Interning in the Conservation Lab

My name is Sarah Kim and I am a conservation/preservation intern at the John J. Burns Library. I am entering my second year in the Bookbinding program at the North Bennet Street School.

This summer, under the guidance of Burns conservator Barbara Adams Hebard, I had the wonderful opportunity to repair De Bello Belgico, a two-set 17th century series, written by Galluccio Angelo, SJ (1593-1674), about the early history (ca. 1592 – 1609) of the Dutch War for Independence from Philip II of Spain.  This book was previously owned by Carlo De Poortere (1917-2002), the scion of a famous textiles family who was known for his prestigious book collection.

Photo of Carlo de Poortere’s red leather bookplate.

Carlo de Poortere’s red leather bookplate.

Our first step was to document the condition of the book before treatment with standard images, including a label with the date and the condition of the book, a color grid, a detailed description about the book, and a ruler to show scale.

multiple photos of book before treatment

These are some examples of what the “before” photos should look like: a label with the date and the state of the condition of the book, a color grid, a detailed description about the book, and a ruler to show size.

It’s important to take pictures to show the condition of the book before, during, and after treatments so future users can see how it was conserved. Along with the images, conservators also prepare a treatment report to document the condition of the book before it is treated, the treatment that was performed during the repairs, and the result of the treatments. For pre-treatment condition reports, conservators make detailed notes about materials the book was made from and any damage. For example, this book is a full-leather, brown, mottled sheepskin binding, with bumped corners (see explanation below) on the boards, and red and blue flower patterned endpapers.

For the treatment, the first thing that I did was surface clean the books. First, I used a soft, goat hair brush to gently remove any dirt and dust on the boards, spines, edges of the text blocks, and the endpapers. Then, with the Gonzo sponge, which is made of dense latex, I would gently dab on all the surface to pick up finer sediments.

photograph of damaged ("bumped") corners of a book

The corners are damaged (“bumped”), curling into the textblock.

After the surface cleaning, I did some corner repairs. As you can see in the picture above, the corners are damaged (“bumped”), curling into the textblock. This is a common damage to books that have been used over long periods of time. Using a syringe, I carefully inserted a thin wheat starch paste into the boards at the corners to make them slightly damp and flexible. Then, with  binder clips, I clamped the corners with small support boards to assure that they dry flat.

Photograph of a book being repaired with boards, binder clips, and helping hands

The small mechanism holding open the board is called a helping hand.

These are now left to dry overnight. The next day, I performed the same process on the back board corners.

As you can see in the above pictures, the cover boards are much straighter than they were.  The corners are now much smoother after the treatment. “Unbumping” the corners also helps preserve the textblock too, reducing the risk of pages getting caught in the corners and tearing during use.

Finally, I sat by the lab’s fume hood to gently brush on leather consolidant—a solution of klucel-g and ethanol—on all the leather parts of the book. Have you ever experienced dark red or brown streaks or powder on your hands after touching an old leather book? That’s called red rot. The leather consolidant helps prevent leather from becoming parched and flaking off. In a way, it’s like putting lotion on your skin to keep it from drying out. Klucel-g is mixed in with ethanol because the ethanol will evaporate, leaving behind the consolidant to seal the leather. If you were to mix the solution with water instead,  you risk dampening the leather to the point where it can be permanently darkened. The ethanol acts as a carrier to the klucel-g until it is exposed to air and evaporates.

After the leather consolidant dries, the repair process is finished. To complete the treatment, we take the “after pictures.

Photos of volume after repair

Other than the “unbumped” corners, the repair does not show a significant difference. Nonetheless, after pictures are taken to be documented.

Book repair and conservation is part of the bookbinding curriculum at the North Bennet Street School. I am glad for the opportunity to put the skills I have learned at school into practice on a rare book at the Burns Library. I am also glad to have had the opportunity to be in a conservation lab working on other rare books as well. This summer, I also worked on preserving English novelist Graham Greene’s (1904-1991) collection of books by placing the dust jackets into protective, archival mylar sheets. I  also helped with emergency preparedness, monitoring the temperature and humidity levels in the Burns Library, and preparing supports for the Being Social Before Social Media exhibition. Working with Barbara has been an invaluable experience, because I was able to see the many overarching responsibilities a library conservator has and it only affirmed the importance of conservators in the bookbinding world. As I continue to study bookbinding this coming fall, it is my hope that I will be able to help preserve books and other materials that continue to tell stories of how the world has changed.

  • photograph of conservation intern working at bench

    Working hard in the conservation lab! You can see the brush and the sponge that was used to surface clean at the bottom of the picture.

    Sarah Kim, Burns Library Conservation Intern and North Bennet Street School Bookbinding student (’18)

Works Consulted:;view=2up;seq=766;size=175;view=1up;seq=262

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Charitable Irish Society St. Patrick’s Day Dinner, March 17, 1953

A January 27, 1953 Western Union Telegram invited the newly elected, Senator John F. Kennedy (D. Massachusetts), to respond to the traditional toast to the United States at the 216th anniversary dinner for the Charitable Irish Society of America. Senator Kennedy responded to Robert H. Montgomery, then President of the Charitable Irish Society, asking for additional information about this tradition.

Image of Telegram

Western Union telegram from the President of the Charitable Irish Society, Robert H. Montgomery, dated January 27, 1953 to Senator John F. Kennedy. The telegram represents a request for the Senator to make a response to the Toast to the United States of America at the Annual St. Patrick’s Dinner planned for March 17, 1953. Box 17, Folder 3, Charitable Irish Society records (MS.1993.012), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Image of Letter from John F. Kennedy

Typewritten signed letter dated February 25, 1953 from Senator John F. Kennedy in which he asks then President of the Charitable Irish Society, Robert H. Montgomery, for background on what kind of remarks typically make up a response to the toast to the United States of America.Kennedy inquired about any tradition or subject matter around the response. Box 17, Folder 19, Charitable Irish Society records (MS.1993.012), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.


While the Burns Library  collections contain no affirmative response to the invitation, we do know  that the future President did participate in the ceremony. How? The archival records of the Society contain a program for every annual St. Patrick’s Dinner (excluding the year 1847 when in acknowledgment of the Great Famine of that year, no dinner took place).

Image of Charitable Irish Program

Inside pages of the invitation to the Annual Meeting of the Charitable Irish Society, March 1, 1953. Nominations for officers of the Society appear as well as the list of speakers for the Annual St. Patrick’s Dinner planned for March 17, 1953. Box 17, Folder 19, Charitable Irish Society records (MS.1993.012), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.


The Charitable Irish Society, started in Boston in 1737 , was formed to assist newly arrived Irish immigrants in adapting to a new city and new country. As the oldest Irish society in the Americas, the Society has a rich history, an interesting and diverse membership, and an ongoing commitment to its charitable goals today, to assist new immigrants from any country.

The Massachusetts Historical Society holds the earliest records of the Society. The Burns Library holds additional records of the Society dating from the 1890’s to the present.

Each year the format of the annual St. Patrick’s Day dinner of the Charitable Irish Society was the same, and remains so to this day.  There is a toast to the United States of America, and a response.  Then a toast to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and a response.  Finally, there is a toast to the City Of Boston, and a response.

On the night of March 17, 1953, in the Sheraton Plaza Hotel, three key figures of government appeared and spoke:

For the United States: Senator John F. Kennedy

For the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: Governor Christian Herter

For the City of Boston: Mayor John B. Hynes

The remarks of this powerful political trio offer an insight into the ideology, culture, society, and politics of the day in the City of Boston, the state of Massachusetts, the United States and beyond.


Image of typewritten letter

Black and white typed copy of a press release dated March 17, 1953 that contains the response to the Toast to the Commonwealth by Governor Christian A. Herter, a new member of the Charitable Irish Society. Box 17, Folder 19, Charitable Irish Society records (MS.1993.012), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Image of the City Record from March 21, 1953

Page one of “City Record: Official Chronicle of Boston Municipal Affairs,” Volume 45, Number 12 dated March 21, 1953. Mayor John B. Hynes’ response to the Toast to the City at the Annual St. Patrick’s Day Dinner of the Charitable Irish society is included in this publication. Box 17, Folder 12, Charitable Irish Society records (MS.1993.012), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

While Charitable Irish Society records in the Burns Library do not contain the response to the Toast to the United States,it was not difficult to locate a copy with a bit of thought, and realizing where we sit geographically.  The John. F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is just about 9 miles away from the Burns Library, in the Dorchester section of Boston. A search of the Library’s collections resulted in a copy of Senator Kennedy’s response available in digital format on the website.


First page of speech. Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Speeches and the Press. Speech Files, 1953-1960. Saint Patrick’s Day speeches by various speakers. JFKSEN-0894-012. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum


last page of speech.Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Speeches and the Press. Speech Files, 1953-1960. Saint Patrick’s Day speeches by various speakers. JFKSEN-0894-012. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

The greater Boston area, rich in history, monuments to that history, and records of historical value, offers valuable opportunities to anyone who might want to research and write.  As one might glean from this brief article, information abounds in libraries and archives in the area, and what might not be held in one institution might very well be held in another. Knowing what is available and where is key to piecing together the puzzle that history can be. Consult this very helpful Harvard Library Research Guide for Finding Manuscripts and Archival Collections, Boston- Area Repositories.

  • Kathleen Williams,  Senior Reference Librarian, Bibliographer for Irish Studies, John J. Burns Library

Works Consulted:

Works Related to the Charitable Irish Society Records:

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My Work at the Burns Library

I am a first year Ph.D student in History at Boston College. I am primarily interested in the themes of power and colonization and in the unique historical environment of the Early Modern Atlantic World, especially the experience of the Irish throughout the Atlantic World. Unsurprisingly, Boston College is a unique environment for such an endeavor with a number of pertinent resources for my studies. One such opportunity has been my job at the Burns Library, where I work as an assistant to the Irish Studies Bibliographer, Kathleen Williams.

In this capacity, I have performed a variety of tasks to help Kathleen with her work. Some tasks have been simple, such as double-checking book orders with our catalog to make sure we do not order a book we already own. Some have been more hands on with the archival collections, like working through primary sources to either prepare for a class to use or for our own research purposes. Both the former and the latter have been immensely helpful to me as a graduate student.

Preparing primary sources for undergraduate classes has stimulated pedagogical interests. When professors bring undergraduates to Burns, they and Kathleen introduce the students to the vast resources at their disposal. They cover the basics of research etiquette and how to handle fragile sources, as well as how to engage critically with and interpret historical sources. Helping prepare the sources has introduced me to what it might be like as an instructor preparing a class around given materials: which sources might students find interesting? Which might best stimulate historical questions and analysis? How can this process get them thinking about interpreting the past? Watching the students engage with primary sources has confirmed my belief that students learn best through active and didactic experiences designed to be engaging and stimulating: having students engage in historical research is one of the best ways to encourage an interest in history.

Researching for our own uses has similarly been fruitful. Kathleen and I work with these primary sources to prepare the Burns Library’s exhibits, such as the recent Irish Women Rising Exhibit and, then, work on blog posts that further highlight themes of the exhibit. As a first year Ph.D student, I am still familiarizing myself with the resources available to me at Boston College and, also, still considering what avenues of historical research I may want to follow: this experience is certainly a good way to familiarize myself with Boston College’s resources! It has also helped me think critically about the past, how the public perceives the past via things such as historical exhibits, and what kind of questions I want to ask about the past.

  • Michael Bailey,  Student Assistant to Kathleen Williams and Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History
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Impersonation before and after Social Media: From Graham Greene’s “Other” to Jon Ronson’s “Infomorph”

In September 1954, writer Graham Greene received a curious letter from a man who had met him at the Cannes International Film Festival. There was one problem: Greene had never attended the Festival. Green responded, explaining that he must have met another Graham Greene. But this wasn’t the end of the matter. Over the next few decades, Greene would hear again and again of another Graham Greene traveling around the globe, passing himself off as his more famous namesake, and getting into various spots of trouble — including being arrested in Assam for selling weapons to outlaws and subsequently attempting to solicit bail money from Greene’s publisher. These events are documented in the Graham Greene papers, held by the John J. Burns Library.

In January of 2012, the writer Jon Ronson discovered that someone had created a Twitter account impersonating him and was tweeting what he considered to be nonsense. When he tracked down the account’s creators—who turned out to be researchers experimenting with virtual bodies of information that may possess emergent features such as personality—he discovered that shaking this double was harder than he’d expected. “The spambot left me feeling powerless and sullied,” he wrote. “My identity had been redefined all wrong by strangers and I had no recourse.”

These two incidents, separated by almost sixty years, seem startlingly similar in some ways and starkly different in others. It’s now easier to create a Twitter account with someone else’s name than it is to pull off the act in person, when a quick online search can pull up photographs of nearly anyone. It also seems like it’s easier to stop those digital impersonators, through features like account verification. While parody or fan Twitter accounts are permitted, an impersonation policy states that “You may not impersonate others through the Twitter service in a manner that is intended to or does mislead, confuse, or deceive others.” 

Photograph of telegrams Telegram concerning the arrest of Graham Greene’s imposter in Assam

Telegram concerning the arrest of Graham Greene’s imposter in Assam. Box 43, Folder 8, Graham Greene papers, MS.1995.003, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Both Ronson’s and Greene’s experiences with imposters led them to ponder weighty topics. For Ronson, his (ultimately successful) campaign to get his infomorph’s account deactivated drew a large amount of public interest and led to him writing about the consequences of virtual mob justice in his 2015 book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. As for Greene, he eventually wrote an essay about his strange relationship with his imposter, entitled “The Other … Whom Only Others Know.” It concludes with an anecdote about how, after a meeting between Greene and Chilean president Salvador Allende, a local newspaper accused him of being his own double. “I found myself momentarily shaken with a metaphysical doubt,” he wrote. “Had I been the imposter all along? Was I the Other?”

Visit the “Being Social Before Social Media” exhibit currently on display at the John J. Burns Library to see some of Greene’s correspondence and articles about his double trouble. The exhibit is open until October 5, 2017. 

  • Annalisa Moretti, Archives Assistant, John J. Burns Library

Works Consulted:

Graham Greene papers (MS.1995.003), Box 43, Folders 7-8, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.


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A Lost Rivalry Renewed: BC vs. Holy Cross

Although 40 miles separate Boston College and Holy Cross, the history and tradition of two of the top Jesuit schools in the country, both in the classroom and on the gridiron, is inseparable. In September of 2018, at Alumni Stadium, BC and Holy Cross will renew their storied “Holy War” rivalry, a series that spans 91 years and has yielded thrilling games, outstanding football players on either sideline, and even better men over its long history. The matchup will end a 32 year void that was the byproduct of a changing dynamic and talent level between the two teams, leading to the inevitable end of a fantastic rivalry between two storied football programs.


Boston College vs. Holy Cross Football Program, Box 26, Folder 12,  Boston College athletic programs, BC.1984.024 ,
John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Over the course of 91 years, the Holy War has seen seven different venues, including historic Fenway Park, Braves Field, the former home of the Boston Braves and current Boston University athletic stadium, the home of the New England Patriots in Foxborough, and various stadiums throughout Boston and Worcester. Fans would gather every year to support their school and witness a game that has produced many memorable outcomes. To believe what the series lead currently stands at would be a question of which institution you align yourself with. The 1896 contest, only the teams’ second matchup in a long lineage of classic games, ended in a result that is still disputed to this day. With just over four minutes remaining in the game, BC’s end back Hughie McGrath was called for a foul, which was heavily disputed by both teams and the officials. As bickering ensued during the play, McGrath picked the ball up off the turf and ran it into the end zone for a touchdown. Holy Cross refused to accept this score as valid, and as they exited the field and boarded their bus back to Worcester, they stood as the winners of the matchup. But seeing as there was still time left on the clock, the Eagles were instructed by the officials to snap the ball, and with no defense on the field, Boston College nonchalantly ran the ball into the end zone to take a 10-6 lead. The Crusaders’ record books will tell you they were victorious, 6-4, while in Chestnut Hill, the score from that afternoon reads, 10-6, Boston College (Carew 23).

Many players within the rivalry were familiar with one another and developed rivalries before entering college. As a result of heavy recruiting in Massachusetts and the Greater Boston area, many players had played against one another in high school and continued their athletic careers at Boston College and Holy Cross (Carew 162). Current Eagles’ head coach Steve Addazio, at his introductory press conference in 2013, stated that as a kid growing up in Connecticut, he would make the trek up to the Bay State every year to spectate the rivalry game (Vega). Every season, the matchup fell on the last Saturday on the schedule, and no matter what the teams’ records stood at, all could either be amended or lost based on the result of the season finale between bitter rivals. In a historic game that ended tragically, the 1942 game saw Holy Cross, a heavy underdog, pull off an upset over Boston College by the lopsided score of 55-12. The defeat stripped the Eagles of their #1 ranking in the national polls and denied them of an invitation to play Georgia in the Sugar Bowl (Oslin 55). Boston College entered the game 8-0, and had planned on commemorating their undefeated season at a popular Boston nightclub, the Cocoanut Grove. Plans were later cancelled after a stunning defeat, shortly before a fire broke out in the overcrowded space and killed 492 people who were stampeded or unable to make their way to an exit in time (Carew 75).

The Holy War has produced incredible gamesmanship and even better student-athletes from each team over the years.  One of the best athletes to ever wear a Holy Cross jersey, Louis Sockalexis, played in the first season of the rivalry. He was a Penobscot Indian who, while at Holy Cross, ran track, played offense and defense in football, and was a standout outfielder and hitter for the baseball team (Carew 22). He scored a touchdown for the Crusaders in the inaugural contest vs. BC, and later became the first Native American to play professional baseball, after hitting .444 in his sophomore season at Holy Cross. He was signed by Cleveland and played at such an exceptional level that, after his first season, when the team moved into the American League, they renamed themselves the Indians in honor of Sockalexis.

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Irish Music Symposium

Flyer for Notai/Notes SymposiumA research symposium organized by the National University of Ireland Galway in conjunction with the Irish Music Archives in the John J. Burns Library at Boston College will capitalize on the energy of music-related scholarship happening globally and present findings in a special themed edition of Éire-Ireland: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Irish Studies.

The full-day symposium, Nótaí/Notes: Music and Ireland, will be held in Boston College’s Gasson Hall on Saturday, September 23. On Friday September 22, participants will have the opportunity to acquaint themselves with Boston College’s extensive Irish Music Archives at an opening reception at the Burns Library that will also include a demonstration and presentation on Egan harps by harp historian Nancy Hurrell.

Keynote speakers on Saturday will include Helen O’Shea (University of Melbourne), who will explore the music of East Clare, and Méabh Ní Fhuartháin (National University of Ireland Galway), who will discuss parish and dance halls as spaces for music and dance practice in early twentieth century Ireland. Morning and afternoon panel sessions will include presentations on Patrick Kavanagh’s “On Raglan Road,” the Willie Clancy Summer School, piper Shaun O’Nolan, and more. Panelists include Verena Commins (NUI Galway), Aileen Dillane (University of Limerick), Adam Kaul (Augustana College), Dan Neely (New York University), Michael Nicholsen (Oakton Community College), and Thomas O’Grady (University of Massachusetts, Boston). A brief performance of Irish traditional music will cap off the day’s events.

The special issue of Éire-Ireland, guest edited by Ní Fhuartháin and Commins, will be published in 2019. It will include papers from the symposium and related research. Éire-Ireland has been a leader in the process of expanding the literary-historical axis on which Irish Studies initially developed, and this issue acknowledges a significant and growing area of research.

Registration for the Saturday symposium is free and includes lunch and coffee breaks. For a complete schedule, and to check on seating availability for Friday and/or Saturday, please visit or contact the onsite coordinator, Irish Music Librarian Elizabeth Sweeney. Additional Irish Music Archives programs for fall 2017 are listed at

This symposium is cosponsored by Comhrá Ceoil, Centre for Irish Studies at NUI Galway, together with the Boston College Libraries and Boston College Center for Irish Programs, with additional funding provided by the Irish Research Council New Foundations scheme.

  • Elizabeth Sweeney, Irish Music Librarian, John J. Burns Library, Boston College
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Being Social Before Social Media exhibit spotlight: Eleanor Early

image of Eleanor Early's letterhead

Eleanor Early letterhead, Eleanor Early papers, MS.1995.005, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Are you happy? Should you live alone? Do you wear the pants in your family?

Eleanor Early asked these questions of her readers long before Buzzfeed was asking equally clickbait-worthy questions on your Facebook feed. A travel journalist born in 1895 in Newton, Massachusetts, Early explored the world and wrote many popular books, including New York Holiday and New Orleans Holiday.

In addition to documenting her travel experiences, Early, whose papers are housed at the John J. Burns Library, penned numerous quizzes, akin to the ones you still see today in Cosmopolitan. One of these quizzes, “Should You Marry?”, is now on display in the current Burns Library exhibit, Being Social Before Social Media. The quiz, which is “founded in scientific fact,” asks such compelling questions as, “Do you like potatoes?” and “Have you wide-opened, astonished eyes?” (In case you were wondering, liking potatoes and not having wide-opened, astonished eyes are both signs that you’d make a suitable wife, according to Early.)

Image of typescript quiz

“Should You Marry” quiz, Eleanor Early papers, MS.1995.005, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

The exhibit explores many ways in which people socialized before the internet and the abundance of social media apps. While games make it easy to kill time on tablets and smartphones now, it used to require people to sit down across from each other to play together. Unless, of course, you’ve got a chess-by-mail game going like Rex Stout, but weeks could go by before your opponent made their next move!

Early wrote her quizzes back when you circled your answers in a magazine and passed it around to your friends to compare results. There was no “share now” button. And although the questions might seem, well, questionable (we’re not sure why liking potatoes means you’re ready to get married), Early’s quizzes are still a fun way to tell if you’re a sheep or shepherd, or if you have imagination.

To find out your own results for “Should You Marry?” be sure to stop by Burns Library and check out the exhibit before it closes on October 6, 2017!

  • Stephanie Hall, Archives Assistant, Burns Library
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