RIT’s Image Permanence Institute awarded major education and training grant

IPI receives $399,825 from the National Endowment for the Humanities

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An example of deformation in the cover of a vellum bound book in a laboratory test of varying RH (20 to 50 percent). The dryness caused by the 20 percent RH level contracts the vellum cover and pulls the book cover up into an arch.

The Image Permanence Institute at Rochester Institute of Technology has received a $399,825 grant from The National Endowment for the Humanities Preservation and Access Research and Development program in support of “Digital Image Correlation to Determine Shape Deformation of Paper Based Collections due to Relative Humidity and Temperature Variation.

This three-year project will focus on defining the permissible limits of relative humidity (RH) for rare books and other library and archive materials that are critical resources for humanities research. Andrew Lerwill, a research scientist at IPI and a Ph.D. physicist with prior experience in conservation science at the Tate Gallery and the Getty Conservation Institute, will lead the research project.

While the study of safe limits for RH for fine and decorative arts has received considerable attention, the complex and diverse mechanical structures of bound volumes has not been studied. Mechanical (physical) damage due to dryness or excessive dampness is the principle reason why rare book and special collection materials require controlled environmental conditions. For many years, recommendations for preservation have emphasized close control around a target of 45 to 55 percent RH. What is not well established, however, are the practical limits where irreversible damage takes place.

For a bound volume in leather or vellum, the exterior surface may absorb or desorb enough water to result in physical harm in less time than is required for full moisture equilibration throughout the object. Understanding movements of the “skin” of books in changing RH conditions has not been studied and will prove valuable in two ways—to help avoid damage to significant collections and increase their useful life, and to inform sustainable and efficient operation of HVAC systems in institutions that hold important humanities collections.

To overcome the difficulty of studying the mechanical behavior of complex book structures, IPI will employ Digital Image Correlation (DIC), a technology that is being used in industry and the arts to dynamically assess expansion and contraction of composite objects. DIC is a sophisticated type of photogrammetry (measurement using images) that is very sensitive to movement in three dimensions. The experiments in this project will use both sheets of material and complete books. They will have an applied pattern of dots on their surface from which the DIC analysis will very accurately detect and describe movement when exposed to varying RH conditions and temperatures. At some point the dots will not return to their original position when the starting RH and temperature are restored. This will define when the damage is irreversible.

The research’s results will be presented in technical papers and conference presentations and will be incorporated into the analysis algorithms used by IPI’s environmental management software, which is currently used by more than 800 institutions worldwide.

About The Image Permanence Institute

The Image Permanence Institute, part of RIT’s College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, is a recognized world leader in the development and deployment of sustainable practices for the preservation of images and cultural property. The institute accomplishes this through a balanced program of research, education, products and services that meet the needs of individuals, companies and institutions.

About the National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.