Johns Hopkins Gazette | February 23, 2009
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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University February 23, 2009 | Vol. 38 No. 23
Program to Serve As Catalyst to Conserve Nation's Cultural Heritage

By Pamela Higgins
Sheridan Libraries

The Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries have been awarded $792,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to launch a pilot program for postdoctoral fellows in heritage conservation science. Two heritage conservation fellows will be selected each year in an international competition to address a vetted scientific research agenda during the two-and-a-half-year initiative, based in the libraries' Conservation and Preservation Department.

The program will provide opportunities for the research fellows to collaborate with faculty and students in the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering's Department of Materials Science, the Johns Hopkins Museums and area institutions such as historical societies. Their investigations will emphasize research relevant to materials in libraries, archives and other cultural heritage organizations.

For 20 years, libraries, archives and granting agencies have focused attention and resources on collection care and mass preventive action, such as environmental controls. While this approach has proven effective, it has not afforded the opportunity for studies in materials science that would inform specific conservation treatments and techniques.

"The Sheridan Libraries' conservation program was the first in the country to offer apprenticeships and internships to train conservators at the bench," said Winston Tabb, Sheridan Dean of University Libraries and Museums at Johns Hopkins. "It is particularly fitting that at a research-intensive university like Hopkins we will now have the opportunity to collaborate with our colleagues at the Whiting School, not only to generate a new body of research but also to invigorate and sustain the profession."

The creation of the postdoctoral fellows program was one of the recommendations of a group of 23 internationally recognized conservators and applied research scientists that was convened in April 2008 to develop a detailed set of proposals to address the research/development activities needed to conserve the nation's book and paper materials.

An integral part of the conservation fellows' research agenda will be engaging industry partners.

"Conservators are dependent upon the products industry provides to conduct conservation treatment," said Sophia Jordan-Mowery, the Joseph Ruzicka and Marie Ruzicka Feldmann Director of Library Conservation and Preservation, and principal investigator for the project. "Yet industrial products, their formulations and their applications are judged by how well they serve the conservator's needs. Engaging industry in the entire chain of production and application will serve both the market and the cultural heritage organizations," Jordan-Mowery said.

William Minter, principal of William Minter Bookbinding and Conservation, will serve as the senior project conservator. An internationally recognized conservator of heritage collections for many U.S. libraries, museums and archives, he has successfully merged the roles of conservator, inventor and scientist.

More than 30 years ago, Minter pioneered and developed the ultrasonic welder for the encapsulation of brittle and otherwise endangered documents and art materials. Today, nearly 200 encapsulation machines — now considered standard equipment in conservation labs — are used for preservation at institutions around the world. Minter also has conducted independent testing and review of conservation treatments, evaluated long-term performance of industry products used by conservators and re-examined earlier research to determine the validity of testing and research models.

An advisory board chaired by Jordan-Mowery and comprising experts from academic, conservation, scientific and industry sectors will set the strategic agenda for research and solicit calls for proposals from the scientific community. Board members include Minter; Jonah Erlebacher, associate professor in Materials Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Nels Olson, an analytical chemist and former chief of the Preservation Research and Testing Division at the Library of Congress; and David Grattan, manager of conservation research services at the Canadian Conservation Institute.

The board will review fellowship applications and recommend awards beginning this spring for project initiation in the fall of 2009.


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