The Conservation Division ensures continued access to the Library’s special collections by providing assessments, surveys, reviews, collections stabilization and housing, and treatments for research, exhibits, digitization, loans, and collection moves and other storage improvements.
Beyond the Library, the Conservation Division furthers the field of conservation by hosting advanced conservation internships and fellowships -- in which emerging conservators spend a year in the conservation laboratories to complete or further their graduate education -- and with a staff active in research and publishing.
Conservation Project Highlights
Conservation Treatment of a Japanese Pillar Print
Several prints required conservation treatment for the Library's 2012 exhibit, Sakura: Cherry Blossoms as Living Symbols of Friendship. The treatment of Torii Kiyonaga's "Two Beauties under a Cherry Tree" (1782-83), which included removing the print from an old mount and selective reversion of blackened red lead pigment, provided an opportunity to investigate the materials and techniques of its production and resulted in a related study, Characterization and Identification of Colorants in a Japanese Pillar Print.
Housing of Globes for Long-term Storage
The Library’s Geography & Map Division holds ones of the largest collection of globes in the world. The construction of a new temperature- and humidity-controlled storage facility in Fort Meade, Maryland, provided the opportunity to store many of these globes in optimal conditions. To prepare the globes for transportation, shelving, identification, and retrieval at Fort Meade, Conservation staff developed a standardized housing solution for over 300 globes, differing in materials, construction, size, and weight.
Housing a Collection of Artifacts Representing American Cultural Traditions
To celebrate the Library’s Bicentennial, Congress conceived the Local Legacies Project to document the creative arts, crafts, and customs found across the United States in the spring of 2000. Congress members and their constituents sent the Library's American Folklife Center thousands of objects, including clothing, toys, buttons, food, and other unusual library collection items. The diversity and unusual format of the materials required various innovative, but efficient housing solutions that served the dual needs of preservation and access.
Survey of Pre-1801 Law Library Books
Conservators conduct surveys of collections to gather information necessary to prepare for treatment, rehousing, moves, and other activities that may occur on a large scale. For the Law Library's pre-1801 books, Conservation developed a survey model that enabled only two staff members working part-time on the project to efficiently and accurately gather information about the collections, from which housing and treatment projects for over 10,000 books could be planned.
Conservation Treatment of Seven Engraved Music Motets
The Library’s Music Division asked Conservation Division staff to examine, conserve, and house a collection of seven allegorical engravings of music motets by Jan Sadeler I that featured multiple preservation problems. This essay illustrates the range of activities that a challenging treatment may require including testing, humidification, backing removal, washing and rinsing, sun bleaching, re-sizing, drying, pressing, mending, infilling, cleaning, hinging, matting, lining, and boxing.
Treatment of a Rare Historic Wall Plaque
The Wall Plaque for the Certificate of Incorporation for the Congregation Rodef Scholem Independent Podhaizer Sick and Benevolent Association demonstrates how Conservation staff members make difficult decisions on how to balance issues of stabilizing a deteriorating object and improving the object’s appearance, while respecting the object’s history as material culture. In this essay, a conservator makes tough decisions on what to test, what to remove, and when to intervene, as she stabilizes a complex composite object so that it may be used by curatorial staff in an exhibition, as well as in the research room.
The "Preserving Herblock" story describes the rescue of 14,400 original political drawings and 50,000 rough sketches created by Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Herbert Block. The collection was moved from a damp Georgetown basement, where they had been stored for 50 years to the Conservation Laboratory, where over five years Conservation staff members cleaned, treated, and custom housed the drawings and sketches so that they could made available to researchers, as well as for exhibition and digitization projects.
The Iranian-Kurdish Ketubbah (1936) project
The treatment of a rare and colorful Marriage Document, the Iranian-Kurdish Kettubah of 1936 provides a good example of how a relatively simple paper treatment project may require sophisticated decision-making skills to weigh a wide array of risks and factors when planning a hands-on treatment.
Treatment of a Rare Victorian Photograph Album
The magnificently decorated but fragile Kate Williams Album treatment began life as an orphaned art work, rescued after many decades in the U.S. Post Office Dead Letters Office, where it had badly deteriorated. Once at the Library, a LC conservator examined, analyzed, and documented the album of Victorian “grand tour” images, undertaking a major treatment so that this “lost treasure” of an album can be used by today’s researchers.
The Gandhara Scroll
The 2,000+ year old Gandhara Scroll on birch bark represents one of the oldest and most fragile items treated at the Library in the last century. The resulting work was a collaborative effort between Library of Congress and British Library staff that made one of the world’s oldest and most fragile Buddhist texts accessible to scholars after several thousand years of being literally buried in a Buddhist stupa (religious structure) in Afghanistan.
Bach to Baseball Cards
Bach to Baseball Cards celebrates 200 years of preservation at the Library of Congress. It aims to illustrate the creative preservation solutions that have been used by dedicated Library of Congress staff to preserve and protect the Library's rich, diverse collections for future generations.