks. It could have been longer counting the drying time.
What has been some of your proudest moments?
My proudest moments are when I create something that works; it’s functional and looks good. For example, I’ve created custom housings for 1285 land treaty and a faculty member’s rare first edition of English Law. I’ve also, digitally constructed a spine for a book that split in half and pieced together a photograph — mends were virtually undetectable.
What would be your selling point or catch phrase if you were trying to recruit others into the world of conservation?
Conservation work is the preservation of history and life. It is tangible evidence that life existed before the digital age.