Conservation of the Rosa Parks Papers
Highlights of conservation assessment, treatment and preservation housing of items in the Rosa Parks Papers to preserve these items for generations to come through responsible collection stewardship.
The Library of Congress has a well-developed preservation program to ensure that actions taken today enable access to objects and collections long into the future. Working with the Library’s vast special collections, the Conservation Division provides expertise in condition assessment, treatment, housing, and research; exhibition and digitization preparation; environmental monitoring; and collections emergency response. For the Rosa Parks Collection, Conservation Division staff focused on assessment, treatment, housing, and research and also participated in digitization preparation. Conservation staff assessed a total of 386 items and then stabilized 75 items through conservation treatment and 100 items through preservation housing.
One of the highlights was the conservation treatment of the Rosa Parks Family Bible, which was one of the items most needing attention. Due to heavy use, the Bible’s covers had become detached, and many pages were torn. In some cases, pages had completely separated from the binding – in particular, a supplemental section without any page numbers. Determining the proper order of these pages, as well as their proper placement within the volume, was a challenge. Research revealed that the components of this Bible, known as the “Holman Bible,” varied widely and were distributed by C.H. Robinson & Company in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the turn of the twentieth century. Further research showed that this Bible is quite rare. In fact, a search of the Library of Congress’s collections, as well as those in other institutions, has not turned up another exact copy. As a result, the proper collation of the Rosa Parks Family Bible cannot be determined at this time. While conservation staff still hopes to find an exact version for comparison, they have for now compiled information to determine a logical order for the unnumbered pages.
Conservators also filled the losses in the damaged pages with conservation quality handmade papers. These papers are known for their uniform expansion/contraction properties and for their flexibility. The treatment goal was to fill the losses with a paper that behaves in the same manner as the original paper. Tears in the pages were mended with high quality machine-made tissues, which have an almost transparent appearance, and were applied with wheat starch paste. After the collation of the pages is decided, staff will resew the binding in the most flexible structure possible to lessen stress on the weakened paper. Fortunately, the original covers remain in good condition, and after surface cleaning they will be reattached to the text block with strong linen hinges. Finally, staff will make a clamshell box to create a strong, secure, and stable microenvironment for the item in order to protect it for centuries to come.
Another conservation highlight was rehousing twenty-six labor and political buttons dating from the 1930s to the 1980s. Mrs. Parks maintained close ties to the labor movement through much of her life. While the buttons did not require treatment, special housing was needed in order to digitize the buttons safely and also to make the original buttons accessible to researchers and library staff. Using a computerized cutting machine, a mat was made that allows for a secure and safe way to examine the buttons, including the printed texts on their beveled edges.
These buttons, along with the Holman Bible and all the other items in this collection, provide a context to better understand Rosa Parks’ many interests and accomplishments. The goal of the Library’s Conservation Division was – and continues to be - to preserve these items for generations to come through responsible collection stewardship.