Author Archives: Pat Fox

Exhibit Supports: Learning about Vivak®

Pat Fox

Today’s blog on working with Vivak® for constructing exhibition supports is the 1st in our Preservation Week series highlighting Cornell University Library Conservation Lab’s continuing educational efforts to better preserve and protect our collections.

Cornell University Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections creates several exhibitions annually, featuring the rich and varied materials in its collections.  Conservators play an essential role in these exhibitions, by evaluating the condition of collection materials, providing advice on light levels and handling, treating condition issues, and constructing cradles and mounts to support and safely display items.

In the current exhibit, World Picture: Travel Imagery Before and After Photography, there are several different types of our custom-made matboard cradles and supports in use. Matboard is easy to work with, versatile, and recyclable.

vertical and horizontal support

Shown here are the different types of matboard supports used in a vertical case and in a horizontal case.

In addition to matboard, there are other materials used for exhibit supports. I had the pleasure of attending the Ivy Plus Mount Making workshop on April 4th and 5th. Mark Pollei, Assistant Director for Library Conservation and Preservation at the Sheridan Libraries and Museums at Johns Hopkins University, hosted a group of professionals coming from seven different institutions. We came to learn how to construct supports made from Vivak®, a transparent thermoplastic, for library materials on exhibition.


library and support

Left: Milton S. Eisenhower Library; right: Vivak® support at the George Peabody Library

woman and support

Left: Yan Choi, a LACE fellow studying at the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, drills holes in her support pieces; right: sample Vivak® support tilted at 20°

More frequent and larger exhibits are challenges facing the participants in the workshop. We talked about modular supports systems that have pieces that can be reused and reconfigured. We also discussed standardizing display angles and making cradles in three sizes; small, medium, and large. Alessandro Scola, Senior Book Conservator at Hopkins, spent two days sharing the system that he has developed. He uses Vivak®, metal brakes and cutters, drills, and lots of trigonometry to build supports that safely and elegantly display the unique materials that are in his care. He showed us his system in a detailed Powerpoint presentation. Then we had a chance to put his system to use, working with kits Alessandro had assembled to make several different kinds of supports.

man and math

Left: Alessandro Scola demonstrating the metal brake used to bend Vivak®; right: trigonometric plans for supports

I have had the opportunity to experiment with Vivak® a little here at Cornell. Vivak® is perfect for items that require transparent supports, like books with unusual formats and certain photographic materials. I’m still learning about Vivak®; I like how it holds its shape, and its transparency allows me to experiment with new display possibilities. Talking with other workshop participants gave me perspective about the exhibit responsibilities of my job. And now I have a group of people to consult when I encounter a challenge I cannot solve myself.

lantern slide and pop-up

Left: Vivak® supports for lantern slides that need light behind them to be visible, in the World Picture exhibit; right: matboard wedge and a Vivak® angle used to support an 1856 pop-up edition of Robinson Crusoe. This will appear in a single case display in the RMC Reference Room to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the publication of Robinson Crusoe on April 25th, 2019.

For more information on exhibitions, see:



interview with Barbara


Barbara Eden at the Great Wall of China


How can we strengthen Cornell University Library’s relationship with our partner libraries in China?  That was the question Barbara Berger Eden, director of Preservation, sought to answer when she sent a preservation needs assessment survey to the libraries at Renmin University, Peking University, Tsinghua University and the China Agricultural University.  Barbara met with the stakeholders at each of the institutions on a visit to Beijing in 2011, where she confirmed their survey responses.  The libraries needed help preparing for water emergencies, mounting materials for exhibits, and caring for and handling Western style bindings, particularly those from the Chinese Republican period ranging from 1919 to 1949. 

During her visit, Barbara was able to live on the campus of Tsinghua University.  “It was so interesting to experience another university from the inside,” recounted Barbara.  She stayed in the international dorm.  “The food is amazing! In the cafeteria there are kiosks serving different cuisines from all over China!” Barbara also visited the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven.



Delicious soup from Tsinghua University

Barbara returned to Ithaca where she collaborated with her colleagues throughout the library to develop a training program for Chinese librarians that focused on their preservation needs.  She secured funding from the Henry Luce Foundation to support the two year program.  Barbara wanted the internship to replicate the quality of her visit to China where she was treated as an honored guest.  So she sought out pleasant accommodations, arranged for weekly trips to the grocery stores, set up internet access,  bus passes, and cultural outings.   “I want them to feel comfortable when they are away from home.” 

A day shopping at the Waterloo Premium Outlets, an afternoon of wine tasting, and a day in New York City highlight the cultural exchange aspect of the program.   Barbara enjoyed seeing things through the eyes of the interns.  “They were blown away by Wegman’s,” Barbara commented.  They were impressed by the emphasis on customer service and the lack of crowds that made browsing possible.  The interns appreciated Ithaca’s bucolic character, its clean air and uncongested spaces.  Barbara booked tickets on a double decker bus tour of New York City where they all enjoyed a close up view of historic architectural details. 

Translators are essential to the success of the program, and Barbara found two of them herself.  After many  years of working at Cornell, Barbara decided to take a course called “The Art of Horticulture.”  One of her classmates, Cornell transfer student Venna Wang, revealed in conversation that she lived in Flushing, New York.  As they talked more, Barbara realized that Venna lived in the same apartment building that she had lived in as a child!  Barbara remembers, “In the 1950’s my neighborhood was 99% Jewish.  Now it’s primarily Asian.  It’s a neighborhood in rapid transition.” 

Barbara was on flight from Beijing to Newark in January, 2013, returning from her second library visit.  The plane was packed with students returning to the States at the end of winter break.   She introduced herself to her seatmate, Tianwang Liu, and discovered that Tianwang was a freshman at Cornell!  They exchanged phone numbers and kept in touch.  Barbara helped her find her way around Ithaca, and told her about the best Chinese grocery store in town.  Both Venna and Tianwang will put their translating skills to work again this fall.


Barbara Eden and Tianwang Liu visit the Museum of Natural History in New York City

Barbara concluded, “I am hopeful that the program will have an impact on care and handling of Western style books.  I am excited that our acclaimed online Preservation Tutorial will be updated and translated into Chinese in the second year of the grant. It  will be a valuable resource to Chinese libraries. ”