Way Back Wednesday: Before and After, Then and Now, Beinecke Library MS 4

As we work through organizing old documentation records, we come across contact sheets and prints that show the old conservation studio and the people who worked there.  On Way Back Wednesdays, we will post a few.  Today’s post highlights Beinecke MS 4 (Antoninus, Saint. Confessionale).  Here is the manuscript as it was photographed in the Conservation Studio in the late 1970s or early 80’s. The online catalog record mentions, “Minor repairs to endleaves and headband made ca. 1976.”  It is very likely that the photographs were taken at the time of this work or just shortly after.

Image 3-20-17, 10.28.26 AM

Before, Analog


Beinecke MS 4 was photographed more recently by the Beinecke Library’s Digital Services Unit.  Unlike the early conservation records, these images represent the manuscript’s binding in color and offer a higher resolution for zooming in on details.


After, Digital

It is interesting to compare the details from both sets of images.  The blind impression on the cover boards is more visible as a pattern in some of the black and white photos than in the much higher resolution color images. But the color images allow us to more easily distinguish the various materials even though they are similar in color and value.

Beinecke MS 4 is also part of the Traveling Scriptorium’s bookbinding section.  The book model show us what the binding might have looked like when it was intact.  The model also shows the sewing structure.

Binding Model of Beinecke MS 4

This model gives us some idea of what MS 4 might have looked like when newly bound

Binding Model of Beinecke MS 4

Book model showing laced supports, sewing, and endbands



Way Back Wednesday: Women’s Work

As we work through organizing old documentation records, we come across contact sheets and prints that show the old conservation studio and the people who worked there.  On Way Back Wednesdays, we will post a few.

According to the American Institute for Conservation’s membership compensation survey published in 2009, “Women…remain in the majority across all work settings. The male-to-female ratio is most pronounced in the library/archive setting — 89% of those respondents are women, and only 10% are men.”  So it is safe to say that a day without women would be a day without the conservation of cultural heritage.



Way Back Wednesday: Jane Greenfield

As we work through organizing old documentation records, we come across contact sheets and prints that show the old conservation studio and the people who worked there.  On Way Back Wednesdays, we will post a few.  We can’t identify everyone, but Mary E. “Jane” Greenfield was easy to spot!  And it seemed fitting for images of her to be the first ones shared.  She set up the conservation studio in Sterling Memorial Library 1973.


Gates Guest Book: Our First Intern!

On January 3, 2017, the Gates Conservation Laboratory welcomed its first conservation graduate student intern, Nora Bloch from West Dean College.  As part of her course of study, Nora must complete a 6-week work placement assignment.  And lucky for us, Nora chose to spend her six weeks in New Haven with YUL’s Conservation & Exhibition Services!


We packed Nora’s schedule with as many different experiences as we could. She helped to install exhibits, assisted with a condition survey, learned techniques for humidifying and flattening parchment.  She measured levels of arsenic in silked documents using XRF, sat in on conservation reviews and curator meetings, and participated in a Traveling Scriptorium session for New Haven high school students.  Oh, and she even had some time to work on a couple of treatment projects!

Nora is no stranger to books and libraries.  She earned a MLIS from the Department of Information Studies at UCLA in 2012.  She also served as the Project Manager for the California Rare Book School (CalRBS) and taught letterpress courses.

February 10th was the last day of Nora’s internship.  We thank her for her hard work and enthusiasm for all things library and conservation.  We wish her well as she finishes her studies (and thesis) and embarks on her career as a professional conservator!

Handle with Care: Training for Reading Room and Security Staff

On Monday, Christine McCarthy and Karen Jutzi joined Tara Kennedy (YUL Preservation Services), and the Beinecke Library’s Rebecca Hatcher and Eve Neiger to present the first session of a two-part workshop on care and handling of special collections in public reading rooms.  While some information may have been review for those in attendance, this was an opportunity to make sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to turning pages in the reading room.  The staff who attend the session asked great questions and made excellent suggestions based on their experience.


Quick Reference Guide and common reading room tools/supports


They say that timing is everything. The workshops were planned to following closely on the heels of the reopening of the Beinecke Library’s reading room after 18 months of renovation to the building.

The workshop session on Monday was the result of several months of planning and collaboration between preservation, conservation, access services, and technical services staff. A survey was sent to all access services and security staff to better understand their comfort levels with various practices and to identify any knowledge or training gaps. Balancing reader needs and collection preservation is challenging. Staff worry about the time implications of good handling habits and readers’ service expectations. Having the management team from Access Services at the planning table from the start made it easier to turn ideal practice into implementable practice.  And based on the feedback from staff who participated, there is a strong commitment to both the use of collections and their protection.



Gates Guest Book: Hopkins School

The Gates Conservation Laboratory was pleased to host a Traveling Scriptorium class last month for AP Art History students from the Hopkins School.  Students visited our lab and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.


Each student made their own medieval tacketted pamphlet and learned to write with quills and inks like the scribes of old.  We thoroughly enjoyed working with this group of smart and inquisitive young art lovers.


Gates Guest Book: Toshiyuki Takamiya

On Monday, November 7, 2016, renowned book collector Toshiyuki Takamiya visited the Gates Conservation Laboratory.  He met with Assistant Chief Conservator Paula Zyats and had a chance to see behind the scenes where the manuscripts from the Takamiya collection are being cared for and conserved.  Zyats and Conservation Assistant, Karen Jutzi, are examining each of the manuscripts in Professor Takamiya’s unparalleled collection, which is on long-term loan to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Conservators are recording important physical features and establishing a baseline from which to judge any future changes to the manuscripts as they are used and consulted.

Zyats planned a surprise for our honored guest. Displaying nerves of steel (and years of practice), she demonstrated how she reshapes severely deformed parchment sheets and mends shattered spine folds on a suction table.  Zyats made it look easy (which it is definitely not), and Professor Takamiya was delighted to see and handle the end results.

Since the collection is on loan to the Beinecke Library, any proposed treatments must receive the approval of the collection’s owner. Given the high probability that researchers and students will want to study the physical aspects of the manuscripts in addition to analyzing the text, decisions to treat will be weighed very carefully and undertaken only when absolutely necessary.





Gates Guestbook: Librarians from Fudan University & Cambridge University Library

Catching up on our guestbook posts since we have had a number of important visitors in October from across the pond and beyond.

On October 7, 2016 Yang Guanghui, Deputy Librarian and Yi Le, from the Ancient Documents and Rare Books Department of the Fudan University Library, toured the conservation laboratory with YUL subject librarian, Michael Meng.  Our respected guests were very interested in seeing our new facility and especially curious about our general collections program and KaseMake machine.  Fudan University Library is in the midst of planning for a new facility of their own, which will include space for training in preservation and conservation.


This Tuesday, October 24th, Conservation & Exhibition Services hosted Suzanne Paul, Keeper of Manuscripts and University Archives at Cambridge University Library.  Paul was on her way back to the UK following a conference and made a stop at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.  Early Modern Curator, Kathryn James arranged for the tour so Paul could see our space and talk with conservators about the Traveling Scriptorium.  Paul also got a chance to see a few medieval manuscripts that are currently undergoing treatment or assessment.  The Gates Conservation Laboratory is now a ‘must-see’ destination – which offers us so many new opportunities to engage with colleagues from around the world.





A Celebration is in Order: Voynich Facsimile published and the Gates Conservation Lab turns 1!

Yale Publishes Mysterious Medieval Manuscript

If you were listening to NPR last Friday, you heard Assistant Chief Conservator Paula Zyats talking about the Voynich manuscript. Zyats and Beinecke Library curator, Ray Clemens, were interviewed by Davis Dunavin of WSHU.  The radio segment highlighted a facsimile edition being released this fall by the Yale University Press.

The Yale Press edition includes articles from scholars, conservators, curators, and scientists.  Zyats, who specializes in rare books and parchment, has worked with the manuscript over a number of years starting in 2009, when an Austrian film crew asked to make a documentary about the mysterious manuscript.  Radio-carbon dating and ink analysis in 2010 added material evidence to place the manuscript in the 15th century.  Zyats’ most recent technical studies of the Voynich involved collaborations with scientists Aniko Bezur and Jens Stenger at Yale’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage.  This work included additional ink and pigment testing and multispectral imaging.

Others in Conservation & Exhibition Services also contributed to the chapter published in the facsimile edition.  Paper and Photograph Conservator, Marie-France Lemay, offered her expertise in medieval pigments and inks.  Senior Conservation Technician, Karen Jutzi, created diagrams to illustrate the manuscript’s binding structure.

The timing of the release of the facsimile edition and the airing of the NPR interviews couldn’t be more perfect.  Last week, Conservation & Exhibition Services marked one year working in the Gates Conservation Laboratory.  Below are some photos documenting our work over the last 8 years with the Voynich.  In all that time we haven’t cracked the code, but we did hit the conservation laboratory jackpot!  Congratulations to everyone who made the Yale Press edition a reality and happy first birthday, Gates Conservation Laboratory.



Arsenic & Old Paste: Using XRF to Assess Silked Documents

Aniko Bezur, Director of the Technical Studies Lab (IPCH),  visited the Gates Conservation Laboratory last month with a portable XRF device.  She and YUL Paper & Photograph Conservator, Marie-France Lemay, tested a sample of silked manuscripts recently found in a collection being processed.

Silking was a restoration method used with some frequency in the 19th and early 20th centuries to preserve important papers.  There were a number of different variations of the basic technique, that laminated documents between sheets of thin white silk or crepeline.  The adhesion of silk was achieved with a starch paste of rye or wheat flour, to which alum, oil of cloves, wintergreen, thymol, and/or arsenic was added.  Arsenic was used extensively in taxidermy as an insecticide or fungicide. It was most likely added to silking pastes to serve the same purpose.  Conservators considering treatments for silked documents must also assess the potential risks posed by any arsenic that might still be present in the paste.  Bezur and Lemay’s initial investigation with XRF detected traces of arsenic.  They will be continuing their analysis of the rest of the collection of silked documents later this fall.