A conversation with UI Libraries' new conservator
Monday, September 17, 2012

So what do you do here?

As conservator for the University Libraries, it is my job to oversee all the physical repair and stabilization of library collections so that they may be used by the university community and other institutions. This includes anything from mending tears in a map, chemically treating paper to prolong its life, cleaning mold from a waterlogged book, or creating a new binding for a book when its original sewing and covers have failed. One might not expect it, but when an item goes on display in an exhibit, it receives more handling than usual, undergoing different kinds of physical stress. I repair, stabilize, and prepare materials for exhibit, and consider all the environmental factors.

In conservation we also craft all kinds of enclosures, which could be some form of book box, portfolio, or special folder or sleeve, depending on the item. We monitor temperature and humidity levels in all areas that collections are stored, working closely with staff to ensure that materials are housed in an environment that slows the rate of degradation. The conservation unit is part of the Preservation Department, which is involved in every aspect of caring for and preserving the library’s collections. This may include such things as digitization projects, reformatting, and commercial binding. Were there to be another flood that affects library materials, preservation staff would provide guidance, recovery, and treatment if needed.

What do you enjoy most about working in a higher education setting?

Like many here, I’m sure, I enjoy the energy that comes from interacting with colleagues, students, and faculty who are excited about what they are doing. Things are in constant motion. Someone is always bringing a new project to the table, a new exhibit goes up, or a student wants to learn something different for a class. I have no doubt that I’ll learn and do more than I ever expected in a place where it’s all about the work…and I mean that in a good way.

Take us through your most memorable day at the university.

I don’t have too many days to compare, as I just started at the end of June, but I would say collectively I’ve enjoyed seeing all the different special collections throughout the libraries and meeting with the librarians, archivists, and curators who are excited about what we have here and genuinely want to share it. There are so many amazing materials in our collections, so many hidden gems. For someone who is interested in holding the artifact in my hand, seeing and feeling the texture of the paper or leather, or cloth (I could go on here!) this is a great place to be.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken—and did it pay off?

Probably leaving the Newberry Library in Chicago, where I had been for the last 11 years and placing my bet on the University of Iowa and Iowa City. I would say so far, so good!

If you could spend a day with anyone, from any era, who would it be and why?

I think I would be too star-struck to meet with a celebrity, favorite artist, or musician. Case in point when I simply babbled senselessly upon meeting Lou Reed at a book signing. I probably would choose my father, who passed away too soon in life. I believe he gave me a love of art, music, and nature, all things that have shaped me and my career in conservation.

If you could have a song written about you, who would perform it, and what would it be called?

I’m happy to say I have had a song written about me by my musician/artist/photographer husband. How romantic is that? The song is called “Postcard” and it was performed by his band from long ago, the Coctails.

If you could get rid of one invention in the world, what would you choose?

That’s a tough one. High fructose corn syrup?