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This spring I had the good fortune to participate in a North Bennet Street School workshop in Boston on scaleboard bindings taught by Julia Miller, as well as attend the accompanying lecture, co-sponsored by North Bennet and the New England Chapter of ...

This spring I had the good fortune to participate in a North Bennet Street School workshop in Boston on scaleboard bindings taught by Julia Miller, as well as attend the accompanying lecture, co-sponsored by North Bennet and the New England Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers.

Julia Miller’s book, Books Will Speak Plain: A Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings (The Legacy Press, 2010) covered her research on historic bookbindings, including scaleboard. She is currently working on a typology of scaleboard bindings, collecting evidence on its technique and use through her examination of hundreds of these volumes.

Scaleboard is very thin wood, used as boards in the bindings of smaller books particularly in America from about the late 17th to early 19th century. Sometimes these texts were sewn onto supports, and other times the pages were stabbed together. In Julia’s research, the supports were most often tawed skin, with a leather thong or cloth tape also used in some volumes. She found a few occasions where both sewing and stabbing occurred in a single volume, however as this was unusual she believes it to be the result of a repair, rather than original binding work. Notching of the spine (in preparation for sewing) was widely noted in the volumes even when books were stabbed, indicating books were likely prepped for sewing prior to a final decision on the binding method. Covering material pasted over the boards could be paper, or leather, or a combination of the two, in quarter-style for example. Blue or marbled paper was common. In the books examined by Julia, those in the earlier period (1680s through 1740s) were all in full leather, usually sheepskin, though sometimes goatskin.[1]

In the workshop we constructed two models: a stabbed quarter leather model (left) and a full leather cover sewn on tawed cords (right).

On each of my models I left half of a board pastedown unattached, to be able to view the construction and materials.

The full leather model was sewn on tawed thongs, which on the front were then brought to the cover and pasted down. The notches are visible here, particularly at the head.

On the back of the full leather model, a piece of paper waste was used as a board liner and the boards were laced in.

On the quarter leather model, the stabbed binding is visible in the joint. The restriction in opening is in relation to where the stabs have been positioned on the sections. The closer the stabs are to the spine folds of the sections, the greater the ease in opening the book.

Besides the construction of models, a hands-on exercise on identification, and an examination of numerous examples of scaleboard bindings, our workshop group also discussed conservation issues surrounding these books. Since there were a number of conservators, helpful suggestions were put forward. In some collections conservators are boxing these books, making very minimal repairs (the consolidation of torn papers or stabilization of broken or weak hinges for example) if any, in order to retain as much of the original binding as possible.

One approach to repairing a loose or broken board, shared by both Julia and by Irina Gorstein, and attributed to Pam Spitzmueller, was to use Ramieband as a support and attachment. Weaving this very thin tape through the stabbed slits and then pasting them onto the interior of the boards can reattach a broken board or strengthen a weak joint. This interested me greatly, as I had a book back at the lab with this problem!

Our volume (pictured from the front).

The title page reads:

AMERICAN COOKERY: OR, THE ART OF DRESSING VIANDS, FISH, POULTRY, AND VEGETABLES. AND THE BEST MODE OF MAKING PUFF PASTES, PIES, TARTS, PUDDINGS, CUSTARDS AND PRESERVES. AND ALL KINDS OF CAKES, FROM TRE IMPERIAL PLUMB TO PLAIN CAKE. Adapted to this country and all grades of life. BY AN AMERICAN ORPHAN, Walpole, NH, Printed for Elijah Brooks, 1812.

(Amelia Simmons is the “American Orphan” according to the cataloging information.)

This small volume’s back board was completely off, as pictured here.

The front board was hanging on by the upper thong only. This book was bound with full marbled paper over scaleboards and two leather thongs attaching the text together. Whether there is any sewing in addition to the stabbed thongs is unclear from my examination. It looks like there is a notch on the spine toward the head of the volume, which may indicate a kettle stitch, but I can’t be sure. I learned that often the texts were notched regardless if these holes were used for sewing.

Gently probing with my tiny Casselli knife, I discovered the stabbed slits were open all the way through the text block and boards. This meant I could weave Ramieband through them to stabilize the covers.

Here is the lower stabbing on the front of the book where I have inserted a piece of Ramieband. The top tape piece will be moved under the board (where there is a break) to the inside of the cover.

After inserting the new tapes, I trimmed and splayed out the ends, attaching them with paste to the inside of the boards. On the front board, I could insert the ends under a loose pastedown. On the back, the pastedown was well secured to the board, so I chose to attach the new tape directly on top of the pastedown. While the repair is visible there, it blends in somewhat, and I didn’t risk causing any new damage.

The interior of the back board after attachment.

Now both boards function as they should, in addition to protecting the textblock. This treatment repaired the board attachment and added strength, while what existed of the original binding remains. The exterior looks just as it did before treatment, except the boards are now secured.

It’s very satisfying to put into practice a new technique immediately after being introduced to it. I suspect more scaleboard bindings will some day make their way through the conservation lab here, due to the history of the binding and the makeup of our collections. When they do, we’ll be ready!

[1] This section is based on workshop notes and an e-mail from Julia Miller in May of 2012. I am grateful for her work on scaleboard bindings, and thank her for sharing that research and clarifying my understanding.

Written by Stephanie Wolff.

I recently had the pleasure of working with a colleague from Amherst College to organize a regional forum on "Planning and Building a Digital Collections Program". Kelcy Shepherd and I organized this event through the NorthEast Regional Computing Prog...

I recently had the pleasure of working with a colleague from Amherst College to organize a regional forum on "Planning and Building a Digital Collections Program". Kelcy Shepherd and I organized this event through the NorthEast Regional Computing Program, better known as NERCOMP. Our goal was to bring together speakers on a variety of topics related to creating digital collections in a library or archive setting. The forum included four presenters:

  • Dartmouth College Library's own David Seaman, Associate Librarian for Information Management, who spoke about our Digital Library Program Plan and the process we’ve gone through to develop our digital collections infrastructure over the past several years.
  • David Mathews, Partner at The Image Collective, who gave a detailed presentation on the important technical considerations for digital imaging.
  • Nancy McGovern, Head of Curation and Preservation Services at MIT Libraries, who covered the basic components of digital preservation planning. This talk was a very abbreviated version of the ICPSR's five-day Digital Preservation Management Workshop, which builds on the Digital Preservation Management Tutorial found here.
  • Anne Sauer, Director and University Archivist at Tufts University, who talked about the challenges and strategies involved in advocating for digital collections funding within a larger campus environment.

All of the presentations were excellent, and Kelcy and I had a great time organizing the event. The presenters' slides can be found here (some slides are not yet available, but will be soon). Many thanks to all the presenters and participants, and to NERCOMP for hosting the forum!

Written by Helen Bailey.

The Book Arts Prize is a juried award given every year in recognition of excellence in the creation of a hand printed and bound book made in the Book Arts Studio by a Dartmouth College undergraduate. This year the grand prize award of $500 was given to...

The Book Arts Prize is a juried award given every year in recognition of excellence in the creation of a hand printed and bound book made in the Book Arts Studio by a Dartmouth College undergraduate.

This year the grand prize award of $500 was given to Taylor R. Campbell, '11 for his entry of "Resigned".

Resigned

The colorfully bound, printed, and illustrated book contains dialogue between Number Six and Number Two from the 1967 British television show, The Prisoner. The judges considered the entry an impressive use of polymer plate printing with traditional letterpress.

Resigned

Honorable Mention for the Book Arts Prize and recipient of a $75 award was Hye (Amy) Gu, '12. Ms. Gu’s poetry book, "Tagore", features the use of letterpress and blind stamping.

The award for Best Hand Bound Book went to Bridget A. Herrera, GR, for "Taino Myths".

Taino Myths

The book of broadsides illustrating authentic petroglyphs and pictographs of the Hispaniola people is a drum leaf binding that opens to each image and allows the viewer to be enveloped by the world the images creates. Ms. Herrera will receive a prize of $150.

Taino Myths

This year because of a number of high quality letterpress entries created with different processes the judges decided to recognize traditional letterpress printing and alternative printing techniques. Sarah Parkinson, '09, won for best Traditional Letterpress Printing with her entry of "Words in Orbit".

"Words in Orbit"

The best example of Alternative Letterpress Printing went to Bridget A. Herrera, GR, for "Deus Est Machina". Each winner will receive $150.

"Deus Est Machina"

Honorable Mention prizes of $75 went to Sarah Parkinson in the Alternative Letterpress category and to Do-Hee Kim, '12, for Traditional Letterpress.

All the winning entries are on display in the Treasure Room cases in Baker Library beginning Saturday, June 9 through the Fall 2012 term.

Congratulations to all the contestants and special thanks to the Friends of the Library for their support of this competition.

Written by Barb Sagraves.

I was very fortunate to attend the Paper and Book Intensive this year, held at the Art Insitute of Chicago’s summer campus in Saugatuck, MI. Each time I attend PBI the experience gets better and better and this year was no exception. Among all the w...

I was very fortunate to attend the Paper and Book Intensive this year, held at the Art Insitute of Chicago’s summer campus in Saugatuck, MI. Each time I attend PBI the experience gets better and better and this year was no exception. Among all the wonderful instructors, I took classes from Steve Pittelkow, Betsy Eldridge and Maria Fredericks. Below are some of my highlights from each class.

Marbling with Steve Pittelkow

Steve's direct instruction style ensured that each student left with the knowledge of how to create some of the many basic marbled patterns found in historical papers. With a song in his heart, he led us through the various steps in creating simple to advanced patterns. We were also able to experiment with our own designs and fancies.

The aim for color distribution is random symmetry.
The more colors, the more intricate the pattern can be.
After using a stylus to create a pattern, Steve lays down a sheet of alum-sized paper.
This advanced technique is quite beautiful and gives a 3-D effect, called Spanish Moire.

Photo Albums with Betsy Eldridge

In this class I was able to construct a sampler of various ways to mount photos and other heavier material. Betsy graciously pre-cut much of the material so we were able to focus on the construction of our pages.

For our final project we constructed a very complex album that incorporates an intricate arrangement of cloth hinges. It opens beautifully and very flat.

Interspersed with our tasks at hand, Betsy gave us many tips and tricks. Here is a trick to burnish and soften paper: take some beads and roll them around in a circle moving over the surface of your paper. You’ll notice a dramatic difference afterward.

These are all of our completed photo albums displayed during show and tell.

Paper Cases with Maria Fredericks

What I enjoyed so much in this class was the opportunity to explore and consider the function of the paper case in the context of history, and its diminishing quality over time. Looking at models representing the 15th to 17th centuries, it was clear how the sewing became abrreviated with the pressure to bind more in less time.

Many of the paper bindings have lovely decorated covers. Often these printed covers are produced on thinner paper and then become a covering to the primary case. We made our own decorated papers using acrylic and blocks cut from a soft rubber.

Firmly placing the block into the color.
Printing the colored design onto our paper.
A second color can be hand painted in to add to the decoration.

A tip I learned: When folding over a shorter edge, place that edge under the larger portion when making your final hard crease. This helps the shorter edge stay put.

Maria demonstrates the steps to creating the case.
Lacing in the text block.
If a decorated paper is used, it is put on before the foredge turn-ins are completed.
Here are some of our completed books.

PBI is a wonderful and invigorating experience. It brings together teachers, artists, conservators, paper makers, printers and more to exchange and share experiences and knowledge so that at the end everyone goes away with so much more than they came with, including new friends to connect to.

Written by Deborah Howe.

The Dartmouth College Archives are full of great stories. With a history as long and varied as ours, there is always something interesting to uncover.

Charles "Stubbie" Pearson '42
Charles "Stubbie" Pearson '42

We tend to get most excited when we find a story with good teaching or research potential. A favorite is the life of Charles "Stubbie" Pearson '42, a tragic hero in the history of Dartmouth College. He was the 1942 valedictorian, captain of the football and basketball teams, a poet, scholar, and inspirational leader on campus. Along with dozens of his classmates, he joined the Navy upon graduation and became a Navy pilot. In 1944 he was killed in action in the Pacific while dive-bombing an enemy ship.

Several years ago, Special Collections Librarian Jay Satterfield worked with Stephanie Boone in the Writing program to develop a class session where students puzzled out Stubbie’s life history as a way to help them understand the construction of narrative and to highlight the use of primary sources in building research projects.

The exercise grew out of Stephanie’s request to find primary sources that would help her students understand the cultural milieu of World War II, the setting of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, to show them a new way to read the novel, and to show them the use of primary sources in understanding and constructing narratives. Importantly, it demonstrated how finding the story in sources leads to exciting research questions that students do not anticipate.  They begin to see how the gaps in narratives generate some of the most compelling research experiences. In fact, over the six years that we’ve used this exercise, students experience this trip to Special Collections as literally their first experience in using primary sources. Coming face to face with Stubbie’s story allows students to identify with Stubbie and to understand the cultural context of Dartmouth, common ground on which both Stubbie and the students stand.

Importantly, this exercise underscores the value of the collaboration between librarians and professors, one that creates a new kind of space for intellectual enrichment. Out of this particular collaboration, Stephanie and Jay recently wrote up the experience, which has been published in Past or Portal?: Enhancing Undergraduate Learning through Special Collections and Archives (New York: ACRL, 2012).

Along with processing serial titles for commercial binding, I’ve been working on some in-house treatments for magazines and small pamphlets. Usually, serial titles are sent out to a commercial binder to be bound in hard covers. Occasionally however ...

Along with processing serial titles for commercial binding, I’ve been working on some in-house treatments for magazines and small pamphlets. Usually, serial titles are sent out to a commercial binder to be bound in hard covers. Occasionally however an in-house treatment is more appropriate. For example, the string binding, adapted by conservator Deborah Howe, is ideal for undersized or short-run serials that are printed as single section issues.

This aspect in particular, whether stapled or pamphlet sewn, is what makes the string binding an easy and fast way to bind multiple issues into a single volume.

The string binding is made of a 20 point board that wraps around the issues, covering the front, spine, and back.

Each issue is secured into the cover with a thick linen thread wrapped tightly around the spine section of the cover and through the center of the magazine.

A separate piece of thread can be used for each issue or a continuous thread can be wrapped through each issue one at a time which saves time in tying knots.

Once all the issues are attached into the 20 point cover a protective piece of book cloth is glued over the spine and strings.

This adds support to the spine and front and back hinges. For volumes that are tall, heavy, or floppy it is best to reinforce the covers with a 40 point board on the inside of each cover.

Written by Elizabeth Rideout.

As part of the Spring 2012 professional development programming, Education & Outreach sponsored a talk by Jeff Waller, Head of Reference and Instruction Services at Saint Anselm College's Geisel Library and Kathy Halverson, Assistant Dean/Head of Public Services at Keene State College's Mason Library.

Assessing Student Research Papers at Saint Anselm College
The initiative to develop the student research assessment began with a strong information literacy initiative in the library but no program-wide assessment.  Library staff attended a workshop on designing assessment plans for information literacy and developed an idea to evaluate research papers in the freshman and senior years. They debated whether to use a rubric or standardized test, and chose a rubric because they felt this method is more authentic, looking directly at student work.

The College applied for a Davis Educational Foundation grant to assess seven different learning objectives on campus, and included Information Literacy as one of the objectives.  Faculty participated on the 3-year information literacy assessment committee. Faculty participants valued information literacy skills and were good library customers.

The assessment committee started with the ACRL standards and discussed these with the faculty members. They then narrowed the list to 16 learning outcomes that they wanted to measure during the assessment. These outcomes had to be tangible characteristics that evaluators could observe by reading final papers.

The committee members used a 6-point Likert scale to evaluate the papers.  Before launching the full assessment the committee evaluated a small sample of three papers to ensure that scoring was consistent among evaluators. For the full pilot, evaluators obtained research papers from four first-year English classes and four senior classes. Although the pilot of approximately 70 student papers was not a representative sample of the entire college, the committee did look for similarity in length of student papers and scope of the assignment in order to have some consistency among papers in the sample.

Students performed the poorest on evaluating sources, acknowledging viewpoints, understanding bias, recognizing context.  Improvements were weakest in the areas that were weak to begin with and strongest in the areas where they were already strong. Students were good at citing sources correctly and finding relevant information, and weaker at distinguishing viewpoints and evaluating potential validity and bias. Students did improve on every criteria but the amount across each of the 16 objectives varied.

Jeff presented results of the pilot evaluation to a faculty forum. Faculty recognized the patterns evident in the results, which also corroborated the results from the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) exam, which is regularly administered at Saint Anselm. Instructors valued the results of the pilot project but raised questions regarding the evaluation of different forms of research output (for example papers vs. posters).

Faculty participants in the assessment pilot thought that grading a rubric was too time-consuming to repeat often. This Spring there is a change of leadership in the College and the Library, so there may be an opportunity to restart assessment efforts across campus but it will take time. The library is hoping to create a more simplified rubric to evaluate student bibliographies in the meantime.

In a positive turn, some professors have rewritten their assignments to more explicitly address the learning outcomes of information literacy. New adopters of information literacy outcomes have included several large introductory science classes, which had historically been somewhat resistant to information literacy assessment.

Project SAILS at Keene State College
Keene State adopted the SAILS assessment from 2008-2011, after the General Education program was restructured in 2007/2008 and became the Integrated Studies Program (ISP). When Information Literacy was included in the eight intellectual skill outcomes for ISP, the academic departments were charged with assessing ISP outcomes.

Assessment of student learning around information literacy has been done in the past but not in a programmatic manner. Keene State considered various standardized test options, including iSkills, ILT, TRAILS, RRA, and Project SAILS. The goals for assessment were to deliver a pretest to Freshman as formative assessment and deliver the posttest to Juniors as summative assessment in order to identify Information Literacy competency levels and retention rate for undergraduate students. Keene State tested Freshmen in 2008 and again when this same class were Juniors in 2011.  They tested the Freshmen classes in 2009 and 2010 also.

The advantages of the SAILS test are that it is low cost, easy to administer with just 30-50 minute time commitment per student, available in online or paper formats, provides anonymous testing, is endorsed by the Association of Research Libraries, and meets standards for validity and reliability.

However, there were some limitations as well. SAILS is not built to be a pre-test unless administered in the same year, before the test or scoring is changed. Between 2008 to 2011 the test changed significantly. SAILS is designed to compare IL across institutions, not student-to-student within an institution. (Results are organized by ACRL standard and by skill sets.) For accurate comparison purposes, the Keene State Juniors test results should have been joined with others in a consortium that tested Juniors.

Since the test is designed to compare results among different organizations, it does not provide individual data or customized feedback. Students would have liked to know their scores. SAILS now offers a different test that offers individual scores, but institutions have to choose the institutional-comparison test or the individually scored test.  SAILS is not conducive to using with small populations, groups of at least 200 students are required.

SAILS did provide a number of positive outcomes as well. Test results provided a benchmark of student performance in Information Literacy skills and allowed comparison of scores from year to year, giving a snapshot of Information Literacy assessment at the institution. SAILS results may also be used as a tool for guiding conversations with faculty about Information Literacy skills.

Following up on their involvement with Project SAILS, librarians at Keene State plan to perform comprehensive data analysis across the 2008-2011 test results. They will continue to assess student performance by using classroom assessment techniques, and may develop a SAILS-like test for entering Freshmen enrolled in a one of the ISP core courses. Although there are no immediate plans to continue to administer SAILS, they may repeat the test every 5 years to use as a benchmark.

Discussion
At the conclusion of the presentations, librarians from the three institutions traded questions about the culture of assessment at Dartmouth, Keene State, and Saint Anselm.  While the presenters come from institutions where a central mandate for institutional learning goals and assessment have been levied by the administration, the culture at Dartmouth College gives more autonomy to individual departments in this type of decision making.  Both Keene State College and Saint Anselm College have been administering the CLA standardized test and their faculty place value on the results of this and other types of uniform assessment tools, including surveys and rubrics.

Like many conservators, tools interest me. They allow my hands to execute very specific actions in a more exacting fashion than they could alone. On the whole, a knife, for example, makes a cleaner cut than the tear made without one. A spatula lifts a ...

Like many conservators, tools interest me. They allow my hands to execute very specific actions in a more exacting fashion than they could alone. On the whole, a knife, for example, makes a cleaner cut than the tear made without one. A spatula lifts a thin piece of bookcloth with more accuracy than a fingernail. It’s valuable to keep in mind that occasionally to tear is the better action than to cut—sometimes speed beats accuracy or the feathered edge is more appropriate.

In my conservation work I use a fairly small selection of tools, only venturing outside this basic set when the repairs stray from the usual. My basic hand tools:

Pictured bottom row, left to right: staple remover, awl, microspatula, Casselli knife (larger), Caselli knife (smaller), scissors, bone folder, bone folder (smaller), Teflon folder, needle, tweezers, Olfa cutting knife, glue brush. Top row, left to right: weight, rubber cement pick-up (crepe eraser), and 45-degree right triangle. Not pictured: 12” and 18” rulers, large scissors.

Tools for cutting:

A small pair of scissors that cut all the way to the tip and a sharp, straight-bladed knife are both very useful tools. Sometimes you want a quick rough cut, and scissors are the perfect tool for the efficiency. Other times accurate cutting is essential, and a knife is the best option. Change the blade frequently, as a sharp blade is a safe one.

Tools for sewing:

A staple remover (top) can pry staples apart for removal without causing paper damage. A bookbinding needle, whose eye is no wider than the body of the needle, will allow tighter sewing since the hole the needle makes will not be larger than the needle’s thickness. (The needle size should be in harmony with the thread size.) The awl (bottom) has a shaft of equal width its entire length allowing for piercing holes of a consistent size.

Tools for lifting:

The Casselli #4 spatula (top) is my usual tool for lifting leather or paper when rebacking a book, and it can also be used for spine cleaning. The blade is very thin, as is the blade on the small Caselli #2 (3rd from top), which easily gets into very small spaces. The microspatula (2nd from top) has a thicker blade, but still allows for the insertion of glue or paste in small areas. The tweezers (bottom), with their fine, pointed tip, assist with positioning Japanese paper in repairs and removing excess cloth in corners when making boxes.

Recently, the blog of the Preservation Department at Parks Library of Iowa State University had a detailed post on microspatulas, including photos of them in action.

Tools for scoring, folding, and pressing:

My small Teflon folder (top) has two very useful ends: one pointed and one chiseled. Both ends of the tool allow tight adhesion of book cloth to board when making boxes, especially in the corners. The entire length can help secure a spine on a reback, and the Teflon material does not cause burnishing of the cloth or paper as bone folders can. My larger Teflon folder (not pictured) gets pulled out for larger projects. The two other folders are made of bone, with the middle folder’s blunt tip and wider body being useful for most work, and the lower folder helpful for smaller, more detailed work. The bottom folder’s tip broke some time ago, but a bit of sanding smoothed the rough bone with no detriment to its function. (A word of caution about sanding: Do not sand bone or Teflon without adequate health protection, as the dust can be harmful if inhaled.)

Tools for gluing, measuring, and stabilizing:

Much of the work I do requires applying glue or paste to small areas; hence the small sizes of my glue brush (top) and paste brush (bottom). Both have brush tips about 1/2-inch in width. For box-making or gluing up large areas of paper or cloth, I generally use a foam paint roller for application (not pictured). A small flat weight (a piece of steel covered with book cloth) holds work in place while sewing or drying. A rubber cement pick-up (also called a crepe eraser) will often get a stray bit of glue off of book cloth or paper. The small metal 45-degree right triangle is essential for box-making. It is also convenient for trimming small pieces of material on the bench, without requiring a walk to the board shear.

If tools interest you too, then you may wish to follow Jeff Peachey’s blog. He writes about tools, as well as makes and sells them.

Tools for bookbinding and conservation are available from a variety of vendors, including local hardware, craft, and stationary stores, as well as those businesses catering specifically to the conservation and binding fields. Additionally, the vendor room at the Guild of Book Workers Standards of Excellence Seminar each year provides a great opportunity to see a wide range of tools and supplies, and to support the vendors who keep the specialized items available to practitioners. The vendor room is open to all, not just conference attendees. A list of past vendors can be found on the Standards website. A list of supplies and services for bookbinding and conservation can be found here.

Written by Stephanie Wolff.

One of the many activities Preservation Services performs for the library's collections is condition assessment of films. We have a large number of films in a variety of formats in the collections, and assessing them is important for several reasons: F...

One of the many activities Preservation Services performs for the library's collections is condition assessment of films. We have a large number of films in a variety of formats in the collections, and assessing them is important for several reasons:

  1. For use. Sometimes patrons, scholars, or alumni want to view our old films. Of course we would love to support viewing of the films, but they aren’t always in good enough condition to be viewed on a projector.
  2. For reformatting. People often want to use clips from our film footage for other purposes. We also sometimes reformat film as part of the film preservation process, to allow people to easily view the content in a digital format.
  3. For accessioning. When we receive new (or new-to-us) films into the collection, a physical assessment is an important first step in determining how to best store and manage the items.

Why is film condition assessment important? Well, films have some unique physical qualities that make them degrade in characteristic ways, often much faster than books and paper. The National Film Preservation Foundation has an excellent book on film preservation, which can be downloaded as a PDF for free.

To sum up the basic issue, film is made of three parts: the image, which sits on an emulsion layer, which sits on a plastic base, and the type of plastic used for the base determines how it will degrade. Modern film bases are made of stable polyester, but historic film bases were made of either cellulose acetate or, originally, cellulose nitrate. Cellulose nitrate was used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and is extremely dangerous because when it degrades it is highly flammable.

Cellulose acetate or "safety film" replaced cellulose nitrate in the mid-20th century and, while not dangerous like nitrate film, it does decay in a way that causes irreparable damage to the film. The chemical process of decay turns the acetate into acetic acid (the acid in vinegar), which causes the film to shrink, warp, and turn brittle. It also emits a characteristic odor of vinegar, which is a sure sign that the film is decaying.

The best way to slow film decay is to store films in good-quality containers in very cold, relatively dry environments. Films can also be digitized, transferred to a stable base, and made accessible using DVDs to prevent decay and damage from use.

In a future post, I’ll talk more about the actual process of condition assessment. Stay tuned!

Written by Helen Bailey.

Production photo of Phantom Limb.At Jones Media Center, staff have been lending technological expertise to help curate exhibits in the Library and other locations across campus. These exhibits draw attention to a particular topic while displaying rare items drawn from locations as diverse as the Rauner Special Collections Library, the Hood Museum, and faculty members' personal collections.

In the Fall, Anthony Helm and Tara Albanese worked with Phantom Limb Company's Jessica Grindstaff and Erik Sanko to create a media-rich website, in conjunction with the public premiere of Phantom Limb 69ºS at the Hopkins Center for the Arts and an exhibition curated by the Dartmouth College Library.  The show tells the harrowing story of Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1914-1916 Antarctica expedition.

Global Health ExhibitIn December, in conjunction with DHMC, the Great Issues in Medicine and Global Health Symposium exhibit was displayed on Berry Main Street. Our intern edited video and built an interactive viewing station for users to explore.  The video included rare archival footage of Dartmouth from Jones Media Center video collections, including the 1975 performance of You Laugh, a protest piece by the first female Dartmouth students. A viewing copy of this production is available for library members to check out.

image of Norman Miller's latest bookThe current exhibit, which will run through July 2012, features the work of Professor Norman Miller. The exhibit is held in conjunction with the publication of Miller's memoir, Encounters with Witchcraft: Field Notes from Africa. Items on display include African artifacts, photos, and a documentary video.

In June, Digital Media Intern Tara Albanese will showcase her work in multimedia exhibits at the New Media Consortium annual summer conference, hosted this year at MIT.