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Library's preservation division celebrates 20 years of restoration and repair

Old books do not magically reappear on the shelves like new, say employees of the University Library's Preservation Division. Repairing thousands of volumes requires hours of arduous labor in a building that few members of the U-M community know about or have visited.

The University Library will recognize these efforts at an open house in celebration of the division's 20th anniversary Sept. 18. From 4-8 p.m. in the Buhr Building, the public has the opportunity to see what makes this library system tick.

The system now ticks faster than ever before. A new piece of machinery, the Zeutschel Omniscan 7000, is revolutionizing how information is stored, and the University is among the first in the country to own one. The Zeutschel digitizes books and documents using a new technology that scans images onto a computer. From there, images are sent through an optical character recognition program, using a search engine to locate specific words or passages. The images are catalogued and made accessible to the University community.

In the future, the Zeutschel will replace the microfilm camera as the primary preservation technique. By digitizing brittle or frayed books, this machine ensures that the University always will have a copy. With the proliferation of online course materials, the Zeutschel allows even the oldest sources to be available.

Carla Montori, head of the Preservation Division, sees the Zeutschel as a welcome addition to an already stellar facility.

"We've been fortunate that over the last 20 years, the library and the University have supported the preservation program," she says. "It's a huge commitment of money and expertise, but it's also a huge psychological commitment to say, 'we will have this top-notch preservation program.'"

Open house participants will see the Zeutschel in action. Visitors are encouraged to bring in documents or photos-8-1/2 by 11 inches or smaller-for a demonstration. The camera operator will show how the Zeutschel's measurement tools, book cradle and computer software all work together to produce a single image onscreen. Participants can take a copy of their images home as keepsakes.

In addition to the Zeutschel, Montori and other preservation staff will give demonstrations of other facets of their work. The public will see how damaged paper is preserved, books are re-bound and wet pages are dried. Participants also can view samples of the University's vast collection of papyrus and other early writing material.

Shannon Zachary, head of Conservation Services, also will show participants how to properly care for published materials. She says damage to books is largely preventable, as long as they are used with thoughtfulness.

"It's common sense when you stop to think about it. There's usually a point when you realize how easily things can be damaged," Zachary says. "It's even as easy as what jewelry you're wearing when you're handling a delicate document, because that can catch and tear."

Zachary hopes the open house will be an eye-opening experience for participants. "It's the kind of thing that most people who use the library take for granted," she says. "They don't realize how much meticulous work is involved in getting that product on the shelf."

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