The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 9, Number 3
May 1985

A Regional Center in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Conservation Service Center, part of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, provides statewide leadership and assistance to institutions seeking to improve their care of research materials. The outreach program also provides education in conservation practice, preservation microfilming, and laboratory services for paper preservation treatment.

In the 2½ years since its inception, the center has treated about 3,000 separate documents. Half of those were the property of other institutions and private patrons; the remainder were from the Society's archival collections.

A paper conservation program was begun in 1982 through an initial grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. A new grant of $45,582 from the NEH will fund the operation for one year. Future support for the conservation center is expected to come from a combination of state revenues, user fees and from Society fund-raising initiatives.

Joanne Hohler, Conservation Archivist and Head of the service center, provided a generous description of the center' s activities. Her letter is quoted here at length:

"So far as I know we are relatively unique as a Center. Although there may be others, I know of no conservation service similar to ours, except perhaps, the Illinois Cooperative Conservation Program in Carbondale, begun under Carolyn Clark Morrow, which has a library focus. We do assist libraries and do some conservation book repair, but we do not pretend to be conservators of fine art or restorers of rare books. Our primary objective is the preservation of the historical records held by the Society and other Wisconsin research institutions, especially the Society's 13 Area Research Centers and those historical societies affiliated with us through our Office of Local History. The program is essentially an extension of the Society's outreach services and the archival work being done in Wisconsin--this time making a bid for proselytes to the conservation ethic.

"We preach what not to do and teach how to lengthen the life expectancy of paper and photographic documents within the practical limitations of the curatorial, physical and financial resources available. Our workshops have been very popular and I think we have spread the good word about hospitable environment, acid-free storage and reversibility with some success. These are aimed at both volunteer and professional curators hoping to build awareness of the do-what-can-safely-be-done-by-curatorial-staff phase of the conservation continuum. Participants practice relaxing and flattening, dry-cleaning and encapsulating paper, the care and treatment of bound volumes, and the storage and handling of photographs. Such basic collection maintenance is certainly the proper concern of the record custodian and they are crying for help with this out there.

"The Center laboratory provides preservation treatment which cannot be done in-house by smaller depositories, but which does not require a complete restoration laboratory, e.g. fumigation (when the Vacudyne can be used safely), micrographic reproduction, washing and deacidifying (neutralizing), mending, backing and polyester encapsulation of large maps and other oversize or difficult-to-handle items, basic book and document repair, removal of pressure-sensitive tape, dismounting of pasted documents, copying and negative duplication of photographic artifacts, construction of protective cases and portfolios, repair of daguerreotype cases and designing en-closures for ferrotypes. We have been known to do crash courses in archival arrangement and description--and staple removal; and help a class of third-graders with their family photographs and records project. And each semester we take on one or two student-interns from the University of Wisconsin Library School."

The Center also makes referrals, does site visits and acts as a clearinghouse for information. It is at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 816 State St., Madison, WI 53706. There is an attractive brochure; also a 30-minute audiovisual presentation in five (5) formats (two slide-tape formats and three videotape formats) called "The Fragile Record: Preserving our Documentary Heritage," which may be borrowed instate at no charge or out of state for $15 per week, plus shipping and insurance. Telephone: 608/262-8975.

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