Preserving Scrapbooks Through “Save America’s Treasures” Grant Award

smaller_hewitt_press_0Rare 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 Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book 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).

The African-American scrapbook collection is housed at the Emory University Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL), in the R.W. Woodruff Library. It consists of dozens of scrapbooks and memorabilia albums. We received a National Park Service “Save America’s Treasures” grant to address thirty-four of our African American collection scrapbooks, created by ordinary and extraordinary people between 1880 and 1980. This span of almost one hundred years describes a slice of American life that is often overlooked in scrapbook form. This is a bold undertaking for the Conservation team and MARBL staff who have been hesitant to address the myriad problems presented by scrapbooks. In our grant, we will be concerned with preserving the materials as best as possible, while simultaneously preserving the scrapbook experience, two aspects that often do not pair well and evidenced by the poor condition of many of these scrapbooks.

Turning the pages of the scrapbooks and absorbing the memorabilia within each one is like having a conversation with the author. The deliberate process of making the scrapbook becomes visible. The striking thoughtfulness with which each book is created, the decisions and choices, the construction and importance of each addition, all come together as one unit, no matter how unpolished. It is what levels the playing field among these individuals, famous and not-so-famous.

From a conservation perspective, our treatment process will vary with each scrapbook, as no two are alike. The whole collection will be digitized for future research and scholarship in the Digital Curation Center (DCC) at the Emory University Woodruff Library; however, some of the albums will need to be stabilized before scanning can occur. Therefore, each book will have a unique set of considerations, while many may be treated, scanned, and require nothing more. We will approach this project one book at a time.

Page detail from Miller's Scrapbook

Page detail from Miller’s Scrapbook

The first scrapbook that we repaired was created by Flournoy Miller (1887-1971), an African American, vaudevillian entertainer whose career began in the late 1920’s, often performing in black face. He is best known as an actor, entertainer and playwright. Langston Hughes credited Miller’s production, Shuffle Along, as marking the starting point of the Harlem Renaissance, a considerable claim to fame. The fifty-four pages of his oversized scrapbook are extremely brittle. Each page is covered front and back with newspaper clippings of the time, adding another layer of acidic and brittle material. The book itself is completely in pieces and needs to be stabilized before any further treatment can be done.

There were a number of broken pages, missing pieces, and necessary repairs to be done. We decided that each page would be encapsulated between two layers of preservation Mylar (we actually are using DuPont’s Melinex #516), allowing each page to float in a completely protected environment. The pages were made with extra margin on the left, allowing enough room for a final post-binding of the original covers and all pages, together in newly constructed covers. Post-bindings are a typical structure used in conservation, binding all pages together with screw posts and allowing for a flexible spine.

To date, the scrapbook of Flournoy Miller has been repaired, loose items reunited in their original location and fully-encapsulated. Currently, it is being digitized by DCC. Afterward, custom-made covers will be created and attached to the original scrapbook pages, restoring the scrapbook experience for future researchers. Each finished scrapbook will be boxed individually, rehoused in a custom-sized protective enclosure, and archived in the Special Collections—Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Library (MARBL)—at Emory.

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