This summer, SCARC tackled a massive project to shelf-read and clean selected rare book collections. Over time, some books were put back on the shelf in the wrong order after they circulated to the Reading Room.
The shelf read involved checking the position of each book against a master call number list, gathering information about bookplates and donors within the books, and rearranging if needed to make sure books were in the correct order.
These collections were also long overdue for a thorough dusting. We used hake brushes and other soft tools to brush each individual book. “Herbie” (Hoover) the HEPA vac, fitted with a micro tool suction head, was used for some particularly dusty items and was our trusty servant throughout the cleaning.
Students carefully removed books, dusted their fore edges and gutters, removed acidic remnants like old library circulation cards and other inserts, and vacuumed shelves.
We started these projects near the end of June, and finished in the first week of September! It was a long and tedious set of projects, but “Team Awesome” maintained a cheery and determined attitude through the whole thing. An important part of SCARC’s charge is stewardship and preservation. Thanks to the hard work of these amazing students and volunteers, we will be able to protect and care for these books for many years to come.
We asked Mike, Hope, and Cheryl:
Aside from clothes and faces covered in book dust, red rot, ear damage, dirty hands, and hours standing, what was your favorite part of the project?
Mike: “Pulling all the extra pieces of paper from the books feels like I’m pulling out a splinter from under a fingernail. It’s like they are breathing a sigh of relief! Handling books that are older than my great-great-great-great grandparents feels like stepping into a time machine. When I open them up I can read the words and the ideas of someone who lived in such a different time and era, and that’s beyond amazing. It’s like time-travel!
Hope:”Finding cool stuff in some of the books was definitely a fun part. Especially letters from authors and such, or beautifully handwritten notes or indexes. The hand-colored plates were gorgeous, too. But I also really liked being able to touch so many old books, because I really love old books. It was also satisfying to clean certain kinds, like the ones with gilded pages. You could really see the difference. Also, I loved my apron and I loved being a book coddler. And finally, I can’t help but mention that I managed to re-listen to Harry Potter books 2-5 while working in the stacks. Harry Potter and antique books, two of my favorite things!”
Cheryl: The special surprise of finding a handwritten letter was delicious! Translating and researching the letter found in a book from author/scientist Louis Agassiz to one of his pupils was a treat…I felt like an amateur detective at times. I really enjoyed the illustrations of various plants and animals in the “Transactions of the Linnean Society” volumes – I gleaned some great future tattoo ideas from some of the drawings! I also appreciated the exposure to so many different kinds of books. I kept reminding myself, someone held/read/loved this book hundreds of years ago! I’m proud to have been a part of this project.
Thank you for such a great job, Team Awesome!