The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 14, Number 4
Jul 1990

Merrill-Oldham Receives Piercy Award

Jan Merrill-Oldham, Head of the University of Connecticut Preservation Department, was recognized at the ALA meeting in Chicago o last month for her outstanding leadership and contributions to book preservation. At a membership meeting of the Association for Library Collections and Technical Service (ALCTS), she was presented with the Esther J. Piercy Award. This award, which was also presented to Pam Darling in the past, recognizes contributions to librarianship in the field of technical services by a librarian with no more than ten years of experience.

Ms. Merrill-Oldham's diplomatic persistence and effectiveness in a wide range of preservation causes has been marvelous to behold. These have included acid-free paper; quality library binding; outreach to administrators, librarians in small collections, the public, and laborers in the vineyards of the stacks and book repair rooms; and sound storage supplies and book repair methods. One of her earliest contributions to this Newsletter (a letter in the April 1981 issue, abridged below) illustrates her leadership in action and also shows how far we have come in the last nine years, in part as a result of her efforts. There are now four photocopiers on the market that are designed with books in mind; several commercial and many inhouse preservation photocopy services have been set up, with published guidelines not far in the future; and several pioneering workshops in book repair have been held, and associated training materials produced.

Her letter to the editor comments on a systematic list in the sane issue, of "Priorities in Library and Archival Conservation," compiled by the Editor from publications by seven authors and arranged under the following headings:

  1. Surveys, Study and Planning Projects
  2. Recruitment, Education and Training
  3. Publications, Communication, Information Services
  4. Scientific and Technical Aspects
  5. Conservation Labs and Program
  6. Reproduction (Text Preservation) and Reproduction Equipment
  7. Regional & Cooperative Centers & Program
  8. Legislation, Grants, National Policy
  9. Ethics, Philosophy, Workmanship

To the Editor:

... An excellent compilation.... There are a couple of issues, not specifically addressed by any of the sources, which I hope do not fall by the wayside.

Looking at item #6 ("Reproduction and Reproduction Equipment") from a slightly different angle: lack of a photocopy machine designed with books in mind is a serious problem, as Gay [Walker] pointed out at one of the ALA committee meetings. A copy machine with screen in a tent-shaped configuration would greatly enhance materials preservation. It's maddening to know that people can turn their TVs on and off, change channels (and adjust color?) without getting up from their reclining chairs; but no company has put a copy machine on the market that one can use without mashing the life out of bookbindings. As a mender of books, I regularly deal with the ravages of our multi-thousand dollar copy machines.

Also regarding item #6--it occurs to me that too often reproduction refers solely to filming. Is photocopying onto and-free paper a legitimate means of text preservation? If yes, we need to establish guidelines. What does one do with illustrations? Should preservation photocopies include such information as size of original text block? An original paper sample? Photocopies of patterned endsheets and/ or ownership marks? How much research has been done on permanence of the copy image? While generous attention is being given to quality filming, the art of photocopying seems to be moving forward helter skelter.

An area that I see as somewhat neglected among the priorities listed in item #3 ("Publications, cation, Information Services") is grass roots outreach. Attention is naturally going to focus on large libraries and well-heeled historical societies where there is a certain amount of preservation sophistication. But is there also a concern for bailing out the little public libraries where no lines are drawn when the vinyl-coated mending tape and rubber cement rear their ugly heads of a Saturday morning? It would seen that if our aim is to conserve America's written record, and assuming that sane of what is rare/valuable/ unique is tucked way in the Robinson Increase Library, East Sumner, Maine... then a concerted effort should be made to popularize certain ideas. All librarians and archivists should be alerted to the need for selective mending policies, segregation of special collections (e.g., unique town records), and the like. (Judith Reed, in her September 1980 Library Scene article on the Book Preservation Center, mentions that they advise the 15 or 20 libraries with which they are involved to box or wrap, rather than repair, pre-1850 books, and books with unusual bindings.) In short, it would seem that a national conservation effort has to be aimed not only at the restorer, administrator and curator, but also at the caretaker, keeper... custodian.

Jan Merrill-Oldham
Storrs, Connecticut
April, 1981

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