Boston Medical Library Preservation Project

By , September 2, 2011

Earlier this year, staff at the Center for the History of Medicine undertook a preservation survey of Boston Medical Library (BML) material held at the Center. In March 2011, staff began by checking volumes against a shelf list of over 1,000 B MS b and 1.K call numbers (those which refer to bound or single item BML manuscript collections), selecting volumes in need of preservation, and measuring the selected volumes so enclosures could be ordered.

Items were selected for rehousing on a “worst case” basis: volumes with ripped spines, loose covers, torn pages, or other clear damage such as degraded leather covers were selected first. Volumes which were in danger of being damaged – small volumes pressed by larger neighbors or volumes that could not sit evenly on the shelf due to irregular covers – were selected second.

The majority of the 1.K volumes were already damaged or were being damaged by their neighbors on the shelf. The 1.Ks included volumes of diverse sizes that had been shelved together and were pushing each other out of alignment, leaning on each other, or shelved too tightly. Many volumes were tied together with cotton tape or housed in insufficient enclosures; volumes were in danger of losing covers or spines when they were taken from the shelf. Some volumes had shifted out of correct call number order because the spine labels were missing, illegible, or in some cases because spines were missing entirely.

Because of their condition, the 1.Ks were selected for rehousing before the B MS bs. The first 141 enclosures were ordered from CMI, a manufacturer of preservation quality archival enclosures, at the end of March. When the enclosures arrived, staff had finished the shelf survey of approximately 1,016 BML volumes and were cataloging items which had no record in the library’s catalog, HOLLIS. The project was then split between cataloging and rehousing volumes. Volumes were enclosed, relabeled, and replaced on the shelf in correct call number order. The shelves were cleaned as volumes were rehoused; old enclosures or tapes were discarded; and bookends were added to ensure volumes were properly braced. Over the course of the project from March to June, 468 enclosures were ordered and 202 volumes rehoused as described above.

The cataloging project was ongoing with the rehousing through April, May, and June; Center staff created catalog records for volumes not on the shelf survey list and not in the library catalog. This process involved using original card catalogs as sources for new catalog records. If there was a card entry available, staff used it as the basis for a new record. If there was no card entry, a catalog record was created from scratch, determining creator, title, a physical description, summary, and subject headings from the volume itself.

During the course of the survey, over 1,000 volumes were surveyed; over 200 rehoused; and new catalog records for 263 BML volumes are now available to users of the HOLLIS Harvard University Libraries catalog.

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