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On-call book doctor

Marty Hartford and the preservation lab keep Hale collection healthy


Marty Hartford is never at a loss for work.

Marty HartfordHale Library has about 2 million books in its collection, and all endure the wear and tear of handling; exposure to light, humidity and the occasional coffee cup; and the unavoidable deterioration of books' organic materials.

As head conservation technician and manager for the preservation lab, Hartford is in charge of the upkeep of each of these volumes.

"An academic library is different from a public library because of the value of the collection to academic research," said Hartford, who works with two student conservation technicians at Hale.

"We want people to use our books -- it's not a museum -- and conservation is a key to providing access to these materials."

Hartford belongs to an advisory team of eight people who are part of the preservation working group at Hale. The purpose of the team is to preserve materials for future use, through book repair, staff and patron education, environmental control and collection disaster preparedness.

Hartford's office, which is also the lab, is tucked away on the fifth floor staff area of Hale Library. It's a large room filled with books and the arcane equipment used for repairing them.

The lab was included in the 1997 renovation and houses such specialized equipment as book presses, spine repair instruments, a water purifier, fume hood and sinks.

"The lab was built with a lot of foresight," Hartford said. "And the library and Friends of the Library have funded the purchases of needed equipment to create a fully functional conservation lab."

Within the lab, workers complete repairs, always keeping in mind the rules of conservation: every treatment must extend the life of the item and be reversible.

With nimble fingers and the lab's equipment, conservation technicians can perform a range of repairs, from mending pages to recasing or rebinding books, repairing spines and replacing missing or loose pages. One of the most common tasks is the creation of a pocket to house pamphlets or items associated with a particular book.

"If we can't do repairs on a book because of age, we'll create an archival enclosure," Hartford said. A box of archival material is tailored to fit a book's dimensions. "It acts as an environmental buffer and is part of what is known as phased preservation."

She has created many boxes for the rare book collection.

"We also can send the book to our commercial bindery to have a facsimile preservation photocopy made."

Not only do conservationists work with complex tools, but they also have to know about humidity levels and the history of a particular paper's manufacture. In diagnosing a book's ills, they have to recognize how and if the volume can be fixed.

Hartford, who has worked in the lab for four years, came to the job after working for years in the circulation department. A bibliophile, she knew that working with books and with her hands would be perfect. Or almost.

"When I worked in circulation, I was always seeing new faces and helping new people.

"I do miss that, but I love this job and working with book conservation."

One of the most notable books Hartford has worked with was the 1.5 millionth volume added to the collection. Hartford created a cloth-covered clamshell box for "The Young Mill-Wright and Miller's Guide," written by Oliver Evans and published in 1795. The book is part of special collections.

"I've had so many great opportunities to learn here," Hartford said. "I get to learn about materials, new techniques for book repair and the latest information on the subject."


Photo: Marty Hartford investigates the repair requirements of a Royal Purple yearbook. "We want people to use our books," Hartford says. "It's not a museum." The more than 2 million volumes in Hale's collection generate plenty of work for Hartford and her staff.