Making Collections Accessible: The New York Academy of Medicine Library’s Health Pamphlet Collection

By Katarzyna Bator, Collections Care Assistant, Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory

Every library is likely to find parts of its collection in need of protective enclosures and unique storage solutions. As part of our responsibility for the physical care of the collections at The New York Academy of Medicine, staff in the Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory routinely engages in large-scale rehousing projects. One such project currently underway is rehousing the library’s Health Pamphlet Collection. We estimate the project will take up to three years to complete.

The Health Pamphlet Collection consists of 19th– and early 20th-century health-related publications in many languages. It covers a wide range of topics, such as nutrition, proper hygiene, exercise, as well as medical innovations and research.

A damaged document box housing health pamphlets.

A damaged document box housing health pamphlets.

Approximately 50,000 health pamphlets are currently housed in acidic envelopes or plastic bags. These are in oversized boxes too big for the compact shelving unit on which they are stored. This limits accessibility, as the compact shelving cannot move properly, leaving little room for a librarian to retrieve each box from the shelf. In addition, each box is heavy and overstuffed with materials. This puts the pamphlets at risk of damage during storage and retrieval, and is problematic for staff who have to move and transport heavy boxes for patron use.

Previous storage space, with overstuffed document boxes.

Previous storage space, with overstuffed document boxes.

As part of the rehousing efforts for this collection, staff members place each pamphlet in an archival envelope with a 10-point folder stock insert for additional support, and then into a custom-made enclosure. The design of the enclosure is borrowed from the New-York Historical Society Library’s conservation laboratory. It is economic, sturdy, easy to make, and most importantly allows for safe and easy access to the collection.

Storage space with rehoused pamphlets

Storage space with rehoused pamphlets

The process of rehousing a collection involves more than simply making new enclosures and moving items to a new space. In order to make the Health Pamphlet Collection more accessible, staff members also dry clean each item with soot sponges—absorbent vulcanized rubber dirt erasers— and assess them for other conservation treatment needs, which they record in a spreadsheet to address as needed over time. In addition, a volunteer is creating an accurate inventory of all of the pamphlets to aid in future cataloging updates.

The Health Pamphlet Collection contains a wealth of information for researchers; through this project, conservation staff hopes to guarantee its accessibility to patrons both today and for generations to come.

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