The Columbia University Libraries Conservation Program is responsible for the care of the Libraries’ material collections, including exhibit and loan preparation, monitoring of building environments, full conservation treatment of library and archival materials, coordinating the conservation of items such as paintings, decorative arts, and ethnographic objects, and coordinating the disaster response program.
The Program is based in two locations, the Central Lab and the Burke Preservation Lab. The Central Lab is located in Room 109 Butler Library, and is composed of two units, the General Collections Repair Unit and the Rare and Special Materials Conservation unit. The laboratory is staffed full-time by the Head of Conservation, Mellon Conservator for Special Collections, the Special Collections Conservator, and two Conservation/Book Repair Technicians. Student assistants, independent contractors and advanced interns from conservation graduate degree programs frequently augment the regular staff.
The General Collections Repair Unit is responsible for carrying out repairs on circulating and reference materials that meet certain criteria, and that usually must be retained in hard copy because of age, format, or historical significance. Repair techniques that are commonly carried out include mending torn pages, tipping in loose leaves and errata slips, reinforcing or replacing damaged covers, and re-sewing books together by hand. Brittle maps and charts, and heavily-used oversize materials may be encapsulated between sheets of polyester film to protect them from damage during handling by researchers.
Damaged general collections materials that do not meet the criteria for in-house repair are sent for commercial rebinding through the Binding and Shelf Preparation Department, or for reformatting through the Preservation Reformatting Department.
The Rare and Special Materials Conservation Unit is responsible for the treatment and stabilization of both individual items and large collections from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library (including the Columbia University Archives); Avery Library; the C.V. Starr East Asian Library; Burke Library, Union Theological Seminary; and the Health Sciences Library. Three book and paper conservators, with assistance from interns and conservation graduate students, carry out repairs on a wide range of the Library's most rare and valuable artifacts, including bound and unbound manuscripts, printed books, works of art on paper, architectural drawings and other objects such as large Thai shadow puppets made from rawhide and bamboo. Working together with the special collections curators, the conservators assess the conservation needs of the various collections, and contribute to both long- and short-range preservation planning. The conservators are also involved in preparing rare materials for exhibition and loan, coordinating disaster preparedness and recovery activities, and for monitoring environmental conditions throughout the libraries.
When necessary, conservators prepare items so that they can be safely digitized, and help to protect them during imaging. See a recent project to conserve and image a medical pop-up book.
Conservation staff also work on location in the Burke Preservation Laboratory to clean, re-house and conserve rare books and documents at Burke.
For questions about the Conservation Program, please contact the Head of Conservation. Questions concerning general collections repairs should be referred to the Repair Unit extension.
Conservator and Head of the Conservation Program:
Conservator for Special Collections:
General Collections Repair Unit: