Harvard College Library

Conservation Services, Harvard-Yenching, and Tozzer Collaborate in Conservation Effort

September 8, 2003 -- The Harvard-Yenching Library general collections – studied, borrowed, well used – are in need of maintenance and repair; however the library does not have space for a conservation lab and items with more extensive damage take priority for treatment by the Widener Library conservation lab or the commercial bindery. Not to be defeated when it comes to care of collections, the Conservation Services division of Harvard College Library Preservation & Imaging Department, Harvard-Yenching Library, and Tozzer Library have collaborated on an innovative solution that has made a collections conservation effort at Harvard-Yenching a reality. Utilizing the skills of Rebecca Elder, Collection Conservation Intern from the University of Texas Austin’s master’s program in conservation, the three units were able to create space in the Tozzer conservation lab where Harvard-Yenching staff could work one day a week.

Harvard-Yenching staff members Horst Huber and Grace Gui Fang Wu, stand with Rebecca Elder, Collection Conservation Intern. Over the last five months the team worked in the Tozzer Conservation Lab one day a week to provide collections conservation for Harvard-Yenching.

Elder arrived last January already equipped with extensive conservation training. After an initial orientation at Widener Library with Nancy Schrock, Chief Collections Conservator for HCL, and Ethel Hellman, Collections Conservator for Widener Library, Elder began spending one day a week working on Harvard-Yenching materials at the conservation lab in Tozzer. Since Harvard Yenching is across the street from Tozzer, it was easy to bring damaged materials for treatment and to consult with librarians about selection.

Though Harvard-Yenching staff members Horst Huber, Grace Gui Fang Wu, and Elliott Burke (who is no longer involved having recently moved to California) had little or no previous conservation training, they were eager to learn new skills and volunteered for the program. They began their training in July 2002 in the Widener lab where Ethel Hellman taught them how to do minor repairs such as fixing torn pages, replacing missing pages, and adding a new spine to damaged covers. Elder continued the program at the Tozzer site. The group performed 150 repairs working only five hours a week over five months.

"Sharing the Tozzer conservation lab and working alongside both Harvard-Yenching and Conservation Services staff has helped develop a sense of community between the three units," said Humberto Oliveira, Preservation Assistant at Tozzer library.

Elder’s last day was August 21, but the conservation intern program will resume next January when a new intern arrives. Until then Wu and Huber will keep up their "hand skills" and continue to repair the Harvard-Yenching collection by working at Widener one day a week.

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