Preservation Fellowships for Iraqi Conservators

Iraqi conservators and NARA staff evaluate treatment needs of several books in the IJA

As part of the Iraqi Jewish Archive Preservation Project, Preservation Fellowships were awarded to two Iraqi conservation professionals to work at the National Archives in preserving the Iraqi Jewish Archive collection and in support of its long-term care.

From November 2013 through January 2014, courtesy of US Department of State funding, two experienced conservators from the Iraq National Archives and Library— Nahid Fahil Mahdai, head of conservation, and Zinah Adnan Majeed Al-Benezzi, paper conservator—were actively involved in the full range of treatments for preserving books and documents in the collection.

The Iraqi conservators, who have done extensive work treating damaged objects after so much of their home collection was burned or damaged during the Iraq War, were comfortable with challenging tasks like cleaning pages stuck together with thick mold and piecing together 10 to 20 paper fragments to rebuild a complete piece of paper.

Nahid Fahil Mahdai cleaning a book prior to imaging

Over the three months the Iraqi conservators were in residence, much mutual learning took place. The Iraqi conservators learned about the National Archives’ approaches to collection care and treatment of items that will be digitized, including new mold-removal and flattening techniques. The Fellows observed that physical conservation work is quite similar in Iraq and the United States, and that much of their daily work involves washing printed materials damaged during the war.

The Iraqi conservators treated more than 45 books and documents that initially could be neither handled or read and brought them to a condition where they can be handled, imaged, and read online by people throughout the world. National Archives staff briefed the Iraqi Fellows on how the “Rediscovery and Discovery” exhibit was installed and participated in deinstalling the exhibit. The Iraqis also observed how the computer serves conservators in the United States as a tool for monitoring work flow, including tracking items, transferring custody, and printing labels.

The Fellows with Mindy Dubansky, book conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

The Fellows also received orientations to other broader preservation activities at the Archives, including photograph and book conservation, environmental concerns for storage and monitoring, and digitization. They visited other US conservation facilities in New York, Washington, DC, and at the University of Delaware.