Following the completion of renovations, the Society’s Library & Museum has begun expanding Reading Room services. All visitors to APS facilities should review the latest COVID vaccine and masking policies

Preserving Useful Knowledge Book Launch

6:00 p.m. ET

Thursday, September 22, 2022
6:00 p.m. ET

Free and open to the public
Please register to attend

Philosophical Hall
104 S. 5th St 
Philadelphia, PA, 19106

renee wolcott standing with documents being conserved

Stream the event live beginning at 6:00 p.m. ET on Thursday, September 22. 

Please note: In-person program attendees must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours and wear a mask while inside Philosophical Hall. With limited space for social distancing, requiring proof of vaccination is the best way to protect the health and safety of our visitors and staff. Please make sure all members of your party are aware of these requirements. 

Join us for the launch of the newest release from the APS Press: Preserving Useful Knowledge. Renee Wolcott, Assistant Head of Conservation and Book Conservator at the American Philosophical Society, will discuss the history of collections care at the American Philosophical Society as revealed through its minute books, treasurers’ receipts, and librarians’ correspondence. She will also talk about the long line of conservators who have cared for APS collections, including Library of Congress manuscript restorer William Berwick, book and manuscript restorer Carol Rugh (later Carolyn Horton), and the Society’s first full-time conservator, Willman Spawn.

Their painstaking repairs—using finely woven silk, translucent tracing cloth, and expertly cut historic papers—present both a vital historical record and an ongoing challenge for today’s conservators. Although these repairs were groundbreaking in their day, using materials and techniques that would have been unfamiliar to traditional binders, they haven’t always aged well. Many 20th-century leathers fall into dust within decades; silk linings can become dark and brittle. When a previously restored book or manuscript requires additional conservation treatment, how should today’s professional conservators, equipped with more recent scientific knowledge, respectfully engage with these historic yet potentially damaging repairs?

Wolcott will discuss the difficult decisions conservators make every day and how today’s conservators must also act as historians, documenting and preserving the historical evidence of their own field and its evolving preservation methods.

Renée Wolcott is Assistant Head of Conservation and Book Conservator at the American Philosophical Society, where she also examines the collections for evidence of past conservation and restoration practices. Prior to joining the APS, Wolcott served as book conservator at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia, editor of the Book and Paper Group Annual of the American Institute for Conservation, and adjunct professor in the Department of Art Conservation at the University of Delaware. In addition to her book conservation work for the APS, she has curated an exhibition entitled Conservation and the Peale-Sellers Family Collection and edited a volume of the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society on the same subject (Art, Science, Invention: Conservation and the Peale-Sellers Family).