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Turning Over a New Leaf

October 22, 2016

Williams College, where Wayne is the Chapin Librarian – that is, concerned with the Chapin Library of rare books and manuscripts – has produced a short video of Wayne performing one of his duties: turning a leaf in the original ‘double elephant folio’ edition of The Birds of America by John James Audubon. The very large dimensions of this book (originally issued as separate prints) allowed Audubon to depict the birds of North America at life size and in their natural habitat, if not without some contortion for very large birds such as the Great Blue Heron. Double elephant is a term for the size of the paper. (Contrary to the text at the beginning of the video, a new plate is displayed every two or three weeks.)

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12 Comments
  1. Floss permalink
    October 23, 2016 6:09 pm

    As a Tolkien fan and a keen birder, I’m beginning to think Wayne probably has the best job in the world! O.o

  2. October 24, 2016 10:03 am

    Very cool job and what a privilege to handle such books, I must ask, and having no knowledge about old books and their care I may seem silly but why is Wayne not wearing gloves to handle such an old book?

    • October 25, 2016 11:15 am

      I answered my own question after some reading. You learn something new every day 🙂

      • October 25, 2016 10:16 pm

        You may know already, then, that wearing gloves hinders the tactile sense, which is needed to handle paper carefully, and the usual white gloves pick up a great deal of dirt which is then easily transferred to other material. It’s best just to have clean (and dry) hands. We do use white gloves, however, when handling photo prints, coins, medals, etc., whenever skin oils can actively harm something. – Wayne

      • October 25, 2016 10:18 pm

        Oh, and the Audubon isn’t that old a book, as books go. In my library, that’s back to the early 9th century. – Wayne

  3. October 31, 2016 8:46 am

    Thank you for the reply Wayne, I was fascinated to learn more about handling of old books after seeing your video. Such a pleasure to see a book like the Audubon given such care and attention with its purpose built cabinet.

  4. November 14, 2016 2:43 am

    Hello Wayne,

    I’ve been reading a lot about book care and long term storage. I wanted to know your opinion.

    My current research indicates books should be stored in anodized aluminum or powder coated metal open bookshelves (for air circulation) with acid-free paper linings to the shelf boards that will be making direct contact with the books. Atmospheric conditions should be controlled and between 60-80 °F with 35-50% RH. Furthermore, non-UV-ray LED light bulbs should be used; but light exposure kept to a minimum and the room should be completely dark when not in use.

    Note: I’ve heard wood bookcases should be avoided as they release acid vapors.

    Any thoughts?

    • November 18, 2016 11:06 pm

      Your research about metal shelves is correct, though I’ve never known a library to line them with acid-free paper, as the shelf finish isn’t harmful. In the Chapin Library’s oldest rooms the shelves are all painted metal, originally not (I believe) for conservation but because they’re fire-proof. For the most part the books are behind glass in locked cabinets, for security – not air-tight, so air does circulate. Most of our newer shelving is also metal, except in public areas where it’s wood of a particular variety and finish that meet archival standards.

      Authorities differ in thinking about temperature and humidity. Most recently there’s a trend toward accepting wider ranges than formerly; down the line, thinking may change again. I consider 80 degrees too warm – materials degrade faster at warmer temperatures – and 35% humidity is too dry for materials such as leather and wood. I like 65 degrees temperature, +/- 5 degrees, and 45% humidity, +/- 5%, with any change being gradual, but 65 degrees proved too cool for many staff, so we increased the set point to 70. Almost all of our lighting is LEDs, and glass in cases is UV filtering. In fact, even regular plate glass cuts UV and incident light, and the Audubon case glass is a thick laminated type.

      At home we can’t afford such elaborate controls, but have a very good dehumidifer in our basement “stacks”, and take care with light. Most of our shelves are wood, but they’re furniture in a private home; we’re not worried with good ventilation. Careful handling is more important than anything, and we use archival dust-jacket covers, archival pamphlet folders, and archival boxes for magazines, etc. – Wayne

      • P.C. permalink
        December 12, 2016 1:38 pm

        Thank you very much for your very informative reply.

        You mentioned you’ve never heard of people lining metal shelves with acid-free paper; I take it this was just the one person I talked to (he said he did this to prevent rust stains to the books in case there was a chipping on the metal finish).

        My major concern is to prevent page borders yellowing/browning and foxing which are too common in old books and their cause is not always widely understood (especially for the latter). Furthermore, keeping book-eating insects away is difficult with 50% RH and high temperatures because of where I live; the 65 degrees you suggest is probably the best option coupled with 40% RH (for which I would need to purchase a dehumidifier and local A/C unit).

  5. November 18, 2016 9:32 am

    When watching the video, it looks like there are two volumes of The Birds of America, one underneath the slider?

    If so do you swap them over, or is it a different volume?

    • November 18, 2016 11:10 pm

      Audubon’s Birds were published originally in sets of 5 individual plates, on subscription. Most owners have had them bound into volumes. Our set is in 4 volumes, of which one is always on display while the other three live on shelves lower down in the case (unless someone has asked to see them, then we carry them down the hall to our reading room or classroom). – Wayne

  6. December 7, 2016 12:05 am

    With all this election turmoil happening I haven’t been keeping up to date with the blogs I love,
    but I’m glad I found the time to read yours!

    Thank you and keep up the good work.

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