A Visit to Bobst Libary’s Conservation Lab

A view from the Bobst Library atrium.

Recently, second-year Library and Archives Conservation student, Quinn Ferris, invited us first years on a tour of the Barbara Goldsmith Conservation Laboratory, housed in NYU’s Bobst Library.

As the lab provides conservation services for all of NYU’s special collections (contained in Fales Library, Tamiment Library, Wagner Archives, University Archives, the Stephen Chen Library of Fine Arts, and the Waldmann Dental Library), it was an exciting opportunity to see just how academic, circulating libraries conserve individual objects as well as how they develop long- and short-term preservation initiatives for many types of materials. Additionally, many of our second- and third-year classmates—namely, Quinn Ferris, Emily Lynch, and Amy Hughes—work at Bobst in their capacities as paper, library, and archives conservation students. So it is possible that some of us interested in these materials will also have the opportunity to work or intern at this lab in the future.

Laura McCann, Conservation Librarian, led a very extensive and animated tour through all of the departements, introducing us to her collegues, and giving an overview of their current projects.

Lou di Gennaro, Conservation Technician for Special Collections, demonstrated for us a rebinding technique, while Angela Andres, Conservation Technician for Special Collections, was performing a conservative reconsolidation treatment of an American Certificate of Naturalization that was encrusted with brittle adhesive tape.

Laura gesticulates while Lou rebinds a textblock.

Angela consolidates am American naturalization certificate on paper.

Laura is currently working on the treatment of a series of paintings produced by the young participants in one of the first pediatric “art therapy” programs which were collected by Edith Kramer–the mother of art therapy and a professor at NYU in the 1970s. Both moving for its content and fascinating for its context, this collection is held by the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, which offers an M.A. in Art Therapy.

The conservation of this collection has brought up many interesting ethical considerations for conservator Laura McCann, as removal of the poster-paint paintings from their acidic substrates sometimes results in the discovery of an artist’s name. Participants in art therapy, of course, may not want their names published or otherwise revealed. However, works such as this one dated to 1955 have shown up in auctions. As such, photographs of these works will not be reproduced here in detail until decisions are made about their display. Nevertheless, the naïve quality of the painting is still discernable from afar.

See video of our discussion at our Vimeo page.

Laura presents a history of Edith Kramer’s collection in front of one of its component pieces.

Laura discusses some of the ethical concerns she has encountered during this conservation project.

Before we moved on from the main workbenches, Laura led us into a small corner where a gem of an object was found: A single-sleeved colette dress designed by Ree Morton from the collection of Mabou Mines, an avant-garde theater company established in New York in 1970. The dress’ strange appearance is due to the fact that it is made out of Silastic® (also, celastic), a silicone elastomer often used for theatre scenery. This object was designed to be both a costume and a prop in a production–it looks like it would have been very cumbersome and stiff to wear on-stage!


Detail of celastic dress-prop.

In addition to the Conservation Laboratory for books and special/archival collections, the complex held a Media Preservation Unit which strives to extend the workable lifetime of the University’s film, video, and audio collections through education, preventative care, active treatment, and reformatting projects for audio and video.

It was fascinating to see some of this equipment in action; and although I know little about audio and video conservation, I am certainly looking forward to learning more about the Unit’s supported formats. The Video Lab, for example handles such exotic-sounding formates as ¾” Umatic, ¾” Umatic SP, VHS,  S-VHS, Betacam, BetacamSP, Hi-8, DVCam, Mini-DV, DigiBeta, and many others!

See the gallery below and our Vimeo page for more about the Media Preservation Unit.

Laura also explained to our group some of the concerns specific to a circulating library, such as the keeping of usage statistics, the binding of new books, the performance of basic repairs of circulating material, and the need for education concerning proper handing, use, and storage of library materials.

Laura shows us the stacks in lab.

All in all, this was a very fruitful trip that left us with—if not a desire to work at the Goldsmith Lab in the future—a better appreciation of the inner workings of NYU’s largest library.

Thanks for reading!

~Kate Brugioni


Barbara Goldsmith Preservation and Conservation Deparment

Preservation at Bobst

More about Edith Kramer and the Origins of Art Therapy

Vimeo :: IFA-CC

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