From the Frick´s conservation intern: Meet Jill | Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century: From the Frick´s conservation intern: Meet Jill

September 02, 2009

From the Frick´s conservation intern: Meet Jill

The Frick Art Reference Library was founded in 1920 to serve “adults with a serious interest in art,” among them scholars, art professionals, collectors, and students.
-The Frick Reference Library Homepage

So everyone is aware the Frick Reference Library has re-opened to the public as of September 1st. It is worth checking out even if you are just doing some casual research!  The catalog can now be accessed via Arcade online catalog, along with those of MoMA and the Brooklyn Museum. Now I would like to introduce Jill who spent some time at the Frick as a conservation intern!

Hello everyone! I’m Jill and Lauren asked me to guest blog today about my experience as a Conservation Intern at the Frick Art and Reference Library. Many of you have commented on how much you love the Frick for its museum collections and artwork, but did you know this institution also contains an art research library? How about an archive containing papers from Henry Clay Frick himself? Read on to find out a little bit about this prestigious library and my own personal experience working in the conservation lab of the archive.

As an undergraduate at Wells College, I was enrolled in a Book Arts program as a minor. I learned book binding and letterpress skills and this was supplemented with my conservation internship at the Frick. Book conservation and restoration in laymen terms means repairing books to prevent their deterioration over time and housing them in ways so they can remain around for more years than expected. Think of how modern day medicine keeps people living longer than their expectancy: the same is done with books, papers and other items. Some damaged items are easy to repair, such as a torn page, but others items need some serious TLC to get back into a proper condition for handling (such as a burned book).

The Library
I remember the library being an intricate maze, to put it simply. The main reading room of the Frick where patrons can conduct research is possibly the quietest spot in all of New York City! You can hear if someone even turns their head slightly so, or at least it seems that way. Walking through the reading room on a tour, I felt even my whisper was too loud and disrupting the patrons. The wood furnishings are very dark, almost a cherry finish, an d you feel transported into an 18th century feeling library, even with the computer terminals resting in their proper carrels.

As for portions of the library off-limits to patrons, the stacks are cramped, but full of information that is kept dust-free by the housekeeping staff. The library itself is monitored under HVAC standards, with a temperature of 70ºF and relative humidity of 50%. Many floors make up the library, with the archives and conservation areas taking up the 5th floor. This is where I had my internship.

A larger portion of my duties at the Frick was repairing a handful of the 80,000 auction catalogs that the Frick houses. I say handful since 80,000 is a large amount of catalogs, and also taking into account the 1,500 that are added to the collection every year. The Frick collects catalogues from auction houses all over the world, including Europe and the collections has catalogues that date all the way back to the 18th century. The catalogs I was assigned to work on were mainly 20th century.

Most of these catalogs underwent treatment to remove adhesives that were left on the pamphlets from binders that had tape in the spines (I’m sure we’ve seen similar binders in libraries, yes?). Non-archival adhesives like those found on these binders contain acid that is damaging to paper and causes it to color and stain overtime.

To remove adhesive, we used several different treatments: heat, poultice and even water. The poultice was made up of a substance called methyl cellulose which removes adhesive. Poultice is applied as a thick layer to where the adhesive is to loosen up the sticky stuff, then a metal spatula gently scrapes the poultice and loosened adhesive off the paper, ever so carefully however so the paper does not rip. In order for the paper to dry, we would place it between blotter and holytext papers under weights, sometimes in the drying press, similar to the one pictured here
If you have any questions for Jill about The Frick or Conservation in general please feel free to send her an email!


  1. This is fascinating, Jill! The restoration techniques are amazing. I love the Frick Museum, but I didn't realize they had a library. Can authors do research there?

  2. What an amazing place! Thank goodness so much importance is still placed on the written word. Though I like my computer, I still very much value and enjoy books and it's wonderful that this kind of work is being done.

  3. Hi Leslie Carroll,
    I am quite sure anyone can partake in research at the Frick. It's not a public library per se but is open to those with in depth research purposes. There might be some sort of sign in to get into the library but it's free of charge.

    To be sure of what their policies are, I would contact the Frick directly:
    Phone: 212-547-0641

    General e-mail:


  4. I am interested to see just *who* is there researching! I wonder what their most popular section is...

  5. Wow, that is so interesting Jill! The Frick is my favorite museum in NYC. It is so good to know that so much time and care is still put into the conservation of books. They are some of the only links to history we have left!