New Book Exhibit Completed

June 22, 2010


A University of Iowa Library Preservation team Gary Frost, Conservator, Joyce Miller, project support and technician and Bill Voss, Exhibit Conservator, has completed a project to prepare and install a 26 case comprehensive exhibit of the treasures of the Library of the Convent of the Recoleta in Arequipa Peru. The two week project (May 26 to June 5) was completed on-site with materials supplied by Archival Products and the UI Libraries.

exhibit cases

This education exhibit depicts the amazing story of historical libraries in this highland colonial city. These books introduced European learning into equally complex indigenous culture and so advanced dynamics of empire still in motion in the Americas. The library of the Recoleta contains 22,000 volumes spanning the 16th to 19th centuries and is rich in linguistics, history, sciences, arts and literature, religious doctrine and scripture, and philosophy. The library was founded in 1661. It features early Peruvian imprints including unique copies.

Fabulous voyages were required to bring European books to Peru. Outward voyages went southward to the Canary Islands where the westward winds were encountered. A long Atlantic crossing brought the cargo to Hispaniola in the Caribbean. Another voyage across pirate waters came finally to land at the isthmus of Panama. This overland crossing of swamp and mountains was no less difficult than the previous sailings. On the Pacific coast newly constructed ships began the long voyage down to Lima. Finally, books destine for Arequipa still required the long desolate crossing of the vast inland desert before the books reached the start of the highlands.

gary and guests in the workshop

The Library was used by a Franciscan Order with missions to many colonial communities. Here readers prepared their minds for great dramas of contact between cultures and great challenges of interaction. For the Padres the library is not just books but it is also a state of mind. UI Staff members enjoyed this exotic excursion into a different book culture. The UI team was honored at a spectacular opening reception given at the historical Cloister.


July 24, 2008

Conserving the Antiquarian Libraries of Arequipa For release 19 July 2008

In cooperation with INLIBRI, a six member team from Alabama, Iowa and Texas has spent the past two weeks working with local authorities and Helen Ryan, Librarian and Director of Catalog Processing and Alvaro Meneses, Director of INLIBRI (Institute of the Book) and Bibliographer. Together the team has demonstrated methods for effective cleaning and exhibition and methods for non-damaging relocation of collections. The team has set-up a workshop and has trained local students from the esteemed Universidad Catolica de Santa Maria to continue the project in their absence. In addition, study has begun to search for those characteristics common to 17th and 18th century Peruvian book binding. Once the legacy of hand binding in Peru is better understood, it can validate local hand book crafts and book conservation in the future.

More ambitious objectives are now being discussed. The relocation of the San Francisco collection, which includes remnants of Jesuit libraries, is required immediately. The current library building has been condemned by municipal authorities due to earthquake damage. Plans are completed for the extraction, cleaning and relocation of boxed books to a secure intermediate storage during the renovation and shelving reinstallation in the new library space. The cleaning method has been tested and specified and resources needed have been assembled. A relocation proposal has been drafted. This collection relocation work should be accomplished as soon as possible.

Renovation and reinstallation of exhibits at the Recoleta will be completed and a library conservation studio established at the Recoleta as a base for both visiting and local practitioners. In addition to their vital ongoing support, The Michell Group has graciously offered to fund the installation of a new track lighting system in the Recoleta. Further work is needed to reinforce the shelving fixtures against earthquake damage. Other project objectives include planning for continuity of exchange of student teams, of adjustment or shift of activities according to local needs and authorization and funding for an on-site conservation work place.

The current two week session concluded on 18 July with a presentation at the Universidad Catolica San Pablo. A large audience of students and scholars attended to hear presentations on rare book cataloging, book conservation, and preservation of libraries in Arequipa.

Resources of INLIBRI, a non-governmental organization for the study and preservation of the book in Arequipa, and the US Universities are exceptionally complementary. INLIBRI provides local project authorization, local management continuity, expert historical and linguistic perspective and exquisite collection knowledge. The US Universities can provide preservation and conservation expertise, opportunities for advanced book studies and book arts education and materials and technology support.

The future of the physical book in a context of screen based reading is continually being questioned. An apparent momentum of interest in the historical libraries of Arequipa may be due to a rare convergence of factors occurring at this historical moment. The convergence of interest includes key personnel, key organizations and key motivations. Such a latent opportunity should not be missed since continued disregard and deterioration of the collections is also possible. Many opportunities for advance of tourism, historical preservation and devotional enthusiasm are mixed with the future of the old libraries.

Thanks to our lovely volunteers!

July 18, 2008

Students from the Universidad Catholica de Santa Maria have graciously volunteered their free time to help clean La Recoleta´s collections.  Many thanks are due to Claudia, Maria Alejandra, Lourdes, and Karen!

A pictorial update

July 15, 2008

Peruvian Sunset

Peruvian Sunset

Gary Frost and the Examplars, minus Gary
Gary Frost and the Examplars, minus Gary
Bull fighting, librarian style

Bull fighting, librarian style

Big, nasty, chunky mold - just in case you thought we were having too much fun

Big, nasty, chunky mold - just in case you thought we were having too much fun

Book update, from Chela and Anna

July 11, 2008

Cleaning moldy books is one state of mind that lasts longer than the fear and danger of an earthquake. As we removed a series of large folio volumes from the shelves, problems of mold and solidified plaster on some of the books became apparent.  Our hopeful declaration that at least there would be no mold problem in this very dry environment proved premature.  Inside these wonderful thick walled buildings, micro-climates exist that can lead to mold.  The books were pushed directly against an outside wall with a plaster surface. During the rainly season the tiles on part of the roof leaked, and though the roof is now mended, water was able to soften the plaster enough to coat book edges, and the water took long enough to dry in the cool interior of the building that mold was forming. The mold was fuzzy, happy looking, and we stopped to decide what to do next.
Our first line of defense was to remove the books from the library and place them outdoors to dry out any active mold.  The dry air and light breeze that we have been enjoying in Arequipa was perfect for this task and by the afternoon we were ready to begin cleaning the books.
We had already set up an efficient cleaning station in order to clean dust that has accumulated over the years from the collection, so we did not need to create a new system for the mold covered items.  The infected books were placed on a lazy susan near a vaccum cleaner and the powdery residue was brushed from the spines and covers of the books as well as the edges of the texts.  Special care was taken to prevent the mold from penetrating the edges of the books. 
Once the exteriors were cleaned we opened the books to examine the interiors for signs of damage.  Most of the books had minimal mold growth on the pages, often limited to the fly leaves, but a few had extensive mold growth and these needed to be cleaned page by page – a rather tedious task because these books are oversized are contain around 700 pages each.
All the books have now been stablized, cleaned, and returned to the stacks with the exception of one.  This final book has been damaged by wet plaster in addition to mold growth and it will need more extensive treatment to remove the caked plaster that has fused to the edges of the text.  Any suggestions for removing caked on plaster are welcome!

The process of cleaning is repetative, but rewarding in the information you take in about each volume as it pàsses through your hands. There are playful marginal drawings, lists of figures where some seminary student perhaps added his weekly expenses, tickets from books shops in Lima long gone, stamps proving the import tax was paid, and little inked in hands pointing to passages in the large latin books the reader did not want to forget. Its a wonderful experiecne.

The first three days

July 10, 2008

Our group arrived in Arequipa on Monday, July 7 at noon after a long day of travel. We were immediately taken and introduced to the amazing books at the library of Recoleta by Helen Ryan and Alvero Meneses. As we looked through the hundreds of vellum bindings, we forgot our travel fatigue and culture shock and became excited about the work ahead. That night, at 4:15 a.m. we awoke to a  minor earthquake. The beds and windows shook for a full minute, as if a large tracker trailer truck was driving by directly outside the building.

The last three days have been spend establishing procedures for the cleaning and rehabilitation of the libraries at Recoleta and San Fransisco.  The building that holds the library at San Fransisco has been condemned, and we are  a comprehensive plan to move the books out before the next earthquake. The books at Recoleta are in very good condition, although we have found a few shelves of moldy books.

Please read the comments from various team members below.

Comments on the Espinoza history and events since

June 23, 2008

(from Helen)

On pages 4-5 of the Espinoza history (Library of the Recoleta) is reference to a group of Italians who created “a catalog” of the holdings of the Recoleta.  This is in the form of a CD, is in simple non-MARC format and it also contains the pre-1800 holdings of 3 other local libraries.  It is a basic listing of author, title, publisher, date, etc., and used no outside sources in its creation.  It has been most valuable to us in determining what is here.  The comment in the history that this work has been “undone” by the earthquake of 2001 is not accurate.

In April of 2005 Alvaro Meneses and I met with Padre Domingo Diaz, then in charge of the library, to discuss the library’s needs.  He showed us a back storage room (called the Infiernillo—or Little Hell, as you shall see) containing a collection of unprocessed works numbering perhaps 4,000.

In Nov., 2006, we presented a proposal to the fathers of the Recoleta and to a local mining company, Cerro Verde, to begin to process into the MARC format the works in the Infiernillo and to establish a program of conservation for the entire library. It was approved and funding was provided to modernize a work space and furnish it with equipment.  We began the project by moving all pre-1700 unprocessed works to the new space in April of 2007.  To date pre-cataloging has been done on some 500 of these volumes.  For reasons involving funding and various missteps, MARC is not yet loaded into the system and complete cataloging has not begun.  Steps are being taken to correct this. 


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