Surfacing detritus in the archives

15 12 2009

Back in March, I reported on our “Shifty Business” of moving offsite holdings to a new warehouse. Naturally, such a move caused many mysteries and forgotten projects to surface, one of which is the set of discards from the Luke S. May Papers. The papers of this prominent Seattle detective have been accessible only by permission of May’s heirs since their donation in 1969; read more about “America’s Sherlock Holmes” in this HistoryLink article.

In 2004, a volunteer removed “evidence objects” and deteriorating photographic negatives from May’s case files and segregated these into six boxes of discards, but no further action was taken to remove the items from the collection. After our warehouse move, rather than simply assign new space to the discards, Special Collections’ staffer Nan Cohen has taken on the project of reviewing and attempting to deal with this “detritus” appropriately. I first learned of Nan’s task when she stopped by my desk one day to casually complain about the smelly negatives and crumbling “evidence” she was handling, including “a murder weapon.” Sure enough, among the files of discards she had found a rusty pocketknife wrapped in a crumpled sheet of paper.  But is the “rust” actually something more sinister? We leave that to your imagination.

Evidence object weeded from the Luke S. May Papers, Accession No. 1299-001

All in a day’s work at UW Special Collections Division!

Preserving maps at home

1 05 2009

People are enchanted by maps. They love them!  I agree, maps are fabulous. They are functional, aesthetic, didactic. Some of you might have them at home, so here are a few tips for protecting their health and well-being:

Carte De L'Egypte De La Nubie De L'Abissinie by Guillaume de Lisle. 18th Century. Held by UW Libraries, Special Collections.

1) Be wary of folding . One fold of an oversized map is acceptable, but when a cross-fold is introduced, it creates a point of great vulnerability where the two folds meet. You’ve probably seen this. Exposed paper fibers and a hole at the meeting place.

2) Rolling is acceptable with caution. It is advisable to roll the map around an interleaving acid-free paper which is larger than the map. The outside paper will protect the map from dust and dirt and will also protect the outer edges.

3) If your map is framed, determine if the matting is acidic or if the map is directly against the glass. Both are bad situations. The acid from the mat will migrate to your map and cause deterioration of the paper that it is printed on. If the map is directly against the glass, with a little humidity, the surface could adhere to the glass and cause what we in the business call, “a loss of information.” Here is my suggestion: Call up your local frame shop, ask if they have a pen to determine acidity levels, and if they would test it for you. (Or buy an pH test pen yourself- they are cost under $10.) Have a new mat put in if it was acidic. If pressed to the glass, the ideal would be to take it to a conservator, but you could cautiously try to detach the map from the glass, stopping immediately if it is adhering anywhere. Ultimately, spacers would need to be put in.

In the ultimate preservation situation, such as we have here in Special Collections, rare maps (many of which are non-acidic since since they were printed on cotton rag paper, pre-1850s or so) are encapsulated in a 3 or 4 mil polyester sleeve, put in a large acid-free map folder, and then filed in a flat steel cabinet. Our cabinets are kept locked so that in case of an earthquake the drawers don’t open and cause spillage.  You might get a kick out of searching some archival product suppliers for these materials.

A final tip, keep your map out of the sun. Watercolors on rare maps could be fugitive. Also, keep your house at a steady temperature (ideally 60-65, but acceptable at 65-70) and make sure that it is kept in a low humidity area (aka not in the bathroom or a moist basement).

Let me know if you have comments or questions.

Cataloged Maps: “Shelved as Size ?”

24 04 2009


You’re probably wondering what in the world is happening in B2 with the maps. What’s up with the color-coded labels? Hopefully, the color-coded labels are starting to make sense; they designate 4 Special Collection map sizes and folders:

  • Orange is Size A = 6 folders fit in a drawer (if needed)
  • Green is Size B = 4 folders fit in a drawer (if needed)
  • Pink is Size C = 2 folders fit in a drawer
  • Blue is size D = 1 large folder fits in a drawer

Before Size Notation

Before the color-coded labels appeared, you may have encountered these “find the SC map” scenarios:

  1. You’ve looked up a map in the UW catalog but were unable to retrieve from its location in Special Collections. Where is it?
  2. You know we have a certain map — you’ve seen it — but, it’s not in the catalog. Where is it?
  3. You’ve located the LC number of the map and it’s in the top drawer in one of the B2 map cabinets. You grab the stepping stool and attempt to pull the folder out, but it’s the 3rd folder in the drawer and the ones on top of it are heavy because they’re overstuffed. You slowly wiggle the folder while pulling it a little toward you. You place the folder on your shoulder or on your head, wiggling and pulling while trying to balance the folder. And then it happens – the Mylar map sleeves are so slippery the maps slide out of the folder and onto the floor. After all of the awkward wiggling and pulling and maneuvering, your shoulder hurts and you’ve got a paper cut on your lip because the folder snapped back at your face when the maps flew out of control. You’re standing on the stool with a large empty map folder. All the maps, big and small are splayed all over the floor.

Resolving Retrieving Issues

After considering what may be a more efficient retrieval process for SC maps, Nicole had me measure the B2 map cabinet drawers. My first task was to calculate how many maps would fit in a drawer if the maps were reorganized by size and placed in appropriately fitted folders.

Ergonomically it made sense if the smaller maps were organized in the top drawers, the mid-size maps at waist height and the larger maps in the bottom drawers, there would less chance of injury to whoever is retrieving a map and less injury (damage) to the map itself by preventing it from landing on the floor.

An added value to reorganizing the maps by size was evident by the gradual appearance of empty drawers. There is now available drawer space that can accommodate uncataloged maps once they are recorded and additional room for maps that may be added to the collection in the future.

When you search for a map in the catalog and note the map’s location, make sure you note, next to the LC call number, the “Shelved as: Size” indicator. This will guide you to the correct B2 cabinet drawer for retrieving the map.

Reorganizing the cataloged maps by size does not resolve finding a map because it has been misfiled, but hopefully once everyone becomes comfortable with this process, a misfiled map may be easier to track down.

To be continued with Uncataloged Maps . . .

Submitted by Edna

Shifty business

24 03 2009

Through the snowy month of December 2008, our division undertook the large task of relabeling and shifting approximately 22,000 items from offsite holidngs to a new storage facility, shared with UW Libraries’ auxiliary book stacks.

These materials had been shelved at a warehouse space near the Oak Tree shopping center on Aurora Ave. for almost twenty years, prior to which many of the collections had been moved several times. Previous offsite storage locations ran the gamut from a rec room at a UW Hospital laundry facility to a building at the Seattle Army Terminal (that also happened to contain a firing range).

Some of the benefits and service enhancements resulting from this move to the Sand Point facility are:

· Climate controlled space

· New compact shelving

· Coordinated retrievals with UW Libraries Circulation, improving turnaround time for requests

· Associated item records and barcodes for each box, allowing better tracking of materials

· Approximately 6,500 cubic feet of growth space

While the physical movement of all boxes, tubes, and oversize materials was contracted to Bekins, all of Special Collections staff and many students were enlisted to help with the process. Paul Constantine and Janet Polata supervised the movers at Oak Tree, while Angela Weaver, Nicole Bouche, Nicolette Bromberg and John Bolcer traded shifts supervising the delivery and reshelving at Sand Point. Nan Cohen and Jeni Spamer coordinated space assignment, item record creation and label printing, with the help of UW Libraries IT staff. The remainder of our staff pitched in to either help affix the new barcoded labels, or cover the reference desk to keep our reading room open during the move.

Other positive consequences of this project included the opportunity to replace approximately 400 damaged boxes, correct outdated and incorrect labels, locate mis-shelved materials, and gain better overall control of the collections. We also discovered what happens to thirty-year-old packing tape (see illustration below) and found not one, not two, but three flagpoles from the collection of Warren G. Magnuson.

Offsite materials were unavailable for patron use through the month of December, but retrieval requests resumed as scheduled on January 5, 2009. We are still sorting out kinks and adjusting to new procedures, but are overall very pleased with the outcome of this major project.

photo courtesy of Jeni Spamer

Wispy packing tape on UW Seismographs. Photo courtesy of Jeni Spamer

Archives Porn?

8 01 2009
Gaylord Brothers Archival 2009 catalog

Gaylord Brothers Archival 2009 catalog

I was finding myself mesmerized by the cover of the 2009 Gaylord Archival catalog earlier this morning (the digital thumbnail does not do it justice).

If  “food porn” can have its own Flickr group, etc., etc., why not archives?

That picture just makes me want to go out and encapsulate something.

Live Blogging at the Service Desk!

27 10 2008

Not a good idea.


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