Conservation Centre's grand opening sparks new era for University Libraries

Jennifer Cifelli
April 30, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — To commemorate the newly opened Penn State University Libraries’ Conservation Centre, an open house and grand opening celebration on Thursday, April 25, attracted donors, colleagues, friends of the Libraries and special guests, including Penn State President Eric J. Barron and Dean of University Libraries and Scholarly Communications Barbara I. Dewey.

The open house, aptly scheduled during the American Library Association’s Preservation Week, was a hands-on introduction to the first center of its kind in the country, and possibly internationally. Guests toured the $4.2 million facility and observed some of the conservation techniques employed in the space, hosted by department staff and interns.

President Barron, who lauded the Conservation Centre’s opening as a “30-year dream in the making,” added that the Centre will offer incredible opportunities for outreach, programming and student opportunities, and will place Penn State among other Big Ten Academic Alliance institutions with specialized facilities for conserving and preserving library collections.

“It will form collaborative partnerships with the University’s Museum Consortium professionals and educational specialists to create innovative educational programs, activities and exhibitions,” Barron said. “Furthermore, it will help advance Penn State’s land-grant mission through integrated programs of teaching, research and service.”

The Conservation Centre, spelled like the county it resides in, was named as a reflection and promise of the collaboration that the space is now positioned to provide to the local community, the state and possibly internationally. University Libraries staff will now be able to complete more in-house work to assess and care for collections at the point of acquisitions, as well as offer outreach and greater opportunities for student learning.

“The Centre will allow more Penn State students to explore career opportunities in library science and library information science, museum studies, graphic arts and conservation,” said Dean Dewey in her welcome remarks. “All of the teaching tools that conservators need to preserve and conserve materials—ranging from cuneiform tablets, papyrus, medieval manuscripts on parchment and 21st century artists’ books—are right here.”

Previous to the opening of the Centre, located at the Science Park Library Annex on Sandy Drive in State College, Pennsylvania, the Conservation and Preservation departments were scattered across Pattee Library and the Cato Park Annex, with much of the extensive work outsourced to regional conservation companies. The Centre has enabled Master Conservator Bill Minter and his staff to work together in one location that features a large workroom with space for outreach and educational opportunities; a negative air pressure de-contamination room; separate isolation room to contain molds, insect infestation and other hazards; photo documentation area; storage and office spaces.

The concept and design for the Centre was the brain child and long-time dream of Sue Kellerman, Judith O. Sieg Chair for Preservation and head of Preservation Conservation and Digitization (PCD). Kellerman’s vision for a Libraries conservation program began with a scribbled plan that became the blueprint and dream she would carry and nurture for nearly three decades. As the years passed, a series of serendipitous opportunities made it impossible for her to lose sight of that dream, including the creation and endowment of the Judith O. Sieg Chair for Preservation in 1999, funded by Judy and Phil Sieg. In 2012, when presented with the opportunity to hire a full-time senior book conservator partially funded through a matching Mellon Foundation grant with generous support from the King Family Foundation and Phil and Susan Gesh, Kellerman was able to move forward quickly to set her original plan into action. 

Because Kellerman’s vision never wavered, and because of the generous support of colleagues, donors and friends of the Libraries, she said, the newly opened Conservation Centre is poised to achieve its mission to:

  • Preserve and conserve collections for students, faculty and researchers;
  • Establish a sustained program that allows the Libraries to attract high-profile rare collections for teaching and learning, and to advance scholarship;
  • Extend conservation services to Penn State campuses and museums throughout the University;
  • Connect students and interns to careers in library and information sciences, conservation and museum studies;
  • Create a place for investigation and discovery; and
  • Create a service center that embraces Penn State’s role as a land-grant institution for Pennsylvania by incorporating a strong research mission that provides basic advice on preservation, offers training and workshops, and expands the network of preservation professionals in the Commonwealth.

“We will now be able to provide institutions in the area — and the citizens of Pennsylvania — with trusted resources to call on and assist in the care of their own collections,” Dewey said. “In addition, we plan to hold lectures, host speakers, and offer workshops for our own colleagues in central Pennsylvania and beyond.”

In fact, Dewey said, current collaborations already include research investigation with the Smithsonian Institution and the National Library of Medicine on the use of leathers and dyes in bookbinding. Closer to home, the Centre has recently assisted Centre County Library & Historical Museum’s conservation assessment plan to restore an 1818 map of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, the earliest known map of the county still in existence. Barron unveiled the restored map during the event, and several Bellefonte Area High School students, led by teacher Matthew Maris, were on hand to explain their historical research to determine the map’s date.

“Book conservation is both an art and a science,” said Barron. “It’s also an essential component of a comprehensive program to protect and preserve library collections for current and future use by scholars.” Bolstered by Kellerman’s perseverance and determination, the Conservation Centre is positioned to do just that for many years to come.

For more information about Penn State University Libraries’ Conservation Centre, contact Sue Kellerman at or 814-863-4696.

  • Conservation Centre staff used its hot stamping machine and handmade paper they infused with flower petals to create commemorative bookmarks for the Centre’s grand opening.

    Conservation Centre staff used its hot stamping machine and handmade paper they infused with flower petals to create commemorative bookmarks for the Centre’s grand opening.  

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • bookbinder board and sheer press

    The Conservation Centre has both digital and analog equipment, including several sizes of presses, a bookbinder’s board shear and a digital photo documentation station to document the treatment of materials in their care. 

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    IMAGE: Jill Shockey/Penn State University Libraries
  • pH meter and chemistry display

    It may come as a surprise that chemistry plays an integral part in materials conservation. Beyond using acid-free paper to store fragile materials, treating damaged printed materials — including rare materials created across the centuries — requires testing pH levels. 

    IMAGE: Jill Shockey/Penn State University Libraries
  • disaster test and wet book display

    The Conservation Centre has an intake room adjacent to its loading dock for triaging and sorting damaged materials, and a decontamination room with equipment including a biological hood for cleaning mold and freezers for both freezing and vacuum freeze-drying wet materials. 

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    IMAGE: Jill Shockey/Penn State University Libraries
  • hood vent, wash/dry/mend paper display

    A group of Conservation Centre grand opening attendees, including Steven and Sara Willoughby-Herb, check out a commercial ceiling-mounted exhaust extractor at a work station for washing, drying and mending paper. 

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    IMAGE: Jill Shockey/Penn State University Libraries
  • Dean Barbara Dewey, President Eric Barron and Bill Minter

    Barbara I. Dewey, dean of University Libraries and Scholarly Communications, and Bill Minter, senior book conservator of the Libraries’ Preservation, Conservation and Digitization Department, welcome Penn State President Eric J. Barron to the Conservation Centre. He offered remarks during the Centre’s grand opening.  

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    IMAGE: Jill Shockey/Penn State University Libraries
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Last Updated May 13, 2019