In the final semester of my Boston College career, I have had the good fortune of serving as a Conservation Assistant under Barbara Adams Hebard in the John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections conservation lab. As an art history major and lifelong lover of books and libraries, working with rare books is like sending a child into a toy store. Every week, I marvel at and handle priceless objects from Boston College’s outstanding collection of rare materials. Barbara has taught me the basic principles of conservation, including the professional standards and regulations guiding conservators and the reverence and delicacy with which rare materials must be treated. My work in the Burns this semester builds on several previous Boston College experiences, including an introduction to conservation class taught by Peabody Essex conservator Mimi Leveque and the first ever “Making History Public” course taught in the John J. Burns Library by Professor Virginia Reinburg. Barbara first sparked my interest in the conservation field when she presented to our “Making History Public” class about her work as a conservator.
Working with Barbara Adams Hebard has solidified the conservation principles I learned from Mimi Leveque and has helped me put them into practice with the Burns collection I grew to love with Professor Reinburg. This semester, I attended a care and handling of library materials workshop and fire evacuation tour, assisted in emergency response tending to damp Jesuit books, performed a preventive conservation building walk-through, surface cleaned and treated a damaged broadside, constructed a preservation enclosure, produced photo documentation and treatment reports, and administered leather treatment to rare books. I have learned that, although the conservation field requires dexterity and hands on skill at its core, it also involves writing, analysis, and presentation skills, collaborative abilities, genuine personal concern for the well-being of cultural heritage, and a desire to share its importance with current and future generations. Barbara Adams Hebard encapsulates all these qualities and has been a phenomenal mentor and role model. She joyfully shares her vast knowledge with all who are interested, both in the Boston College community and elsewhere.
As a Conservation Assistant, I have treated books that were written, owned, and read centuries ago by Jesuits and other individuals. Traces of their ownership remain in the form of hand-scrawled words hidden in the pages of these books. Conserving the Burns Library materials preserves the memory of those who came before us. Just as we cherish the knowledge the Burns materials hold, so too should we cherish the memory of those who played a part in compiling and passing that knowledge down to us through the written word. My experience at the Burns Library has proved a highlight of my senior year, since it has allowed me to work closely with a precious yet often underappreciated piece of Boston College’s identity. Many Boston College students and community members do not realize the Burns Library and its singular collections exist, but I am delighted to have seen progressively more courses and class trips offered in the Burns over my four years. I hope this trend will continue so that more Boston College students can experience the wealth of learning the Burns Library has to offer.
After my graduation, I will spend the summer working as Executive Assistant to Malcolm Rogers, Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, until his retirement in July. I aim to pursue a museum career in collections management, exhibitions, or development and look forward to learning about the inner workings of all museum departments during my summer appointment. I hope the position will lead to future opportunities at the Museum of Fine Arts. My experience at the Burns Library will undoubtedly prove invaluable in future museum work. I have learned first-hand the methods and motives involved in preserving cultural heritage; this equips me to further the mission of any museum or cultural institution, whether by managing collections directly or advocating for them in development. I look forward to carrying the skills learned during my college years into a career dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage. Ultimately, I hope to serve an institution that, like Boston College and the Burns Library, shares and empowers people with the gift of knowledge.
- Christine Spindler, Burns Library Conservation Assistant & BC ’15