In her art history and museum studies master’s program at Case Western Reserve University, Tori Laser is accustomed to being able to see—but not touch—history. Now, with support from a Rowfant Club of Cleveland fellowship, Laser is able to hold centuries-old books at Kelvin Smith Library in her hands—and ensure they will be properly preserved for generations to come.
She was one of two northeast Ohio students selected for the bibliophilic society’s fellowship, which awards winners $3,000 for book-related projects.
Laser, who expects to graduate in the spring, began her project in January. Working with Kelvin Smith Library’s Preservation Officer Andrew Mancuso, Laser is evaluating a randomly selected sample of the library’s rare book collection to determine each piece’s condition. Her work will help the library implement future preservation initiatives for the collection.
“It’s important to be able to go through [the books] and make sure they can continue to live on,” Laser said.
Laser examines the various parts of the books—from the cover to the binding—and makes notes about the book’s materials and any tears, bends or other issues with the condition. Once she’s looked over the whole book, she gives it a grade, from 1 for perfect condition to 5 for those that are falling apart.
Through the project, Laser hopes more scholars will learn about Case Western Reserve’s collections. In fact, she didn’t even know the library housed such books until recently. As part of her work with the Freedman Center for Digital Scholarship, she often had to go down to Mancuso’s lab. During her visits, she and Mancuso talked about the books. Recognizing Laser’s interest in the collection, he encouraged her to apply for the Rowfant Club fellowship to pursue the preservation efforts.
Now, Laser works four hours a week with the collection.
Her most interesting discoveries have included entire volumes devoted to witchcraft and demons. A few weeks ago, she evaluated a recipe book that included “everything under the sun that you can make,” from wine to dish soap.
Laser also spends time with the Cleveland Museum of Art’s collections as a curatorial intern with the American Art department, where she works with curator Mark Cole.
There, Laser has added information to the museum’s database, written the information label that appears next to Frederick Edwin Church’s Storm in the Mountains (and is working on two more), and is responsible for writing the 15-word fun facts for many of the pieces in the museum’s ArtLens app.
But among her favorite experiences with the museum was watching as bare walls were transformed to the completed “Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern” exhibition.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that allowed me to gain an entirely new perspective on museum work,” she said
Read on to learn more about Laser.
1. What new hobby would you pursue if you had more time?
In undergrad [Laser went to Baldwin-Wallace and John Carroll universities], I took a ceramics class. I’d like to return to that once I graduate because I like making art—I find it de-stressing.
2. Where is your favorite spot on or near campus to work, read or study?
Phoenix Coffee on Lee Road. It’s one of my favorites.
3. What new place would you most like to travel?
Spain—Barcelona or Madrid. I’ve taken nine years of Spanish, so I’d like to go and actually see if I can speak fluently there.
4. If you could learn another language, what would you choose?
I’d like to learn Italian more. I have a roommate who’s Italian and I took a semester of it.
5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
I work in the Freedman Center and otherwise, I wouldn’t have a lot of encounters with undergraduate students. I like how open and friendly people are. I worried because, at first, I was the only master’s student working with a lot of undergrads. I was worried I would be the black sheep kind of thing, but they were very friendly and very open to me being there. I’ve made some great friends.
I come into contact with a lot of people at the Freedman Center and almost every day, I have a nice experience and good chats with people. I think there’s a lot of quality people at Case [Western Reserve].