Librarians Learning Conservation: My 10 Weeks as the First General Collections Conservation Section Intern

The following is a guest post by Samantha Wassink. Samantha was a summer intern with GCCS from June to August 2022. She is currently pursuing her Master of Science in Library and Information Sciences from University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and will graduate Spring 2023.

As I begin my final week in the General Collections Conservation Section (GCCS) lab in the Library of Congress’s Preservation Directorate, I am looking back at everything I have learned, and forward to how I will use my newfound skills in my career. Over the course of these ten weeks I have learned a wide variety of basic and intermediate repairs that the GCCS lab, as a more production-focused lab, performs on roughly 4,500 items per year.

Person at a workbench surrounded by tools.

Me at my bench. Leslie Long, August 2022, Preservation Directorate.

I currently attend the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s fully remote Master of Science in Library and Information Sciences program. I am coming up on my final two semesters, and will be graduating in the spring, so I was looking for a summer internship that would help me explore a part of the library world I was more unfamiliar with. Then, I found the internship with GCCS in the Preservation Directorate at the Library of Congress. It was an experience that promised an introduction to basic and intermediate repairs, as well as various other interactions and projects with staff from divisions around the Library. I have loved libraries since I learned how to read, but I had very little experience with the repair and conservation of materials before this summer.

My days have mostly been spent working alongside Leslie Long, a Preservation Specialist in the GCCS lab and an absolutely wonderful teacher. We started simple, learning about tools and adhesives before my first repair type, the pocket. Pockets are typically affixed to the back cover of a book with conservation-grade double-sided tape. They are intended to store loose items that came with the book – sometimes a map, brochure, CD, or even a paper bag for trick-or-treating! After the pocket we learned about pamphlet binds, page repair with heat-set tissue, and inside hinges made with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. I spent my first couple weeks working through these types of repairs before we moved on to tougher things.

From pockets, pamphlets, and hinges, Leslie instructed me in repairing outside hinges with colored Japanese tissue. Things only got more complex from here! I also learned how to affix a new spine to a book after removing the original, damaged one. I’ve finished my time at the Library learning how to prepare text blocks for a variety of reattachments to their cases, culminating in fully replacing a text block into its original case – known as a recase. Leslie has also demonstrated different types of recases including making a new spine for the original boards, and making an entirely new case from new materials when the original case is just too worn out or damaged to use.

The repairs alone would have been a fulfilling and challenging internship, but GCCS Supervisor Carrie Beyer, Leslie Long, and the rest of the folks in GCCS also set up special experiences and labs to help me learn more about the art of book-making and the other divisions at the Library of Congress. For our labs as a team, Leslie set up paper-making and marbling activities for everyone to participate in. It was a great experience learning about hand-made paper and the traditional art of Suminagashi, an ink paper marbling technique.

3 people standing around tubs of water making paper by hand with small mesh screens.

Me (left) with Jennifer Phiffer (front) and Lily Tyndall (back) during the paper-making lab. Samantha Wassink, July 2022, Preservation Directorate.

Jennifer Phiffer and Lily Tyndall, two of the Preservation Technicians in GCCS, also took time out of their busy schedules to do special activities with me. Lily taught me about the art of comic book repair with a special tissue and adhesive approach devised by the Library of Congress and Jennifer showed me how to create a beautiful custom Asian binding.

As part of my studies, Leslie and I adventured to other divisions in the Library during our weekly time together. I got to spend time talking to Jacqueline Coleburn and Eric Frazier in the Rare Book cataloging deck and reading room respectively, as well as experienced conservator John Bertonaschi in the Book and Paper Conservation lab just down the hall. I was also able to spend a couple hours shadowing Kathy Woodrell, a reference librarian in the Main Reading Room. These experiences with other library professionals at the Library of Congress helped me realize just how big an institution the Library really is, and how many different types of librarians work together to make the whole machine run.

My experience in the GCCS lab also helped me to look forward to my return to Texas, where I work at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Our specialty lab activities gave me many great ideas to turn into activities for my coworkers. It has also given me some great ideas for improving the communication between the conservation lab and the other reference staff members, especially cataloging! My ultimate goal is to work in rare material cataloging, and I believe the experience I have gained over the course of my summer internship will be invaluable in this pursuit. Finally, I just want to thank Leslie Long and Carrie Beyer for their unending patience and determination to help this internship run smoothly, and to everyone who took the time and energy to teach me something new at my conservation bench and beyond! I’m sure I’ll be seeing the Library of Congress again soon.


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