Conservators in the Barbara Goldsmith Conservation Lab perform physical and chemical treatments on The New York Public Library’s rare, special, and unique collections. This important work helps to ensure the long-term survival of and access to these permanent collections for current and future generations.
The wide variety of collection items treated include: books, pamphlets, manuscripts, printed documents, broadsides, posters, prints, drawings, art on paper, three-dimensional objects, and photographs on paper, metal, film, and glass. All work is performed in accordance with the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC).
The Conservation lab also coordinates the care and treatment of the Library’s collections that are not treated in-house, including paintings, sculpture, murals, textiles, and objects.
Conservators work closely with curators and other Library staff to evaluate collections for treatment and help determine priorities. Conservators assess the condition of collection items, create treatment plans, and fully document their work by taking photographs and writing detailed reports. Written and photographic documentation records of treatments performed are kept as items goes through various stages of conservation. Items being treated receive necessary examination and testing prior to and during treatment, which can include examination under a microscope, examination under different light sources (e.g. ultraviolet or transmitted), testing for solubility, and testing pH levels.Appropriate research on collection items, on materials used, and on conservation techniques and practices, is also carried out in support of conservation treatment projects.
When customized housing is an important element of maintaining the treated materials, Conservation lab staff construct custom-made housings including: window mats, cloth-covered clamshell boxes, portfolios, polyester film encapsulation, and post bindings. Staff in the lab are also innovative, borrowing tools and techniques from other disciplines or fields and adapting them for use in conservation.
Conservators play a key role in the exhibition process by evaluating, treating, preparing, and installing collection items selected for exhibition. This includes objects exhibited both by the Library and those borrowed by other institutions, domestically and internationally. Objects selected for exhibition are examined by a conservator to determine if they are suitable for display and treated if conservation is necessary. Conservators also determine the appropriate manner in which individual objects should be exhibited. this includes determining appropriate light levels and duration, angle of opening for books, or unique requirements such as sealed microenvironments. Preparation and installation, such as hinging and matting artwork or securing objects to mounts, is also performed by staff in the Conservation lab.
The Conservation lab provides education and training to preservation professionals through internships and staff are active participants and leaders in professional organizations. Conservators provide information and support to Library staff on topics such as proper handling of collection items and disaster response and recovery. Conservation staff also present information to the public through online and print publications, lectures, and answering reference questions pertaining to conservation.
The Library has produced two videos that illustrate some of the activities undertaken in the conservation lab: Behind the Scenes at NYPL's Conservation Lab, the conservation of a map and a document in preparation for the exhibition “Mapping New York’s Shoreline,” previously on view at The New York Public Library from September 2009 through June 2010; and Preserving the Chester Burger Military Patch Collection, the conservation of a collection of rare United States military insignia that Chester Burger collected during World War II, and later donated to The New York Public Library.