A Volunteer's Thoughts on Conservation Cleaning

By outsiderswithin | 26 September 2014 | 0 Comments

Imagine a tingling down the spine as every brush stroke removes debris particles from books that are more than 100 years old. Then think of the information contained in those books! The tingling turns into a shiver of delight when able to ‘decode’ information and realize the information hidden in the Old Dutch records.

The Conservation Workshop on 13 September 2014 was an experience that I will cherish. Our team was able to clean twelve volumes that morning, including one of the oldest in the archives. Under the watchful eye of Deiter and Keith, we learned the process, from a thorough washing of our hands, followed by white cotton gloves, setting up a workspace with blotting paper, then finally opening one of the special, acid-free boxes and cautiously lifting out the volume. Armed with a chemical free brush, we finally got the go-ahead to begin.

It was exciting, yet very humbling, to clean a book.  Although my volume of church membership records only began in 1843, I could not help wondering about the church secretary. Was the secretary male or female? How old? How long had the secretary been a member? How did anyone maintain such beautiful and artistic handwriting while copying names?  And, in Dutch!

With nudging from project manager Sally, I finally managed to stop trying to read, and focused on the process of cleaning.  With steady brush strokes from bottom to top, the pile of debris particles grew. We learned that the upward brush stroke helps determine how ‘dirty’ a book is. We also learned how to turn pages- not as simple as it sounds- and to clean along the bindings.  My list of do’s and don’ts grew as the cleaning progressed. 

Ultimately, I came to page 734 and the end of the book.   This is not the end of my work with the ELC archives.  My next challenge is to assimilate what I learned and transfer that knowledge to others in the ELC congregation so that they too can experience the wonder of our heritage.

My thanks go out to Sally, Dieter and Keith—and to the Netherlands for recognizing the wealth of information in the ELC archive and so generously donating funding for its conservation.