Relying on the Experts

I realize I haven’t posted here for the last year. In part it’s because in February 2017 I began working as book and paper conservator at the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS). Whenever one begins working for a large institution there’s a steep learning curve. I was warned it would take a year for me to feel settled in, and that’s roughly correct!

One of the benefits of working at such a large organization, though, is the fact that there are so many other people whose expertise one can call on. For instance, at the moment, I’m working with the Education Department to polish up the training we give library staff on the care and handling of library materials. MNHS has a vast and varied collection that includes, for instance, what sometimes seems like an inordinate number of oversized maps, and some truly wonderful (and awkward to handle) scrapbooks. This means that training on handling these items is key to preventing damage. However, since there are so many types of item and things to cover in the training, it’s hard to bring it all together in a coherent and interesting whole. And I definitely don’t have the background in adult education that the Education Department does!

Collaborations like these are the best part of working in an institution. They can be hard work — coordinating schedules is the least of one’s problems! — but it’s great to have these opportunities to learn from one’s colleagues and grow one’s own sphere of knowledge. I’m really looking forward to what comes out of this — and I’m already planning more collaborations!

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NC is a no-go: bathrooms, libraries, and the limits of welcoming

Conservation as a profession has been struggling with issues of diversity and what it really means to be inclusive for some time now. With next year’s annual meeting taking place in Texas, this is a particularly relevant read.

Feral Librarian

Text and some of the slides of talk I gave (remotely) at/for TRLN17AM:


Title slide below. See what I did there?


The original version of this talk started out with an explanation about why I’m doing this talk remotely  (which is all about HB2 and included several bathroom stories); and then tried to use some of those stories to segue into talking about diversity & inclusion in libraries more broadly. But then this happened yesterday:


(My slide shows 45’s 3 tweets declaring a ban on transgender people in the military, and includes a pointer to credible data and info on the issue.)

Despite huge amounts of data to the contrary, the president took to twitter to declare transgender service members a burden and a distraction; and to issue a directive that they be denied the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

As a veteran and a member of…

View original post 4,450 more words

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Leading a Conservation Workshop in Pakistan

On December 22nd, I had the unique opportunity to lead a workshop at the National Museum of Pakistan in Karachi, the city in which I spent most of my childhood. Arranged by the Mohatta Palace Museum, the workshop included nine attendees from institutions across the city, representing the Liaquat Memorial Library, the Sindh Archives, and the National Museum itself.

Anyone who has lived or worked in a developing country knows that resources usually have an inverse relationship with need, and Pakistan is no different. The National Museum, for instance, has a fantastic collection, but the conservation lab has been neglected in recent years. There is a desire to re-establish it, but in the meantime, a bigger challenge is the lack of environmental controls. Karachi is a port city located on the Arabian Sea: the climate is hot and humid, and the wind carries salt from the sea. In short, the climate is exactly what is least optimal for a museum collection!

Demonstrating how to mark up for a phase box

Demonstrating how to mark up for a phase box

With these things in mind, I structured my lecture to focus on those things that can be done without expensive equipment: regular dusting of collections, running fans to lower humidity, exercising care when handling objects. We had procured acid free board from a local framer and using this, I demonstrated how to make a basic wedge to support open books for use or display. Everyone had the opportunity to make their own wedges, and then I led them through the construction of phase boxes.

It was great to be able to close out the year by sharing what I’ve learned with colleagues committed to preserving Pakistan’s cultural heritage. I left the museum at the end of the day filled with respect for their dedication and determination… and making plans for next time, whenever that may happen to be.


Many thanks to the staff of the Mohatta Palace Museum and the National Museum of Pakistan, without whose support this workshop could not have taken place.

Posted in book conservation, outreach, preventive conservation, travels, workshops | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

From The Lab: Stabilizing A Tattoo Sketchbook

For the last three months or so, I’ve been interning at the New York Historical Society. One of the more interesting projects I completed there was the stabilization of a tattoo sketchbook which will be featured in an upcoming exhibit. The treatment involved cleaning, mending, disbinding and rebinding a book belonging to a tattoo artist in the 1890s. Read about the treatment on the N-YHS blog here!

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A DIY Brush Rest

It is a truth universally acknowledged* that a brush covered with adhesive must be placed somewhere. And if you’re like me, it drives you slightly insane when it’s placed on something and promptly rolls off, smearing said adhesive over your work surface. Fear not! Your troubles are over! I present to you a handy-dandy brush rest that can be made in pretty much any conservation lab or studio in which you may be working, and which can be made in under a minute. I am sure I’m not the only one who has come up with this, but I thought I would share it anyway.

Step 1: Begin with a scrap piece of cardstock. I prefer something like 20-point; you want it to be stiff, but easily folded. Trim it to about 1.5″ x 1.5″.


Step 1.

Step 2: Fold cardstock in half.


Step 2.

Step 3: Take a pair of scissors and cut two slits perpendicular to the fold.


Step 3.

Step 4: Open the fold and push the area between the slits down so that the fold is inverted.


Step 4.

Step 5: Trim the height if necessary, and voila! You have a brush rest.




* My apologies to Ms. Austen.

Posted in book conservation, bookbinding, DIY, paper conservation, tools | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

On Professional Presentations: Lessons Learned

This spring, I presented a paper and a poster at two conferences: The Care and Conservation of Manuscripts Conference in Copenhagen, and the AIC/CAC Joint Annual Meeting. (If you are curious, the poster is available on my digital portfolio, and Noah Smutz posted a great review of my talk on the AIC blog). After the fact, I wrote some brief notes on what I learned from the experiences for New York University’s Conservation Center. They might be of interest to others, so I am sharing them here. I have divided my experiences according to the linear process of writing and submitting abstracts, fundraising, preparing talks, preparing (in my case PowerPoint) presentations, preparing posters, and other miscellaneous points.


  1. This is intended to be a brief introduction to your research. It is not a summary and you don’t need to mention your conclusion, since oftentimes you may not know your conclusion yet. Describe why your research is important. Why should the audience be interested?
  2. In general, the shorter, the better. You definitely want to be within the word limit!


  1. Never be afraid to apply for grants. There are a ton of websites on grant-writing. Another great resource (to hold in reserve your entire career) is, which has regional offices where you can go in and use their resources for free.
  2. Be concise.
  3. Be honest.
  4. It never hurts to ask for a little bit more than you think you will get.
  5. Remember that you will have to write a grant report afterwards. You will need to submit your actual budget (as opposed to the estimate you sent earlier) in this final report, so keep all your receipts, food included! Always end the report with a thank you, and always submit this in time. This will increase your chances of getting funding from the same sources later.


  1. Begin working on your talk before you think you need to. It will take time to hammer your talk into something coherent, particularly if you are working from a paper you have already written.
  2. Aim to have your talk end a couple minutes before it should. This will endear you to everyone!
  3. This goes for all talks, but is particularly important if presenting on an international level:
    1. Speak more slowly than you think is necessary
    2. Simplify your language. Don’t use convoluted sentences, or words like “convoluted.”
  4. Have a talk written out, just in case you freeze or blank out at the podium. Note your slide changes on this. Also, format the talk so that there are no sentences that cross pages. If you end each page with a complete sentence, there is no awkward pause as you move from one page to another. Similarly, print your talk out so that it is single sided. That way, you can simply slide the pages, rather than turning them and having them rustle.
  5. Look up at your audience frequently. If you’re nervous, talk to the back wall. Nobody can tell.
  6. Practice the talk. Make sure you don’t sound monotone; vary tempo, pitch, etc.
  7. If you don’t feel confident, pretend you are. If anything goes wrong with your speech, fake confidence and carry on. If you don’t appear upset, nobody will realize that anything untoward even happened.
  8. People are always rooting for you as a young presenter; it’s usually a friendly audience.
  9. During the Q&A session, don’t be afraid of saying, “I don’t know, but that’s a great question!” You don’t have to have all the answers.

Slide Presentation

  1. As soon as you’re done with the talk, make your presentation. Or do it concurrently. Either way, leave plenty of time for this because it will take much longer than you think.
  2. Go heavy on pictures, light on text.
  3. It’s always good to include an ‘outline slide’ and explain how your presentation will proceed.
  4. If you will have text (for instance, quotations) that you do not plan on reading or explicitly discussing, keep it very short. You don’t want people focusing on that instead of what you’re saying.
  5. Remember to thank everyone in the final slide.
  6. Save as a pdf as well as in other formats. You should be able to open the pdf if your other version fails to cooperate.


  1. Less is more, at least when it comes to text.
  2. Emphasize results and conclusions over everything else. In other words, these sections can be in larger font.
  3. Remember to include the cost of printing in your budget if applying for grants. (I didn’t!)
  4. If it makes sense to do so, include a picture of yourself so that conference goers who have questions about the poster can easily identify you. I couldn’t figure out a way to do this without upsetting my poster design, but I would have liked to do it.
  5. Everything else that I could possibly say is summarized at NYU Libraries’ poster basics.


  1. Have someone else read over your writing if possible, especially if it will eventually be published.
  2. It’s a difficult and largely thankless process, so it’s normal to be discouraged now and then, but it will ultimately be worth it. I cannot adequately express how much I learned.


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Watch This Space!

I just got back from the joint annual meeting of the American Institute for Conservation and its Canadian counterpart. It was a fantastic conference, even if I did fall sick halfway through, but if you missed it — fear not! Blog posts on almost all talks are available at Conservators Converse. I wrote a couple of posts myself — one on the STASH Flash session, where fourteen conservators presented tips on collections storage, and one on Sanchita Balachandran’s fantastic presentation addressing the lack of diversity in the conservation field. New posts are added every day — check it out!

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