The Sheridan Libraries have been awarded $792,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to launch a pilot program for post-doctoral fellows in heritage conservation science. Two fellows will be selected each year in an international competition to address a vetted scientific research agenda; the two-and-a-half-year initiative will be based in the Libraries’ conservation and preservation department.
The program will provide opportunities for the research fellows to collaborate with faculty and students in the Whiting School’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, the Johns Hopkins Museums, and area institutions such as historical societies. Their investigations will emphasize research relevant to materials in libraries, archives, and other cultural heritage organizations.
For 20 years, libraries, archives, and granting agencies have focused attention and resources on collection care and mass preventive action, such as environmental controls. This approach has been effective but has not afforded the opportunity for studies in materials science that would inform specific conservation treatments and techniques.
“The Sheridan Libraries’ conservation program was the first in the country to offer apprenticeships and internships to train conservators at the bench,” says Winston Tabb, Sheridan Dean of University Libraries and Museums at Johns Hopkins. “It is particularly fitting that at a research-intensive university like Hopkins we will now have the opportunity to collaborate with our colleagues at the Whiting School—not only to generate a new body of research, but also to invigorate and sustain the profession.”
An integral part of the conservation fellows’ research agenda will be engaging industry partners. “Conservators are dependent upon the products industry provides to conduct conservation treatment,” says Sophia Jordan-Mowery, the Joseph Ruzicka and Marie Ruzicka Feldmann Director of Library Conservation and Preservation, and principal investigator for the project. “Yet industrial products, their formulations, and their applications are judged by how well they serve the conservator’s needs. Engaging industry in the entire chain of production and application will serve both the market and the cultural heritage organizations.”
William Minter, principal for Conservation Development and Bookbinding, Inc., will serve as the senior project conservator. An internationally recognized conservator of heritage collections for many U.S. libraries, museums, and archives, he has successfully merged the roles of conservator, inventor, and scientist.
More than 30 years ago, Minter developed the ultrasonic welder—now considered standard equipment in conservation labs—for the encapsulation of brittle and otherwise endangered documents and art materials.
An advisory board chaired by Jordan-Mowery and comprising experts from academic, conservation, scientific, and industry sectors will set the strategic agenda for research and solicit calls for proposals from the scientific community. Board members include William Minter; Jonah Erlebacher, associate professor in materials science engineering at Johns Hopkins; Nels Olson, an analytical chemist and former chief of the Preservation Research and Testing Division at the Library of Congress; and David Grattan, manager of conservation research services at the Canadian Conservation Institute.
The board will review fellowship applications and recommend awards beginning this spring for project initiation in the fall of 2009.