Johns Hopkins Gazette: September 2, 1997

On Libraries:
Preserving The Past

Preservation: Eisenhower
librarians tackle book
problems from water to
old age

Christine A. Rowett
News and Information

It may be one of the least-known departments on the Homewood campus. Yet no doctoral student can successfully make it through the Ph.D. process without an introduction to the Preservation Department of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library.

The department, housed primarily in a few "satellite offices" of the MSEL in Krieger Hall, is the final stopping point for Hopkins dissertations, which must be submitted on acid-free paper with the proper forms. The work is sent to University Microfilms International, which produces a microfilm copy, then to the Commercial Binding Office of the Preservation Department. Eventually, all dissertations will find a home in the library's permanent collection as part of the archives.

Taking care of dissertations is just one function of the Preservation Department and head Jeanne Drewes, a self-described "odd bird" with a passion for books, learning and teaching.

Drewes joined the department in December of last year, succeeding Regina Sinclair. Drewes and Sinclair both attended the University of Missouri at Columbia Library School, before Drewes went on to the public service side of library work at Baylor University in Texas and Mary Washington College in Northern Virginia. A Mellon grant in preservation at the University of Michigan took her away from the public portion of the job.

"I'm odd because most people in preservation come from technical services, behind-the-scenes library work as opposed to front-line work," Drewes says. "But I've always been interested in preservation."

One of her first tasks was to supervise the restoration of more than 300 books from the Peabody Library; the books had been damaged by water two years ago, placed in freezer storage and kept there.

During a process called sublimation, the frozen volumes are placed in a vacuum and the temperature is raised so that the ice goes directly from a solid form to gas without the books getting soaked again. The paper, though, should maintain between 6 to 8 percent moisture for flexibility. The books first had to be sorted and prepared for the procedure, which took place in a vacuum chamber at the Applied Physics Lab in Laurel.

Drewes visited the freezer that housed the books last February and got down to the business of sorting the volumes by size. She and a few other workers were forced to take breaks at least once an hour to avoid frostbite.

"They didn't expect a librarian much less a department head to get in that freezer and work," Drewes recalls. "Well, I was certainly not going to stand still. I worked just as hard as I could."

The damaged books have not yet returned to the Peabody Library. An insurance estimate will determine just how much work will be done on them, Drewes said. Many of the books were in bad shape before the disaster, but if she had her way, they would all be completely restored.

"I feel very strongly about the books. It is almost enough to bring me to tears," she says. "They look so sad, and you can tell that they were gorgeous at one time."

As a preservation librarian in the late '90s, Drewes is also faced with the responsibility of maintaining electronic works. Some of the dissertations turned in last year were compound documents, including printed materials and audio, visual or electronic work.

"That's a real preservation issue," Drewes says. "How do you save a video? What do we do to retain those copies? That's a problem I've just started to address.

"How do we protect electronic journals?" she adds. "The electronic format is so ephemeral. You take it through a magnetic field, the wrong kind of security system, and it's gone, wiped out."

She is working with the graduate board of the university to come up with guidelines for the next batch of dissertations.

Another newfound project and passion for Drewes involves the 20-year-old Cuban Exchange Program, in which students and professors from Hopkins and universities in Cuba share academic experiences and research. The program is run by history Professor Franklin Knight, who is also a member of the Friends of the Library.

Knight attended a talk Drewes gave on the Peabody disaster and contacted the librarian. Later, the head of Cuban archives and an assistant traveled to Hopkins to meet with her.

"We talked, as colleagues, about what we're doing in our different situations and what our problems were," Drewes says. "They don't have glass in the library windows. I mean, they're in this humid atmosphere--temperature and humidity are what ages paper--and they don't have any humidity control. And in a climate like that, think of the roaches, think of the bugs that eat the paper."

As Drewes describes the environmental hazards of preservation in Cuba and the struggles that the archivists face just getting supplies, it is evident she is aware of the stark contrasts of their worlds.

"I had just given a talk on the preservation of electronic journals," she says. "They can't even keep the bugs out."

Drewes is now seeking funding to teach a workshop on book repairs in Cuba and began making inquiries about donations of materials at a recent conference of the American Library Association. She spoke to several commercial binders and, she says, no one turned her down.

"It's a preservation nightmare there," Drewes says, "This is the history of their country. This is their patrimony. And they are losing it."

She hopes to travel to Cuba next May on a fact-finding excursion, then to design a workshop specifically to deal with their preservation issues.

Drewes does, however, realize the need to balance her work; her primary responsibility, she says, is to the Hopkins libraries. For now, at least, she is responsible for preservation of the more than 2 million volumes of the MSEL, the Garrett collection and the libraries at Evergreen House and Peabody.

She is also a Hopkins ambassador of sorts, answering letters and e-mail from book owners across the country. One woman recently contacted Drewes about getting make-up off a favorite book. After careful questioning about the make-up on the book and of the book, the librarian went about explaining how to preserve the publication.

"What could be more rewarding than that?" Drewes asks. "Every day I come into work is interesting. I love what I do. I think it has a real value."

Drewes is also a co-editor of Promoting Preservation Awareness in Libraries, recently published by Greenwood Press.

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