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A conservator gives back; U-M student inspired by literary classic

By Mary Morris

Aisha Wahab is slowly and carefully removing the backing from an old and large print, while Lauren Calcote sits across the room sewing book sections back together. Aisha and Lauren are the first Cathleen A. Baker Fellows in Conservation at the U-M Library.

The fellowship gives students, practicing conservators, and researchers the opportunity to actively conserve materials from the library’s extensive collection, including books, paper, Islamic manuscripts, ancient papyri and more.

Cathleen Baker, Ph.D., a Conservation Librarian at the U-M Library, established the fellowship in 2011. “Conservators, whether they are associated with institutions or in private practice, are not usually in a financial position to leave their work temporarily to pursue a short-term project that will benefit the profession and our cultural heritage,” says Baker. “I am certainly not a wealthy person, but the money that I’ve donated since the establishment of this Fellowship is enough to bring wonderful people to our department. And I am more than happy to give back, in this small way, to the profession that has been so rewarding to me.

Baker hopes that others will contribute to the fellowship program, so that the library can offer more opportunities to conservation students and professionals.

Shannon Zachary, Head of the Department of Preservation and Conservation, said, “We are thrilled by this opportunity to have two talented young conservators with us in the Conservation Lab this year. Their residency is a chance for them to learn, but they are also sharing information back with us. It keeps our program fresh and vibrant and gives us new perspectives on how best to care for the Library’s extraordinary collections.”

PHOTO RIGHT: Lauren Calcote (left), Cathleen Baker, and Aisha Wahab

Lauren Calcote is a September 2012 graduate of the Buffalo State College Art Conservation Department’s master’s degree program, specializing in book conservation. During her Baker Fellowship she is focusing on historical binding structures and book conservation treatments ranging from batch treatment of nineteenth-century cloth bindings to individual treatment of complex vellum-covered books. She appreciates “the chance to look at and work with an amazing breadth of material – a lot of stuff.”

The Baker Fellowship is helping to support Aisha Wahab’s third-year internship at the U-M Library Conservation Lab; this is her final year in the Buffalo State College program. Specializing in paper conservation, she has particular interest in the conservation of Islamic and Middle Eastern manuscripts. “I’ve been places where you aren’t allowed to touch anything,” she says, but at U-M she has been able to pursue her interest in Islamic manuscripts, actively participate in preparing exhibit items for display, and work on preserving papyri. “In this lab, everyone is willing to take the time to teach you.”

Calcote and Wahab started their fellowships in early September and will remain in residence with the Conservation Lab through August 2013.

Applications for fellowship projects starting in Fall 2013 are due January 31, 2013. Information about the fellowship and application forms are available at BAKER FELLOWSHIP.


U-M student’s compelling video inspired by ‘War of the Worlds’ wins award

On October 12, the U-M Library celebrated the recipients of the 2012 MLibrary Undergraduate Research Award in a ceremony held in Bert’s Study Lounge in the Shapiro Library. The award, which is in its second year, highlights the extraordinary achievements of U-M undergraduates, and encourages them to pursue in-depth research projects that expand their academic experience.

At the ceremony, Laurie Alexander, Associate University Librarian for Learning and Teaching, said every project the award committee read exhibited diligence, intelligence, and originality. “We saw firsthand the creativity and determination that inspired their research.”

The first prize was awarded to A. Brad Schwartz for his history honors thesis, “The War of the Worlds Letters: Orson Welles, Fake News, and American Democracy in the Golden Age of Radio,” which Alexander said was thoroughly researched and reflected original work.


The remarkable video essay that Schwarz created to share his research experience (see below) describes his discovery within the U-M Library’s extensive Orson Welles archive of a trove of letters to Welles. Written in the immediate wake of the broadcast dramatization of War of the Worlds, the letters were an invaluable primary source in Schwarz’s reexamination of the public’s actual reactions to the radio drama.


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