Special Collections Conservation

Special collections conservators treat materials from all of the collections in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Items in need of treatment are identified by catalogers, archivists, curators, and public services staff in the course of their work, and treatments are determined in consultation with curators. Treatment times can vary widely. Most items are in and out of the lab relatively quickly – a few minutes, a few hours, a week – although some items require more time and attention. A treatment need not be time-consuming or highly invasive in order to be effective, and conservators endeavor to design most treatments to employ time and supplies as economically as possible while achieving the maximum benefit for the items being treated.

The incredible breadth represented in Spencer’s collections makes for endlessly interesting and challenging work. Serials, manuscripts, records, photographs, maps, ephemera, and objects of every description all come to the lab for treatment and custom housings, examples of which may be seen in the slideshow. However, treatment of bound volumes constitutes the majority of the special collections conservator’s work. The volumes displayed here were all treated within the last few years and exemplify the variety – both in collections and in treatment approaches – that are characteristic of this job.



Kazania ná niedziele cáłego roku / przes X. Pawła Kaczynskiego Societatis Jesu. miane, 1683. Special Collections Summerfield D544.

Treatment: Detach, surface clean, mat and house manuscript fragment. Disbind volume, surface clean text, mend tears and selectively fill losses. Tip on loose pages, guard sections, and sew volume over cords, adding new linen endbands. Conservation paper case binding.

This Polish book of sermons from the Summerfield Collection of Early Printed Books was in extremely poor condition – soiled, heavily worn, and lacking a binding, with a fragment of manuscript adhered to the lower cords. It is usually our practice to preserve binder’s waste in situ; however, due to the fragile condition of both fragment and volume, the conservator and curator opted to separate this fragment. The volume’s new paper case binding is not meant to be a historical reproduction; rather, it is a functional binding that integrates well in the Summerfield stacks and allows the volume to be safely handled.

It is common to see examples of manuscripts repurposed as binder’s waste in the Summerfield Collection, but the fragment on Kazania . . . is unique because it is written in what may be Old Church Slavonic instead of the more typical Latin, and because it is paper, rather than parchment.



[Diary of Maude Egbert], 1943-1948. Kansas Collection RH MS B77.

Treatment: Remove tape from cover and reduce adhesive residue. Reback with Japanese paper; consolidate board edges and tone repairs with watercolors.

Though modest in appearance, this diary is rich in content, offering a deeply personal view of an ordinary Kansas woman’s life. Rebacking is a common treatment for both general and special collections books; a reback allows for minimal disturbance of the existing covering while adding new material to restore functionality to the spine.



[Aeo Hill scrapbook], 1919-1921. University Archives RG 71/99/10.

Treatment: Remove and retain deteriorated binding. Surface clean pages and selectively mend and reattach inserts as necessary. Rebind in new cloth-covered post binding.

Scrapbooking was a popular pastime in the early 20th century. The University Archives’ collection of early student scrapbooks includes this volume, one of three compiled by Marium Aeo Hill (1899-1979). Student scrapbooks are used frequently in class visits to Spencer, and Ms. Hill’s volumes are excellent examples, featuring many photographs as well as all manner of ephemera related to student life. Most scrapbooks were store-bought blanks made from low-quality materials, leading to a host of preservation problems represented in scrapbook collections today. The conservator and curator agreed to remove the damaged covers from this volume and, since the pages are still strong, place it in a new binding. The original covers are retained with the volume.



A true account and declaration of the horrid conspiracy against the late king, His present Majesty, and the government : as it was order’d to be published by His late Majesty, 1685. Special Collections E242a.

Treatment: Surface clean text. Remove gummed cloth tape and reduce adhesive residue from front matter; retain historic tape repairs on spine. Reinforce both board attachments.

A true account… is Thomas Sprat’s official account of the failed 1683 Rye House Plot to assassinate King Charles II of England and his brother James, Duke of York. E242a is one of three first-edition copies of this title held in Spencer (the two others are E242 and E3324). Each of these volumes, printed in the same shop over three hundred years ago, is bound differently and bears the distinct marks of its own life. These differences may suggest something about what readers, institutions, and book collectors value in the books they use and collect, and how those values inform decisions such as how and whether to rebind a volume. E242a is in a binding roughly contemporary to the time of the book’s printing, although it cannot be said for certain that it is its original binding. The historic gummed tape repair across the spine was left in place; to remove it would risk damage to the leather.



The Negro travelers’ green book, 1955. Kansas Collection RH Ser B173.

Treatment: Detach and retain pamphlet binder. Remove cloth hinges from cover and reduce adhesive residue.

The Negro Travelers’ Green Book was an annual guidebook for African Americans traveling in the United States during the Jim Crow era. Spencer’s two issues of the Green Book were once held in general collections, and as such were marked and housed according to the standard practice for circulating materials. This issue had been bound into a commercial pamphlet binder with adhesive hinges partially obscuring the cover. Now detached, the binder is retained with the Green Book to serve as a reminder of how preservation practices, and our ideas about what is considered “special collection” material, continually evolve.