PRESERVING THE PAST FOR THE FUTURE
A Brief Reflection on the Crucible of 2020
Fri, 01 Jan 2021 00:32:00 +0000
At nearly the last possible minute of this year, I am reflecting on what has been said many times: 2020 has been a year like no other. We will remember this challenging year for many reasons, both personal and professional. At the center of our challenges has been, of course, the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and a long overdue awakening regarding racism in our country and in our local communities. Both have challenged me to consider my responsibilities both personally and professionally to act. I will note that this is a reflection of my own and not necessarily a reflection of the opinions of the organization for which I am employed.
Regarding COVID-19, many preservation and conservation professionals have had to conduct a great deal of research to understand how to best handle materials, how to effectively sanitize materials to make them safe without damaging the objects we are attempting to protect, and how to protect ourselves and our spaces as we continue our work. In our library, that has meant everything from researching the pros and cons of how an ultraviolet book sanitizer works to setting up new processes and protocols for transferring materials between our departments within the library. And, for some, it has meant redefining our roles as we have been working at home at least part of the time rather than in our labs. For others, COVID-19 has impacted the very existence of our jobs or, even more tragically, our own health or the lives and health of family members, colleagues, and friends.
I have spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about what I am accomplishing or not accomplishing regarding work productivity during this chaotic year. With all of the environmental factors along with the internal processing, how does one manage to maintain the same level of productivity? We record statistics each month to track what sort of treatment we conduct and how many items we handle or repair. My "stat sheet" has looked very different each month of this year, some better than others. My short answer about maintaining the same level of productivity: we can't. And, I am both fortunate and grateful to work for an organization that recognizes that we need a different measuring stick for success in 2020. We are all figuring out new definitions of best practice, productivity, and work.
With respect to our reckoning with systemic and institutional racism, there have been innumerable resources for learning and for inspiring action. A simple Internet search resulted in 17,500,000 results. This would not be a "brief reflection" if I were to begin listing them here and I am sure that many of you reading this have been immersed in your own research and learning. Regardless of where you are on your journey of understanding and perhaps changing, most of us recognize that the status quo is untenable and all of us have a responsibility to both learn and act. One of the most thought-provoking articles related to our work as preservation and conservation professionals I read this year was from a conservator at UCLA, Consuela Metzger. Click HERE for a link to that article as well as the associated resources.
Metzger wrote, "Conservators can be called in with their technical skills to either remove spray paint that spells out Black Lives Matter, or they can be called to preserve that same spray paint as history. With that one example, it should be clear that preservation and conservation can be political acts. We preserve what is valued." In the same vein, I had a conversation with a colleague at a previous employer several years ago in which she described treating a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood that was in the collection of the academic library for which we worked. She confessed the internal battle she had of both wanting to burn or destroy the robe and hood, but also knowing that it is our ethical responsibility to preserve even the darkest parts of our history. She of course provided fully professional treatment of the robe, but the conversation came to mind again this year as I read Metzger's article and reflected on our responsibility as caretakers of cultural heritage.
For those of us employed in museums and libraries, we must consider how our collections either reflect or fail to reflect our communities. And, we must consider our biases in how we collect, describe, protect, and provide access to our collections as it reflects our values both as individuals and institutions.
This year, 2020, has been a crucible for all of us, but it is my hope that the severe trials of this year have forged something new in us as we all consider more deeply our roles in our communities and in our professions. As Metzger so aptly related in her article, we are not neutral.
I plan to be asleep as 2020 quietly exits and 2021 tiptoes in. However, cheers to 2021 and to all being awake for possibilities and change.
- Suzanne Sawyer, Preservation Specialist
Metzger, C. (2020, July 31). Preservation Blog Inner Meditations and Outer Resources for Understanding Library Conservation and Preservation as Racist or Anti-Racist [Web log post]. Retrieved December 31, 2020, from https://www.library.ucla.edu/blog/preservation/2020/07/31/inner-meditations-and-outer-resources-for-understanding-library-conservation-and-preservation-as-racist-or-antiracist
Check-in to see which new DVDs are hitting the shelves in Jackson Library!
Tue, 15 Dec 2020 00:14:00 +0000
Photos and other fun stuff from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives in the University Libraries.
You can also follow us on Twitter: @UNCGArchives!
What’s new in the collection this week – a collection of...
Tue, 12 Jan 2021 07:35:56 -0500
Tales from the University Archives at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Accident at the Heating Plant: A Campus Catastrophe in 1924
Thu, 07 Jan 2021 04:24:00 +0000
Campus buildings had been warmed by heating plants since 1905. The first heating plant, with the adjoining school laundry, was built in 1905 near the intersection of Walker Avenue and McIver Street. In 1924, a second heating plant was planned for the North Carolina College for Women (now UNC Greensboro). This beautiful red brick structure, designed by Fellheimer & Wagner of New York, would be located near the corner of Oakland Avenue and Forest Street. The design boasted an 18-ton, 227-foot chimney with a 12-foot bronze cap. When completed, it would be the highest structure in Greensboro - 5 feet higher than the much-admired Jefferson Pilot Building.
|Campus Heating Plant, 1924|
Building a heating plant of this size required the creation of a wooden “superstructure” over the chimney, allowing workers to navigate at great heights. Fritz Deitrick, of Richmond, Virginia, was employed as a brick layer on the project because he had experience working more than 200 feet above the ground. Local metalworkers were not skilled in working so high up and refused to go to the top of the structure; therefore, James Wacaster, of Reidsville, North Carolina, was hired.
Deitrick and Wacaster were charged with placing the bronze rim around the top of the completed chimney. To reach the top of the edifice, an “elevator” was constructed inside the chimney that allowed workers to ascend to the scaffolding above the structure. The elevator was made of a ball of concrete on the end of a cable that was lifted by a steam engine. Workers placed one foot on either side of the ball and grasped the cable as they ascended the height of the chimney.
Seemingly, the accident occurred when one of the men reached the top of the structure, and then waited for the other man to ascend, who was transporting a long beam to be used at the top. One end of the beam was resting between his feet on the concrete ball and the other toward his head. As the man was hoisted to the top of the chimney, there was a creaking sound and the entire superstructure, called a “cat’s head” by the workmen, began to topple. The men attempted to grasp the cable – but it was too late. The immense chimney had already started to break. Both men were instantly killed as they fell from the 225-foot structure.
|Campus Heating Plant, ca. 2000|
Initially, the accident was blamed on the engineer who was operating the elevator, believing that he had not stopped the hoist at the top of the chimney. Yet, a coroner’s jury found that the men met their deaths because of the actions of the last man who ascended the chimney, as well as the weak pine timber used to build the superstructure.
The building was eventually completed, and stills stands as the UNC Greensboro Steam Plant, which is currently responsible for heating most of the campus buildings.