Review: Materials Database
The Materials Database will no doubt become one of the most important references in the conservator’s library, bringing together in one source information about an encyclopedic range of materials; including their definition, chemical and physical properties, and literature citations for additional information. Conservators routinely consult a wide range of sources for information pertaining to the materials that comprise a work of art or those that are being considered for its treatment. The Materials Database will expedite this search. Whether looking for a definition of an unfamiliar term, comparing and contrasting the properties of two materials, or seeking an alternative source of information about a material, the Database can provide the answers. It will also provide an important historical reference for documenting the materials used in conservation treatments.
While placing the data in an alphabetical format is the most logical and lends itself to a book format, retrieval of information within the database format is critically important and should be retained in the final distribution of the Database as a CD-ROM. The computer has already become an extension of our libraries, and this format lends itself to timely updates of the information within the database.
The overall design of the database around “browse” and “search” functions is quite helpful. The browse function in particular worked well, and it was possible to move quickly through the document, despite the large number of entries. The search function, however, did not work as well. Description category searches pulled up an incomplete list of entries, for example:
- Search for “textile adhesive” (for adhesives used in the treatment of textiles) in the description category brought up 22 entries but did not include important ones used in the conservation of textiles, including Mowilith, Vinammul, Elvace, Beva, Wheat Starch paste, etc. It is important that the definitions be formatted to include key words to facilitate searching. Although many of these adhesives are in the database, they are not necessarily listed as being used for the conservation of textiles.
- Similar search for “textile detergent” yielded six entries, but omitted important ones such as Icepal and Triton-X.
- “Conservation support fabrics” search did not have any match, “support fabrics” had a few, though none used in the support of textile objects, such as crepeline or stabiltex.
In addition to the overall search problems mentioned above, successful development of the search function will depend on complete and accurate information in individual entries. While some materials appeared within the database, specific uses (for example for textile conservation) may not have been listed and therefore not retrievable as such. Citations were not present in many cases. CMC is an example, a cellulose derivative that has widespread use in many conservation disciplines. Its use as an antiredeposition agent in the washing of historic textiles was widely embraced within the field of textile conservation after the research of Judith H. Hofenk de Graaff, a use that is important to note in the database and for which there are several citations. Similarly, EDTA has uses listed in the database related to cleaning of metals and objects, but not to textiles, although it was presented in an AIC Specialty Group (Adler and Eaton, 1995) paper for use with cleaning textiles with stains caused by metal ions in previous wash baths. Other obvious omissions, such as Lissapol N and C detergents may have been due to their widespread use in Great Britain and not in this country; however others common in the US should be included, such as the widely used non-ionic detergent Icepal.
It appears that Rosalie Rosso King’s book was used extensively for data. It would perhaps be preferable to use sources that offer a full analysis of the topic of fiber identification such as J. Gordon Cook (Handbook of Textile Fibers) and their preparation for manufacture into textiles, such as Marjory L. Joseph (Introductory Textile Science).
Some of the entries simply need clarification, for example rabbit hair, defined as…”fluffy, warm felt fabric.” Rabbit hair has specific chemical and physical properties and optical characteristics, which would be useful in the entry, as do all the fibers. It is used in a number of different weave structures, both woven, knitted, and possibly even felted (nonwoven); to characterize it as a “felt fabric” is inaccurate, and as “fluffy and warm” not particularly useful.
In summary, the foundation for the database is well placed. Additional work is needed on individual entries to incorporate commonly used conservation materials, to edit the existing definitions, and to ensure the use of key words for ease in searching data. Citations should be included as much as possible.