Preservation Services Across Campus: Collections Care Lab

A large open space with workbenches and built-in drawers around the perimeter and cabinets above.
The Collections Care lab is an open workspace where workbenches are around the perimeter of the space. Each conservation technician has their own book press and set of flat file drawers at their station, like Katherine Gray, shown here. Larger shared equipment is in the center of the space. Here you can see two of what are called ‘job backers’ in the foreground and board shears on the other side of the work surface.

This series of blog posts highlights the different spaces across the Harvard campus where Preservation Services staff work to preserve and conserve library materials. 

The Collections Care Lab is in the basement of Widener Library, Harvard Library’s flagship location on Harvard Yard. Opened in 1999, the lab is a 3500 square feet space created during the renovation of Widener Library. The space was designed to accommodate conservation treatments on library materials, so they can be accessible for patron use. Our team is made up of a talented staff of conservators, conservation technicians, a protective enclosures coordinator, a preservation review librarian, staff who coordinate commercial library binding, and student workers. 

A large open space with workbenches and built-in drawers around the perimeter and cabinets above. Several people are working.
Another view of the lab with an encapsulator in the foreground, which is used to create mylar enclosure for flat paper items.

The items we work on include (but aren’t limited to) books, periodicals, pamphlets, maps, and posters. Materials come to the lab from over 25 different libraries within the Harvard Library system. Conservation treatments can be as simple as minor paper repairs to completely resewing a book when necessary. The enclosures part of the lab makes custom housing for books, media, ephemera, and occasionally objects belonging to the library. Staff consult with the libraries on conservation issues and are also responsible for condition surveys, site visits, preservation training, disaster recovery assistance, and environmental monitoring, among other things.  

Visit here for a virtual tour of the Collections Care book lab and enclosures lab.

A person stands at a counter with cabinets and open shelving above using a small machine to make a book sleeve.
Conservation technician Andrew Leonard at the CoLibri machine creating a custom polyethylene jacket for a book.

A person using a large piece of equipment for cutting board and paper. In the foreground are pieces of countertop equipment.
Protective Enclosures Coordinator Amanda Hope using the board shear. The arm on the machine has a counterweight. We use these machines to cut paper and various thicknesses of board for book covers and custom enclosures. Most of them are quite old and are cast iron, which means they’re extremely heavy! 

See also: Conservation