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.

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.

Disasters Students Visit Austin Fire Department

This week, students in my Disaster Planning and Response course kicked off our fire unit with a visit to the Austin Fire Department training facility. Arson investigator Nick Ganci and firefighters set up a burn cell modeled after a small apartment, complete with drywall and furniture. Students then placed deaccessioned library books in various locations around the room. The fire began with a candle placed too close to a curtain. As the fire grew, we learned about the ways heat, air flow, construction techniques, and materials impacted its course. Once the fire was extinguished and the site was safe, we collected the books to bring back to the lab.

The Austin Fire Department hosted a burn cell for iSchool students.

During our visit, Ganci introduced us to the fundamentals of firefighter training. He also discussed how his team uses physical evidence to evaluate likely scenarios about a fire’s origin and progression. This was a great opportunity for students to learn about communicating with first-responders and protecting cultural heritage collections.

Before fire
Before fire: placing books in the burn cell.
After fire
After fire: the same corner.

Next week, the students will practice removing soot and ash from burned volumes by using a HEPA vacuum and soot sponges. With the context this hands-on experience provides, we’ll then practice making judgment calls about when to salvage and when to replace materials. This exercise underscores the importance of planning and prevention in managing fire risk.

Salvaged books waiting for cleaning.

Many thanks to Nick Ganci and the Austin Fire Department crew who so generously gave their time and good-naturedly answered our many questions! Also thanks to our book donors: Kate Slaten and Erin Tigelaar (who joined us for the event!) from the Brentwood Elementary School Library and Jeff Newberry from UT’s Collections Deposit Library.

Let’s Make Some Paper!

This week, students in my course INF 393C Preservation Science and Practice tried their hand at making paper. Paper is made from a vat of macerated cellulose fibers in water.

Our papermaking set-up: the white tubs hold macerated paper fibers in water.

When a thin slurry of fibers is deposited on a screen, the fibers begin to undergo hydrogen bonding. This bonding, along with physical entanglement, is what creates a sheet of paper.

Cellulose molecules are combined to create a sheet of paper. The dotted lines represent hydrogen bonds.

As we learn in class, a great deal of activity can occur over time at these hydrogen bonding sites. Hydrogen bonds are weak bonds, and they’re prone to break in the presence of pollutants, atmospheric moisture, light, and other agents. When they break, the cellulose strands shorten, and the paper gradually becomes fragile and brittle. Through the preservation measures studied in class, we aim to slow down this process and prolong the lifetime of cultural materials.

Students’ handmade paper undergoes hydrogen bonding on the drying rack.

Welcome Back, Students!

We’re so pleased to welcome students back for the Fall Term 2022 here at the School of Information! In the labs, I’ll be teaching Preservation Science and Practice, Disaster Planning and Response, and Planning and Understanding Exhibits. We’ll also be supporting Preservation Management with Rebecca Elder. We’ve got lots of great projects planned, from practicing mold remediation on collections materials from Huston-Tillotson University; to completing an onsite risk assessment at the Textiles and Apparel Collection from the School of Human Ecology here at UT; to exhibiting celebrity paper dolls from the 1950s! We’re also starting work on a collaboration with UT’s Historic Preservation Program in Architecture to investigate climate-ready storage for library and archives collections.

Welcome back, students: let’s get started!

Photographic Slides from a Texas Architect

This spring, I was pleased to work with a folder of materials from UT’s Alexander Architectural Archives.  These materials came from the Boone Powell collection.  Powell was a 20th-century Texas architect with notable work in Austin and San Antonio.  He was project architect for the Tower of the Americas; in 1968, this was the tallest observation tower in the Western Hemisphere.  This folder details his 1981-83 designs for the Texas Republic Bank and associated office buildings in San Antonio.

The most delicate part of this treatment was four sheets of photographic slides that had been stored in non-archival plastic protectors.  The protector sheets had discolored and warped, and had stuck to the photos’ image areas.  Working with magnification, and alternating between transmitted and raking light, I used a microspatula to mechanically release the slides from the plastic sheets.  I then used gentle brushes and a soot sponge to remove adhered grime, and stored the slides in new protector sheets made of archival PET plastic.

Cleaning a photographic slide removed from non-archival housing.

We were fortunate that this treatment didn’t require heat, cold, or humidification, which might have required consultation with a photo conservator!  When storing photographic slides at home, similar damage can often be avoided by using archival-quality sleeves or PET, Mylar, of Melinex plastic; and storing materials in conditions controlled for human comfort (no attics, basements, or storage buildings.)

Celebrating Preservation Week at the Austin Archives Bazaar

It’s Preservation Week! This annual event, sponsored by the American Library Association, celebrates the ways in which institutions and individuals work to prolong the lifetime of cultural materials. It’s a time for outreach and education, and we’re excited to be a part of it.

This year, I was so pleased to work with colleagues from the School of Information and the Harry Ransom Center at the Austin Archives Bazaar, an annual event highlighting archival repositories here in Austin. At the Preservation Station, we chatted with visitors about how to preserve personal and family keepsakes, from books and photos to recordings and blogs. This year’s Archives Bazaar was emceed by Chet Garner from PBS’ The Daytripper at Austin Beer Garden Brewing. Thanks to our organizers for a fun afternoon talking archives and preservation!

At the 2022 Austin Archives Bazaar. Photo: Jennifer Hecker.

On My Desk Stat! Paper Copying in a Changing Workplace

On Friday, April 15, students in my course INF 386E Planning and Understanding Exhibits celebrated the opening of their class exhibit. On My Desk Stat! Paper Copying in a Changing Workplace documents copying processes from the 19th – 21st centuries and considers their impact on human health and safety, on waste in the environment, and on gender in the workplace.

Promotional flyer for On My Desk Stat!

The opening event was a fun way to re-connect with colleagues as we took in the exhibit, enjoyed snacks, played a beat-the-typist game featuring a real typewriter, and tested our knowledge in copying trivia to win iSchool mugs, water bottles, and t-shirts. We were so pleased to host visitors from UT and beyond at this event.

Students, faculty, and visitors at our opening event. Photo: Abi Glasser.

Our students have worked hard on every part of this exhibit, from choosing items and crafting narrative to writing text, building web presence, promoting the event, building display elements, and much more. The exhibit is on display on the first floor of the UTA building through 4/28, and you can catch the exhibit online and see updates on Instagram. Congratulations, students!

Behind the scenes during exhibit installation. Photo: Abi Glasser.

Planet Texas 2050 Resilience Symposium

I was pleased to participate this week in the Planet Texas 2050 Resilience Research Symposium.  At this multi-disciplinary event, I shared our preservation students’ work in climate risk mapping for Texas archives.  We revisit this project with a new climate focus each semester in my Disaster Planning and Response class.

At the event, an engaging array of scholars approached climate research from broadly varied perspectives.  Focuses included community resilience planning; regional shifts in communicable diseases; and current and historical impacts on plant and animal life.   Most attendees were new to the preservation of cultural collections, so this was a great opportunity to build new connections.

Many thanks to Jonathan Lowell, Heidi Schmalbach, and the Planet Texas team for organizing this event.

Texas archives institutions mapped with 2-foot, 4-foot, and 6-foot sea level rise.

Media Testing

In my Introduction to Paper Conservation class, we’re preparing for media testing this week. Media testing is an important first step in any conservation treatment involving water. With careful testing, you’ll determine whether inks and colorants are water-soluble, and whether they’re potentially endangered by a proposed treatment.

Our students will practice their technique on these test swatches before working on archival materials.

Swatches are prepared for media testing. These samples feature watercolor, highlighter marker, black and red ballpoint pen, graphite, and pastel.