Conservator’s Notebook: From the Depths to the Heights

In the Burns Conservation Lab, Robert Williams, Burns Conservation Assistant, puts weights on repaired bound copies of the Heights as part of the digitization process.

In the Burns Conservation Lab, Robert Williams, Burns Conservation Assistant, puts weights on repaired bound copies of the Heights as part of the digitization process.

This summer the conservation lab, despite its location in the basement of the John J. Burns Library, rose to the heights. You may recall from the Conservator’s Notebook entry posted on July 5th that my assistant, Robert Williams, and I were about to embark on the formidable task of stabilizing numerous pages of the Boston College student newspaper, The Heights, in preparation for digitization. The publication of the Heights began in 1919 and it was produced on a weekly basis so we knew we had our work cut out for us. We were the second leg in the library digitization relay team. The first leg included the incredibly patient Richard Burley, a graduate student assistant in the Archives & Manuscripts Department. Richard not only meticulously verified the completeness of the run, but also surveyed the collection for necessary repairs. He made our leg in the relay much easier because of his conscientious work.

Unbound copies of the Heights resting under weights after being repaired in the Burns Conservation Lab - another necessary step in the digitization process.

Unbound copies of the Heights resting under weights after being repaired in the Burns Conservation Lab – another necessary step in the digitization process.

When the baton was passed to the conservation lab, Robert approached the task with enthusiasm and even, dare I say, glee. He surface cleaned hundreds of pages and then we made hundreds of repairs in a total of twenty-four bound volumes of the newspaper as well as some unbound issues. Some of the repairs were difficult, but we both agreed that the greatest challenge was not to read the newspaper! As we worked we did enjoy occasionally reading aloud striking headlines to each other or groaning over the really bad jokes printed in the periodical, but mostly we sprinted forward; determined to complete our leg in a timely manner.

Before and after condition of the Gonzo sponges used by conservation intern Robert Williams to surface clean issues of "The Heights" being prepared for digitization. Now that's a dirty job!.

Before and after condition of the Gonzo sponges used by conservation intern Robert Williams to surface clean issues of “The Heights” being prepared for digitization. Now that’s a dirty job!

I admit that a February 15, 1923 article headed “Casey Games, Special Jesuit Relay” caught my eye and called for a complete reading. Because the article was printed in 1923, the title made me envision Jesuits attired in surplices and wearing birettas while nimbly dashing around St. Mary’s garden passing on a breviary to one another. A quick reading of the brief article revealed a more pedestrian explanation: it was called a Jesuit relay because the competing institutions were Boston College, Holy Cross, Georgetown, and Fordham. The brief story proved very interesting though. The author, while anticipating the upcoming relay, wrote about the 1922 results. It was not a happy story for Boston College: the Maroon and Gold was well in the lead when “Frank Wilson tripped and fell”.

Coach John A. Ryder, pictured in the 1923 Sub Turri.

Coach John A. Ryder, pictured in the 1923 Sub Turri.

Wilson apparently made a quick recovery and gave a brave effort, but sadly BC came in a “close second” to Georgetown. The Cardinal O’Connell cup, a trophy named after a native son, was won by the Hoyas. The names of his teammates were not mentioned—clearly full blame fell at the feet of Frank Wilson. One pictures him spending the rest of the academic year shunned by his peers, all the while hoping for a chance at redemption in 1923. But in the article Coach Ryder is quoted as vowing that the trophy would return to Boston and grimly stated that “he was prepared to make radical changes in the relay team to improve chances of victory.” Those harsh words did not bode well for young Frank. Did he run in the 1923 relay? Did Boston College win back the trophy? Sorry folks, the next issue of the Heights did not need any repair, so we sped on. We had our own relay to run, and so moved on to subsequent years.

On page 339 from the 1929 Sub Turri, the Chemistry Academy relates Professor Ford's lecture.

On page 339 from the 1929 Sub Turri, the Chemistry Academy relates Professor Ford’s lecture.

While repairing a 1928 issue, again an alluring title caught my eye, “Makes Paper by Chemical Process”. What self-respecting conservator could pass by an article on paper production? I read on, and was well rewarded for my trouble.  The article described an “illustrated lecture” given by Everett Ford, Professor of Qualitative Chemistry.  In these pre-PowerPoint days it seems that the professor’s assistant, Mr. MacDonald, in a manner evocative of the Muppet Show character, Beaker, scurried about firing up the Bunson burner and readying materials while Ford expounded on the superiority of cotton fiber over wood pulp in paper making. To create a “pulp” for this demonstration, MacDonald hastily shredded a magazine and “chopped up an issue of the Heights”. Wait—chopped up the Heights? What if this was the very last copy of the issue which revealed the outcome of the 1923 Jesuit relay? Would Boston College be forever cast as a “close second” to Georgetown? Would the coveted Cardinal O’Connell cup be held hostage in the hostile halls of the Hoyas in perpetuity? Not to worry, this is an article about digitization. After Robert and I completed repairs, the Heights project moved on to be prepared for the imaging leg of the relay. The Boston College Libraries will be preserving images of the Heights and, in time for our sesquicentennial, will have the stories of the Eagles’ challenges and triumphs readily available for eager readers.  While the Heights is being digitized, be sure to take a look at the Boston College Sub Turri yearbooks; the years 1913 – 2005 are now available online.

Now that we had successfully completed our leg in the relay, did we rest on our laurels while idling in the break room sipping champagne and nibbling bon-bons as we regaled our library colleagues with boasts of our glory days on the Heights? Nay, goodly reader, for the ancient communication device (land-line telephone) rang out heralding the cries of damsels in distress (the fair Diana and the lovely Heather) and our hero (Robert) and his mentor (Barbara) sallied forth like knights of old, clad in white tunics (lab coats) while bearing the “age quod agis” banner, and thereby encountered a 33 foot-long dragon (of sorts). Yet, lest we try your patience, we must end this narrative. The tale of the dragon shall be unfurled in the next accounting of the Conservator’s Notebook.

Barbara Adams Hebard, Conservator, John J. Burns Library.

  • Barbara Adams Hebard, Conservator, John J. Burns Library

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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