Choosing Stabilization

When discussing conservation, it’s easy to lavish attention on flashy, full treatments that bring tattered items back from the grave.  A far greater number of treatments, however, simply aim for basic stabilization.  Oftentimes, restricted time and resources drive treatment compromises focused on just the most urgent needs.  Several examples are in the lab this month.

Item 1: Personnel of the Texas State Government from 1892 has serious condition issues.  Both boards are detached and the spine covering is missing.  The spine lining and the sewing have failed.  Worse, the paper is brittle and torn at its exposed edges and along the spine.  Many leaves are detached, and the book has been stored in a repurposed box that doesn’t fit well.  

item before treatment

Personnel of the Texas State Government, 1892, before treatment

Full treatment: Extensive paper mending would be required, especially in the spine region, which must be strong enough to support sewing.  The book would be re-sewn and re-lined, the boards would be re-attached, and a new spine covering would be created to match the boards.  This treatment might absorb half of the contributing department’s allotted conservation time for the month, with many other needy items in the queue.

Actual treatment: The most immediate concern is that paper fragments break and scatter every time this book is opened.  Accordingly, approximately 25 of the most damaged and vulnerable leaves will be mended.  A new box that fits the book will reduce shifting and resulting breakage.  This treatment will take just a few hours and does not preclude more extensive work in the future.

Items 2 and 3: The Climactic Conditions of Texas, also from 1892, is a relatively rare item existing in two copies here at TSLAC.  Both items have been side-sewn, a sewing style that requires the paper to be extremely flexible.  Unfortunately, this paper is brittle and acidic, and has broken where stressed.  Additionally, both copies are bound in improvised cases made of office supplies and other low-quality materials.

items before treatment

Climactic Conditions of Texas, 1892, two copies, before treatment

Full treatment: Both items would need to be disbound and re-sewn in a style that better distributes the book’s flexing action between the paper and the sewing.  Paper would be mended along its broken flex lines.  The spines would be lined, and new cases would be built from acid-free materials in a style aesthetically sympathetic to bindings of the late 19th century.  This treatment would take slightly more than half of the contributing department’s monthly conservation time, leaving many other items waiting for attention.

Actual treatment: Having multiple copies can broaden treatment options.  In this case, the full treatment will be pursued for Copy 2, which is in better condition and requires less paper mending.  Copy 1 will have approximately 15 of the most damaged pages mended, and will be fitted with a box to minimize future damage.  Rare items like this often warrant fuller treatments.  Here, we will also have a stabilized backup copy that could be more fully treated in the future if needed.

Factors like condition, rarity, use, and available resources combine to determine responsible conservation decisions.  In these examples, choosing stabilization treatments left time to treat other needy items.  In this way, conservation can focus deeply on single item treatment or more broadly on collections care.

Three books for treatment.

These three books will be treated with the time saved by choosing stabilization in the examples above.