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Pages from the Past

A chat with a former classmate can revive hundreds of personal memories, but it takes a staff of six to preserve the institutional memory of a 143-year-old university. A dozen alums who toured the MIT libraries during reunion weekend were treated to a conservation demonstration by the libraries preservation services staff, which maintains the condition of all of the items in the libraries, including 45,000 rare books and historical Institute records.

In the Conservation Laboratory tucked away in the basement of Hayden Library, wooden sewing frames and iron book pressesstill used to refurbish old bookssit near computers, digital cameras, and microscopes. The lab, which was expanded significantly in 2002, is a place where old or damaged books can be stripped into individual pages, repaired, and reassembled. During the tour, preservation experts showed off some of their new equipment, including a washing station where pages are soaked and then carefully dried, a fume hood where staff can safely remove mold from pages, and a suction table that functions like an air hockey table in reverse, drawing out stubborn stains and adhesives from old paper.

The tour also featured a sampling of rare books from MITs archives and special collections and an introduction to DSpace, MITs ambitious digital archiving project.

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