Giving Day benefactors support the science of conservation and digitization

To celebrate the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library’s 10th anniversary, the Library participated in the University’s 2022 Giving Day with a fundraising appeal supporting the conservation and digitization activities in the Preservation Labs under Mansueto’s dome. Both conservation and digitization are critical components in sustaining world-class collections, fostering new opportunities for research by staying at the forefront of digital technology, and sharing our resources with our local and global partners and communities.

With the contributions made on Giving Day, the Library was able to purchase equipment it is using to advance the science behind the art of conservation and digitization.

View of glass-domed Mansueto Library from above
The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library (Photo by Tom Rossiter)
  • An X-ray florescence (XRF) spectrometer is an innovative, non-destructive handheld device used to analyze the inorganic materials in objects. Because the device will not damage art and cultural artifacts, we can now undertake testing that we could not have considered previously and better understand pieces in our collections.
  • A polarizing light microscope (PLM) enables strategic decisions for conservation treatments on objects. Complementing the XRF spectrometer, we are now able to identify organic materials from pigments to paper fibers, textiles, and even things that get left behind in books. Importantly, the PLM facilitates understanding of the materials and how they might be impacted by corrosion and other forms of deterioration.
  • An endoscope provides access to places within objects that are too small to open without causing significant damage. The endoscope enables the team to see under the covers of books and into the hollow part of spines to read manuscript material used in its construction.
  • FormaSpace tables enhance scanning workflow in the Digitization Unit. The new tables have height adjustability, feature castors for mobility, and provide ample space to accommodate collection materials. Importantly, they increase the flexible use space supplementing the advanced Copibook tabletop scanners.
Using an X-ray floresence spectrometer
A conservator uses the Library’s new X-ray florescence spectrometer to evaluate the metal alloy in a Nobel Prize medal.

With these new tools in hand, conservators have been able to do new kinds of work. For example, Conservation and Special Collections staff have tested the Nobel Prize medals in the Library’s collection to determine the makeup of the metal alloys using the new XRF spectrometer. The medals of Nobel Laureates James Franck (1925), Enrico Fermi (1938), James Cronin (1980), Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1983), and Ronald Coase (1991) were studied, and findings show that the alloy used changed over time and that the makeup of presentation copies that were handed to recipients during their ceremonies is similar to gold-plated, copper pennies, in contrast to the prize medals sent later, which are made primarily of gold with some silver and a small amount of copper.

The Library is tremendously grateful to our benefactors, particularly those participating in the University’s Giving Day 2022. Your philanthropy made all the difference in the Library’s ability to purchase equipment critical to the work in the Preservation Labs. Thank you.

To learn more about the work of the Preservation Labs, watch this short documentary film that has garnered national attention by winning a Silver Telly Award and two ARLies from the Association of Research Libraries Film Festival in 2023.