Monday, April 28, 2014

Preservation Week at TSLA and the Calvert Collection

This year, April 27 through May 3 marks National Preservation Week and the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) is participating by sharing our methods of preservation. The American Library Association began observing Preservation Week in 2010 as a time to inspire action to preserve collections—in libraries, archives, and museums, but especially the items held and loved by individuals, families, and communities.

In recognition of Preservation Week, we wanted to share information about an important preservation project going on at TSLA for our Calvert Collection, officially known as the Calvert Brothers Studio Glass Plate Negatives.

But first, a little shop talk... What exactly is "preservation?" Generally speaking, preservation is the act of preventing damage to an item by ensuring proper storage and environment conditions. Conservation, preservation, and restoration are all terms that fall under the Preservation umbrella within the library and archival communities. Conservation is the profession which focuses on physical treatment of individual items and restoration focuses on bringing the materials back to their original state.

Carol Roberts, conservation manager at TSLA, uses a swab to preserve glass plate negatives of TSLA's Calvert Collection.

What is the Calvert Collection?

The Calvert Collection at TSLA is a collection of thousands of glass plate negatives, which have been undergoing preservation work since 1986. The Calvert Collection originally came in liquor boxes with rubber bands around the slides. The boxes were too heavy and it was necessary to rehouse them in archive-grade boxes.

As early as 1958, Calvert Sisters Zillah and Mary Calvert donated photographs and glass plates to the State Library (mainly well-known portraits of famous Tennesseans). In the late 1960s the bulk of the glass plates were donated and identified by Mr. and Mrs. Lanier Merritt, who worked for the Calvert Studio before it was sold to studio photographer, Bob White. These donations were accepted by Librarians Frances O’Dell and Kendall Cram, and Fran Schell began some cataloging. The bulk of this project continued through the mid-1970s and consisted of traditional darkroom printing of selected glass plates. All work discontinued during the building renovations of 1980s. Renewed conservation and darkroom printing began again in late 1980s and continues to this day.

Preserving these slides requires a number of steps, including:

  • Examining the slides for signs of deterioration, such as previous scratches, bug grit, paper and adhesives on emulsion, or silvering, which unfortunately cannot be reversed but can be slowed down.
  • Placing broken slides into a double sided custom-made protective glass casing, and place the casing in size-appropriate four flap folders (traditional glass plate negative storage folders).
  • Storing them in 8 x 10 storage boxes, which are traditional photo boxes.
  • Placing Ethafoam inside the boxes to cushion the slides.

Once all these steps are taken, we have a well-preserved image. Here's just one example of the finished product from the Calvert Collection:

Mrs. Harry Clark, studio portrait, Calvert Collection, TSLA.

What Can You Do To Preserve Your Treasures?

Our Preservation Services staff members are often asked what can be done to preserve family photographs and documents at home. Here are a few suggestions developed by the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) and endorsed by the Tennessee State Library and Archives:

  • Never do anything that can’t be undone.
  • Keep family treasures in "safe" environment: moderate temperature and relative humidity; clean air and good air circulation; no natural or fluorescent light.
  • Avoid powerful sources of heat, damp, and pollution; don’t store your valuable books, photos, and paper in attics or basements, or near washing machines or bathrooms.
  • Heat causes damage. Don’t hang valuable objects over radiators, heat-producing appliances, or the fireplace. Don’t shelve books on the mantel, the windowsill, or the radiator.
  • Keep photos and art in the dark and away from direct sun.
  • Use a museum-quality (fully "acid-free") mat and frame to display any valuable photo or artwork—even children’s drawings. Indoor pollution (such as smoking) is a growing problem in energy-conscious spaces with good insulation, and causes rapid damage to paper. The glass or plastic glazing of a frame will keep pollutants and dirt away, and handling or tacks will not damage edges.
  • If you want your wedding pictures (or photos of any event) to last for your grandchildren, have the photographer take a roll of black and white photos. Video, color slides, and most color prints have a limited life expectancy.
  • If you want to keep a clipping from the newspaper for the long term, have it photocopied onto buffered paper (e.g. Xerox XXV Century Bond or Howard Permalife). The copy will last far longer than the original.
  • Letters, clippings, and other documents you want to preserve should be stored unfolded in buffered folders. Folding and unfolding breaks envelopes and can cause damage as items are removed replaced. If you can’t find buffered folders, use a sheet of buffered paper at the front and back of a folder.
  • When storing photos in an album, use "photo" or "archival" mounting corners (available from photography suppliers, archival material catalogs, or stamp dealers), not glues or self-sealing plastic (which can stick to or react with your pictures).
  • To remove the musty smell from old books, make sure they are dry. Put them in a cool, dry space for a couple of days, or put them outside on a table in the sun on a dry, breezy day for a couple of hours. If the musty smell remains put them in an open container (e.g. polyethylene pail, box) inside a larger, closed container (e.g. clean, dry garbage pail, box) with an open box of baking soda. Do not allow the deodorizer to touch the books. Leave them for a few days in a cool place, checking once a day to make sure no mold is growing. Remove to a safe storage environment.
  • To remove staples or old paperclips from documents (especially if they’re rusty), slide a piece of stiff plastic (e.g. polyester, polypropylene) under the fastener on both sides of the document. Slide the paperclip off the plastic, or use a pair of tweezers or a thin knife to bend the edges of the staple up and pry it out. The plastic will protect the paper from abrasion and your tools. Staples pullers tear the paper.

To learn how you can use these preservation techniques to preserve your own family collections, we encourage you to attend TSLA's "Conservation Basics for Family Collections" workshop scheduled for May 3rd. Click HERE for registration details and further information.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

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