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Conservators display a paneled quilt in the lab.
The Library of Congress AIDS Memorial Quilt Panel in preparation for display at the 2024 Gershwin Prize Concert. Photo: Éclair Morton.

Preserving the AIDS Quilt Archives

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The following is a guest post by Kate Morrison-Danzis, a preservation specialist in the Conservation Division.

In 1996, I traveled to Washington, DC to view the AIDS Memorial Quilt displayed on the National Mall.  I wasn’t alone.  More than 1.2 million people saw the moving and massive display, which filled a large part of the National Mall.  Of course, I had no idea that 28 years later, I would be part of the team working on the AIDS Memorial Quilt Records, specifically, preparing the “Panel Maker Files” series for digital scanning and online presence.

The Panel Maker Files series is an American Folklife Center (AFC) collection and consists of documents and artifacts submitted by the loved ones of the individuals who are memorialized with a Quilt panel. This project focuses on digitizing of the Panel Maker Files series dating back to 1987 through today.

The artifacts in the files include a wide variety of materials such as manuscript letters, greeting cards, newspaper and magazine articles, notebooks, books, diaries, pamphlets, handcrafted construction paper collages, original artwork, photographs, photograph albums, fabric swatches, printed funeral bulletins, and so much more.

As a Conservation Division Preservation Specialist focused on preparing Library collections for digital imaging, I had the honor of working on this collection, but what does that mean? Prior to imaging, I reviewed the collection items and performed stabilization treatments to ensure every item can be safely handled and the information is fully legible during image capture. These treatments may include surface cleaning, tear repair, reinforcing weak paper, tape and adhesive removal, crease flattening, and strengthening loose attachments. Luckily, this collection has been well cared for and stored properly since its inception, so the records are in relatively good condition.

Left: a black and white photo with tears, tape, and other damage. Right: conserved photo.
Before and after treatment details of photograph from the AIDS Memorial Quilt Records, the Panel Maker Files series. Treatment images taken by Kate Morrison Danzis.


Bringing these documents into the digital age will open a new chapter for the AIDS Quilt, making this collection available to the world for the first time. I will be excited to view this Panel Maker Files online and I’m sure it will become an important part of the legacy of the AIDS Memorial Quilt and the Library of Congress.

Library of Congress staff memorial panels on the AIDS quilt.
Detail of Library of Congress panel on the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Collection inventory photograph from The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. American Folklife Center. Date unknown.


To find out more about the Library’s collections and the preservation activities necessary to keep the largest library in the world available, be sure to subscribe to this blog and check back weekly!

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