In my last blog post, I wrote about the outstanding interns who worked in my lab during the academic year. I now want to introduce you to the Boston College student who is my summer assistant. Robert Williams, an English major and a talented musician, has just finished his freshman year. He started working in the lab on May 23 and it quickly became apparent that he had a great interest in and a natural aptitude for conservation work. Because of this I have assigned him tasks which enable him to learn about the rich collections housed in the John J. Burns Library, and to get acquainted with the various functions that conservation entails.
The Boston College Libraries’ strategic goals include digitization of key collections in the Burns Library and I wanted to get Robert involved in this important initiative early on. One such task is to re-house manuscript items in preparation for digitization. Robert has already assisted in re-housing items from two collections: James Jeffrey Roche Collection, MS.1986.041, and John Henry Cardinal Newman Collection, MS.2011.33. James Jeffrey Roche (1847-1908) was an Irish-born American journalist, author, and diplomat. He was born in Queens County, Ireland, and raised on Prince Edward Island. He attended St. Dunstan’s College and moved to Boston in 1866. Roche became assistant editor (1883) and later editor (1890) of the Catholic periodical, The Pilot. He published poetry and other literary works, including a biography of John Boyle O’Reilly. He served as United States Consul in Italy and Switzerland during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency. It was the correspondence between Roche and Roosevelt, as well as letters from the American sculptor Daniel Chester French, that Robert prepared for digitization. He also was excited to see a letter from Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, in the Roche Collection.
John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) was an English Catholic priest. Newman was born in London, educated at Oxford, and ordained as an Anglican priest in 1825. A leader of the Oxford Movement, he later converted to Catholicism (1845). Newman founded The Oratory in 1848, and began his prolific writing career which included poems, sermons, novels, tracts, essays, and private correspondence. Pope Leo XIII elevated Newman to Cardinal in 1879; he died in 1890. In 1991, Pope John Paul II declared Newman Venerable, the first formal step in the process of canonization. Robert assisted me as I removed a Newman letter dated April 1844 from unsafe housing: a glass and wooden frame with acidic mats. After studying the document and noting it had been folded to form its own envelope with red sealing wax and Queen Victoria postage stamp still intact, Robert placed it in an acid-free folder.
The digitization projects underway at the Burns Library are not limited to manuscript materials; print collections will also receive attention. Robert will execute minor repairs on the Boston College student publication, The Heights, beginning with the historic 1919 first edition. This digital project is being undertaken for the Boston College Sesquicentennial. Since digitization is not the only library issue requiring conservation intervention, I made sure that Robert became aware of the on-going treatment queue in the lab. My summer assistant has already had the opportunity to do conservation treatments on an important Jesuit imprint, Commentarii in Levitvm, by Ioannis Lorini, dated 1620. He surface cleaned pages and smoothed creases and dog-ears. This handsome, oversized volume is now accessible for use by researchers. Another on-going initiative in the conservation lab is preventive conservation: storage modification for some of the oldest and most fragile books at the Burns Library. My plan is to safely store all of these books in archival boxes. Robert is making a clamshell box to house Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. This 1496 volume was printed in Nuremberg by the renowned printer, Anton Koberger.
Robert has also learned that conservation of collections involves monitoring the climate in which the materials are stored. We have inspected the John J. Burns Library while observing conditions. Additionally, I routinely check the conditions in the Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill Exhibition in the O’Neill Library. The desk in that exhibition is on loan from the Smithsonian Museum. It was owned by President Grover Cleveland and later was used by Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the House, in his Washington D. C. office. Robert accompanied me and observed as I took note of the temperature, humidity and light levels in the room. Back at the Burns Library, I pointed out that O’Neill’s papers are a part of our Congressional Archives. So already Robert has learned about our digitization initiative, routine conservation treatments, preventive conservation, and climate control monitoring. He is becoming familiar with our rich collections and, as he tells his Boston College friends about his summer job, he is acting as an ambassador for the library.
Barbara Adams Hebard, Conservator, John J. Burns Library