University of Chicago Preservation Department and Oriental Institute Open Houses

Jamie Nelson, DePaul University

It was a beautiful sunny spring day on April 20th, 2018, but attendees at the University of Chicago Preservation Department and Oriental Institute Open Houses were happy to spend time underground, within a glass dome, in museum galleries, and in labs.  Thirty staff from twenty-seven different CARLI member libraries met at the University of Chicago Joseph Regenstein Library for coffee, donuts, and opening remarks before heading out in smaller groups to tour preservation-related departments in the Regenstein Library and the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library.

Mansueto automated storage
The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library's automated storage and retrieval system

After traveling by elevator 50 feet below ground, attendees gathered around to watch the giant, automated cranes respond to a request for an item stored in one of the 24,000 bins of high-density storage system in the Mansueto Library.  The books, journals, and archival collections stored here are maintained under optimal temperature and humidity conditions, retrieved on demand, and delivered above-ground to library patrons.

Attendees toured the Binding and Shelf Preparation Department in the Joseph Regenstein Library, with Amy Mantrone discussing standard procedures for maintaining materials in the circulating collection.  Many attendees could easily relate to what they learned and saw in this section, having access to similar tools and products at their home libraries.  Ann Lindsey (Head of Conservation in the Mansueto Library and member of the CARLI Preservation Committee) and her colleagues highlighted the specialized equipment required for the treatment and repair of Special Collections materials and other rare items. 

Frame Ann Lindsey built to repair a Spanish antiphonal
Ann Lindsey describing her custom-designed frame

Ann demonstrated the custom-made equipment necessary for the rebinding of an oversized antiphonal, and showed how she built the equipment.  In the Digitization Department, Kathleen Arnold and her colleagues talked about their cameras, digitization equipment, software, and procedures for capturing content and making it more accessible and searchable online.

External view of Oriental Institute entrance
The Oriental Institute

After a box lunch with time to talk with colleagues from other CARLI libraries, attendees had a nice walk across the Quadrangle to the Oriental Institute, where groups alternated between a special, behind-the-scenes tour of the Conservation Laboratory and self-guided tours of the museum galleries.  Head Conservator Laura D’Alessandro and her colleagues had various objects on display, demonstrated conservation treatments in process, and talked about monitoring the environmental conditions within exhibit cases.  This tour was a rare treat and offered a glimpse into an allied field that many could appreciate.

Attendees who completed a post-event evaluation all reported the program was worthwhile (70% selecting ‘strongly agree’ and 30% selecting ‘agree’).  Comments ranged from appreciating the time and opportunity to meet and network with staff from other libraries, to learning more about day-to-day internal workflows and processes, to getting the chance to see operations and facilities more advanced than at their home libraries.

The Preservation Committee greatly appreciates the hospitality of The University of Chicago Library and The Oriental Institute of The University of Chicago in hosting such a successful event.  Suggestions for future programs or workshops can be directed to .