[Guest Post] The Mysterious World of Paper Conservation Unveiled

Matthew Cresson is in his second year of the Masters of Science in Library Science program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he is concentrating in archives and records management. Matthew is interning this summer at the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland, and is Vice President of the Student Chapter of the Society of American Archivists. You can follow UNC-SCOSAA on Facebook and Twitter.

In the past month UNC’s Student Chapter of the Society of American Archivists took a trip to the ECS Conservation lab in Browns Summit, North Carolina. Browns Summit is one of two of ECS Conservation locations; the other is a Midwest location in Northern Manchester, Indianapolis. ECS Conservation was originally created in 1987 and was originally known as the Conservation Division of Information Conservation, Inc. (ICI). In 2005, ICI merged with Heckman Bindery, creating a parent organization, HF Group, as well as ECS Conservation as it stands today. ECS Conservation is a major conservation company in the United States. While the majority of the Brown Summit location’s work comes from the East Coast of the U.S., this is their main location, so they often get work from the Midwest and West Coast when the Indianapolis location does not have the capacity for the job. The content they receive ranges from manuscript material from the 1400’s to more common material from the 1900’s. They work for both individuals and institutions to properly restore and conserve material. The laboratory in Browns Summit is set up to deal with two major types of material: rare books and manuscripts.

In one end of ECS Conservation they repair and restore rare books. Here the materials that we viewed when we visited ranged from an old family bible to a large grouping of Supreme Court case files. This part of the lab receives more jobs from organizations than individuals. They will clean the materials, replace or restore the cover and binding, and restore the pages using thin Japanese paper. They will bind the Japanese paper to the old material so it restores the full page, and then slice off the extra Japanese paper that goes beyond the original page. They will also replace or restore leather bindings of books. The adhesives they use are created in another area of the facility. One of the employees remarked that rare book conservation is part chemistry.

The second section of ECS is devoted to manuscript restoration. Here they receive more materials from individuals than organizations. The materials restored in this division can take any form, from a large map that needs to be flattened and restored on the edges, to family portraits that get sent in for restoration. In this context, restoration usually refers to the cleaning and straightening of materials, as well as mending any rips and tears; they can also frame the materials if asked by the clients. While we were touring their work space they were in the process of flattening out a map, as well as restoring a portrait for a client with watercolors. Presentation, preservation, and conservation are the major focuses of these two segments of ECS Conversation.

Between the two major labs of ECS, there is actually another company of the parent organization HF Group working in the same building. ACME Binding focuses on library, textbook, and government deed book rebinding, with a focus on legibility and protection of information instead of restoration and conservation. Both ECS and ACME Binding have truckloads of materials that they work with, however there is more variety in the types of material that ECS receives.

ECS has a section of its workspace devoted to the electronic processing of materials. They will take digital scans of material before and after treatment, and send digital copies to clients in a variety of file formats. The type and number of images sent can vary depending on what the client paid for. This segment of ECS started as a photocopying area but overtime it has evolved into a digital scanning workspace. Occasionally ECS will get the odd request for a paper copy, but now most clients request digital copies of their materials. These copies serve both as documentation of what has been done and as access copies for clients. Within this section they have several different scanners of differing power and size to accommodate different sizes of materials and different levels of detail.

With each order they complete, ECS will include a list of everything they restored and changed, along with the materials used in the restoration. ECS Conservation works with a massive amount and variety of materials, with a focus on conservation of those materials. Their clients range from families who want bibles restored to the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court as well as many different universities. The HP parent organization deals with many different types of restoration, as demonstrated in the Brown Summit location by ACME Binding working in the same building as ECS. This tour gave a short look into the wide and varied world of paper conservation.

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