How does Preservation and Conservation treat its items?

Each year, conservators around the world recognize Preservation Week, which is dedicated to inspiring action to preserve personal, family, and community collections, as well as raising awareness about the roles institutions play in preserving information and education.

In recognition of Preservation Week, Princeton University Library (PUL) Book Conservator Victoria Wong shares a look at the process for treating items, both for the archives as well as for an upcoming exhibit.

Unfurling a photo

 Victoria Wong

Top to bottom - before and after images of the Seicho-No-Ie Training Session photograph following humidification. Photo credit: PUL Digtal Studio

Before Wong treats any item, her assessment begins with documenting its status. The goal is to accurately capture images of the item, standardizing its appearance for documentation throughout the process. This photograph, which shows participants in the Seicho-No-Ie Training Session circa 1960, was stored in its rolled state, meaning Wong needs to unroll it so that it can be used by researchers.

“If a researcher wanted to study it as is, unrolling the photograph to view its image and annotations would likely cause further damage, such as creases and cracks in the emulsion, and eventually tears in the paper support,” Wong explained.

So, Wong places the photo in a humidification chamber, which introduces moisture and allows the photo to relax and unroll. “As it is un-rolled, I’ll place a gentle weight (like a piece of acrylic and an interleaving) to encourage more un-rolling,” Wong said. “After a few hours of this in the chamber, it completely un-rolls itself.”

Then the photo undergoes a week of drying while placed between interleaving, a polyester felt and a piece of mat board. Finally, Wong adheres pieces of kozo-fiber paper with wheat starch paste to the backs of the remaining creases to help them flatten.

Prepping a book for exhibition

Before and after views of the book Kaishihen by Kawaguchi Shinnin. The sewing near the book's spine has been replaired

Left to right - before and after views of treatment for the book Kaishihen. The sewing near the book's spine has been stabilized. Photo credit: PUL Digital Studio

For this book, which is headed to Italy as part of the Fondazione Prada exhibit “Human Brains,” the treatment was simpler by comparison. The sewing required stabilization, as did parts of the papers on its covers.

Using a similar kind of kozo paper she used for the photo, Wong tones the paper to match the book's covers. She then removes the existing, unoriginal sewing, after which Wong uses the paper and wheat starch paste to mend the covers around their sewing holes.

“Lastly, I re-sewed the book using a new thread that more closely matched the covers,” Wong said. “I chose to match the threads to the covers based on how other copies of this title look at other institutions.”

Once the book is ready to ship, an exhibition registrar  works with a fine art handling company to ensure its safe travel. “The company made a crate to hold both the book and its exhibition cradle. These crates are designed to absorb shock and will maintain the relative humidity and temperature of the environment that it is packed in for the duration of travel,” Wong said.

Related reading: Inside PUL: Preservation and Conservation

Published on April 27, 2022

Written by Brandon Johnson, Communications Specialist

Media Contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications