If you need to back up important documents, it can be as simple as saving a copy on a hard drive or uploading it to the cloud. But what about documents before the digital era, items originally printed on skin and paper with iron gall ink? Such historical items have only one opportunity to be correctly preserved for future enjoyment and often, attempts to save that history have gone awry. However, with modern chemical treatments and reversible techniques, conservationists are now part-artist-part-scientist who possess a hefty measure of caution.

“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” in Illinois' Rare Book and Manuscript Library exhibits exactly as the name suggests, historical books and documents that have been either a victim or a beneficiary of conservation techniques throughout the centuries. The collection took a full year to assemble, with themes evolving organically as the curators mined for items from the University library stacks. We spoke with Jennifer Hain Teper, one of the exhibition’s curators, to discuss some of the conservation practices we have learned from and how these items are treated today. The exhibition will be open until December 20th and is located on the third floor (Room 346) of the Main Library at 1408 W. Gregory Drive in Urbana.

Photo and video by Steven Pratten