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Care and Handling Training: an Important Preservation Step

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After a couple of years break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Collections Management Division (CMD) embarked on a marathon of in-person training sessions during this summer. Care and handling training is a crucial part of the Library’s preservation strategies, and typically we train staff once a year. Regular training sessions give staff the opportunity to refresh skills, help reduce bad practices before they become habits, and make sure all staff are following preservation best practices.

CMD Collections Officer conducted a series of Care and Handling training sessions for CMD staff and contractors on Capitol Hill and at the two offsite collections storage locations in Maryland (Fort Meade and Cabin Branch). The main goal was to illustrate the importance of following best practices when managing the materials throughout daily activities in order to preserve and prevent damage to the collections. Over a period of 6 days nearly 90 people engaged in the various sessions. For some, it was a recap. For others, it was the first time getting the information.

Different than usual training sessions with slide presentations and/or videos, the instructor included a great number of real examples from the collections to exemplify the broad range of topics. This generated a lot of interest, participation, and knowledge exchange among attendees. In addition, every person had a chance to participate in practical hands-on activities. One example was learning how to properly tie fragile books using cotton string.

Training sessions at offsite locations (Fort Meade on the left. Cabin Branch on the right). Photograph: Irene Lewis, 2022

At the beginning of each session, participants shared their expectations for the training including: learning something new, recognizing items that need attention, how to handle damaged and brittle books, how to rehouse damaged materials, what is water damage and how to identify it, what is mold, routing process for damaged books, different rehousing methods, and what to do about leaks, who to notify.

We addressed ways to properly remove items from storage such as removing books from the shelves without pulling from the top of the book, or the endcap and using bookends to support books remaining on the shelves. We also focused on identifying different types of damage encountered in the collection, such as brittle paper, binding damages, tears, mold, water damage, and mutilated items and how to route them for treatment. We talked about how the different types of simple actions, such as housing inside envelopes, adjustable covers, boxes or even tying, can help stabilize the damage until further treatment can be done. We discussed about proper transport and shelving practices as key preservation components and the importance of the preservation specifications developed by the Preservation Directorate for any material that touches the collection, from booktrucks to enclosures and labels. In addition, we talked about the importance of environmental monitoring in the stacks, the impact of temperature, relative humidity, and light on the collections, paying especial attention to water emergency and moldy material notification protocols.

Using extensive visual support with examples from CMD workflows, actual books, flyers and most importantly, the experience brought by each one of the participants to the table created very active and enriching sessions.

Training sessions with real examples from the collections. Photograph: Irene Lewis, 2022

The hands-on part of the training was great. After a demonstration of how to tie books using cotton string and how to properly remove books from the shelf everyone had a chance to practice on examples brought to the classroom. Many participants contributed their own suggestions and lessons learned from years of practice, training their colleagues as well.

Depending on the area they worked in the CMD, participants had different levels of knowledge about care and handling best practices and procedures. Some were more familiar with examples from their own workflows, such as transportation, collections maintenance, retrieval or inventory. But the dynamic of the sessions allowed each group to exchange their own experiences with the collections; thus fostering a common knowledge-sharing and learning environment.

                              Tying books activity (on Capitol Hill). Photograph: Irene Lewis, 2022

At the end of the session, most people left their impressions on post-its. And here are some of the comments:

Impressions from participants. Photograph: Irene Lewis, 2022

“I learned the different ways an item can be damaged if not properly preserved. I’ve learned how to tie an item properly. I’ve also learned that items come in different sizes (miniature-ultra mini). I also learned how to load the book trucks.”

 “I am taking away a better understanding of preservation processes as well as what is considered damaged. I have learned about mold and light damage. I learned about proper ways of stacking and storing general collections as well.”

 “I enjoy the visual aids provided. I learned how to properly identify damaged books. Enjoy seeing the different damages firsthand, to identify what should and shouldn’t be pulled (for further treatment).”

“I’m also a visual learner, so seeing all of the different things to look out for was helpful to me (especially the variety of materials).”

Our summer intern, Irene Lewis, assisted during the preparation for the training and participated actively in every session. And she too shared her impressions: “ I thought that the Care and Handling Training Sessions provided a good review to ensure the safety of the materials and to prevent further damages to them. The session certainly reminded me of the information presented in the University of Maryland class on Library and Archive Preservation that I took in Spring 2022. Overall, I thought the sessions kept people engaged and interested through comments, questions, touching the materials, discussion about personal experiences, Beatriz’s anecdotes about various items, and hands-on activity with the tying practice”.

And as for me, it was a truly gratifying and inspiring experience. There was no trainer or trainee in the room. We all learned together. In addition, it was wonderful to see everyone in person again after such long break due to the pandemic and to meet new colleagues. We had great fun as well!

And, while there is still much to be said about best practices and DOs and DON’Ts in collections care – and we might need another blog just for that – I personally believe that the training sessions served to reiterate the critical role and impact that each person has in preserving the collection through proper care and handling protocols in each one of their workflows. Everyone is important in the preservation chain. And no matter how simple it may seem, like tying a book to keep pieces together, or properly removing a book from the shelf, every action matters!

Tying book activity (offsite). Photograph: Irene Lewis, 2022

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