Thursday, April 30, 2015

Spring cleaning in the Historical Collections & Archives!

This week we have a guest post from our AAOF grant-funded project student assistants, Lacey Legel and Ashley Ehmig.

Finally, after a year and a half of hunting through randomly placed boxes, we (student assistants Ashley Ehmig and Lacey Legel) reorganized the Child Study Clinic Records, housed in the Old Library. Hurray! The Child Growth Clinic Records is a set of mixed longitudinal radiograph records, teeth casts, medical, dental & miscellaneous patient data, with doctor’s notes and records collected by the OHSU Child Clinic from the early 1950s through the late 1970s. The collection includes 357 subjects, aged 2-28 (with 20 sets of twins or triplets), most of whom reported to the clinic biannually until at least the age of 18. The records, which have a history of heavy use by the dental students, were originally kept in a dusty area of the basement at the old OHSU School of Dentistry building - disorganized, unlabeled and with no formal access policy for this unique historical collection. After much labor from HC&A staff in 2013, the collection was archivally boxed, labeled, and transferred to its new home…a room we ominously call “The Tower.” Just getting the 300+ boxes labeled and moved was a monumental task & prior to the recent reorganization boxes containing models, radiographs, and miscellaneous records were all mixed in with one another in no particular order, making it a time-consuming chore to locate records. Now it is a beautiful masterpiece of order and logic. 

Entrance to the Tower

Back Corner of the Tower

The storage space consists of 16 bays, with 10 shelves in each bay. Each shelf can hold from 1-3 boxes of records. The space itself is fairly small and more than half the room is very poorly lit (as illustrated by the image above of the back corner). We are accustomed to using flashlights to hunt for records. Each radiograph box can weigh a ridiculous 40-70 lbs, while each model box tends to weigh in at a respectable 15-40 lbs. We counted 94 boxes of radiographs, 98 boxes of models, and 108+ boxes of miscellaneous objects and records (including human remains, photographs and negatives, specific research data created by the resident doctors, etc.). When we set out to plan our rearrangement, as the individuals who currently access these records on a regular basis for an AAOF grant project, we had several concerns we wished to address. The considerable weight of the radiograph boxes make them both difficult and dangerous to access when they are stored on the higher shelves. Current lighting toward the back of the room also makes searching for records challenging. Since these are the records that we currently work with & expect to need access to until the end of the project, we wanted to make this particular portion of the collection both easier and safer to use. 

We first counted and recorded all the boxes in each subset of the collection & then created a numbered map of the shelving space, discovering in the process that we had roughly 35 free “spaces” within the room. We then moved the various related collections into the darkest back corner of the room since these records are rarely accessed for this grant-funded project. With our little bit of extra space, we decided to leave the very top shelf of all the remaining bays empty for the sake of both safety and convenience. We then decided that the model collection should take up the next 3 highest shelves across the remaining bays because they tend to be lighter and we know we have completed work with that particular collection. That left the bottom 6 shelves available for housing the radiographs- making all of them accessible without the need for a ladder or step stool. We then assigned the boxes in glorious numerical order to their specific shelf placements using an Excel spreadsheet - and from there it was like putting together a giant, physically-exhausting puzzle.

We both got our cardio workouts in for a few weeks there, climbing the access stairs to relocate over 300 boxes. Lacey discovered she was allergic to dust & got to accessorize with some sporty latex gloves and a mask, and Ashley realized she can lift more weight than she thought. All the sweat and tears were definitely worth it because we filed & pulled some records today & what once would take at least half an hour was completed in less than 10 minutes! Woohoo! 
Ashley hard at work

Hello, from Lacey!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Caring for the SON Nursing Uniforms: A Lesson in Textile Preservation

By Student Blogger: Crystal Rodgers

While working as a student assistant for the Historical Collections & Archives, I have had the privilege of working with a diverse array of materials. In addition to the more traditional paper-based records and photographs, I have also been tasked with the arrangement and description of medical and dental artifacts, including surgical implements, pharmaceuticals, and even human and animal skulls. Now, I am excited to add preparing nursing uniforms for long-term preservation to this eclectic list. The following blog post details my experience creating and implementing a processing plan for storing these beautiful garments, one of my favorite projects thus far!  

In the summer of 2014, HC&A acquired the School of Nursing Archive Collection, donated graciously by the SON Archive Committee who lovingly cared for this collection for many years. Consisting of publications, photographs, artifacts, and textiles, the collection documents the rich history of nursing education at OHSU. Uniforms include beautiful wool capes, circa 1930s; blue cotton dresses replete with starched apron, bib, collar, and shirt cuffs, circa 1940s; green and white striped dresses, circa 1960s-70s; and an assortment of white nursing caps.  

Some of the donated uniforms prior to packing 

Although archivists are prepared to care for records, manuscripts, photographs, and physical artifacts, textiles are a bit unique to the field and require special care to ensure their long-term survival. In order to develop an appropriate processing plan for over 52.41 cubic feet of cloth-based material, I first had to conduct research on how to properly handle these items. I had many questions that needed answering! First, should we hang them or store the uniforms flat? What types of storage materials would we need? If storing flat, what types of boxes work best, and how many would we need? Luckily, quite a few cultural heritage institutions provide publicly accessible copies of their textile care guidelines, including the Texas Historical Commission, the Minnesota Historical Society, and the National Park Service.[1] As a visual learner, The Minnesota Historical Society’s YouTube instructional videos on housing costumes were also incredibly helpful![2]

Based on my research, storing the garments flat was the best option, as hanging puts stress on the shoulders, resulting in stretching and potentially seam tears over time. This is especially a risk for the heavy wool capes. Light exposure is also damaging, so boxes also provide a barrier that prevents fading of the fabric. I selected 2 different sized acid free textile boxes from the archival supply company, Hollinger Metal Edge: the 34Lx22Wx8H for the shorter garments and accessories and 60Lx8Wx5H for the longer garments. To help save space, as these boxes are incredibly large, several garments are stacked in each box, uniforms related to specific individuals kept together to maintain provenance. Each garment is separated by a sheet of acid free tissue as well as a layer of polyethylene foam to support and keep stacked garments level. I also discovered that the foam helps to prevent sliding of the uniforms when transported to a new location, an added benefit!

Giant polyethylene foam roll! 

One of the wool capes, in the process of folding 

Based on my research, over time textiles can actually break at the folds. As a result, it is best to avoid folding garments as much as possible, particularly anything that is already brittle or stiff, such as the heavily starched aprons. However, folding was sometimes necessary for dress and coat sleeves as well as the wider bottoms of dresses and capes. To prevent sharp folds, balls of wadded up acid free tissue paper was used to support these areas. Tissue was also used to help maintain the shape of certain garments, such as the shoulders and sleeves of the nurse cadet uniform jackets.

Roll of archival tissue paper used for layering and buffering garments 

Nurse Cadet Corps uniform jacket, after supporting sleeves and shoulders with tissue

One of the 60Lx8Wx6H textile boxes all packed and ready for storage! 

Other unexpected preservation concerns include the prior usage of safety pins to hold buttons not sewed on. Safety pins rust over time, many of them already exhibiting signs of deterioration, which will eventually stain the garment. These buttons were removed and placed in small artifact boxes, a hand drawn diagram created to ensure easy repinning for display in future exhibits. Additionally, some of the starched garments were starting to actually adhere to each other, such as the front and back of pockets and the front and backs of aprons. A layer of tissue was also used to buffer these areas to prevent further sticking.

The textile boxes all packed and stacked in one of our storage spaces 

I am happy to say the garments are all now safely stored in their new homes! It was a wonderful learning experience, equipping me with a new, unique set of skills to apply to future professional endeavors. On a personal level, I also count myself lucky to have had the opportunity to view these uniforms, connecting me more intimately to the past and sparking a desire to know more about the lives of the women who wore them.

[1] “Curatorial Care of Textile Objects,” NPS Museum Handbook, Part I, (National Park Service, 2002), 1-46,
 “Basic Guidelines for the Preservation of Historic Artifacts”, (Texas Historic Commission), 1-15,
[2] “Storage of Heirloom Textiles Podcast, Episode 3: Storage of Costumes in Boxes”, YouTube video, 12:19, posted by the Minnesota Historical Society, December 7, 2009,