The last Watts event of the spring semester drew in an enthusiastic and engaged crowd for the conservation lab and bindery tour at the Brown Libraries. Despite the beautiful weather outside, we received full attendance for the first leg of the tour in the conservation lab, located in the windowless basement of the John Hay Library. Conservator Rachel Lapkin’s fascinating presentation quickly made up for our collective withdraw from the fine weather outside. After showing us the the enormous and intimidating 19th-century iron equipment she uses for cutting, binding and pressing, we got an up-close look at some of her ongoing and completed conservation projects. We also learned about the path she took towards becoming a conservator and received some interesting tips about how career paths can take unexpected turns. The lab tour concluded with an examination of the methods used to preserve an 18th-century Ethiopian manuscript and a 19th-century broadside print about Barnum’s American Museum.
After the visit to the conservation lab, our group traveled through the ‘secret’ tunnel connecting the Hay and the Rock and made our way over to the book bindery managed by Michelle Venditelli. In this session we learned about the type of care that goes into circulating items, as well as the different types enclosures that are necessary to protect special collections. We were fortunate to get to see some fascinating items from the Hay as they make their way over to the annex for storage (The Hay will be closed for renovations later this year). I say “items” rather than “books” because not everything in a library collection is necessarily a book, print or manuscript. Somehow this beautiful 19th-century maritime compass made it into the collections, though no one is sure of its exact provenance. This made us realize another extremely important aspect of librarian’s work–record keeping!