The Conservation Department of the Frances Loeb Library manages programs, projects, and services dedicated to preserving the library collections in support of learning, research, teaching and scholarship.


The Conservation Department of the Frances Loeb Library was founded by James Reid-Cunningham, presently the Associate Director for Digital Programs and Preservation at the Boston Athenaeum. He started working at the Library in 1984 as an end processing and repair assistant. Being interested in the field of bookbinding since late 70’s, James was taking classes at the Harcourt Bindery in Boston. At the time there was no centralized system of conservation at Harvard. The end processing and repair job didn’t have a working space; there were no tools aside from a small nipping press, a bone folder, and a roll of black book cloth.

In 1988, James entered a newly established bookbinding program at the North Bennet Street School in Boston and graduated from it in 1990. He began to acquire equipment. Finally, in 1992 the library storage room was emptied up, painted, the appropriate lighting was installed and the Conservation Department was established. With more archival collections being acquired, more flat paper objects needed conservation attention. James used any educational opportunity available to perfect his skills at complex paper conservation treatments. During his tenure, what used to be “quick and dirty” approach to mending of library books was transformed into a serious conservation program.

Conservation Lab

Located in the lower level of Gund Hall, the Conservation Laboratory is equipped to treat all kinds of books and flat paper items. A critical challenge is our extensive holdings of oversized materials, especially folio books and the large flat paper collections (maps, plans, drawings, etc) from Special Collections and Visual Resources. Therefore, the laboratory is designed to accommodate the very large and bulky objects.

Conservation LabThe laboratory is staffed by a full time conservator, Irina Gorstein. (Independent contractors and interns from conservation and bookbinding programs occasionally augment the conservation facility.) Irina is a native of St. Petersburg, Russia. She holds a Degree in Library Science from St. Petersburg State University of Culture and Arts and a Certificate in Bookbinding from the North Bennet Street School in Boston. She also received art training in her native city.

Irina’s primary interests as a book conservator are the history and evolution of book structure. Over the course of her professional career she has constructed many models of historic book bindings that are known to contemporary researchers.



  • Environmental Services: The Conservation Department is responsible for taking steps to achieve appropriate environmental conditions in open and closed stacks, vault, and other collections storage areas, which promote the longevity of library holdings in all formats.
  • Preservation Initiatives: The departmental responsibility is to investigate the latest innovations in the field of museum and library preservation through literature review and research and to implement these innovations in the day-to-day preservation activities. The department developed the Emergency Preparedness Plan and serves as a leader in occurrences of disaster situations.
  • Project Management: The department is responsible for pre-exhibition assessment, treatment, archival mounting and framing, and installation of library holdings included in exhibitions at the GSD, and also for loans to other cultural institutions. The Conservation Department also leads special projects, such as the H.H. Richardson Adopt-A-Book Program.
  • Conservation Treatments: The department performs a wide range of minor, intermediate, and major conservation treatments for the library materials. They include book and paper treatments for the circulating, special and archival collections; construction of protective enclosures; occasional matting and framing of pictorial objects; cleaning and re-housing of materials in need; pre- and post-treatment digital photography; and treatment records keeping.
  • Conservation Internships: The Conservation Department of the Frances Loeb Library offers occasional conservation internships for students enrolled in bookbinding and conservation programs. The goal of the internships is to provide students with an educational opportunity and practical apprenticeship in the field of book and paper conservation. For more information, please write or call the department.

General Preservation Policy

The Frances Loeb Library gives priority for preservation action to materials currently in demand, in order to keep them usable. Materials which circulate or are used in-house are checked for condition before re-shelving and set aside for preservation action if they are damaged. The level of preservation treatment is determined on the bases of usage and the intellectual and monetary value of the object within reasonable financial limits. Preference is always given to procedures which preserve as much of the original object as possible. Brittle paper materials are reviewed by the Subject Selector who decides whether to photocopy the items, to box them, or to withdraw them if other versions are available. Decisions on conservation treatment and reformatting of rare and special materials are carried out by the Conservator in consultation with Curators.

For more information, please contact:

Irina Gorstein
(617) 496-8542