Author Archives: Cornell University Library Conservation

About Cornell University Library Conservation

Cornell University Library Conservation is a part of the Department of Digital Scholarship and Preservation Services. The unit provides preservation guidance and conservation treatment for all Cornell Library collections.

“Remembering Lincoln at Gettysburg”

by Michele Brown

In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, Cornell University’s Division of Rare and Manuscripts Collection has mounted an exhibition of Civil War manuscripts and artifacts.

Students reading the original copy of the Gettysburg Address.

Our own original copy is currently on display until November 22.

Our original copy of the Gettysburg Address is guarded at all times while on display.


Lance Heidig has been writing an informative blog about the materials in the exhibit.

When the original copy is not on display, a facsimile is in its place. Michele Hamill, Paper and Photo Conservator of the Conservation Unit directed the rehousing and display of both the facsimile and the original. Read her excellent blog posts describing the journey and installation of “our” Gettysburg. Listen to her interview with WHCU.

Before the exhibit was installed, other staff members from the Conservation Unit restored several items now in exhibition cases located in the Rotunda and in front of the Reading Room. Pat Fox constructed the cradles and supports for the materials.

The covers of this pamphlet were torn.

We like our materials to look their best.

The tears and losses were reinforced with toned Japanese tissue.


Some materials were structurally at risk.

The spine of this slave ledger was torn, causing the back board to become detached.


It’s important to retain the original character of the item.

The ledger now has new spine leather, but the original spine was retained and reattached.

The exhibit will be up until December 22. Please stop by or view the online exhibition.

Welcome Chen Hong and Zhang Huili

By Michele Brown

Chen Hong, Director of Circulation at  Tsinghua Library and Zhang Huili of the Special Collections Department at Peking University are the fourth pair of librarians from China to participate in the care of circulating collections training program funded by the Luce Foundation.  Hong and Huili  arrived in Ithaca September 16 and began working with us September 23. This week-end they will return to Beijing.



They began by learning how to determine the grain direction of paper.









Then, they sewed and bound their own blank books.








They learned how to do full and partial repairs, fan glue bindings and constructing phase boxes.










We discussed disaster preparation and salvaged some wet books and documents.





They visited the Mann Library Preservation Department and Special Collections vault, and spoke to Frank Brown about the Mann Library preservation program.








Finally, they learned how to construct exhibit supports.




Many thanks to our translators and all of the people who helped make the program a success.



A new binding for Galileo’s Discorsi

by Michele Brown

Galileo’s final book, Discorsi e dimostrazioni matematiche, intorno à due nuoue scienze (Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences), was written during his period of house arrest, smuggled to Leiden and printed in 1638.

Like Cornell’s copy of Newton’s Principia (see our earlier blog post), Cornell’s copy of Galileo’s Discorsi had been bound in orange morocco. Unfortunately, there is no record of the original binding. The pages had been over sewn, which inhibited opening. The paper was brittle and acidic (pH was 4.7-5) with minor staining. The title page had been backed with Japanese tissue.

Since this volume is used extensively for teaching, the curator requested a new, more appropriate binding. We decided that this would be a good time to wash and resew the text to improve the opening and flexibility of the pages. The backing on the title page was removed at this time as the title page was in good condition with just a few tears on the fore-edge.

A full vellum binding seemed appropriate for the date and place of publication of this work.

Last year, I bought a translation of Dirck de Bray: Kort onderwijs van het boeckenbinden (Dirck de Bray: a short instruction in the binding of books), a Dutch bookbinding manual first published in 1658. This new edition  was translated by Harry Lake, edited by Koert van der Horst and Clemens de Wolfe, and published by Rob Koch. This manual inspired the rebinding of the Discorsi.

I decided to first try the techniques described in the manual on my own copy. I used a piece of the parchment skin I made at a Pergamena parchment workshop in 2009.

I discovered that it can be difficult to bind a book at the same time you are trying to study it. The result was ok, but the boards are somewhat thin and tend to warp. We needed something more substantial.








I decided to follow the directions for endbands and lacing-in described in the de Bray manual, but I turned to the vellum on boards binding described by Peter Verheyen because that binding style promised greater board stability. This construction features a German-style split board, which differs from the English split board familiar to many of us. The German split board consists of a piece of card  tipped to the outside of the board. The covering material is stuck to the card and at the turn-ins, essentially drummed onto the board. If the vellum contracts during periods of low humidity, it will pull the card, not the board.

The book was sewn two-on using vellum strips. As recommend by de Bray, the strips were cut in half width-wise and pointed before lacing in.


The endbands were woven from red and yellow silk twist over vellum strips per de Bray.


Then, I followed Peter Verheyen’s directions, this time using  cream calf parchment from Pergamena Parchment.

The new vellum binding is stronger and more attractive than the previous binding, the pages are more flexible. It is now more usable as a teaching tool.



Welcome Pan Wei and Zhang Hongping

by Michele Brown

Our internship program for librarians from China continues as we welcome two librarians from the China Agricultural University Library in Beijing.  Pan Wei, Deputy Director and Zhang Hongping, Associate Research librarian, arrived in Ithaca May 11 and started working  in the Conservation Lab May 20. They began by making pamphlets.

Lily (one of our translators) watches Pan Wei (center) and Hongping (right) sew pamphlets.


Then, they learned how to make case bindings before learning how to repair books from the circulating collection.





















On Monday, we visited the book repair department at Syracuse University.

Pan Wei and Hongping observe a student in the Syracuse book repair lab.


We have enjoyed working with our 2 translators: Lily and Jiali.

Jiali Wang is a second year student at the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, with a concentration in economics.

Lily Xue Dong is a Chinese LL.M student in Cornell Law School Class 2013.

Preservation Week 2013

Cornell University Library Conservation celebrated Preservation Week 2013 by posting a preservation tip on our Facebook page each day.

Here is a summary of the week’s tips.

Tip #1: Do not store your books and documents in the basement.  Sustained humidity above 70% will promote mold growth. For more information on assessing the temperature and humidity of your library environment check out the dew point calculator at the Image Permanence Institute web site.

Moisture caused mold to grow on these pages.

Tip #2: Archival enclosures will preserve your family collections for generations to come. Check  preservation supply companies  for safe paper and plastic enclosures for documents and photographs. The Northeast Document Conservation Center has compiled useful information in their Storage Methods and Handling Practices preservation leaflet.

Archival folders and boxes protect photos and documents.

Preservation Week tip #3: Protect your library materials from light. Exposure to light can cause cloth and leather to discolor, photographs to fade, and varnishes to yellow. The Library of Congress has information about the lighting of library materials.

Fading caused by light exposure.

Preservation Week Tip #4: Do not use office supplies with your family treasures. Pressure sensitive tape and paper clips will stain and damage paper and photographs. Post-it notes leave a sticky residue.

Office supplies can damage family documents.

Preservation Week Tip #5: Keep food and drink away from library materials and family treasures. Food residues attract insects, mold and other predators. Food and drink stains are permanent.

Coffee and a marker have disfigured this photo.

A little help from our friends…

by Michele Brown

Kelly and Lucy have completed their internship in conservation and will spend another week visiting Cornell libraries and Ithaca sights.

The internship program provides both hands-on experience and lectures in preservation theory and techniques. These can be complicated concepts to convey and we have relied on native Chinese speakers in the Cornell community to help us communicate. Four students and a library collection assistant have served as translators for our visiting interns.

Yun Peng (Penny) will receive her M. Eng. in Electrical Engineering from Cornell in May. Before coming to Cornell, she received her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Purdue University.

After graduation she will be employed as a Researcher in the Electric Power Research Institute in Beijing. Penny was at first attracted to being a translator for our intern program because she saw it as an opportunity to meet professionals from some of the top universities in China. While translating for the first 2 interns she also discovered that book conservation is very interesting. For her, translating is a good way to use her knowledge of English. “Helping the interns to communicate gives me a sense of achievement.”

Xuejiao Yang (Snow) was born in Beijing and grew up in Malaysia.

She received a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Washington in Seattle, and in May she will receive an M. Eng. in Electrical Engineering from Cornell. In September she will begin a position for the International Engineering Company in Beijing. She has enjoyed translating because she enjoys learning about another subject outside of her area of expertise. Translation skills will also help in her future work which will involve negotiating with companies outside of China. Snow is also fluent in Malay, plays the violin and piano, and enjoys ballet.

Venna Wang is a sophomore biological sciences major with a concentration in microbiology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS).

She grew up in Queens, and she enjoys music and art She “plays the flag” in the Cornell marching band.  Venna enjoys translating because “it’s fun”, and she’s been happy to learn more about books, which she discovered are structurally a lot more complicated than she had realized.


Tianwang Liu is a freshman economics major in College of Arts and Sciences.

She is from Shandoung Province in China and enjoys singing, playing the piano, and playing the Guzheng. She watches movies to relax during study breaks. When we asked her what she enjoys most about translating she said, “As a student, working for the preservation department opens a new world for me, because instead of only reading books, I can know how books are made and repaired. It is amazing!”

Jing Carlson works as a collection assistant at the East Asian Collection (Wason) of the Kroch Library.

In the Cornell library system her main responsibilities include doing collection administrative management, assisting the curator to develop the collection, and coordinating with other units.

Jing is also an active participant in Cornell’s East Asia Program’s outreach activities.  As an educator for the East Asia Program she has taught members of the Ithaca community about calligraphy, Chinese art, cooking, and language.  Jing has also worked as a translator on campus and for the Ithaca City School District as well as the Racker Center.  Her current translating work builds on the experience she had while still living in China doing Chinese- Japanese translation.

Jing moved to the United States from Beijing in the 1990s. She loves art, cooking, hiking and has an interest in residential architecture and fengshui design. She has been living in Ithaca since 2000.  She enjoys family life here with her two sons and husband.

Jing has found time during her working hours to fill in when Penny, Snow, Venna and Tianwang have had scheduling conflicts.

We will miss Penny and Snow, but we look forward to working with Venna and Tianwang in the fall. We will rely on Jing as a resource for the next 2 interns from China who will arrive on May 13.


New Interns from China

We would like to welcome two librarians from Renmin University of China as our new  preservation interns. Xiuzhong Xiong (Kelly) , Deputy Director of Systems and Manager of the Digitization Center, and Li Cao (Lucy)  from  the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. Kelly and Lucy will be with us until April 26 learning book repair techniques and care and handling of library materials.

They began their training on March 26 by making blank books.  We are assisted by a wonderful of group of students who translate our instructions and explanations.

Kelly and Lucy sewed the sections of their books using a link stitch and then made quarter cloth covers with marbled paper sides. We used papers made by Iris Nevins.











Then, they learned how to do a “full” repair. Cornell divides repair of circulating books into 3 categories: full, half and partial.

Books with weak joints or detached boards receive a full repair.

First, the spine is removed, the back is cleaned and new cloth strips are sewn to the text block. We drill holes for the thread using a jeweler’s drill.











The back of the text block is lined with paper. A new buckram spine is attached to the boards and the cloth strips that were sewn in are glued to the case. Then, the original spine is glued back on or we make a paper label.













In the coming weeks they will be trained half and partial book repair techniques; and, they will be trained in disaster planning and recovery, mold prevention and remediation, and best practices for care and handling.


Welcome Lucy and Kelly.

Book repair with Natasha

by Michele Brown

We rely on students to help repair our circulating book collection and starting in the fall semester, we’ve been lucky to have Natasha Rao working with us. Natasha is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She is from Princeton, New Jersey, and is hoping to major in both English and Natural Resources.

Natasha also enjoys photography and hiking, and she is learning to fly planes. She told us she is tremendously enjoying her first year at Cornell, and loves working with book repair! We are happy to have her help.

While rare books receive specialized treatment that can take many hours, repair of circulating books emphasizes speed and efficiency. Our book repair person works at a dedicated bench with pre-cut materials close at hand.

Most books needing repair are identified by Access Services staff when the books are returned to the library. When the books arrive in the conservation lab they are first examined to see if they are candidates for the Rare Books collection. These are pulled out and placed on a truck for review by the curator of rare books and manuscripts. Brittle books are also pulled out and sent to the Brittle Books Coordinator.  If a book needs to be resewn, it is  sent to the Commercial Binding department.

Books that will undergo  book repair are sorted into types of repair (full, half and partial—more on book repair at Cornell at later time– and shelved accordingly). Loose flyleaves are reattached, back linings are cleaned off, and the original spine is tucked into the boards.

Here, Natasha removes the boards of a book she will repair.








Then, she cleans the spine.







Next, she sews cloth hinges into the inner joints. Then, she will apply new cloth and paper linings, and use a cloth strip to repair the case. The new cloth hinges are glued across the joints.


If the original spine is not salvageable she will print a new label using a lab computer.

We are very lucky to have such a talented freshman student, and we look forward to working with Natasha for several more years.

Decisions, decisons…

by Michele Brown

Preparing repair tissue to be used on historic laid paper is relatively straight-forward. Generally, you tear the  tissue after applying moisture using  a brush, water pen, ruling pen, damp cloth or other applicator with the goal  of getting nice long fibers that will blend into the surface of the paper.

Historic newspapers or other  papers with a smooth surface present a different problem. Rather than blending in, repair tissue with long fibers  may stand out. Cutting the repair strip with a scalpel is one solution, but the result is a very sharp edge that can still look jarring.

In preparation for an upcoming exhibit celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation, I  repaired several newspapers and documents with poor quality paper from the 1860’s. I experimented with various techniques for preparing the repair tissue: tearing along a wet line drawn with a water pen, tearing along a wet line and then trimming the “feathers” with scissors, using a sanding block, and cutting with a scalpel.





Deciding on which repair tissue to use can also call for some judgment. I like to use thin Usu Mino tissue from Hiromi to reinforce folds, edges and tears. It may look somewhat white—especially next to acidic papers–but often blends in surprisingly well.

Occasionally I use tan CK Color Kozo, also from Hiromi, for losses or for reinforcing weak edges on light-damaged papers. Yet while it is similar in tone to the newspapers, it  looked too dark when used for reinforcing fragile corners and folds. For these materials, Usu Mino was less noticeable.

For example, on the page below,  the corner on the left was reinforced using tan CK Color Kozo. Although the color of the tissue is close to the color of the paper, it looks too dark when pasted over the corner.






The bottom edge on the page below was  also reinforced with a torn strip of tan CK Color Kozo. It stands out more than I am comfortable with, and the long fibers give it a somewhat untidy appearance.










Here is the same page repaired with a strip of thin Usu Mino that’s been torn and then trimmed.










Here is another view of the page in the first photo. The tan CK Color Kozo has been removed and replaced with Usu Mino. In this case, I used a scalpel to cut the tissue for the corner repair. The tissue reinforcing the center fold was torn then trimmed.







The top edge of the newspaper below was  reinforced from the back with thin Usu Mino, but still looks fragile.










Tan CK Color Kozo was used to fill in losses, and while it doesn’t match exactly it gives the piece a more finished look and strengthens the top edge. In this instance the repair tissue was torn using a water pen.


Interns from China, Part two: care and handling, disaster planning and exhibit preparation.

The second two weeks of Deng Liang and Zhang Lijin’s time in the conservation department included an introduction to principles of proper storage and environment, care and handling of library materials, disaster planning, mold prevention and remediation, and exhibit preparation.


They practiced making exhibit supports.

















And, they recovered wet materials from a “flood.”



After visiting the preservation department in Mann Library, touring other Cornell departments and  some sightseeing in New York City, Deng Liang and Zhang Lijin returned to China last week. We wish them well in their future preservation endeavors and look forward to 2 interns from Renmin University in March.

Michele Brown