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Conserving the Collection


Conservation, the physical care of the books, pamphlets, and other materials that make up the Vail Collection, was an integral part of the Vail Access Project from its inception. During the three years of the project, nearly 16,000 Vail items passed through the E. Martin and Ethel Wunsch Conservation Laboratory where the conservator, conservation technicians, and interns prepared each volume so that it could be handled safely by catalogers and, ultimately, by readers and researchers.

Each week, more than twenty boxes arrived from storage. Every item was cleaned to remove dust, and then sorted into workflows based on format and (where relevant) by type of damage, ranging from acidic paper, to poor quality rebinding, to fragile bindings.

Treatment protocols were developed for the various workflows. Early in the 20th century, one third of the collection had been rebound in green cloth bindings with acidic endpapers that damaged the title pages. Each of these items received new acid-free endpapers. Pamphlets were removed from their bindings and placed in custom portfolios. Fragile items received a range of boxes based on their size.

The final six months of the project focused on pre-1800 rare books and pamphlets. All were surveyed and rehoused in custom-made clamshell boxes. Items that were selected for the Maihaugen Gallery exhibit “Magnetic Resonance: Four Centuries of Science from the Vail Collection,” received full conservation treatment, as will the many Vail volumes that are used in various MIT classes. The survey database that’s been built during the run of the Vail Project provides clearly organized data that guides our ongoing treatment decisions.

More information will be available in the “project portfolio” on the Curation and Preservation Services website, coming soon.