The April 4, 2023 meeting topic was Preservation Myths.
Ann Kearney of the University at Albany introduced the two other speakers: Donia Conn, Simmons College, and Cher Schneider, New York State Department of Education.
Ann began by discussing book repair tape. Book repair tape is often marketed as "archival quality" and "acid free," but there is no definition of what that means. It is also marketed as being "industrial strength!" Any tape adhesive can cause damage over and over. Some people advise that book tape is OK for books that a library expects to hold for a short time, such as mass market paperbacks, but the panel recommended against using it because its damage can spread.
Cher discussed the extensive training professional conservators undergo and the profession's Code of Ethics, which focuses on trying to do no harm to the items, following high standards, and creating open communication and documentation. She reiterated that any tape can lead to staining. She discussed the flattening process, which is not as quick and easy as many people think. The process takes about 8 weeks if the item is going to remain flat. Conservation procedures can be expensive because they take many steps and a long time. Surface oil is an issue on most items brought in for conservation, so the surface is usually cleaned before beginning other procedures.
Cher explained that restoration is not the same as conservation. Conservation is all actions leading to long term preservation. Restoration may be part of those actions. Conservation may be doing nothing. Sometimes no treatment beyond proper storage is the best avenue to long term preservation.
Donia addressed the white gloves myth. Media stories and TV shows often show people wearing white cotton gloves when handling archival and museum items as a sign of respect for those items. However, cotton gloves are not recommended for handling most items. Cotton gloves have fibers that catch on damaged paper, leather, etc. They also reduce tactile sense, which leads to people handling material more harshly. They also pick up dust, dirt and dry rot and transfer those to other items, so if you do use gloves, you should use a new pair when moving to a new object. Gloves with grippy dots are even worse because they contain material that can cause damage. Wearing gloves with photographs is OK, but the preferred type of gloves are nitrile disposable gloves. Even nitrile gloves can be too grippy to handle paper safely. The best thing to use to handle material are clean hands with no lotions. Definitely no hand sanitizers, which do not remove dirt and can contain harmful chemicals.
There was a question about an article that recommended using rubbing alcohol to disinfect books. All the speakers said to NOT do this. Alcohol can have a big effect on dyes and colors and cause a lot of damage. Also, there is little indication that this would even work to disinfect books. Research done during the pandemic indicated that many germs and bacteria do not spread from library items.
Question about whether conservation work should always be reversible. Conservators try to follow this, but it is not always achievable. Sometimes doing something irreversible is the lesser of two evils and will make the item accessible for a longer period of time. Also, "reversible" is another word that doesn't have a specific definition. Sometimes a chemical used to reverse a process may be worse than the original treatment. Conservators consider what they are adding to items when they perform any procedure. There is a tape remover product, but it is carcinogenic and should only be used under a hood and with a respirator.
What should we look for when purchasing items since there is no standard of what can be called "archival?" For paper items, look for storage products that are acid-free, lignin-free, and buffered. For photographic materials, look for items that have passed the Photographic Activity Test (PAT). 100% rag is archival. Look for rag museum board. You can bring museum board to framing shops for them to use since most framers do not regularly use it.
Question about how to deal with a photograph stuck to glass. Speakers agreed that this is one of the most difficult situations to deal with, and the results are very unpredictable. You usually don't know how the photo was made or how much mold is on the surface. Anything that you would use to untick the photo can also cause damage to the photo. Conservators may soak in water, but lots of opportunities for things to go wrong. The best approach is to get an excellent digital copy of the photo before doing anything.
What cleaners should be used in storage and work areas? NEVER citrus cleaners because of their citrus oils. Always unscented. The speakers use a basic ammonia cleanser, 50/50 ethyl alcohol and water mixture, or water/vinegar/dish soap mix on surfaces at the end of the day so that it off-gasses overnight. If working with dirty materials, put newsprint or kraft paper on the table before placing materials on it. White cleaning erasers can get rid of the worst dirt.
Is there a fixative you can use on pastels and charcoals if the artist did not use one originally? Fixatives make conservators nervous because many are proprietary and we don't know what is in them. They can also be difficult to apply. An artist may provide more advice.
"Sprinklers are bad" is now a myth. Advice has changed dramatically over the years. Systems are now considered safe as long as they are well- maintained. Can often salvage wet material, but not burned material.
Question about crumbling newspapers being sent to a vendor for digitization. Be sure to ask vendor specifically how they are going to handle fragile items, including unfolding them, for digitization. Reputable archival vendors will be used to these questions. When they are returned, store them in lignin free newspaper boxes to extend their life.
The next Preservation Interest Group meeting will be in the fall. If you have suggestions or ideas for topics, send them to Susan D'Entremont at firstname.lastname@example.org.