Caring for Collections 2021: Recent Projects Across Harvard

by Christopher Sokolowski, Conservator for Special Collections, Weissman Preservation Center


C4C turns ten! 2021 brought the tenth edition of Caring for Collections: recent projects across Harvard, to an audience of peers from every corner of the campus. Launched in 2012, Caring for Collections is a forum where heritage preservation work at Harvard is shared through short presentations and has the dual benefit of educating its audience while strengthening their network at the University. If there is a preservation problem, there is likely the expertise at Harvard to solve it—one just needs to know who to ask! Caring for Collections strives to show who is doing what, so when problems arise, staff will know who may have solutions.


The first session in October featured two presentations focused on the problems of corrupted media. Kaylie Ackerman and Bruce Gordon of Media Preservation Services described the problem of balancing quality with quantity in reformatting collections of degrading audio cassettes with their talk “Audio Visual Digitization: two approaches.Ellen Davis of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies followed with her talk showing the steps needed to reverse malicious graffiti on a modern painting with Che Brutto! Treating Mark Rothko’s the Black and the White.”


With November came a pair of presentations on the topic of caring for personal collections at home. Christopher Sokolowski of the Weissman Preservation Center shared his research on the influence a Parisian book collector Alfred Bonnardot had on modern conservation practice with “The Greatest Book of the Nineteenth Century (on print and book restoration).Concern for vintage photographs of her family led Preservation Services summer intern Payton Murray of Hampton University to master photograph preservation basics. Tempted to call her talk “My Pandemic Internship” because of the need to participate remotely, she worked around these limitations and delivered a talk useful to everyone with “A Beginner’s Guide to Photograph Preservation.


The final session in December gave the audience practical templates for caring for entire collections of rare books and entire collections of common plastics. Carie McGinnis and Susan Pyzynski of the Houghton Library co-presented A Team Endeavour: Collection Emergency Walkthroughs at Houghton Library,a virtual mini course on keeping watch over hundreds of thousands of rare books while the building that sheltered them was being renovated. Georgina Rayner and Susan Costello of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies brought the audience inside the storage rooms of the Harvard Art Museums with “An Investigation into Aging Plastics. The key in keeping plastic objects in good condition, the authors stated, is knowing first what the plastic type is, and then tailoring storage to minimize the way it will degrade.


Stay tuned for next series of Caring for Collections presentations in 2022!


A woman with long blond hair and a nose ring speaking in front of a window.
Kaylie Ackerman, head of Media Preservation, presenting about reformatting collections of degrading audio cassettes.