Libraries’ Preservation and Digital Initiatives – OHIO University Libraries

Libraries’ Preservation and Digital Initiatives

Miriam Nelson, head of Preservation and Digital Initiatives, shown working on a favorite digital project: preparation for the exhibit of the Barnett Hook Collection. While the preservation lab rarely works with textile collections, it is gratifying that many of the same tools and supplies can still serve those projects well. (Photo by John Michael Simpson/Ohio University Libraries)

Here at OHIO Libraries our collections include books, films, textiles, art objects, letters, medieval manuscripts, born-digital objects and formats you may not have seen before. We are given the challenge to make them available and care for them into the future. This work falls under the umbrella of Preservation. We prioritize preservation so that these collections can be used not just today, but in the future. By “the future,” we mean the very long-term. Some of our special collections are hundreds of years old and we want them to be accessible for hundreds of years to come.

As such, a library is not a museum, but rather a place you come to study and to use its collections—which is where the preservation and digitization of materials come in to play. We employ preventative practices for the safe storage and handling of collections, perform conservation treatments to repair damaged collections when appropriate, and digitize distinctive collections to increase worldwide access.

Our best work has always been collaborative, and the staff of preservation, digital initiatives and the Southeast Ohio Regional Library Depository (the Annex) have had some wonderfully successful projects, which bring out the best of the three distinct units. In fact, these three areas have only recently come together as a unified department in 2017, when the Libraries formalized the collaborative working relationship by merging them into a single unit called Preservation and Digital Initiatives.

The timing couldn’t have been better. Digital Initiatives has been in the midst of a period of vibrant growth under the leadership of Janet Carleton, digital initiatives coordinator, with the addition of Karmen Beecroft, digital projects librarian, and the acquisition of the Phase One medium format camera that is specially designed for cultural heritage digitization.

As the team continues to work together, we find more academic crossover in our shared focus. Back in 2016, the Annex staff embarked on an ambitious venture, dubbed the historical books project, where we combed the towering shelves of the Annex’s high-density storage.

Roseanne Douglass, library support associate, is shown here with a custom-made protective enclosure created for special collections. (Photo by Miriam Nelson/Ohio University Libraries)

“My coworkers and I explored a list of 9,000 Library items (monographs) with a pre-1900 publication date. Bindings, book plates, annotations, signatures, drawings, and marginalia, were examined and recorded in a database,” said Sandy Gekosky, library support associate.

The goal of the project was to look through and then select unique materials for retention and preservation.

“It was a treasure hunt! You never knew what you would find. Many [of the books contained] signatures, gift plates, book plates and hand-written messages from the various owners [and] authors,” said Jeff Fulk, library support specialist. “[Some] even [had] drawings.”

Once found, Roseanne Douglass, library support associate, created custom-made clamshell boxes with integrated cradles before each item was relocated to the Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections inside Alden Library.

Many of the books identified in the historical books project share similar characteristics with those found online in the Rare Book Digital Collection.  Created by Digital Initiatives, the collection focuses on 19th century publisher’s bindings, highlighting marks of ownership and other details that are important to research. Each copy in this collection has something that makes it unique and of particular interest to scholars, or anyone who likes to consider the past through the life of an object.

“Vellum Leaf from 14th Century Vulgate Bible,” from the Manuscripts and Printed Leaves Digital Collection, Ohio University Libraries

Other past projects demanded much more direct collaboration, such as the work on the “Fifty Original Leaves from Medieval Manuscripts, Western Europe, XII-XVI Century,” illuminated manuscript leaves that came to the Libraries through Otto Ege, a book collector, scholar and technical biblioclast.

In the 1940s, Ege broke apart 50 medieval manuscripts from his own collection and then divided the leaves into 40 sample sets that he sold to public and university libraries around the country. At the time, this was not a shocking thing to do, although this kind of treatment tends to break the hearts of contemporary book lovers. As a result, OHIO Libraries now has a collection that not only gives students an opportunity to view medieval manuscript illumination right here in Southeast Ohio, but also documents the history of manuscript collecting.

Read more about the preservation treatment and rehousing process HERE.

The final outcome of the project was the stabilization of the physical object, which is now ready for classroom use—and the first additions to the newly minted Manuscripts and Printed Leaves Digital Collection.

The next phase coming to  Preservation and Digital Initiatives is the upcoming move to a new space on the third floor. The relocation moves all of the Digital Initiatives operations together in one central area—a promising step to bring the work of the units closer together.

Meet the other members of the team below:

Janet Carleton, digital initiatives coordinator, says her favorite digital project was the “Green & White Student Newspaper,” which is part the Student Newspapers Digital Collection (Photo by Ohio University Libraries)
Karmen Beecroft, digital projects librarian, says her favorite digital project is the Athens Mental Health Center records. Navigating the competing privacy and research interests inherent in the collection has been an exciting challenge for her. (Photo by Kelly Wallace/Ohio University Libraries)
Sandy Gekosky, library support associate, says the historical book project is the most interesting project that she worked on in the last year. She said, “this large-scale project, was not simple. Complex decisions were processed daily.” (Photo by Lexi Browning/Ohio University Libraries)
Jeff Fulk, Library Support Specialist
Jeff Fulk, library support specialist, says his favorite project was the historical books project because it was both memorable and exciting. (Photo by Tyler Stabile/Ohio University Libraries)