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An Interview with Jim Thurn, Preservation Specialist

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This week’s interview is with Jim Thurn, a Preservation Specialist in the Preservation Directorate’s Conservation Division.

Describe your background.

Jim Thurn standing at a desk working on a book with tools laid out in front of him.
Jim Thurn applies a spine label after a board-reattachment treatment

I grew up in Syracuse, New York, in a family of eight children.  As an outdoors type, I was fortunate to grow up in close proximity to Lake Ontario and the Adirondack Mountains.  My family and I enjoyed camping, boating, and cross country skiing.  When I travel to Central New York to visit family, I often make visits to outdoor areas I remember from my childhood.

What is your academic/professional history?

I studied Paper Science & Engineering at the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry, and Environmental Engineering at Syracuse University.  For ten years I worked as an environmental engineer, first in the private sector, and then with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  In 2001, after learning of the book and paper conservation field, I enrolled in the library and archives conservation program at the University of Texas at Austin.  Since graduation I’ve been working as a conservator at the Library of Congress.

How would you describe your job to other people?

I work as a conservator at the Library of Congress to help preserve collections.  Much of my time is spent as a liaison between the Conservation Division and three other areas of the Library – the Law Library, the Geography & Maps Division, and the Rare Book & Special Collections Division.  My work includes providing specialty housings, condition surveys, and treatments to collection items.  I work with dedicated and friendly colleagues, and we often work as a team to accomplish large-scale preservation projects.  Some of the projects on which we have worked include the housing of several thousand rare book folios in boxes outfitted with protective foam, the housing of 320 globes in custom made boxes, collection condition surveys, and book treatments.

Why did you want to work at the (Law) Library?

The opportunity to work at the Library of Congress appealed to me due to the talented people with whom I would work, and the opportunity to help preserve the impressive collections.  I’ve been fortunate to have worked on several large projects on behalf of the Law Library.  My colleagues and I have provided protective housings for law books. We have conducted statistical, random sampling, condition surveys of the pre-1801 collection, as well as the Early American Statutory Law collection.  As a result of condition problems documented as part of the Early American Statutory Law survey, we are currently providing conservation treatment to the books.

What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the Law Library?

As a conservator, I’ve been taught about the techniques and materials bookbinders used to create books, so I’m always interested in seeing the variety of bookbinding styles and materials in rare books at the Law Library.  I was also interested in learning of the current-day relevance of the written content in many of the rare books.  Regardless of how old laws are, they remain in effect until amended or repealed.

What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?

While I worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, I worked on the environmental cleanup of a site located south of Toledo, Ohio.  The site was used by the Federal Government and its contractors during the Cold War for processing of ore.  As a result of past activities at the site and less stringent environmental regulations existing at that time, different types of contaminants were discovered at the site.  A project of this magnitude required extensive environmental investigations, coordination with State and Federal environmental regulators, feasibility studies, plans and specifications, and community involvement.

This type of project requires many years to complete due to field work, preparation of reports, and the need to achieve consensus among regulators, elected officials, and the public.  Frequent meetings were held to keep people informed of progress and to ensure agreement before proceeding to subsequent steps.  Since I was based in New York, the project required a lot of travel, but I enjoyed working with other team members and area residents to remedy longstanding environmental problems.

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