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Preservation Week: Conservation Lab Feature

Celebrating Preservation Week: Exploring the Conservation Lab with David Stokoe

This week (April 22-28) is Preservation Week! To celebrate Preservation Week, today we head to the the sixth floor of Bird Library, is the Syracuse University Libraries Special Collections Research Center (SCRC), which is the home to the Conservation Lab.

The lab is run by David Stokoe, the Conservation Librarian. Stokoe is in charge of ensuring the longevity and continued accessibility of the SCRC materials.

We sat down with Stokoe to talk to him about his career in conservation, his current position at SCRC, and his views about the conservation field at large.

Getting to Know David Stokoe

Shortly after he graduated from high school, Stokoe applied for a conservation apprenticeship at the local record office. It was his first ever job application and he’s been working in conservation ever since.

Since that first position, Stokoe held several positions both in the UK and in the USA. This was before coming to Syracuse University in 2006 to work in SCRC as the Conservation Librarian.

As the Conservation Librarian in SCRC, Stokoe is expected to coordinate efforts with the rest of the department, oversee several student works, handle regular in-house treatments of materials, run environmental checks, prepare and install exhibition materials, and design and execute disaster and risk management planning efforts.

While these tasks have remained relatively the same since 2006, the role of the Conservation Lab has changed over time.

When Stokoe started at Syracuse University, the head of the Conservation Lab ran that lab as well as managed both the preservation lab in the basement (now headed up by Marianne Hanley) and the preservation efforts at the Belfer Audio Archive. Today, while Stokoe does consult with both the preservation lab and Belfer, he does not oversee them.

In a typical week, Stokoe handles a fair amount of administrative work, treats items and collections that have been identified as at risk, and manages a team of three students.

Rehousing Project & Box-Making Machine

Currently, there are three student employees in the Conservation Lab – two graduate students and one undergraduate student.

The graduate students were hired to work on a large rehousing project that SCRC had been undertaking. The undergraduate student deals with the “end-processing” of materials. End-processing occurs after a book has been cataloged but before it is shelved in SCRC. It includes attaching bookplates, wrapping book jackets in mylar, attending to any minor repairs, and generally ensuring that the book is ready for shelving.

The rehousing project is made possible by the SU Libraries recent purchase of a computerized box making machine.

The student measure books in the SCRC collection using a digital measuring device, upload these measurements on the box making machine, and then cut the boxes out of board.  Each box is cut flat and creased, allowing for easy construction.  Prior to the purchase of the box making machine, boxes were made by hand in the Conservation Lab. It took a significantly longer time to make.

Additionally, Stokoe monitors the relative humidity and temperature of SCRC and it’s collection storage locations. Environmental checks take place once a month. Stokoe checks the twelve data loggers placed in the different “zones” and records the conditions found there.

Stokoe also spends a large portion of his time on the treatment and repair of any identified at risk items and collections. He describes this work as coming in “fits and starts”. Other people dictate the department depending on what they’re working on.

These treatments include flattening documents and photographs, creating housing and portfolios, exhibition preparation and installation, archival rebacks, and other general repairs.

IST 624: Preservation of Library and Archival Collections

Finally, Stokoe also educates others on the importance and practice of conservation. For the past three years, during the spring semester, he has taught IST 624: Preservation of Library and Archival Collections. This is a graduate level course offered through the iSchool.

Also, alongside Marianne Hanley, Stokoe routinely offers disaster planning workshops for the SU community and the general public. Since Stokoe and Hanley coordinate the disaster planning efforts for SU Libraries, they are a natural fit for leading these workshops.

Lastly, Stokoe frequently hosts class visits and other visitors in the conservation lab. He shows them his current projects and teaches them about the Lab’s role in SCRC.

The Future of Conservation and Preservation

When asked about current trends in the conservation field and the direction its heading, Stokoe pointed towards Audio Moving Image (AMI) materials.  While he is a book and paper conservator, Stokoe sees AMI dictating how conservators approach their collections, storage, and preservation.

The majority of AMI in libraries, archives, and special collections is degrading at such a quick rate. It will be lost unless it is digitized and placed in significantly better housing/storage. Stokoe sees this as the leading issue in the conservation field. It’s effecting how he manages the SCRC collections and materials.

Celebrating Preservation Week will continue tomorrow with an interview with Syracuse University Preservation Librarian Marianne Hanley.

Kim Hoffman

Kim Hoffman

Kim is entering her second year as a Library and Information Science student at the iSchool and Museum Studies M.A. student at VPA. She is also pursuing a Certificate of Advanced Study in Cultural Heritage Preservation. Kim works in the preservation lab at Bird Library and is interested in book and paper conservation. When she’s not in the basement at Bird, you can find her walking her dogs, rock climbing, or crafting.

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