Harvard College Library

Widener Conservation Division Disperses Throughout HCL

January 16, 2002 --Widener Conservation Division staff were nervous about the disruption in their normal work routine as they dispersed, early in December, to various HCL conservation labs in order to facilitate ductwork installation in the ceiling of the HCL Collections Conservation Laboratory. The ductwork is part of the first step in Phase 2 of the Widener Renovation Project, which involves massive construction on D-Level, the lab's home. Now, as the staff prepares to return to the lab a month later, they agree that changing surroundings and working with new colleagues was an overwhelmingly positive experience.

"It has been inspiring," said Jody Beenk, one of five Widener technicians stationed at the Weissman Preservation Center, where conservatoars concentrate on the treatment of special collections. "Weissman has both paper conservators and book conservators, and an individual may work on one piece for a month, while in our lab we focus on the conservation of circulating collections and deal in much larger quantities. Seeing what the conservators are doing here makes me want to learn more."

Becky Smyrl, technician, uses a board cutter that was moved to the temporary lab in Room 89.

When Nancy Schrock, chief collections conservator for the Harvard College Library, learned that there was not a temporary space available that was large enough to accommodate her entire staff and requisite equipment, she sent out a call to other HCL libraries that did conservation work. The libraries responded with offers to host technicians while the Widener lab was under construction. In addition, Ethel Hellman, collections conservator for Widener Library, worked with Oliver Cutshaw, binding librarian, and Cambia Davis, binding staff member, to create space for a temporary lab in Binding and Shelf Preparation's Room 89, Widener. Workstations, computers, and staff in Room 89 shifted to make space for the temporary conservation lab. Commercial binding shipments were moved to 625 Mass. Ave. along with end processing staff Thomas Dunning, Vera Altschuler, and Namwon Kang.

Beenk, Susan Barbarossa, Anne Corrsin, Shokoofeh Kafi, and Linda Oliver moved to the Weissman Preservation Center. Ann O'Rahilly and John O'Regan each worked independently at labs in Frances Loeb Library at the Graduate School of Design and Tozzer Library, respectively. Schrock, Hellman, Jay Hurd, Elizabeth Chase, Emine Gecer, Ann Antonellis, Elektra Haviaras, Becky Smyrl, Nick Gossen, Francis Marcel-Keyes, Alfredo Barriga, and David Wessel relocated to Room 89.

Conservation staff all reported that each of their hosts was extremely hospitable. "The Tozzer staff went out of their way to make my stay here work smoothly," said John O'Regan. Schrock referred to the residents in Room 89 as "such generous hosts."

Emine Gecer, technician, carries on work as usual in Room 89.

Despite the change in scenery, all the regular work of the conservation lab continued, thanks to advanced planning by Hellman and Jay Hurd. Damaged Widener books and the supplies to repair them accompanied staff to the various sites or were sent to the temporary workspaces via University mail. Conservation staff, who review and sort damaged materials into the appropriate work streams, kept track of every item by charging each on HOLLIS. "It has all been very well organized," marveled O'Regan.

Certain pieces of equipment moved with the staff as well. A large board cutter, used to make boxes that protect fragile material, was hauled up the Widener elevator from D-Level to Room 89. The transplanted technicians at Weissman Preservation Center needed an extra workbench, so a large mobile worktable was sent across Massachusetts Ave to the 8th floor of Holyoke Center. The Tozzer lab sent their 40 x30 inch creaser to Room 89 as the one in the Widener lab could not be moved.

"Our regular work continued uninterrupted. Although it is helpful when we are all in the same location, I think staff have enjoyed the opportunity to work in other libraries and it has strengthened our ties with our colleagues," said Schrock. Now, with the completion of the construction, the division is planning to do the reverse--to return everything and everyone to the conservation lab in Widener on January 22.


This story appears courtesy of the Harvard College Library Communications Office
Copyright © 2004 President and Fellows of Harvard College