Library division celebrates 20 years
of restoration and repair
By Jim Schiff / University Record Intern
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.
Anne Ridout, a book binder, sews a book at
the 20th anniversary celebration for the University Library’s
Preservation Division. (Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services)
Now, as the division celebrates its 20th anniversary, it has the
Zeutschel Omniscan 7000, a machine that will revolutionize how information
is stored. Aging, frayed or damaged materials have a place on library
shelves, and now, your computer screen.
The University is among the first in the country to own a Zeutschel,
which digitizes books and documents by scanning 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
In the future, the Zeutschel will replace the microfilm camera
as the primary preservation technique. By digitizing brittle or
frayed books, the 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
Sherrie Schwartz, an electronic scanning technician,
works on the Zeutschel Omniscan 7000, a machine that digitizes
books and documents by scanning images onto a computer. (Photo
by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services)
The Zeutschel is just one cog in the newly streamlined preservation
division. While the camera operators create digital copies, other
library staff members maintain the originals. Each year, some 54,000
volumes pass through commercial binding machines. In addition, dozens
of staff members perform intricate detail work on damaged materials,
which includes anything from the hand sewing of book bindings to
The division also devotes considerable time to its papyrus collection,
the largest in the Western Hemisphere. One of its jewels is a set
of letters written by St. Paul to the Corinthians, dated from the
first century B.C.
Damage to library materials is largely preventable, preservation
staff members say. Shannon Zachary, head of Conservation Services,
stresses their fragility and susceptibility to wear and tear.
"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."
The community saw the many facets of the division at last week's
open house, held in celebration of its 20th anniversary. There,
participants saw how damaged paper is preserved, books are re-bound
and wet pages are dried. Camera operators were there to demonstrate
Zachary hopes the University community recognizes the library's
efforts to organize, distribute, and most of all, preserve thousands
of materials. "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."