Most Wilson Library visitors are familiar with the Fearrington Reading Room, but there is another room just down the hallway that plays a pivotal role in maintaining the integrity of the library’s extensive collection.
The Conservation Lab is where conservation technician Sam Huener and other members of the team repair special collections materials in Wilson Library. The Conservation Laboratory, built with generous donations from University Library supporters, provides a spacious and well-equipped environment in which to carry out the broad range of book and paper conservation treatments demanded by the Library’s rich and diverse collections.
They work on everything from historic documents that tell the story of North Carolina and the South to rare books that chronicle human endeavors over centuries.
“A lot of the work is problem-solving, and there’s a high level of detail that’s put into thinking about these enclosures and how items might be stored optimally,” said Huener. “The process varies a lot depending on the item, and it’s a fun part of the job, figuring out how to make it happy on the shelf — or as happy as it can be.”
In addition to repairing documents, Huener also points to environmental monitoring as a necessary component of keeping the collections protected. Thermostats throughout areas where library collections are housed must be constantly checked to ensure a stable temperature and humidity.
The Conservation Lab’s work is critical for preserving the documents that help learners and researchers engage with history.
“Part of the appeal of visiting special collections, especially as an undergrad, is to see a piece of paper with handwriting on it from 1720 or whenever,” Huener said. “It can be a visceral experience to have the material culture right there and interact with it.”