How I make it work: Sarah Newton

May 29, 2020
Sarah Newton
Sarah Newton and her furry companion, Trudy

Sarah Newton, Conservation Technician, Preservation Department (and Trudy)

What has your experience been like working remotely?

It’s a big change in my day-to-day activities. In a usual on-site work day I’d spend very little time working at the computer and most of my time in the lab making enclosures for items from Special Collections or other locked stacks library collections - which could be matting works on paper, making rolls for scrolls from the East Asia Library, or building custom cloth-covered boxes for rare books. Now, I’m at the computer most of the time, the first thing I’ve learned is to take more breaks for stretching since I’m used to being on my feet moving around all day!


What sorts of things have you been working on? 

There are projects I knew I would never get around to completing with the amount of other work there is to do in the lab. For example, I’m often preparing items to go out on loan to exhibitions at museums. The conservation department keeps records of all the pieces that have been prepared for loans over the years but that information is not all in one place; much of the older documentation only exists as paper records. If we’re reviewing an item for possible loan and remember that it’s been lent before finding that information means combing through old paperwork if the loan was years ago. Sometimes I’ve thought “Wouldn’t it be great to have all this information accessible so I could just look it up, instead of browsing through these files of loan documents to find the exhibition record? But, compiling all this information - that would take…. months.”

So during this time Beth Ryan and I gathered information from wallaby, box, and our paper files to make two spreadsheets. One identifies over 1100 items that have been loaned, and the other the exhibition locations and dates for 90 exhibitions going back to 1999.  Ryan Lieu made it even better by linking the sheets together so we can easily see if a particular piece has been to multiple exhibitions, and now we can have an estimate of the total hours a piece has been on exhibit and a rough approximation of its overall light exposure, which is much more than what I had been imagining.


Have you learned anything new that you might not have while on campus? 

I’ve been taking advantage of many of our online training opportunities - LinkedIn classes in collaborative tools, the google apps, and using Adobe Photoshop and Bridge to more efficiently process and organize our photographs of conservation treatments. I just happened to have a big backlog of unprocessed condition documentation photos which I copied onto flash drives before I left, so that’s been great. I also have been learning iMovie to edit some basic videos. This summer I will need to provide remote assistance to staff at museums abroad in handling some library items that are currently on exhibition. I traveled in February to unpack a crate of items and install them in a museum, but obviously the original plan that I’d return for the de-installation and packing is now out of the question. So I’ll be providing some photos for illustration - luckily we take photographs at every stage of packing and unpacking so I have many, some videos where necessary, and I’ll be available for zoom or skype video assessment of the condition of the items when they’re packed.


Have you formed any new collaborations?

I will be participating in the mask sewing effort for our return to work. I occasionally make sewn enclosures for items in the library - I made some custom “garment bags” for a dozen of the past years’ tree mascot costumes that now live in University Archives, and sometimes I sew some cushions or pillows for delicate objects, but wouldn’t say I’m that practiced at sewing. So I’m looking forward to getting some tips from the community of expert sewers that has formed around this project.

Stanford trees, prepared for storage

Stanford trees, prepared for storage

What do you do to differentiate between “work” time and “home” time?

My position at the Libraries is part-time and I am also an artist. During SIP I haven’t been using the shared studio space I rent. So I’m using the little table I usually use for home office stuff, for work and also as an art space. I try to stay very organized so I can keep my table easily convertible for making small drawings and paintings when I’m not at the computer. I also take a walk outside every evening for a quick reset. But I can’t wait to get back to both of my “real” work spaces!

Sarah in the Preservation lab

Preparing an object to travel to an exhibition. I now have the information at my fingertips: since 2008, this item has been exhibited in eight different museums in in the US and Europe.