Michigan State University

History of Preservation at the MSU Libraries


The Preservation Department of the MSU Libraries was established in 1991 with Mary Ann Tyrrell serving as the first Preservation Librarian. Earlier initiatives in preservation activities included the formation of a Disaster Planning Committee in 1987 and the beginnings of a book repair unit which was expanded in 1992. In addition to the Preservation Office, the newly created unit consisted of the Binding Preparation, Book Repair, and Collection Renewal departments. Major accomplishments the first few years included participation in a CIC (now called the Big Ten Academic Alliance) cooperative microfilming project to preserve a large collection of Africana books at MSU, the creation of a book repair lab and disaster response equipment and supplies were purchased for the main library and its branches. In 1993, a Preservation Advisory Council was appointed to consult on preservation-related issues. Exploring preservation reformatting methods for replacing the growing number of aging, brittle books in its collections, the department added commercially bound photocopy reproductions as a regular part of preservation program.


In 1999, the Access and Preservation Division was created as part of a reorganization of the MSU Libraries with Jeanne Drewes appointed as division head. The units making up this division included Binding Preparation, Collections Conservation, Collection Renewal as well as Preservation,Circulation and Stacks Maintenance. The exact configuration would change over the years. During this time, MSUL's first collections conservator, Eliza Gilligan, was hired. All conservation activities took place in the Book Repair Unit's small offices on the 4th floor of the Main Library. A major mold outbreak at the Gull Lake branch at the Kellogg Biological Station in 1999 was a wake up call on the dangers of poor environmental conditions. An environmental monitoring program, using IPI PEM1 data loggers was begun. A space for a new conservation lab was sought both within the library and across campus. In 2003, space in Giltner Hall was secured and renovations were begun.


In April 2004, just as the new conservation lab in Giltner Hall was completed, Eric Alstrom was hired as collections conservator. The Book Repair Unit's half-time employee and student supervisor, Nora (Carr) Sleasman, transitioned to full-time in the lab and Brenda Brown transferred to conservation as the third full-time staff member. Conservation staff also included two volunteers and several student employees. In 2005, Margaret Moon funded the Florence G. Wallace endowment to fund lab operations and help further renovate the space. The Giltner Hall conservation lab almost doubled its floor space in 2006 and became the Wallace Conservation Lab. That year also saw a change in administration as Jeanne Drewes left for the Library of Congress and head of Special Collections, Peter Berg became Associate Director for Special Collections and Preservation. Preservation units then included the Wallace Conservation lab, Binding Preparation, Collection Renewal and Stacks Maintenance.

In 2006 through 2008, MSU Libraries was awarded a Save America's Treasures grant to preserve the "Teaching Young Americans" collection of 19th century Sunday school and text books. Linda Barone was hired as project conservator and oversaw the surveying and treatment selection of almost 5,000 books. In 2009, Sue Depoorter became student supervisor and lab manager. The environmental conditions at Giltner Hall continued to deteriorate (due to large steam pipes in the space) until during the summer of 2011 the lab staff was moved temporarily to the Main Library for several weeks. Several solutions were proposed to remedy the situation, but the cost proved to high. It was also determined that having the conservation lab near the collections would be most advantageous. At that point serious consideration was given to find space in the Main Library for the lab.


In May 2012, the Wallace Conservation Lab moved into newly renovated space in the Main Library. The new space was outfitted with custom workbenches and a 5' x 3' washing sink with a deionized water system; subsequent additions have included a ductless fume hood, suction platen and light table. In October of that year, Eric took on the role of Preservation Librarian and formed the Conservation and Preservation Unit. The unit consisted of the Wallace Conservation Lab and Giltner Lab Annex, the Preservation Office, the Binding Preparation department, and, in 2013 the Google Scanning Project (as part of the BTAA cooperative effort). The Preservation Unit began to work more closely with the Digital Information Division to help with the conservation side of the digitization of the Libraries' collections.

In 2014, Bexx Caswell-Olson was hired as Special Collections Conservator, focusing on the rare and unusual items from the Libraries' Special Collections. The Libraries' Remote Storage facilities were updated and expanded in 2015 and an increasing number of books are being shifted to the high-density storage facility. A bug monitoring program was started and the environmental monitoring expanded in 2016 to make sure the conditions were conducive to long term storage. A conservation technician, Linsey Allen, was hired in 2016 to assist Bexx with special collections conservation efforts. A survey of the rare books is being conducted, with a focus on the Libraries' Criminology Collection. A large portion of the Special Collections was moved to Remote Storage in 2017 and the Conservation Lab's focus was shifted to box making for several months.


Early in the year, Ed Gildner, long-time head of the Binding Preparation unit, accepted a new position in the Libraries' Acquisitions Department. Eric Alstrom took over duties as head of the unit with help from Karen Keck and Louis Villanfranca, both long time Bind Prep staff members. Just a few months later, in late summer, Bind Prep moved operations into the East Wing of the ground floor which allowed the conservation lab to expand operations. The lab was split into general collections book repair and special collections conservation and box making areas. The extra room allows both sections to work more efficiently and on larger projects. In September 2019, Garret Sumner, a recent graduate of West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, came on board as the MSUL's new Conservation Librarian. He will focus his efforts on all of the special and rare materials in the library with his conservation expertise and new approaches to treatments. 

As we enter into 2020, the Preservation Unit continues to treat individual books from both the special and circulating collections, to send books to the commercial binder and for deacidification, to monitor the environments of all the Libraries' buildings and to make sure we are preserving our collections to the best of our ability for today's faculty and students and for future generations.