Today begins Preservation Week in libraries across the country. One of our primary jobs at the Special Collections Department is to identify materials that need certain preservation measures. One of the most basic measures is producing phase boxes for books with aged bindings. A simple phase box, which can take as little as five minutes to produce, can protect books from all sorts of harm including:
- Wear and tear – Rather than grasping the book when pulling it off the shelf, the box is grasped.
- Fire damage – Books have been saved because they were preserved in a phase box, plus the box saves the book from soot damage.
- Humidity damage – Phase boxes insulate the book.
- Water damage – In cases of flooding or the sprinkler system going off, books have a better chance of staying dry in phase boxes.
The first step in the process is to select books that are in the most need of phase boxes. The spine of the book might be split or tearing off, or the book has become too brittle, or one of the covers might be completely torn off at the hinge (near the spine).
Once a book has been selected, accurate measurements of the length, width, and depth of the book must be taken. We use the metric system in the Special Collections Department.
After a group of twenty-eight books have been measured, we send those measurements to the Preservation Department at Ellis Library. Librarians and student assistants then work together to produce the boxes, making sure to follow the old saying “measure twice and cut once”. Once finished, the new boxes are sent back up to the Special Collections Department where we perform the final step of placing the rare books into their new enclosures. The entire process for each batch of books takes about two to three weeks.