Latest Posts

Preservation Outreach: Hanging out with the students from Murray Elementary

Kara says:  Last week I had the opportunity to talk preservation with fifth graders from Murray Elementary School. There were 42 students, broken into two groups. These kids were curious, engaged, and asked terrific questions. They easily figured out what we did in Preservation Services; this is something that I find myself explaining to adults all the time. We talked about  what to do with damaged books, how the type of paper impacts how and whether we can repair it, and the ways that we use a blast freezer (for drying out wet books and handling bug infestations, NOT for keeping ice cream cold!) They were fantastic learners and it was a joy to talk with them about what we do here in Preservation Services. I just wish they had had more time to spend with us.

If any of these kids end up coming to U.Va. in six or seven years, I hope they will stop by and apply for a job, because I would love to have them work for us.  Thanks fifth graders, for being as excited about what we do as I am!

Alderman Exhibit Features Preservation Tools

In the Stettinius Gallery hallway on the second floor of Alderman Library, Preservation Services presents  an exhibition of preservation/conservation tools to celebrate Preservation Week, which begins on April 21, 2013. Please also visit the online version of the exhibit. Department member Leigh Rockey gathered materials and information for the display, and she came across a few morsels of preservation and conservation info that she would like to share.

twitter account

Leigh says:  It’s difficult to decide which tools, materials, and equipment to feature in the hallway display because there are so many of them! And, of course, they’re all fascinating in some way. Let’s look at the Twitter profile pic for @UvaLibPreserve, at left. It contains many of the basics—embroidery scissors, linen thread, a bamboo hake brush, a tacking iron, methyl cellulose paste, wheat starch paste, a ruler, an eraser, an awl, a spatula, a scalpel, and a brick weight—and that’s a just a few of the tools used in the care of library items!

Please note that there are two kinds of paste shown in this picture.

In the clear Tupperware container is methyl cellulose, which may sound intimidating, but it’s just plant fiber that’s been processed with caustic soda. Preservation and conservation labs use methyl cellulose mainly as an adhesive, to secure papers and boards. It’s also used to loosen and then clean off old glue from spines and book cover boards.

Interestingly, we’ve all eaten methyl cellulose. It’s in a lot of fast food shakes, processed cheese, puddings, batters, sports drinks, some soups and sauces, processed meat, peanut butter, candy, etc., chiefly as a thickening agent. It just also happens to be a stable adhesive that doesn’t stain or discolor paper.

The large white pill bottle contains wheat starch paste. A bit stronger than methyl cellulose, starch adhesives are ubiquitous in preservation and conservation labs.

Methyl cellulose and starch pastes meet all the criteria for mending library materials—they do not yellow, darken, or stain paper; they retain adhesive strength for a long time; the adhesion is reversible (you can undo repairs, even after a long period of time, without damage to the original library item); and they do not contain preservatives or chemicals harmful to paper, boards, leather, etc.

AV Conservator Steven Villereal Savors the Steenbeck

Steven Says:  As Preservation Service’s point person for obsolete media materials, I frequently find myself on the hunt for the equipment needed to interact with old audiovisual formats. Working with “legacy” formats (i.e. the media production technologies of yesteryear), I require equipment that is often not the newest and shiniest. Sometimes the gear I need is used … or even disused!

Back in May 2012, I received word that New York University’s film and television production school was ridding itself of 19 Steenbeck flatbed film editors. Current motion picture technologies favor digital resources over film, so student demand for Steenbecks at NYU is increasingly minimal. And they were giving them away free, provided their new homes would be non-profit institutions.


Steenbeck expert Dwight Cody refurbishes and cleans U.Va. Library’s Steenbeck film editing machine.

Steenbecks were an essential tool of film editors for well over 50 years. The desk-sized, flatbed film editing machine was a German innovation from the 1930s, an alternative to the American upright Moviola, that allowed you to review film footage quickly. Using a rotating prism rather than gate and shutter like a film projector, the Steenbeck lets you roll through your footage safely and slowly (forward and backward, including freezing on a frame).

The same features that make these machines appealing to editors make them ideal for archivists and researchers who work with fragile film materials. In contrast to running film through a projector—a dangerous process for at-risk material—looking at film on a Steenbeck is safe (when practiced alongside prior material inspection, condition assessment, and repair).

After driving a minivan up to New York to claim a Steenbeck, I made plans to have the machine refurbished. As the Library intended to use the machine as a viewer for archival film materials, it was obviously essential that the Steenbeck be in excellent working order. Through archival film contacts, I knew of Dwight Cody, who services Steenbecks for many universities as well as the Library of Congress in nearby Culpeper. In November, I managed to schedule a service visit with Dwight, who spent a full day refurbishing the machine, with an eye towards making it safe for archival film.

The sign on the Steenbeck's own room in Clemons Library.

The sign on the Steenbeck’s own room in Clemons Library.

I also met with my colleagues in Clemons Library, who were generous enough to make room for this machine so that students of filmmaker and instructor Kevin Everson could review the 16mm film they shoot as part of his courses in the U.Va. Studio Art program. The Steenbeck now lives in a dedicated room that students can access after receiving individual training.

I am very excited, as someone with a strong interest in the history of media production technologies, that students will be able to use a Steenbeck for their film-related projects. The tactile experience of physically handling, cutting, and reassembling film has real value, and it offers U.Va. students experience with a methodological alternative to digital processes.


Apply Now for Summer Internship in Conservation

The U.Va. Library Preservation Services Department will be offering its fifth summer conservation internship. This six-week internship will focus on the conservation treatment of the diary of John B. Minor, who was a law professor at U.Va. from 1845-1895. His rigorous legal mind provides an unvarnished look at University life, particularly during high profile times such as the Civil War, including the surrender of the University to Federal troops. The intern will also work on the Civil War-era journal of the Chairman of the Faculty, 1861-1864, another document from a crucial time in the University’s history.

These internships provide valuable work experience for pre-graduate students, giving them hands-on experience in a professional setting. This type of experience is essential for a successful application to a graduate conservation training program. The internship provides valuable assistance to the Library’s Preservation program by accomplishing a discrete project that may not otherwise get done. The Library offers a stipend to support the travel and housing of the intern and to encourage competitive applicants.

If you are interested in supporting the summer conservation program and would like to learn more, please contact Eliza Gilligan, Book and Paper Conservator, at or 434-924-6961 or Kara McClurken, Head of Preservation Services, at or 434-924-1055.


Preservation Services Around Town: Home Movie Day on the Downtown Mall

Preservation Services was once again involved with Home Movie Day, a worldwide celebration of home movies and amateur film. Home Movie Day is always an excellent event, combining preservation advocacy work with a fun chance to see other folks’ family films, safely projected!

This year we hosted a screening in collaboration with Piedmont Council for the Arts (PCA) held on Saturday, October 20th at CitySpace, 100 5th Street NE, on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall.

From 12:30-4:30 p.m., community members brought their own films (on 8mm, super-8, or 16mm) to have them inspected and repaired by an archival professional. At 5 p.m., the projectors flickered and began screening home movie submissions. All films were returned at the end of the evening. The entire event was FREE and open to the public.


Preservation’s Audiovisual Conservator Wins Grant to Reformat Film of U.Va. Artist and Professor Charles Smith

Audiovisual Conservator Steven Villereal has secured a $5,000 grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation to preserve and digitize a film of U.Va. Professor Charles Smith in the process of creating block paintings. Smith was the first chair of the McIntire Department of Art and was known for his woodcuts and block prints. The film takes the viewer inside Smith’s wooden block painting technique. Please read more about Smith, the film, and the grant at UVa Today.


Donor Generosity Leads Preservation Efforts

Preservation Services gladly accepts unrestricted gifts to support the costly efforts to preserve the University of Virginia Library’s collections. Your generosity helps conserve items such as rare maps, 1950s audio recordings of William Faulkner, and our heavily used general circulating collections. Your gift of any amount is important.

You may give online (in the special instructions section, please specify “in support of Preservation Services”). Or mail your gift to: The University of Virginia Library Annual Fund P.O. Box 400314 Charlottesville, VA 22904-4314

Support Preservation at UVA.

University Conservator’s Blog

Please visit the University Conservator’s blog, called At the Bench. Explore the scourge of adhesive tape, the many different skills needed by a book conservator, the conservation treatment of Andrea Palladio’s book “I qvattro libri dell’architettvra,” Robert Hooke’s “Micrographia,” and so much more.