Did you know that the Digitization Centre requires some materials to be assessed and handled by a conservator before they are digitized and put online?
Well I sure did not know this until I met Anne Lama, library conservator, for UBC Library’s extensive physical collections. Lama, who has worked at the National Archives in Paris, France, as a conservator for ten years with additional experience in graphic art restoration, manages the degradation of paper, leather, newsprint and other items in UBC’s large collections to assist librarians and archivists in making the materials accessible for current and future users.
When the Digitization Centre works with some materials that are very delicate, old, or require conservation methods, Lama provides her expertise on how to handle and take care of these materials, as well as prepares some objects prior to digitization to ensure the materials are handled safely. She has been very kind in taking some time to answer a few questions regarding her work for the Digitization Centre:
- What is your role here at UBC? “I am a Conservator at UBC Library, which means that I take care of the preservation of books and heritage documents. The field is wide as it concerns prevention and curation. Mainly, the prevention focus is on users’ education (patrons and staff), on climate control, expertise on infestation risks (mold, insects, and rodents), providing protective housing for materials, disaster recovery, and assisting with plans for digitization and restoration. Curation happens when prevention/preservation has failed. Curation can include repairing tears in paper, flattening large maps or photographs, removing harmful residues such as mold, tape, bindings, and so forth. Rare books and books in circulation are concerned, but the level of work is different.”
- In your opinion, what is the purpose of digitization? “In my opinion, digitization is a means of preservation and conservation of our heritage if it is done with intelligent collaboration between services. Digitization preserves the documents from mechanical damage. Online access allows for a wide diffusion of the information and a reduction of physical handling. Digitization also offers a possibility of information preservation when the document risks disappearing or when the document is not accessible anymore because of the physical condition.”
- Can you provide some examples of how you prepare documents, books, or objects for digitization? “Preparing documents for digitization is to make the documents safe, make the handling easy for the operator, and improve the visibility. This means that I provide recommendations on how to conserve materials and I inform and work with the operators to manage the conservation. Then, I intervene if the documents need it. Some examples of intervention:a. The intervention may be to clean an object and improve the contrast before the digitization process begins.
b. The intervention may be to dismount a volume and unstick certain parts in order to access hidden information.
c. The intervention may be to dismount a framed picture for unaesthetic reasons.
d. The intervention may be to flatten a large map or photographs curved by climatic conditions, such as high levels of humidity.
e. The intervention may be to repair a tear or fold in paper to limit the possibility of more damage. In the worst case, some documents may have to undergo major restoration.
- Can you name one or two favorite projects that you’ve worked on? So far I have really enjoyed working on the Puban collection. Some of these Asian books are tightly bound which doesn’t allow for easy digitization with the margin as it is. A prior test was done in order to evaluate the possibility and the time needed to dismount them. One of the main considerations is that we need to preserve all historical traces, such as the sewing technics and the original materials. After a collaborative decision was made between the Digital Initiatives department, the conservator, and the UBC Asian Library librarians, we decided to dismount and rebind the texts that were in the worst condition (images below). It was a small project, but it was well prepared for in advance that included all involved parties with connection to the collection being involved and on the same page for the good of the documents. Furthermore, the dismounting gave me more knowledge about Asiatic binding.”
Thank you to Anne Lama for answering our questions and providing the images for this blog post.