Amherst Magazine

College Row
mending paperA Folger conservator mends Japanese paper on an illuminated light table.

From the Folger

Walls have been knocked down, ceiling ducts removed, and four large skylights punched into the roof. Light floods the large new space that will house the brand new Gundersheimer Conservation Laboratory on the third floor of the Folger Library. The ceremonial dedication of this space—named for former director Werner Gundersheimer ’59—will not take place until October. But Folger conservators will enjoy the benefits of their new work space months before then as they continue their pioneering efforts to conserve the books and works on paper that comprise the bulk of our peerless collections. Now they will do so in a generous space that will enable them to be far more productive than they could ever be in their old, cramped basement quarters.

Book conservation today requires the use of expensive and bulky high-tech machines. Our new lab includes a paper splitter, invented and designed by Folger Head Conservator Frank Mowery, which uses laser beams to split damaged leaves of books in two. Folger conservators then bond the two halves together with thin, strong gossamer tissue—repairing pages from the inside out. There is also a leaf-casting machine, which fills holes in pages so effectively that it is impossible for the untrained eye to tell the difference between the in-filled paper and the original. Conservation can also involve washing paper. Conservators thus need “dirty” and “wet” rooms for chemical processes, as well as huge vent hoods to remove dangerous fumes. And, of course, they need locked, temperature-controlled storage vaults for rare materials awaiting conservation. (Much more information about the fascinating work of conservation, and pictures of conservators at work, can be found at

The contrast between the new and old work spaces of Folger conservators could not be more dramatic. In the old conservation lab, the wet room and dirty room were in non-contiguous areas—requiring Folger staff to move delicate materials from place to place during the conservation process. Their new 2,000 square-foot, light-filled room contains five spacious workbenches that will allow conservators to treat oversized books and large works of art with plenty of elbow room to spare.

This wonderful new space cost $2 million—a cost borne in part by many generous contributors, including many Amherst College alumni and trustees. It is these alumni who have, over the years, understood the greatness of the Folger’s collections and placed a high priority on conservation as critical to the Folger mission. It will be gratifying for them to see our new Gundersheimer Conservation Lab, and I hope that many of them will be on hand at the October dedication.

—Gail Kern Paster

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Photo: Folger Shakespeare Library