Preservation for faculty

Celebrating 10 years enabling research and teaching in the Mansueto Library

Melina Avery binds a large music book under the Mansueto Library dome
Senior Conservator Melina Avery rebinds the Library’s largest and heaviest book, a 16th-century Antiphonarium for Matins, so that faculty and students can imagine the experience of a choir gathering to sing its music.

When faculty members want to analyze and share knowledge of rare and delicate Library materials, expert conservators and digitization staff in the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library are ready to help. By treating original materials—going all the way back to a second-century papyrus fragment—and creating high-resolution digital images that anyone can analyze in detail online, the Library’s Preservation team ensures that collections enable groundbreaking research and enrich the experiences of students on campus and around the world.

The Conservation and Digitization Laboratories in the Mansueto Library—which mark their 10th anniversary this year—have expanded the range and quality of treatments conservators can provide and of digital images that can be shared online. Equipment added to the Mansueto laboratories, ranging from a fume hood to the newest 150-megapixel cultural heritage camera, makes that work possible.

Here we highlight a few examples of preservation work that enables faculty research and teaching.

Conservation for exhibitions and classes in Special Collections

Faculty, students, and visitors to the Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center’s classrooms and the Exhibition Gallery often benefit from preservation work that prepares materials for safe examination and display. One book treasured by music faculty and students—the Antiphonarium for Matins, a collection of Gregorian chants—is the largest and heaviest book in the Library’s collection. Because its text block had separated from its wooden, leather-covered case, frequent classroom use was impossible until Senior Conservator Melina Avery rebound the book using equipment built by Head of Conservation Ann Lindsey. Classes that come in to see this 52-pound, 83-by-55-cm book can begin to imagine the experience of a choir gathering to sing its music in a 16th-century Spanish church. This massive tome recently appeared in the exhibition A Book by Its Cover: Decorative Book Bindings from the Medieval Codex to Contemporary Artists’ Books.

Inspiring the next generation of humanists and scientists

A page from Copernicus's On the Revolutions of hte Heavenly Spheres
A page of one of the Library’s first-edition copies of Copernicus’s De revolutionibus orbium caelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) requested by Professor Michael Suarez and captured by Digitization Manager Christina Miranda-Izguerra in the Mansueto Library.

Ann Lindsey regularly contributes her expertise to Suzanne Deal Booth Conservation Seminars for UChicago students spearheaded by Professor Christine Mehring and taught by Maria Kokkori, UChicago Visiting Lecturer and Art Institute of Chicago Associate Conservation Scientist.  Kokkori teaches students scientific approaches to studying art objects and considers the meanings of different materials and how these may change over time in courses on Modern and Contemporary Materialities and the Material Science of Art. “The courses bring science students into meaningful contact with the humanities and vice versa, while enabling undergraduates and graduates to discover a lesser-known career path at a pivotal moment in their studies and internship explorations,” Mehring explained.

Mehring calls the contributions of Mansueto Library’s conservators to the seminars invaluable: “Over years of object-driven teaching, I have seen how the material and visual presence of art and architecture fosters not only heightened attention but empowers students from different backgrounds and disciplines:  everyone looks at the same things together.”

Since 2018, Kokkori has asked Lindsey to identify items in the Library’s collection that would be interesting for the students to analyze during the seminar. “The Mansueto conservation team’s willingness to share their insights and expertise on conservation with undergraduate and graduate students is reflected in a number of students’ research projects including a study of an 18th-century hand-colored map and Wolf Vostell’s Betonbuch (Concrete Book), providing new approaches to art-historical storytelling, " she said.


Since the Mansueto Digitization Laboratory opened, the Library has been able to share collections of great scholarly significance with the world, from the Edgar J. Goodspeed Manuscript Collection of early New Testament manuscripts to the often-requested Ida B. Wells Papers.

This winter, Professor Michael Suarez came to campus as the inaugural scholar in the Chicago Visiting Scholar Program in Paleography and the Book. While on campus teaching a course that introduced students to many treasures in Special Collections, he became interested in the Library’s two copies of the 1543 first edition of Copernicus’s De revolutionibus orbium caelestium and requested that the Preservation team digitize them for him. “I can use the high-resolution images to look closely at individual elements—even individual sorts of type—for evidence of how the Nuremberg printer Johannes Petrieus actually printed the book,” Suarez said. “Examination of physical copies is vitally important for bibliographical analysis, of course, but sometimes the close comparison of images, particularly when enlarged, can help researchers to see—and, crucially, to document what they see.”