About Sarah Norris

Sarah Norris is Assistant Professor of Practice in Library and Archives Conservation and Preservation at the University of Texas School of Information.

Students Perform Conservation Treatment on Drawings by Charles Stevens Dilbeck

Once again this spring, we’re excited for my Introduction to Paper Conservation class to collaborate with the Alexander Architectural Archives! Students will perform conservation treatment on drawings from the Charles Stevens Dilbeck (1907 – 1990) collection. Dilbeck is best known for his residential designs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He created romantic cottages with French and Irish influences, as well Texas Ranch style houses. His work is documented and explored further by the Dilbeck Architecture Conservancy.

Dilbeck drawing
A Dilbeck drawing is unrolled for initial examination.

Drawings for treatment consist primarily of graphite on tracing paper. As the students develop introductory treatment skills, our group will work to clean, humidify and flatten, and conduct basic mends. In taking these materials from rolled storage to flat storage, we’ll improve accessibility for patrons and enhance future stability and preservation.

A drawing detail highlights the meticulous work of draftsmen in a mid-20th-century architecture firm.

Life in Stereoscope

Three cheers for Life in Stereoscope: Viewable Vistas, Industry, and Family Life, on view at the UT School of Information through November 16. This exhibit is created by the students in my course, Planning and Understanding Exhibits. Every bit of the exhibit is designed and executed by the students, from item selection and narrative flow to writing text; designing for print; building exhibit supports; creating interactive, educational elements; and promoting the exhibit within UT and beyond. Check us out on Instagram!

Special kudos to our web team, who designed our exhibit website using CollectionBuilder. This open-source software is created by the University of Idaho with support from the Institute for Museum and Library Services and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Our class was selected from a competitive pool to provide a test case for this software. The students will provide feedback to help refine this tool that supports the creation of sustainable, digital collections and exhibits.

Special thanks also to visiting stereocard artist Tay Hall, who discussed their process and works at our exhibit reception. Tay’s work demonstrated modern applications for this historical format. Learn more at https://www.tayhallstudio.com/

Disaster Response with the Institute of Classical Archaeology

This semester, students in my Disaster Planning and Response course are lending a hand with a real-life emergency. A water leak at UT’s Institute of Classical Archaeology caused many of their library materials to become waterlogged and moldy. I joined UT Preservation Librarian Brittany Centeno on the scene, where the books had been moved to a nearby room.

Since many of the books were still wet, Brittany and I stood them on end and fanned out the pages, while a facilities manager brought a large fan to increase air circulation. This first step in water disaster response helps decrease the ongoing risk for mold growth.

Drying books
Books are dried on end, while fans (not pictured) increase air circulation.

Then came a discussion with collections caretaker Adam Rabinowitz to determine next steps. Some books were deemed replaceable; others were important to salvage, as they contained scholarship from less accessible regions. Salvage candidates were routed to Brittany’s preservation freezers to halt the progression of water damage. From there, books that were valued primarily for their informational content went for preservation scanning.

The remaining volumes came to my students for mold remediation. Working with a HEPA-filtration vacuum, soot sponges, and brushes, my students practiced their skills removing mold. We also encountered many examples of blocked pages: leaves of clay-coated paper that become irreversibly stuck together after water exposure. This offers the students real-world perspective on what’s achievable through varying methods of disaster response.

Mold remediation
Removing residual mold with a soot sponge. Some books in this collection were salvage priorities because they come from currently inaccessible regions, like Ukraine (pictured here.)

We’re so glad for this opportunity to work with Adam and Brittany as our students prepare for their own careers as librarians, archivists, and preservation professionals!

Conservation Treatment: McDonald Observatory Drawing

This semester, I was pleased to conduct conservation treatment on an architectural drawing of the McDonald Observatory, a leading center for astronomical research and teaching located in the Davis Mountains of West Texas. This 25″ x 42″ charcoal and graphite drawing, made by University of Texas architects in 1934, is housed at the Alexander Architectural Archives here at the University of Texas.

The drawing had several condition issues when it entered the lab. A large tear extended up the center of the drawing, nearly separating the paper in two. The tear had been previously repaired with pressure-sensitive tape, which had become browned and embrittled over time. The tape repair was visible through the drawing’s thin tracing paper. The tear was misaligned along the tape repair, causing gaps in the image and text, as well as rippling from stress in the paper. Creases and grime had resulted from handling. The charcoal had offset during direct contact with storage materials.

Tape removal
Removing discolored tape
Mending the tear on the light table to ensure proper alignment

During treatment, the drawing underwent surface cleaning and several rounds of humidification and flattening to reduce grime and creasing. The discolored tape was removed manually, with controlled application of moisture to soften areas of stiff adhesive. The tear was realigned and mended with heat-set tissue to minimize water exposure to the moisture-sensitive tracing paper. Wheat starch paste was added in small mended areas to improve strength.

Last, a sink mat was constructed to safely house the drawing. The deep walls of the mat hold its cover sheet away from the drawing to prevent further media offset. Acid-free corrugated board was used for structural elements to provide stiffness with minimal weight. A second ply of board, applied cross-grained, was added to support this oversize drawing.

Many thanks to the Alexander Architectural Archives for the chance to work on this beautiful drawing!

Sound and Media Artist Holland Hopson Visits Algorithmic Assemblages Exhibit

This spring, INF 386E, Planning and Understanding Exhibits, created the exhibit Algorithmic Assemblages: Do Machines Dream of Art?.

Drawings that represent Roller skating covering Hypogean fishes, a student artwork featured in our class exhibit
Drawings that represent Roller skating covering Hypogean fishes, a student artwork featured in our class exhibit

This exhibit featured the data-based artwork A Work of Art for Every Entry in Index – Subjects – Library of Congress by sound and media artist Holland Hopson.  The artwork generates descriptions of non-existent artworks by using actual Library of Congress terminology; our students then created real artworks based on these fabricated descriptions.  We were so pleased to host Holland at our exhibit closing reception, and to work with him throughout the semester!

Exhibit closing reception on April 13, 2023
Exhibit closing reception on April 13, 2023

Holland also presented two talks while visiting us here at UT: “Listening as a Creative Act,” sponsored by the Bureau for Experimental Ethnography and “Data as Medium,” sponsored by UT’s Visual Arts Center.  Thanks to Marina Peterson and MacKenzie Stevens for coordinating these talks, and to Holland for being our visiting artist!

Austin Edible Book Festival

Last weekend marked the 20th anniversary of the Austin Edible Book Festival! This April Fools’ Day tradition showcases serious fun, as local bibliophiles create edible books to compete for prizes and glory. 

What’s an edible book?  It’s anything that’s edible, based on a book title, and likely includes a pun.  Inspired by the International Edible Book Festival, Austin’s event keeps it weird by offering the unique opportunity to literally eat one’s words.

Austin Edible Book Festival is sponsored by the Austin Book Arts Center and the University of Texas Student Chapter of the Society of American Archivists.  The event also featured the City of Austin Office of Sustainability, discussing their work creating a healthy and just local food system.

Student Conservation Treatments for Spring 2023

Students in INF 393C, Introduction to Paper Conservation, are excited to apply their treatment skills to two groups of drawings from the Alexander Architectural Archives this spring!  Throughout the course, students learn foundational treatment skills through work on practice materials, and then complete one full treatment on archives materials.

Roy Thomas Architectural Drawing
Student treatment project: architectural drawing by Roy Thomas for Austin’s Kealing Middle School, 1929.

The first group of tracing paper drawings features the original design for Kealing Middle School here in Austin.  The plans were created by architect Roy Thomas, who designed residential, public, and commercial structures in Central Texas from the 1920s – 1950s.  Kealing opened in 1930 as the first junior high for African American students in Austin.  The school closed in 1971 during desegregation.  The original building was razed after a fire in 1983, and Kealing’s current building opened in 1986.

Nicholas Clayton Architectural Drawing
Student treatment project: architectural drawing by Nicholas Clayton for a public school building in Galveston, TX, ca. 1898.

The second group of tracing paper drawings features a number of Galveston buildings designed by architect Nicholas Clayton.  Clayton was one of the first professional architects to become established in Texas.  He’s best known for his work in Galveston between 1873 – 1900, during that city’s heyday as a center of trade and commerce, and the largest city in Texas.  It is likely that the water damage on the students’ drawings came from the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, still the most deadly natural disaster in US history.

We are so pleased to work once again with the Alexander Architectural Archives on these hands-on student experiences!

Join SAA!

The UT Student Chapter of the Society of American Archivists is excited to start our 30th year as a student organization. This semester, we are planning to tour local repositories, network with the wider Austin archivist community, and host a study group for the Certified Archivist Exam. We’re even looking to bring back the one and only Edible Book Festival!

Joining SAA is a great way to meet colleagues and build experience in the archives field. There are no dues this year. To sign up, contact us at saautx@gmail.com. You can also join our listserv at https://utlists.utexas.edu/sympa/info/saa-ut-students.

We hope to see you at an SAA event soon!


All Dolled Up: Playing with Identity in 1940s Paper Dolls

Three cheers to the students in INF 386E, Planning and Understanding Exhibits, who successfully launched their class exhibit on paper dolls. Titled All Dolled Up: Playing with Identity in 1940s Paper Dolls, the exhibit explores issues of power and agency; identity and play; gender roles during wartime; and big-screen celebrity. Today’s opening reception featured 1940s-themed music, food, and dancing. The exhibit will be on display in the UTA building now through December 1, 2022. Many thanks to UT’s School of Human Ecology for the chance to work with this fascinating collection.

See our press coverage in Austin Monthly, CultureMap Austin, and Glasstire.

And be sure to also visit the exhibit online!

Exhibit window
All Dolled Up explores play and power in 1940s paper dolls.
Lindy Hop dance steps.
Visitors can learn the Lindy Hop with vinyl dance steps on the floor.
Activity table
Create your own paper doll bookmark, and test your skills finding a doll in the exhibit.
Rita Hayworth cutout
Pose as Rita Hayworth in The Loves of Carmen
Reception table with Jell-o salads
Reception table featuring Jellied Egg Salad and Orange Dream, two 1940s Jell-o molded salad recipes.

Old Wives’ Tales and Urban Legends: a Connecting to Collections Care Webinar

We’ve all heard them: homespun tips and tricks about caring for books, photos, and personal keepsakes. Can you clean a painting with bread? Can you remove highlighter from a textbook with lemon juice? On Friday, 11/4, from noon – 1 PM Central, I’ll join a panel of experts in a free, online webinar, “Old Wives’ Tales and Urban Legends,” hosted by the Connecting to Collections Care online community. C2CCare provides preservation resources, professional development, and support for small and mid-sized cultural institutions.

This webinar is part of #AskaConservator Day, when conservators take to social media and other outlets to raise awareness and engage with the public. Hope to see you there!

Join us for a Connecting to Collections Care webinar: November 4 at noon Central.