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 , , , | Leave a 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 foundationcenter.org, 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.


Posted in advice, AIC Annual Meeting, conference, presentation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in AIC Annual Meeting, collections storage, conference, preventive conservation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Conservation Conversations in Copenhagen: Lessons Learned

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of presenting my work on Marguerite Duprez Lahey and the rebinding of books at the seminar on Care and Conservation of Manuscripts in Copenhagen. It was my first time in Denmark, and although I didn’t have time for much more than the conference, I had a wonderful time.


A street in Copenhagen

I had heard that this conference tends to have great talks, and it did not disappoint. Topics ranged from digitization management to x-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectroscopy analysis of Ethiopian manuscripts in remote churches. A Harvard colleague talked about treating English manor rolls, while a former colleague from the Columbia University spoke about incorporating the conservation of a particular book into a graduate class on historical musicology. (Abstracts of all talks are available here).

My own presentation was well attended and I received lots of questions, some of which suggested new avenues for exploration. This was my first professional presentation outside of graduate school, and while it went well, it was definitely a learning experience. I had begun preparing for the presentation well in advance — but I learned that there is no such thing as beginning too early! Unexpected obligations came up and took precedence over the presentation, and  despite my early start, I still found myself having to scramble a bit to put it all together at the end.

I also reaffirmed the value of having other people critique one’s work. I ran my script by a mentor, and several colleagues in the Weissman Preservation Center sat through the first couple of versions of my talk. Their feedback made all the difference in making my presentation more streamlined and easy to follow.

Finally, and this is somewhat related: I learned the value of asking for help. I presented both a paper and a poster, and the latter required a diagram to illustrate my experimental set-up. Putting together something that looked professional would have taken me time I didn’t really have — I can manage relatively simple images, like collation charts, but this required a little more finesse. I finally swallowed my pride and asked for help from a good friend who dabbles in graphic design. A few hours later, I had my diagram, and my friend’s help meant I had more time to focus on all the other things I had to do (like practicing my talk!)


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Marguerite Duprez Lahey: A Collector’s Bookbinder

Marguerite Duprez Lahey. Image credit: Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Marguerite Duprez Lahey. Image credit: Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 31, 1912.

The research I’ll be presenting at the conferences mentioned in my last post focuses on the person of a charming young woman from Brooklyn: Marguerite Duprez Lahey. Born in 1880, Marguerite became the first primary contract bookbinder at the Pierpont Morgan Library. Receiving her first commission around 1908, she eventually moved into the library building, and worked for the institution until her death in 1958. She was revered as the best bookbinder in America during her lifetime, and exhibited her work — much of which centered on rebinding books in the Morgan collection — throughout New York.

I am absolutely fascinated by this woman. It’s true that women were taking up bookbinding at that point in history, particularly wealthy women like Marguerite. However, for most of them, bookbinding was a genteel hobby that passed the time until marriage. In contrast, Marguerite pursued bookbinding with a passion, seeking teachers at home and abroad and achieving a social recognition that bookbinders today can only dream of. Her scrapbook, located in the Morgan Library & Museum archives, is filled with newspaper clippings marveling that the girlish Miss Lahey is so at home with giant book presses (which the writers seem to believe require great strength to operate!).

Despite all of this press during her lifetime, Marguerite Duprez Lahey is practically unknown today, even though the books she treated are tagged in the Morgan catalog with her name. This is partially the reason for my excitement about presenting on her life and work — she was an important figure in the history of bookbinding, and in the history of women bookbinders in particular.

Posted in conservation history, Marguerite Duprez Lahey | Leave a comment

I’m back!

After having let this blog languish for far too long, I’m back, with renewed good intentions to keep it updated. The past year has been a whirlwind of activity. In September, I moved to Cambridge for a final year internship at the Weissman Preservation Center at Harvard University, where I have become significantly more comfortable working with parchment, and have had the opportunity to treat a (probably 19th-century) silk binding. I had no experience treating textiles before, so it’s been a learning experience, of which my major take away so far has been that it is infinitely more difficult to dye fabric than it is to tone either leather or paper!

Part of the reason for my absence has been due to the acceptance of a paper and a poster for presentation at two different conferences: the seminar for the Care and Conservation of Manuscripts in Copenhagen, and the American Institute for Conservation Annual Meeting. The past six months have been consumed not just with new treatments but with the creation of presentations, posters, and grant applications to assist with conference attendance. The Care and Conservation of Manuscripts seminar will take place next week, and I’m very excited to share my research with my international colleagues.

Posted in book conservation, conference | 1 Comment

Sobering Statistics Concerning Book Conservation

Sobering statistics indeed, via Jeff Peachey’s fantastic blog.

jeff peachey

There are some sobering statistics in The FY2014 Preservation Statistics Report, by Annie Peterson, Holly Robertson, and Nick Szydlowski.  Eighty-seven cultural institutions responded; primarily academic libraries. Although the authors caution about extrapolating the data since the respondents were self-selecting, I find it difficult not to view the results as roughly indicative of general trends in libraries. The most striking finding is the steady decline in the money spent for bound volumes.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 8.58.13 AM Source:http://www.ala.org/alcts/sites/ala.org.alcts/files/content/resources/preserv/presstats/FY2014/FY2014PreservationStatistics.pdf Page 10.

The treatments reported tend to be quite utilitarian, more aimed at circulating rather than special collections. For example, a Level 1 treatment takes less than 15 minutes, a Level 2 between 15 and 120 minutes, a level 3 more than 120 minutes. Most conservation treatments for special collections materials take much longer than 120 minutes.

The authors report that “from 2000 to 2014, total conservation treatment of bound volumes declined faster than commercial binding; treatment…

View original post 140 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment