Monday, June 20, 2011

SLQ Labs Tour - part one

Under the better-late-than-never category... library labs tour, May 31st.

Part One: Cleaning, Repair and Digitisation

The State Library of Queensland preservation labs are a study in ordered chaos. Everything is catalogued - twice - with an exhibit reference and artefact number. Team members are responsible for particular artefacts and they keep their stations prepped with tools of the task. Rolled-up maps await repairs and flattening, many of them already drycleaned and ready for the more meticulous restoration processes. Japanese paper is in regular use to "infill" tears and holes, where more similar paper cannot be found. The paper is coloured to match as closely as possible to the original document. If pieces survive, they are kept with the document to ease repair work.

Drycleaning paper is just one of the processes the SLQ's donated maps will undergo, and it's hard on your hands so task-switching is a must. Too much drycleaning can also be bad for the artefact, obscuring or erasing pencil marks. Graphite smudges, though, get special treatment. A Staedtler white eraser is grated, then brushed over the surface of smudged paper with a lightly weighted bundle of lead wrapped in cloth, which cleans without rubbing out intentional pencilled notations. Often these notations are the most interesting part of the map or plan - signatures, notes, measurements, dates. An old-fashioned shaving brush is used to gently sweep away the eraser.

Digitisation is another important part of preservation, and the team at SLQ have recently acquired a large scanner to handle poster-sized maps and other ephemera. It looks rather like a keyboard, with the scanning bed where the piano keys would go. It can scan approximately one large map in 5 minutes, and the resolution is high enough that browsers of the digital archives can plainly see the paper, not just the content. It is intended to provide as much accuracy as possible for those who cannot view the original document. Only true black and white pictures are scanned in B&W - most have colour enough, even if it is present only in the paper used, to warrant colour scanning. The IT department was very surprised at the specifications ordered by the digital archivists!

Our group asked many questions in the little scanning room, and we were very grateful to the enthusiastic and patient staff who answered them. Actually we asked many questions throughout the tour...

More tomorrow, on storage, pest prevention and environmental monitoring.

**Any errors are my own, as this post was written from photos, meagre notes and my memory.

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