By Kim Norman, Conservator, Emory University Libraries Preservation Office
Rare scrapbooks that document African American life in the United States from 1890-1975 are being preserved with support through a “Save America’s Treasures” (SAT) grant. The project is a collaborative effort with Emory University Preservation Office, Digitization Center, and the Manuscripts, Archive, and Rare Books Library (MARBL). The SAT grant is awarded through the Department of Interior and the National Park Service, in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
Reverend Ollie James Turner was born in Penn Station, Lowndes County, Mississippi on Oct 11, 1894. He was ordained as a Baptist minister at the age of sixteen, and in 1916, he earned his Bachelor of Theology degree at Mississippi Baptist Seminary. Turner married Martha Gamble in 1917, and they had eleven children. He was honored to be a 33rd-degree Mason, a Shriner, and was very active in the religious and educational communities of Mississippi. Turner spent his entire life participating in a wide variety of service work and as an advocate for youth welfare.
Turner’s scrapbook spans his life and service, covering decades of his family history, travel experiences, and dedicated pastoral career. Empty file folders were used to create the scrapbook pages with photographs and printed ephemera taped onto the four surfaces of each folder. There are eighteen file folders, and as four-page folios each, this totals seventy-two pages in Turner’s scrapbook.
When compared to the other scrapbooks in this collection, Turner’s is unique in its convention, structure, and appearance. This scrapbook apparently was created with found supplies or materials on-hand, the overall appearance being simultaneously that of disarray and artistic intention. The majority of items taped into the scrapbook pages were affixed with pressure-sensitive, masking, and packing tape, predominantly yellowed and releasing from the folders as the adhesives fail over time. Approximately sixteen loose, yet unlabeled, photographs were added between pages throughout the scrapbook.
From a conservation perspective, the fragile pages and attached items must be stabilized before digital scanning can occur. Each page, or file folder surface, will be scanned exactly as it is, in order to preserve the overall creative experience of the scrapbook. It is important that future library patrons and researchers are able to appreciate the original structure.
The most personal and specific items in Turner’s scrapbook are his various certificates: birth, baptism, ordination, ministry, marriage, Masonic, social security, and death certificate. These items form a snapshot of his life, signifying what he valued and where he chose to dedicate his time. Some items in the scrapbook pertain to the announcement of his death (the certificate and funeral program), and obviously were not added by Turner. The unanswerable question remains whether this scrapbook was originally created by Turner or simply maintained by someone else, even after he died.
Though there are standard conservation practices for removing all types of adhesives, the question to conservators often centers on the time necessary for these treatments and the overall value of performing them. Removing tape from these pages and items would
put them at a high risk for damage. Does it make sense to risk damaging the individual photos and ephemera? If so, to what end? Is it important to remove all the tape for the sake of protecting the original materials? Would it be just as well to stabilize the item and its parts, scan each page as it currently exists, and rehouse the original item for future protection?
It is common for scrapbooks held in library collections to be rehoused or boxed for protection without any further conservation treatment. In fact, some archives purposely restrict the use of scrapbooks in order to postpone complicated treatment decisions.
Reverend Ollie Turner’s scrapbook will be a challenging test-case for answering some of these conservation questions and establishing precedents for other institutions to consider when weighing treatment options.
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