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Conservation Corner: Housing Carl Sagan Whiteboard

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The Library of Congress has one of the most extensive preservation programs for library materials in the world. Each year the Library’s preservation staff provides preservation treatment for countless objects in its collection of more than 155 million items.

The Conservation Division cares for the Library’s special collections, including rare books and manuscripts, works of art and other unique documents on paper, photographs, maps, objects, and other special formats. The division also monitors storage and exhibition environments, stabilizes materials for optimized storage, exhibition, and digitization, and manages the Library’s collections emergency team.

From time to time, we’ll take a look at the important work being done by the Library’s Preservation Directorate, whose work ensures long-term, uninterrupted access to the intellectual content of the Library’s collections.

(The following is a guest post by Nancy Lev-Alexander, head of the Collections Stabilization Section in the Conservation Division.)

UntitledThe Conservation Division staff recently designed and fabricated a custom-made protective cover for the 4’ x 6’ whiteboard that documents the collaboration of Carl Sagan with his wife Ann Druyan for the movie “Contact, which premiered in 1997. The whiteboard is by far the largest of the wide variety of materials in the Seth MacFarlane Collection of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive. This archival collection includes Sagan and Druyan’s treatment for the movie in 1980, transcripts of story and script meetings in 1994, various versions of the film script from 1993-1997, and discussions of the artwork and graphics for the film.

The whiteboard presented multiple preservation challenges due to the size of the object, the need to reveal both sides of the board, and the need to avoid wiping or disruption of the writing displayed on the board. To address these requirements, Preservation Specialist Jennifer Lewis first prepared the schematic drawing seen here, along with several small test cross-sections of the construction before working on the final housing.

The storage box during construction showing internal foam channels / Photo by Jennifer Lewis
The storage box during construction showing internal foam channels. / Photo by Jennifer Lewis

Lewis designed and fabricated the enclosure to provide full protection from light exposure, dust or accidental contact. To construct a strong but lightweight construction, Lewis used lightweight corrugated board. To create an internal surface that would prevent abrasion of the written surface, she covered the board in Tyvek, a synthetic, protective wrap. Heavier book covering cloth was used to protect board edges, and foam channels were added to secure and support the whiteboard inside the box.

The protective enclosure features removable panels that provide access to both sides of the whiteboard and are easily re-secured using a series of heavy straps and Velcro closures. All materials including board, foam, cloths and adhesives, were carefully selected to ensure their chemical stability, durability and practicality for use in such large-format construction due to the size and expense of the materials required.

Enclosure under construction in Conservation Division
Enclosure under construction in Conservation Division

The box was completed and delivered in time for the “Celebration of Carl Sagan” event held on Nov. 12, which marked the official opening to the public of the Seth MacFarlane Collection of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive. The whiteboard was placed into its protective box and strapped upright in the Manuscript Division, where it will be permanently stored.

Conservation Division and Manuscript Division staff review white board placed in completed protective housing. / Photo by Richard Hebert
Conservation Division and Manuscript Division staff review white board placed in completed protective housing. / Photo by Richard Hebert

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