At the Lab: The Battle Flag of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion

Written by Extra Help Hourly Savannah Adams; research and editing by Graduate Assistant in Newspaper Digitization and Conservation Hourly Katie Poland

Before Treatment of the Original Battle/Parade Flag of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion  

Original Battle/Parade Flag of Abraham Lincoln Battalion

During Treatment: Conservator Jody Waitzman vacuuming the flag through a screen to remove surface dirt and dust.

The Oak Street Library Facilities Conservation unit has been tasked with the stabilization, cleaning, and safekeeping of the Original Battle and Parade Flag of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion. The flag, sized at 88cm x 107cm, is inscribed in black pen and ink and/or paint, and blue pen and ink. Made from a semi-sheer textile in red, white, and blue, the flag has many small tears, holes, abrasions, discoloration/soiling and general signs of use. However, it is stable overall. Oak Street Library Facility Conservator, Jody Waitzman, treated the flag by vacuuming the item through a screen to reduce surface dirt and dust (see image) and rehoused for rolled storage in an acid-free, preservation-grade box.

Spanish Civil War and the Abraham Lincoln Battalion (1936 – 1939)

In the decades leading up to the Spanish Civil War, tension between the Republican government of Spain and the Nationalist faction, led by General Francisco Franco, steadily increased. After General Franco’s failed attempt at a military coup in order to gain control of the country, the nation was thrust into a bloody, 3-year long Civil War. The Nationalists, or rebels, were backed by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. In opposition, the Republican government received aid from the Soviet Union, as well as International Brigades.

Within the International Brigades, military units were composed of volunteers from Europe and the United States. The Lincoln Battalion was formed by a group of volunteers from the United States who served in the Spanish Civil War as soldiers, technicians, medical personnel and aviators. The American Battalion stood for Spanish Republican forces and against that of General Franco and his Nationalist faction. Of the approximately 3,015 volunteers from the US, 681 were killed in action or died of wounds or sickness.

Inscription on flag:

Detail of the battle sites inscribed on the stripes of the flag.







HILL 666



What these battles signified: 

Jarama – Brunet: The battle of Jarama took place February 6-27, 1937. This twenty-one day battle was an attempt by General Franco’s Nationalists to dislodge the Republican lines along the Jarama river, just east of Madrid.

The Pingarrón Hil defense led by Nationalist faction soldier Carlos Asensio.

Pingarrón Hill: Also known as “Suicide Hill,” the battle on Pingarrón Hill took place on February 12-13, 1937. The flag’s inscription recalls the place in which Spanish soldier, statesman, and member of the Nationalist faction, Carlos Asensio’s troops took the Pingarrón hills in the hopes of claiming the high ground. Unfortunately, this battle resulted in one of the deadliest fights of the Spanish Civil War.

Aragon Quinto: The Aragon Offensive was a salient military campaign launched by the Nationalist faction after the Battle of Teruel (see below). The offensive ran from March 7 – April 19, 1938, and overran Republican forces in Aragon, parts of Catalonia, and the Levante (the eastern region of the Iberian Peninsula) of Spain.

Ebro River: The longest and largest battle of the Spanish Civil War, Batalla del Ebro, took place between July through November of 1938. The fighting took place mainly in two areas on the lower region of the Ebro River: the Terra Alta comarca of Catalonia, and the Auts area by Fayón in Aragon. The battle was extremely deadly, with tens of thousands of Repubican soldiers left dead and wounded. However, the outcome had little effect in the advancement of the Nationalists.

Mosquito Ridge – Tureul: Coincidentally taking place during the worst winter Spain had seen in 20 years, The Battle of Teruel occured between December 1937 – February 1938. The battle proved to be one of the bloodiest the war had endured. The city of Tureul, initially held by the Nationalists at the start of the battle, would be taken over by the Republicans, and then eventually be retaken by the Nationalists. By the end, both parties suffered over 140,000 casualties throughout the two-month long battle.

Hill 666 Plaque commemorating the battle of the Ebro River.

Hill 666: On 2 October the Nationalists occupied the heights of Lavall and two weeks later Point 666, the key of the Pandols Range. Plaque Hill 666 in the Serres de Pandols-Cavalls signifies and commemorates the deadly battle at this location by the International Brigades during the Battle of the Ebro.



Jarama Valley (song)

Songs of the Lincoln Battalion  Spanish Civil War | Hill 666

From the Archives: Marvin H Mischnick Papers and Letters

The back of an envelope reading, “I love you soldier!”

Written by Digital Imaging Specialist Hourly Savannah Adams

At the Oak Street Library Facility John “Bud” Velde Conservation Laboratory, Graduate Assistant in Newspaper Digitization and Conservation Hourly Katie Poland has been working to vacuum, clean, and rehouse letters of Marvin H Mischnick. This small portion of the collection is to be added to his personal papers in the University of Illinois Archives.

In these letters, Marvin Mischnick, a photographer for the 3rd Armored Division in WWII,  corresponded to his first wife, Mildena Bates. Pictured are only a few of those letters containing examples of photographic prints made from microfilmed Vmail, commercially bought postcards, and lipstick kisses from Mildena.

Example of one of the commercially purchased postcards, specifically for Valentine’s Day.
Example of a photographic prints made from microfilmed Vmail.










Marvin H. Mischnick Papers

The Mischnick papers include correspondence, photographs, books, newspaper clippings, and artifacts concerning the Third Armored Division; World War II; Germany; France; Belgium; 23rd Armored Engineering Battalion;

photography; Dwight D. Eisenhower; Major General Maurice Rose; The American Legion; and the Third Armored Division Association. This general file contains significant material on World War II and the Third Armored Division, in addition to photographs of persons of note such as President Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Description provided by the UIUC Archives database)

A faint lipstick mark from Mildena with a signoff, “Honey put my lips in your wallet”
“P.S. Destroy this letter because I don’t want you to keep it.”


Reformatting Throughout the Ages

Written by Emilye Lewin, Preservation Reformatting, Collections Care, and Digitization Services hourly employee

When books become too brittle or damaged to circulate, they are routed to Preservation Services so that a preservation decision can be made. While the Library is committed to building and sustaining library collections for the use of students, faculty, visiting scholars, and the public, the physical and chemical compositions of many items actively work against this goal. Books become worn with time, so to combat degradation, the Preservation Reformatting department reformats these items to ensure they can be used by patrons without undergoing further damage. Today, reformatting takes the form of digitization, but this was not always the case. The timeline below shows the different forms reformatting has taken over the years to illustrate how librarians and preservationists have provided access to damaged materials.

Reformatting: The Early Years

1851     Daguerreotypes suggested for preservation

1920s    Commercialized for preservation and widespread use

1930s  Newspaper preservation begins plagued by quality control issues like lighting, contrast, film stock quality, etc.

1935    Microfilm is introduce – Microfilm rose in popularity when Recordak, a    division of Kodak, used a 35mm microfilm camera to film and publish the New York Times on microfilm. Microfilm quickly became a solution to the many preservation and storage issues inherent in newspaper collections and government documents.

1971  Project Gutenberg – Volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works. Created by a former University of Illinois student.

Contemporary Reformatting Projects at UIUC

Because polyester film has a life expectancy of at least 500 years, we still use microfilm as a means of best preservation practice today. The microfilm itself is often considered to be the preservation copy, while digital files are created from the microfilm as access copies to be used by the public. The timeline below shows how microfilm projects at UIUC have evolved into digitization projects.

1982    United States Newspaper Project. Started at UIUC in 1987 as a partnership between UIUC, the Chicago History Museum, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. We have cataloged over 20,500 newspaper titles and resulted in the creation of the Illinois Newspaper Project Database so patrons can access newspapers digitally.

2004  Microfilm Goes Digital – National Digital Newspaper Program. The goal of this project is to enhance accessibility of innovative newspaper content for researchers and scholars. UIUC is currently focused on selecting items that represent a wide variety of geographic, temporal, and demographic groups, specifically labor, African American, and non-English language newspapers.

2004 Google Books -Joint partnership with prominent research libraries in order to build a shared digital repository combining digitized public domain materials from each library’s individual collection into one easily accessible online resource. Public domain materials are available to view, search, or download while only basic information (such as title, author’s name, and a few lines of descriptive text) are provided for items protected by copyright laws.

2014 Internet Archive Partnership – As part of a partnership and customized preservation workflow, Internet Archive staff are located inside the Main Library and perform in-house digitization. This is a unique reformatting workflow as it ensures Library materials never leave the building. Internet Archive has digitized over 16,000,000 eBooks and growing, with over 73,000 books from UIUC.

A Brief Walkthrough of Our Bindery Options

Written by Victoria Schmitz, Collections Care Graduate Assistant

At the library’s preservation unit, we send items to a commercial bindery when they need to be rebound. Described below are some of our options of binding and how we decide which binding style is appropriate for individual items.

Example of digicover bind in cover candidate.

If an item needs to go to the bindery, our first preferred option is to send it in as digicover (paperback or hardcover) or digicover bind in cover (paperback only). With this option, the informational and/or artistic value of the item’s cover and/or inside covers can be preserved through a professional copy printed on a hardback casing, as well as binding in the original cover.

Digicovers have a size restriction, so if the item does not meet the requirements, the next best stop is custom bind in covers, or economy bind in covers. The item must be paperback for both of these options so that the covers can be bound in the buckram cover with the rest of the text block. Custom is for sewn binding while economy is for perfect bound items.

Example of a binding that is sewn.
Example of perfect bound.

If the item does not meet the digicover requirements, has sewn binding, the text block is not broken, and is a hardback with informational and/or artistic value on or inside the covers, we can send the item to our Conservation unit. If the item is not qualified for conservation, then it will need to be sent to Collections Care for bindery prep so that we can copy the covers. We will cut the copies to the appropriate size and then send to the item and loose pages to the bindery as a custom monograph.

An item that does not have informational and/or artistic value on or inside its covers has routes that depend on if it is paperback/hardback and its binding. Paperback follows the instructions above, but if it does not have informational and/or artistic value, it will not hurt to copy or bind in the original covers. As for hardcover, the item will be sent in as custom monograph.

Example of informational and/or artistic value on the inside of covers.
Example of a custom monograph candidate.


A Preservation Chat Reflecting a Year into the COVID-19 Pandemic & our Local Emergency Access Digitization System Workflow

Two Digitization Workflows, Both Alike in Dignity, in Fair Preservation, where we lay our scene… it has been just over a year since the state of Illinois issued a stay-at-home order and we hustled to close our labs and offices to work remotely. COVID-19 had arrived regionally, and we departed the building for our homes in the spring. By mid-summer, we were starting to repopulate the library cautiously in limited numbers. We tested weekly, and then biweekly following campus SHIELD saliva testing protocols, and shipments in and out of the library followed quarantine restrictions to limit the chance of shared contact infections. As a non-public-facing unit, our work in Preservation Services could carry on in the background. Shortly after returning to the office, often on staggering shifts or as the only person in an area, we set to work supporting an experiment to provide digital first access to all general collection requests.

Here’s a conversation we had reflecting on the good that’s come out of all of this:

Will: My first thought when we started up with this was, how can we leverage existing digitization workflows to meet the needs of an extremely increased general collections patron request demand?

William Schlaack, Digital Reformatting Coordinator

Rachael: I was optimistic, but uncertain of how we’d get up to speed and keep momentum, especially considering we were starting from a complete stop in services. I remember an early talk about what we were going to try to do with Kyle, Jennifer, you and Shelby about getting this going and feeling a bit like we had just come back from off season to a culminating test of skills and agility.

Will: After that, it was sort of setting up the parameters for items that we are unable to scan with any sort of fast turnaround time and thus would need to be sent to the locker pickup workflow. Initially it was very difficult to deduce what our capacity for scanning was with our existing infrastructure.

Rachael: I was glad to meet our colleagues Diane and Johna, who came to us from other library areas to help. Their willingness to learn how to use our equipment and adapted workflows as we started sorting out the day to day of hands-on digitizing of all the books has been a positive constant.

Will: A lot of this was taking old techniques and applying them in new ways with new people.

Rachael Johns, Digital Imaging Specialist II

Rachael: I agree, I think the people aspect was a really big factor. We had people learning some fairly complex technical processes from scratch, and we improvised as we went. I was so thankful that came together and I remember Jennifer emphasizing the people aspect, a willingness for this experimental approach, and that came through for us. All the other things, that maybe were big hurdles, seemed smaller in comparison.

Will: We used and tried to investigate making do with what we had, pushing that to the limit, and learning that we really needed to scale up the DS side of things because our existing general collections digitization that I manage wasn’t built to have this quick turn-around time and scale – DS went from digitizing rare manuscripts to mass market paperbacks over the course of a month.

Rachael: Yes. It was interesting!

Will: With realized that with our on-site Internet Archive scanning center we would only be able to continue to scan content through them that is in the public domain. After some real quick calculations, we realized that out of all the requests items in the public domain accounted for only about five percent of the total, so that didn’t take a lot of the pressure off of Digitization Services. Nonetheless, the triage and digitization processes are always balancing acts, with the need for prompt turn-around times promised to patrons, what we could logistically handle. Our communication has always been more or less the following: what are we getting, what does the queue look like, how are we ensuring a balance of efficient delivery time and meeting needs for patrons? Except now the scale and turnaround time are both greatly expanded and expediated, respectively.

Rachael: Maybe to me this aspect is sort of game, keeping things balanced, or at least I’ve tried to approach things that way to stay energized – everything is so trying so coming back to the team vibes, after a year, it’s not the details I’m remembering most it’s getting to know the people involved.

Will: It has been interesting when what we do becomes the forefront of what’s needed, but that magnitude is not something we were traditionally equipped for… we’re used to being in the background and now we’re more public facing and collaborating with staff from all over. I think we’re certainly the better for it. This has been an exercise in opening up channels of communication.

Rachael: It’s been somewhat surreal, from the quiet first coming back to campus. At that time from being remote to in person I was still interacting remotely with Brynlee, Kim, Henry and Angela in a tiny unit that is used to a much different focus to fall and winter, now having more staff with help from great people like Christine and Tabby and shifting back to Special Collections support on a daily, which we kept working with on a much smaller scale but now a year later, getting back into a more regular schedule for.

Will: It’s been trying to meet a quantity, before the reigning paradigm was quality.

Rachael: Right, the needs of a general collections workflow are not the same as the needs of an exhibit in New York City being blown up 20 feet tall! Will you be glad to get back to normal or do you think some of this is here to stay?

Will: It will be interesting to see the role, with the new normalcy and increase comfort with remote work capacities, this injection of ideas about remote and online access to things will have, I don’t think it’s going away. It will always be lingering as people find new ways to approach usage. I would hope to some extent we take the spirit of collaboration and quick thinking that was developed through this process and ensure that we sort of continue to meet shifting patron needs.

Rachael: Quick thinking and support from the library for our small area here in DS to step up to this challenge, was so impactful. I’ve enjoyed the interpersonal aspects helping this effort. We were a small existing team in DS, and now we have new people in DS. Shelby was fairly new, and working with you both from across the hall, and all these new professional relationships has been a really great outcome.

Will: It’s exciting to see our initial ad-hoc and frankly cobbled-together experimental workflow become a much more defined and collaborative institutional procedure and policy working in concert with departments across the library. That’s been good to see. I’m really proud of everything not just our digitization staff have accomplished, but staff across the library as well, to meet this unique challenge and serve our patrons safely and efficiently.

Rachael: Agreed!

A special thanks goes out to Tabby Garbutt, who loaned us the opening line of this blog post and has the unique perspective of having worked on both workflows on this project, IA and DS!

Preventive Preservation: The Importance of Environmental Monitoring and Integrated Pest Management in Maintaining Library Collections

Written by Anne Carney and KayCie Voigt

What is environmental monitoring and how is it practiced?

Environmental monitoring is a set of practices that seek to make library staff aware of and strive for the ideal environmental conditions to protect collections. This is practiced through a variety of methods, all centered on the idea of preventive preservation. Preventive preservation is a set of regularly practiced activities that help to ensure long term collection safety. These practices seek to prevent damage to collections before it happens by creating ideal storage conditions and monitoring of the library spaces to catch any issues as soon as possible.

Environmental monitoring largely consists of a few key practices which can yield a much better understanding of both collection and public spaces. One of the most important aspects is monitoring the temperature and relative humidity of your library space. This can be done with a variety of different readers.  What is most important is consistent records of the temperature and humidity of the space. Programs like eClimate Notebook from the Image Permanence Institute allows users to upload digital datalogger readings and generate graphs for temperature and relative humidity. This information can be helpful when making decisions about collection storage and maintenance. High relative humidity can cause serious damage to collections and encourage the growth of mold, which is both dangerous to collections and human health. While not all collections need tight control over humidity and temperature knowing the normal boundaries of your collection can help quickly indicate issues with the HVAC system and the building, helping to protect collections in the long run. Establishing the baseline of normal temperature and humidity fluctuations for your library takes a bit of time, but it can best help prevent many large scale preservation issues. Finally, one of the most important aspects of practicing environmental monitoring is good channels of communication between facilities, departmental and preservation staff. A clear understanding of the roles that each set of staff have in the overall health of the building and collections is key to preventive preservation of the collections housed in the library.

What are the benefits?

Environmental monitoring can offer a great deal of benefits to the library and the collections. The most direct benefits are the protection and retention of your collection. Keeping stable library conditions is one of the best ways to protect the collection long term. Doing so cuts down on replacement costs and conservation and preservation treatment because of embrittlement or mold related issues. Another advantage to performing environmental monitoring is that it encourages a better understanding of the collection, patrons and library building. A holistic understanding of how these factors impact the health of the collection through regular monitoring can lead to better decision making for collection changes both short and long term. Many of the tools used for environmental monitoring can also be eco-friendly alternatives to consistent spraying of pesticides or inefficient heating and cooling of collection areas.

How it’s done at UIUC

In the preservation department at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, many of the environmental monitoring practices explored above are put into use to ensure the long term safety and health of collections. Monitoring temperature, relative humidity, and integrated pest management are key to the practice at UIUC. The individual units work in concert with the Collections Care section of the Preservation department in order to coordinate collection of data on a monthly basis. This data is collected and reports are made in order to better understand trends. An additional source of monitoring comes through regular maintenance and monitoring of the library’s HVAC systems. These systems help to ensure consistent temperature and relative humidity ranges throughout library buildings. To ensure that this monitoring takes place, the collaboration between preservation, facilities and the individual library units is vital. Environmental monitoring is a relatively simple set of practices that can mean a world of difference for the health of your collection.

Integrated Pest Management

Another one of the ways the environment is monitored in libraries is through Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The presence of pests in library collections can cause serious damage to materials. The starch, cellulose, and proteins found in library materials provide food for certain pests. IPM in libraries is both a form of pest control and a preservation process. It provides an eco-friendly approach to handling pest activity by avoiding the use of potentially harmful chemicals in the building. One of the most important IPM tasks performed in libraries is the monitoring of the interior space for pest activity. At the University of Illinois libraries, pest activity is monitored through the use of glue traps.

These glue traps are placed in strategic locations throughout the library. Traps are most effective when they are placed near drains and water sources; near building entry point like windows, doors, and vents; in areas where food is present; and on floors below ground level. Traps should also be placed along baseboards and window edges.

Once a month the old traps are collected and inspected, and new traps are set. Data is gathered about the number and types of bugs in each trap. Each month of data is compared to previous months to see if there was a change in the amount or type of pest activity. At the end of the year, all of the monthly data is gathered together to create annual reports. These annual reports are then used to generate multiple year reports that are helpful in understanding trends of pest activity within the library. Through monitoring the library spaces we can keep track of the number and type of insects. Properly identifying the pests caught in traps is necessary to determine if they pose an immediate and direct threat to collections. When certain pests make their way into library materials, damage to the books, as demonstrated in the images below, can occur. As you can see in these images, the damage caused by pests is extensive and may have been prevented through proper monitoring.

Other IPM actions taken at the University of Illinois Library include limiting the areas where food can be consumed and where it can be discarded. Garbage cans should be labeled to ensure that the waste that is most attractive to pests is disposed of in the proper place so it can be dealt with in a timely manner.

Overall, environmental monitoring and integrated pest management allow the library to not only be aware of the conditions of the materials and try to ensure longevity of those materials, but also enable the library to think about the best ways to utilize time and effort to create the best space for materials, staff, and patrons.



Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection: Crowd-Sourced OCR Correction

Written by William Schlaack, Digital Reformatting Coordinator

Looking for something to do that incorporates reading primary sources, exploring historical events, and expanding access to Library materials? Then head on over to the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections (IDNC) and try your hand at text-correction! All that is required is a free user account and a keen eye.

While always growing IDNC currently provides free access to 158,430 issues from 146 newspapers from across the country. During the digitization process, newspapers are scanned using a special software featuring Optical Character Recognition (OCR). OCR software recognizes the shape of images and assigns alphabetical values to them. Due to the mass, automated nature of this process certain fonts, charts, and images are output incorrectly, resulting in garbled text that is not useful for keyword searching. Text correction thus improves the accuracy of keyword searches and helps researchers like you.

Before user text correction
During user text correction.
After user text correction.

For detailed instructions click here. If you have any questions feel free to email – thank you!