Focus on Conservation

Newberry Detterer font.
Newberry Detterer font.
Historical Newberry bindery tools.
Historical Newberry bindery tools.

The Conservation department at the Newberry is charged with the care and preservation of the library’s collections. We are concerned with all the physical aspects of how materials are handled, stored, and repaired.

The task of preserving its collections has always been an important one to the Newberry, even from the library’s beginning. When the building opened in 1893, it included a working bindery so that materials stayed on-site and quality standards for binding and repair could be set by the staff. The library employed many skilled binders of the time. Paul Banks, the Newberry’s first conservator, was hired in 1964. The newly emerging field of book conservation reached new levels of importance with the 1966 Florence flood, which required a large recovery effort with which Banks assisted. The practical knowledge obtained through the disaster helped to establish the theories of modern book conservation. The notion of using materials in treatments, such as papers or adhesives that are chemically stable and reversible was a key component. Because collections are used, book structures also need to be flexible and durable. These are still guiding principles for us today.

The Conservation department is involved in many preservation activities, as well. One of the most critical is establishing and maintaining a good storage environment. Temperature and humidity fluctuations cause expansion and contraction of materials, stressing their surface or structure. High humidity encourages mold growth or pest infestations. High temperatures and light exposures accelerate deterioration. Banks was largely responsible for designing the Stack Building, the large, windowless tower behind the main building. Completed in 1982, it houses most of the library’s collections and maintains optimum storage conditions. Conservation staff works closely with Facilities staff to monitor the collection environment in the Stack Building, exhibition galleries, and reading rooms.

If you have questions about the preservation and conservation of your own collections, or if you are looking for a conservator, see Conservation Resources.

See our Staff/Department Directory for the Conservation department’s contact information.