Shop Tools and Tips



As Necessity is the Mother of Invention, I thought I’d share with the wider preservation world some tools and tips we’ve developed in the lab to solve some very specific problems. Undoubtedly other labs have their own solutions to similar problems; I know I’ve travelled with a few from place to place. *Anyone out there know of the NEDCC paper towel roll method to absorb excess water from a lining?
First off is the Clam-Rule. This tool developed from the need to measure a stack of manuscript materials in order to construct a clamshell box for storage. Numerous papers of varying sizes are all but impossible to fit into a MeasurepHase. What is actually needed is a height gauge, such as this Mitutoyo 514-102 Vernier Height Gauge, but with a further reach.

I developed this decidedly lower-tech version, using a shop ruler, some wood, woodstain, brass and a bubble level. Once the horizontal arm is placed level on the stack, the height is read across the top edge of the bar, where it meets the millimeter gradations.clam rule

Along similar lines of box making is this simple jig- utilized when creating build-ups for the interior of clamshells. We make ours out of cloth-covered corrugated board. Multiple layers of board are laminated together; it helps greatly if two sides of this laminated stack are jogged up, ensuring less cutting in the end, and a neater product. Our jig is made out of scrap MDF counter-top, screwed together.
build-up jig

For gluing items and keeping tabletops clean, many labs use scrap paper under constructions while they dry. The trouble is, the paper ends up sticking and can only be used once. Much better are scrap sheets of polyester film (generated from encapsulation trimmings or errors). PVA peels readily off plastic film, so the sheets can be used again and again. An alternative to both of these solutions is waxed paper. We get ours from ULINE. It’s relatively inexpensive, can be used repeatedly, and my colleagues in the book unit tell me it is a much better product than conventional white butcher paper or translucent waxed paper. We’ve found another use for it too, in interleaving rolls of archival double-sided tape. Over time, the adhesive can creep a little, sticking rolls to each other if you have them stacked up. Dust also gets adhered. The interleaving solves both problems.
wax paper

Finally, and perhaps most used, is the Brass Nevada. It is indispensable in trimming cloth to fit interior corners of box constructions. The Nevada allows for 45 and 90 degree angles, provides an edge to cut against and has a much more satisfying weight during use compared to plastic, or card.
brass nevada

What sorts of tools and methods have been developed in your lab that may be unique to your institution?

Doug Sanders


On My Bench: Seven More Wonders of the World


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Mid-century gems in the general collections

Lest you find the title too grandiose, I should explain. “Seven More Wonders of the World” is the slogan printed on the sleeves of the 33 View-Master reels I have on my bench today. But it seems appropriate, as lately I’ve been steeped in mid-twentieth century technology and culture, having also dealt with some Look magazines from 1955-56 recently, with their wonderful ads for solar panels and TV remote controls. Really.


View Masters

View-Masters, known to many as a child’s toy, contain 14 16mm color transparencies, 7 pairs diametrically across from each other. The images line up for you to view one with each eye through the lenses of the viewer, creating a 3-D illusion. (More on stereo-photography and View-Masters  below.)

viewer, boxes + reelThe 3-D View-Master images and viewer on my bench accompany the book, Mushrooms in Their Natural Habitats, by Alexander H. Smith,1949.

Yup, 3-D images of mushrooms!



ImageThis “fascinating study of the fleshy fungi” (from the dedication page) is from our Life Sciences Library. It came to General Collections Conservation on its way to a better life style in our high-density, cool storage facility, the ALF.

ImageI began paging idly though the book to find the reason it was sent, seeing nothing obvious at first, when an entry in the index practically jumped off the page—


Hah, I thought, and quickly turned to the referenced pages. There it was. Or wasn’t.


Instead I found thick, 1960s-70s ball-point pen lines, dug into the gutter where the pages on hallucinogenic mushrooms should be!

ImageThen I remembered one of the reels was missing too. Hah again – that was the corresponding reel.

Cursing the many reasons for the nefarious act of cutting pages out of library books, I borrowed another copy of the book, scanned the pages, formatted, printed, and attached them. But we probably won’t be able to replace the missing reel – copies go for around 4 figures! (Some deluxe editions were also published, complete with red-velvet-lined box.)


The understanding of depth perception goes back as far as 280 AD. Stereo-photography gained popularity in the nineteenth century, when 3-D views allowed people to visit exotic, far-off lands, and the homes of the rich and famous, from the comfort of their parlor chairs.

When Kodak introduced Kodachrome in 1935, William Gruber got the idea to make inexpensive 3-D views with it. Serendipitously, he met the owner of Sawyer’s, a postcard publishing company in Portland, OR, and they began producing View-Masters, introducing them in 1939 at the World’s Fair in NYC.

At first Sawyer’s produced scenic views and training materials for the US military during WWII, the latter for such things as ship and plane identification. Later they made products for children, images of celebrities, and other popular subjects.

Mushrooms in their Natural Habitats was one of many scientific works illustrated with View-Master images. A search of the Indiana University Libraries’ catalog finds 15 titles with View-Master images held in Bloomington campus libraries — Mushrooms … and 14 others, all of which are in the Optometry Library. Can’t wait to see those!


Kodachrome 16mm motion picture film was used for View-Masters from their beginning until 1977. From 1977-1981, GAF film was used, but it turned out to be very unstable.

Kodachrome has excellent dark-storage stability, but is susceptible to light fading, so projection time should be minimized and reels should be housed in opaque enclosures. I did appreciate the “Special Instructions” printed on the verso of the sleeves about handling, however, the sleeves are acidic (BTW so are the cardboard reels).

ImageBecause the film base is cellulose-acetate, an unstable plastic, I rehoused them in new sleeves made of Mohawk Superfine paper. We made the new sleeves (3-flap, self-closing, no adhesive) lickety-split with our Kasemake automated box-making machine, and I made a new box to hold them.


Mushrooms in Their Natural Habitats can now live a long and comfortable life in the 50° F/30% RH conditions in our Auxiliary Library Facility (ALF)!

submitted by Elise Calvi

Mass Humidification


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We mentioned a month or two ago a long-term project we have going with the Wylie House on campus. Roughly 5000 letters of correspondence are being cleaned, repaired and rehoused for eventual storage at ALF– the compact off-site storage facility our library system has on campus. Surface cleaning and mending the letters has been relatively trouble free, but early on we realized that the stage of humidification (prior to pressing) was causing a workflow log jam. The first efforts involved utilizing the dome on our cold suction table. An ultrasonic humidifier feeds humidified air into the chamber and after a couple of hours, the letters are damp and ready for pressing.

We could only humidify about twelve to fifteen leaves at a go with this method, so we added on another humidification technique by turning our large sink into a chamber, supplied with wet blotters beneath a layer of Gore-Tex. Another dozen or so letters could be prepped this way each day.

sink humidification

Even with these two options, pressing efforts were being stalled, causing us to go back to our client library with a much longer than originally projected completion date. Thankfully, inspiration struck and it occurred to us that it may be possible to convert our print drying rack into a Mass Humidification Device.

drying rackWe constructed a slip cover of sorts out of plastic sheeting and Velcro tape that fully encloses the rack, except for the bottom. With a generous ‘dust ruffle’ of sheeting at the base, not much water vapor seems to leak out. The cover is constructed of two parts: the larger is a single sheet, with stapled ‘seams’ giving some rigidity to five ‘panels’ to wrap around the rack, with closure in the front; the second piece is a top that Velcro bonds to this upright portion.mass humid test1

The above photo shows initial tests introducing humidity into the chamber by way of the ultrasonic option. After several hours, the %RH was only up to ~70%. Opening up the cover revealed that the humid air wasn’t dissipating into the overall volume fast enough, before condensation occurred at the point of introduction. In other words, we had liquid water and dripping where the hose made contact with one of the shelves, but dryness elsewhere. A second set of tests with wet blotters proved much more effective with speed of humidification and distribution of water vapor.

We are now able to fill 20-25 shelves with correspondence per day. A wet blotter is placed between every 4-5 shelves of letters. Humidification takes place over about six hours. We empty the rack of its contents at the end of the day, and create a press stack for overnight drying and flattening.  The process is repeated the next day, ensuring that items are pressed for 24 hours, which is effective enough for single-leaved, stationery-weight paper.  Foldering and boxing then occurs.

papers on rackpressing stack

-submitted by Doug Sanders


Hornak Drawings Conservation Treatment


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This month we worked on three drawings by Ian Hornak, an American artist who worked in the late 20th century. His early work consisted of erotic pen and ink drawings and later consisted of photorealistic landscapes and portraits in acrylic on canvas.

One drawing had masking tape around the edges, another was spot-adhered to matboard, and the third was fully-adhered to matboard. All three had surface dirt and minor tears.


Our treatment plan was to remove the matboard, surface clean the drawings, spot-test and wash the items, and lastly, mend any tears with paste and Japanese paper.


If you look closely, you may be able to see the graphite under-drawing. A real treat was seeing an initial sketch on the back of that same drawing.


These pieces will be included in an exhibition at The Kinsey Institute, opening next month. The opening reception will be on January 24th from 5-7pm with an introductory talk at 4pm by Eric Ian Hornak Spoutz, the artist’s nephew and Executive Director of the Ian Hornak Foundation. Hope to see you there!

Ian_Hornak02 Ian_Hornak03

For more information on the exhibit please visit:

And for more info on the artist:

-Arini Esarey

We’re back!


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It’s been nearly a year since the last blog post. Within the Preservation Department we’ve had some personnel changes, a sabbatical, and day-to-day busy-ness which have all conspired to the neglect of this blog. However, more recently we’ve become inspired and determined to share the interesting, satisfying and productive work we do with the greater public. To us, the public can mean fellow staff within Indiana University Bloomington Libraries, the IUB campus community as a whole, and of course the wider audience of like-minded individuals in preservation and conservation labs across the country.

We hope that you’ll see more posts from all of us who work within the department; even some guest entries by student employees (those who can be cajoled!) and perhaps some staff within the Library who ally themselves with or benefit from our operations.

To start things off I’d like to highlight a project we’ve been working on in the Paper Lab for the past month. The Wylie House is an historic house museum here on the IU Bloomington campus, originally built by the first President of Indiana University, Andrew Wylie. Within the museum’s collections are over 5000 letters of correspondence involving several generations of family members, many of which have been transcribed. Even though Carey Beam, Interim Director and Graduate Assistant Abi Parker, as well as previous Director Jo Burgess and many other interns have done a great job storing and transcribing these letters, they’ve now come to the Paper Lab for surface cleaning, mending, pressing and migration to a new storage format of archival document folders and cubic foot storage boxes. It’s a big project with an estimated completion date of May 2014. We’re finding out all sorts of interesting things while working on it, which will be the subject of several posts in the coming months. For now, here are some pictures of the ongoing work.

posted by Doug Sanders, Paper Conservator


surface cleaning1pressing stack


Something afoot in the President’s Office



We’ve been disbinding a large University Archives collection of copybooks of outgoing correspondence from the Office of the President covering a few decades around the turn into the 20th century.  The office copies are on a very light-weight tissue; the disbinding will facilitate a scanning project which will in turn provide better access to researchers.

The topics of correspondence have been relatively run of the mill with an odd perk here and there such as an order for gymnasium equipment c.1895: trapeeze bars, a ‘thigh machine’, juggling clubs and medicine balls, as well as a letter of recommendation for a graduate to a Miss Clara Barton of the Red Cross Society.

Until yesterday, in a volume from early 1906…




BRAINS! TRAPS! CHEMICALS! A quick perusal on Google points toward the chemicals being commonly used in preserving human tissue. An express delivery of ‘government’ traps to the Donaldson Farm? Only one thing comes to mind: A clandestine, experimental zombie lab that to this day has never been exposed.  Further orders for electrical wiring supplies only confirmed our suspicions.

-as a side note, if you’d like to read more about copybooks and copy presses- the forerunners to carbon paper, Xerox machines and scanners- have a look through this book.


Midwest Regional Conservation Guild Symposium 2012


Last weekend, the IU Preservation Department welcomed the MRCG Symposium 2012 attendees for a tour of our labs. This year’s symposium was held in Bloomington on the IU campus. Staff from the IU Art Museum, Mathers Museum, Libraries Preservation and Lilly Library all helped with the organization and hosting.


The weekend began with a lively reception at Lilly Library provided by kind support from Friends of Lilly Library, with a “Treasures of the Lilly” talk by Jim Canary (Special Collections Conservator, Lilly Library).

Saturday’s schedule included nine speakers and tours of the IU Art Museum conservation lab and collections storage (for more information on the individual speakers and subjects, please visit the MRCG website).

The day’s events ended with a tour of the IU Auxiliary Library Facility and the E. Lingle Craig Preservation Labs. Doug Sanders, Paper Conservator, and Rebecca Shindel, Paper Conservation Technician, spent time explaining the mission of the General Collections and Paper Conservation subunits and some of our current projects. Doug even drove the tour bus to the site! Saturday evening finished with a lovely reception at a private residence.

Sunday concluded the conference with three more talks, including discussion of a local midwesterner’s experience with the March 2012 tornadoes and how conservators can assist in the recovery efforts. This talk highlighted the continued need for the presence of the Midwest Regional Conservation Guild and provided a thoughtful ending to the Symposium.

Photographs by Rebecca Shindel

Obituary for Garry Harrison – from the Bloomington Herald-Times

Garry Lee Harrison, 58

AUG. 16, 1954 — SEPT. 4, 2012

BLOOMINGTON — Garry Lee Harrison, 58, a native of Coles County, Illinois, passed away peacefully in his sleep on September 4, 2012, in his home in Bloomington, Indiana.

He was born August 16, 1954, in Charleston, to Clifford O. and Pauline (Mason) Harrison.

Garry was a 1972 graduate of Charleston High School. In his teens he learned to play fiddle from his father, a passion that he pursued throughout his lifetime. In addition to playing the fiddle, he also taught himself to build fiddles and other stringed instruments. He collected and restored a complete catalog of autoharps and fretless zithers, then donated that collection to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.

In his adult life, Garry made his living working in the building trades until he accepted a position at Indiana University Libraries in 1998. In 2000, he became Head of the General Conservation unit of the E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab at Indiana University.

In the 1970s, Garry began collecting and recording old-time music from senior musicians in Illinois which resulted in a collection that is housed in the Library of Congress and also in a book titled “Dear Old Illinois.”

In 1981, Garry’s band, The Indian Creek Delta Boys, was named the ‘Official State of Illinois Traditional Old-Time String Band’ by act of the 82nd General Assembly of the State of Illinois.

Most recently, Garry played fiddle with the New Mules, a five-member string band that included his daughter Genevieve on fiddle and her husband Smith Koester on banjo. This band received a blue ribbon in the traditional stringband contest at the Appalachian String Band Music Festival in West Virginia in 2008.

He recorded a number of LPs and CDs including “Late for the Dance,” “Red Prairie Dawn” (which consisted almost entirely of his own original fiddle tunes) and “Pride of America.”

Survivors include his daughter, Genevieve (Harrison) Koester and her husband, Smith of Chicago; Genevieve’s mother, Gaye Harrison of Charleston, Illinois; twin brother, Terry, and nephew, Clifford Harrison of Charleston, Illinois; brother, Steve and Linda (Catalana) Harrison and niece, Molly (Harrison) Keene of St. Albans, West Virginia; and longtime friend and musical collaborator, Jo Burgess of Bloomington, Indiana.

A memorial service will take place in the near future in Charleston, Illinois.

Donations to fund an old-time music scholarship can made out to Pick Away Press, P.O. Box 7102, Bloomington, IN 47407.

Allen Funeral Home 4155 South Old Highway 37, is handling the arrangements and online condolences may be sent to the family at

Garry Harrison

It is with a great deal of sadness that we let all of you know of the unexpected death of Garry Harrison this past weekend.  Garry had been Head of the General Preservation unit since July of 2000 and was employed by the Indiana University Libraries since December 28, 1998.  More details will follow as they become known.