Photo Go Bragh!

Top o’ the Morning to you! Even though I’m only one-quarter Irish, millions of folks, even those without a drop of Irish blood, are celebrating the wearing o’ the green today. Our Prints and Photographs Division decided to mark the day by putting out a call to picture-lovers to post “now” images of locations in […]

Country Roads Bring CMA to Library Concert, Collections Display

Most musicians probably would be satisfied during a performance with a single standing ovation.  But at a rousing concert Tuesday in the Coolidge Auditorium, the crowd leapt to their feet in applause no less than four times for a half dozen of country music’s most popular and influential stars—and even surprise “guest performer” Librarian of […]

Write to the Request Line

A bunch of ninth-grade girls got in touch with their favorite radio station, making a song request for a tune by one of their favorite artists.  But they couldn’t resist the chance to raise that universal complaint: “Why, why, why, why do you always repeat the same songs?” It could have been from the suburbs […]

Burning Bright

Art and science, and sometimes art and politics, mirror each other in times of rapid change. Robert Hughes made that case in his history of modern art – noting it moved from straight representation to pointillism, cubism, and abstraction as science checked off its discoveries of the 20th Century, such as X-rays and the structure […]

Preserving ‘Herblock’ a Rewarding Job for Conservators

Ever wonder what goes on before an exhibition is mounted and displayed?  My colleague Donna Urschel takes an in-depth look at the preservation steps that were required for the Library’s “Herblock!” exhibition, on display through May 1: Preserving ‘Herblock’ a Rewarding Job for Conservators by Donna Urschel Shortly after the famous Washing­ton Post political cartoonist […]

New Optical Lab Brings LOC into 21st Century

(The following is a guest article about new preservation capabilities at the LOC by my colleague Donna Urschel, which was recently published in the the Library’s staff newsletter, the Gazette.)

Library of Congress Optical Properties Lab

Preservation Research Chief Eric Hansen explains how equipment is used to capture sound from damaged audio recordings. (Abby Brack photo)

For many decades, details of the 1791 Pierre L’Enfant Plan of Washington, D.C.—one of the many treasures at the Library of Congress—had been obscured. A long-ago application of a varnish preservative had darkened the map’s surface. But today, thanks to special imaging techniques, the invisible streets and special locations, including the “President’s House” and “Congress’ House,” pop out.

Hyperspectral imaging, a process of taking digital photos of an object using distinct portions of the light spectrum, is revealing what previously could not be seen by the human eye.

In room 27 on the sub-basement level of the James Madison Building, fascinating details of our historical heritage are coming to light in the recently opened Optical Properties Laboratory. Operated by the Library’s Preservation Research and Testing Division (PRTD) in the Preservation Directorate, the lab contains a hyperspectral imaging system, an environmental scanning electron microscope (ESEM), equipment for optical disc quality testing and a Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) system.

The new lab enhances the Library’s capability to use nondestructive analytical techniques to track changes in optical properties of materials, helping conservators, curators and librarians extend the life of the collections. Along the way, many interesting details about the documents are revealed.

The Optical Properties Lab is one of three new labs in the Preservation Directorate. Two more will open in the Madison Building in 2010: the Chemical and Physical Properties laboratories. The new equipment and redesigned space will bring the 30-year-old science labs of the Preservation Directorate into the 21st century.

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Stephen Hobaica in the Library’s Preservation, Research and Testing lab tests for chemical markers of degradation of magnetic media. (Abby Brack photo)

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