Anything might show up at the Hatcher Graduate Library for the annual public Preservation Clinic: a pair of hand-colored 19th-century photo portraits framed in glass domes, artwork accidentally run over by a car or a photo album coated in mold.

But U-M Library preservation experts also see stained immigration papers, yellowed wedding certificates and bundles of letters, some dating to the Civil War, lovingly kept by great and great-great grandchildren.

From these descendants, library preservation staff members also hear stories behind the documents.

“That’s happened many times,” says Shannon Zachary, head of the library’s Department of Preservation and Conservation. “Every object has a story.”

Senior Coservator Leyla Lau-Lamb, center, takes a look at an old photo album. (Photo by Jeff Gilboe)

The department coordinates preservation, binding, book repair and conservation for the U-M Library. From 2:30-4:30 p.m. May 18, faculty, staff and the public are again invited to the annual walk-in Preservation Clinic in the Library Gallery.

“We frequently get photo albums, books, often a book that an ancestor brought to this country when they first emigrated,” Zachary says. She also teaches library and archive preservation as an adjunct lecturer in the School of Information.

how to preserve items

• Protect valued books, documents, or photographs from dust, light and physical stress by putting them in envelopes or boxes. Avoid attics, which get hot, and basements, which get damp.

• Even with good storage, analog audiotapes, cassettes, VHS tapes and, to some extent, LPs can deteriorate rapidly and become obsolete. The only practical preservation strategy is to digitize them, but be aware and look into best practices for digitization and for preserving digital files.

• Digital files can be fragile. Identify files with descriptive names, record when and where pictures are taken and identify subjects. Use popular file formats such as JPEGs or TIFFs instead of a camera’s proprietary format. Create backups to a hard drive in a remote location or to cloud storage or both. Move important files to new storage media every few years.

— From The U-M Library Department of Preservation & Conservation

The U-M Library is interested in preserving public collections in libraries and archives, and also those held and loved by individuals, families and communities. Conservators stress that personal memories and treasures contribute to the understanding of history and people just as collections in libraries and museums do.

Preserving these treasures creates opportunities for future generations to discover their own histories, and perhaps even contribute to the historical record of a time, place, or event. At the clinic, experts from the U-M Library are available for one-on-one consultations to give advice about caring for treasured items.

The preservation specialists encourage the public to bring in items likely to be found in a library. This includes books, documents, maps, posters, audio recordings and videotape. The public can also ask about preserving digital files. Staff from the library’s digital conversion unit will be available to talk about scanning personal photos and documents.

About 10 library staff members are typically on hand for the event. It has drawn up to 50 attendees each year since its inception in 2010, Zachary says.

“We’ve had people bring in works of art or signed books by popular authors, first editions or art books, and military discharge papers. People have brought in music scores that are falling apart through everyday use. They ask us what to do so they can continue to use them,” she says.

Books from the late 19th century are also brought in, some with decorated celluloid covers. “They bring in fascinating family photographs, generations of parents and children, holiday events and vacation snaps,” Zachary says. If an item — such as the Japanese sword once carried to the event — fall outside of library staff members’ area of expertise, staff will try to connect them to specialists suited to the material.

This event is offered in conjunction with the American Library Association’s Preservation Week, a national initiative to connect people with resources to preserve cultural heritage.