For over two years, librarians, archivists, and conservators at the Kelly Library at St. Mike’s have had an ongoing discussion about the prospect of a conservation studio being added to the library. Chief Librarian Sheril Hook took the lead on the project, and on February 28, the years of talking and planning will pay off with the opening of the new studio.
The conservation studio will be the biggest of its kind at the University of Toronto, and will be a resource for the entire school as well as the greater community. Jessica Barr, University Archivist for St. Mike’s, says that her primary hopes for the project are increasing the use of the library’s materials while also making them more accessible to non-specialists. Barr chaired a committee that developed an exhibition about conservation, “Preserving our Collections,” which will open the evening of the studio launch.
Not only will new equipment and facilities enable library workers to repair the sorts of accreted damage that naturally result from “wear and tear for 500 year old books,” but community members will have a place to go with questions about how to preserve antique photo albums, keepsake documents, and printed family heirlooms such as old Bibles or marriage licenses.
Funded through a will bequest as well as proceeds from the 2015 USMC Golf Classic fundraiser, the conservation studio required significant additions and changes to the layout of the third floor of the library. The studio will be surrounded with soundproof glass and paneling, which will preserve the library’s quiet atmosphere on the floor as conservators work inside with specialized equipment.
This equipment includes a fume hood that disperses chemical vapors produced during certain treatments, two sinks, two large rolling tables with space to accommodate materials of unusual sizes and dimensions, and a device known as a “snorkel,” which hangs on a flexible ventilation tube from the ceiling and acts as a mobile version of the fume hood. The studio will also have special storage for acids and chemicals used in conservation treatments, and black-out blinds that are used in photographing materials before and after conservation treatments.
Barr is excited about new services that the studio will provide. “One of the things [we] can do is humidity treatments,” she says. “We have a lot of vellum books that are splayed [open],” and conservators working in the studio will be able to place these in a chamber “to relax the vellum,” which can help to return the books to “a normal state.” However, she’s most excited about the potential for growing the use of the collections. The space is large enough to accommodate classes and workshops, and she anticipates regular visits from students in the Book & Media Studies program.
The February 28 opening event begins at 5:30 PM, and will begin with a talk entitled “Unbuilt U of T: Images from the Archives” by St. Mike’s alumnus Mark Osbaldeston. Osbaldeston’s first book, Unbuilt Toronto, received a Heritage Toronto Award of Merit and was a finalist for the Toronto Book Awards. After Osbaldeston’s talk, guests will be invited to browse a main floor exhibit on conservation at the Kelly Library, and will also have opportunities to tour the new studio.