Preservation Services Across Campus: Houghton Library

A person stands behind a desk surrounded by exhibition cradles and supplies as well as calendars and schedules.
Susi Barbarossa stands at a work bench surrounded by book cradles, framing supplies, and calendars which track exhibition and loan deadlines.  

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

A woman sits at a long table surrounded by tools, books, and boxes.
Laura Larkin sits at a work bench in one of Houghton’s onsite conservation work areas. 

Three staff from Harvard Library Preservation Services work onsite at Houghton Library—Carie McGinnis, Preservation Librarian for Houghton Library; Laura Larkin, Lake Conservator for Special Collections; and Susi Barbarossa, Senior Conservation Technician for Special Collections. Their work is wide-ranging and includes monitoring the environment and integrated pest management, preparing items for exhibition and loan, and repairing collection materials for use in classes or for digitization.  

A woman sits at a desk in front of bookshelves containing tools and supplies are in the background.
Carie McGinnis at her desk at Houghton Library, surrounded by various tools which she uses to help preserve the library’s collections.  

The work of preservation and conservation intersects with most library functions, so on any given day, Carie, Susi, or Laura may be assisting in the Reading Room, preparing materials for exhibition, or consulting with a colleague from other Houghton departments. They also work closely with and depend on their colleagues throughout Preservation Services to assist with the many projects that benefit Houghton’s collections.  

An exhibition display case lid is hinged open. A person is reaching into the case to adjust a document which is being exhibited.
Susi Barbarossa reaching into an open exhibition display case to adjust a document.

Two people stand on either side of a display case with a large book open between them.      Two monitors which record light levels, temperature and relative humidity are shown in a display case alongside displayed books.
(L) Carie McGinnis and Laura Larkin installed a large bound manuscript which was loaned to a Boston area institution. The open volume is rested on a custom book cradle as it was placed in the display case. A case bonnet was secured over the item once the position of the volume and labels were finalized. 

(R) Two monitors which record light levels, temperature and relative humidity are shown in a display case alongside displayed books.  

A hand holds an Elsec light monitor in front of a colorful image to measure light levels in a new display case.  Two people, one kneeling, one standing, unfolding a document with two lights on tripods illuminating the person and document.
(L) An Elsec environmental monitor is used to take a spot reading of light levels. In this image, the monitor display shows the visible light level that the sensors detected in a newly installed exhibition display case. Carie McGinnis used this monitor to adjust the case lights to levels which would allow for the display of collection items without the risk of fading or discoloration. The Elsec environmental monitor can also be used to take spot readings of UV light levels, as well as temperature and RH (relative humidity) readings.

(R) Laura Larkin assists with videography of an item, a passport, which was being installed in an exhibition. The passport consists of a foldout bound alongside a small booklet. A video was made of the item being unfolded and paged through. This video was provided so visitors could see a virtual representation of the item in its entirety while the actual object was on display.  

A room containing shelves, a tool cart, work tables, and a camera stand and lights.
One of Houghton’s onsite conservation work areas contains large tables, a camera and lights, a microscope, and storage shelves. A mobile tool kit can be moved among various work and display areas, as needed.


See also: Conservation