Conservation, Imaging, and Access

Completing the Iraqi Jewish Archive Preservation Project

The third and final phase of the Iraqi Jewish Archive Preservation Project (Phase 3) was funded in 2011 by the Department of State with $2.98 million to achieve the following goals:

  • Cataloging:  Complete cataloging of the collection and refine the database information.
  • Conservation: Provide conservation treatment to complete stabilization and allow for safe handling during digitization, and, as needed, more extensive treatment for selected items to permit exhibition.
  • Digitization: Image all documents and selected books, and develop associated metadata.
  • Exhibition: Create an exhibit in English and Arabic to be shown at the National Archives in Washington, DC, and in Iraq. The exhibition Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage provides a fascinating window on the books and documents in the collection; the work to preserve them; and the long, vibrant history of the Iraqi Jewish community.
  • Access: Create a web site to provide access to the database that documents the entire contents of the Iraqi Jewish Archive that will be completed mid-2014.
  • Fellowships: Provide fellowships for Iraqi conservation professionals to assist in preserving the collection, and to support long-term care of the Iraqi Jewish Archive.
  • Safe Transport: Box, crate, and return the materials to Iraq. Custom boxes for each book, made with a computer-driven box-making machine, will help contain any residual debris, and, equally important for the mold-damaged materials, provide an environmental buffer against fluctuating temperature and relative humidity. Boxing individual books will protect them during transport to Iraq and enhance long-term storage and access.

Project Staffing

The Department of State funding enabled the National Archives to hire an excellent team of 10 full-time staff to execute the final phase over a two- to three-year period, ending in 2014:

  • A project manager who managed the day-to-day project and its many parts.
  • Conservation staff: Two conservators and two conservation technicians who did conservation work and provided custom housings.
  • A Hebraic librarian who developed cataloging information, integrated work done by part-time staff with Arabic language expertise, and provided assistance and guidance in developing item-level priorities and creating metadata.
  • Preservation imaging staff: Two imaging specialists and three imaging technicians who selected digitization equipment, developed efficient work flows and protocols appropriate to project goals, and carried out the digitization and the technical quality control.

Several National Archives staff have provided ongoing oversight, direction, and support throughout the project.

refer to captionEnlarge Video Clip: Behind The Scenes - Conservation Lab

Phase 3 of the IJA Preservation Project was carried out during the period January 2012 through June 2014. A team of conservators and conservator technicians was hired to carry out the work necessary to prepare materials for digitization, exhibition, and ultimately for safe transport back to Iraq.

Though minimal cleaning had been done in Phase 2 of the project, the majority of the collection still had extensive dormant mold. To confine the dirt and mold, and to protect staff, each IJA item was opened in a fume hood and examined to assess its treatment needs and to capture any additional bibliographic information that could be revealed.

refer to captionEnlargeWater-damaged archival records were often distorted and required careful handling to permit assessment and further treatment

refer to captionEnlargeWorking in a fume hood, materials selected for digitization were thoroughly cleaned using a HEPA-filtered vacuum and small brushes

All books and documents that were digitized were vacuumed to permit safe handing for the next steps in the project: conservation treatment, digitization, and exhibition of selected materials. During the cleaning process, pages that were adhered together were mechanically separated. Attachments, such as revenue stamps, that had floated off during the flood were re-attached in their original locations when there was evidence to permit that; otherwise such items were placed in polyester sleeves and kept in their original file locations.

refer to captionEnlargeBooks posed treatment challenges given the condition of text pages and the wide variety of binding structures present in the collection

refer to captionEnlargeGiven their vulnerability to water, many photographs attached to school records fared poorly in the flood

Following mold remediation, the primary goal of conservation was to stabilize materials to permit safe handling during imaging and to digitally capture as much information as possible. Tears and losses that extended into text or that caused structural weakness were mended or filled using conservation-quality long-fibered papers and stable adhesives. To eliminate harsh contrast between mends and book and document pages, mends were color toned to appear less starkly white and more neutral.

Book leaves were treated following the same treatment protocols as loose archival documents. Except for books included in the exhibit, damaged book covers and binding structures were not repaired. To permit imaging of tightly bound volumes, sewing threads were sparingly cut or loosened to permit books to open more fully while retaining bound structures.

refer to caption