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To Repair or Not to Repair?

Answering such questions is just the start of the job for University Libraries’ book and paper conservator Michael Frazier.

People  |  Jul 19, 2017  |  By Diane Russell
Michael Frazier

Michael Frazier, third-place winner of 2017 President's Classified Employee of the Year Award. (R. Marsh Starks / UNLV Creative Services)

Bringing an artistic sensibility — as well as a sense of posterity — to this delicate job helped the library technician II be chosen as the third-place recipient of the 2017 President’s Classified Employee of the Year Award. A Rebel since 2002, he played a critical role when UNLV recently hosted First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare.

The job

We repair books, of course, but also many other items that are part of University Library’s collection. Personally, I tend to work on the very rare and very valuable items that are part of Special Collections.

An important part of my job is prioritizing and deciding which items should be repaired and how to go about it. I’m the only book and paper conservator working on an institutional level in Nevada.

I have a really good group of five undergraduate students who handle the standard repair for books that circulate. It takes at least a year to train a student.

How you chose this field

I have always wanted to work in a library.  I even was a library aide in high school. Later, I lined up a pretty decent gig working my way through college at the law library at the University of Tulsa. (I earned a bachelor’s degree in theatre management there before earning my master of library science degree from the University of North Texas.) One day my supervisor came through and wanted to know if anyone wanted to take a course in book repair. I took that first class in 1991. I took courses for several weeks and then got a job in the preservation lab at the University of Tulsa.

When I first started, it was not an accredited field. The field was maturing and beginning to put some science into the art of conservation preservation. It was a very hands-on approach. Digitization had not come on board yet.

The thing that really drew me was the idea of scale and thinking of time on a scale. Everything has a life expectancy. Newspaper has a life expectancy of 24 hours. What intrigues me is taking that very same piece of paper and tweaking that life expectancy to get it to survive indefinitely. We have newspapers in our collection that are more than 100 years old. There’s a sense of history. 

And a sense of satisfaction

There is a sense of artwork that goes into what I do. Also, knowing that the work you are doing will have a lasting effect is important to me.

The most challenging of your projects at UNLV

By far, the most time consuming and challenging has been the New York New York Hotel 9/11 T-shirt Collection. This collection has its origins directly following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, when members of the pubic spontaneously began leaving various memorials in front of the replica of the Statue of Liberty at the New York New York Hotel. Initially, each item (mostly T-shirts of various fire and police departments throughout the country) were cataloged and preserved in acid-free storage containers as they were donated. Not only does the size and scope of the collection make it a challenge, but also it is a project that we keep revisiting because of its popularity. The T-shirt collection was used in a 9/11 tenth anniversary art project. Afterward, we spent several months taking the opportunity to rehouse and survey the collection. I supervised a team of students undertaking the various tasks involved in preserving these items.

Working with the First Folio! Exhibit

The "First Folio" was significant because it was such a high-profile 'visiting' exhibition in our library. I played a role in ensuring that all preservation protocols were in place. For instance, I had to generate environmental reports twice per day, while the folio was in-house.

And, I assisted in setting up the exhibition. It was a delight working with such a rare artifact.

Couldn’t make it though the day without

My morning coffee.  Without my morning coffee, I am not doing anything that day.

Where you grew up

I grew up in Hominy, Oklahoma, in Osage County. Heard of the play, August: Osage County? It’s exactly like that.

Something you have done that is daring

Moving here to Las Vegas was a no-brainer for my career, but on the other hand was more of a cultural shock than I was expecting, coming from Oklahoma. It took me away from a safety net that I was very accustomed to. Now when I go back to Oklahoma, I have to readjust to things like the restaurants not being open at all hours.

First paying job you ever had

I hauled hay at the Drummond Ranch. I worked for the cousins of (celebrity television chef) Ree Drummond. I made five cents for every bale I hauled. After the hay was mowed and baled, our job would be to come along in a flatbed truck — hanging on for dear life — load up the bales, and drive them to the hay barn less than a mile away. There we would stack them up for winter. I learned how to drive a 1947 Ford pickup truck that had one gear. One guy would drive, while two would be on the back, stacking, and just hoping you wouldn’t fall off. I was about 12.

Then I had a high school job delivering prescriptions for the local Rexall in Hominy. Later I was a bellman at a hotel. I learned a strong work ethic. The jobs at the pharmacy and the hotel also taught me to be customer service-oriented — be helpful and courteous even though you may not feel like it.

A favorite book, movie, or TV show to recommend

Better Call Saul, I think, is one of the greatest TV shows of all time.

Advice for success

Never stop learning. You always have to follow your interests and your passions and be inquisitive about things. One of my favorite things is to walk randomly though a building on campus where I haven’t been before. I’ve found a botanical garden and the Howard Hughes aircraft. One of my favorite things is the rock collection in the Lilly Fong Geoscience Building.

What the Person Nominating Him Had to Say

Cyndi Shein, head of University Libraries’ Special Collections technical services

Michael’s work is focused on preserving historic maps, photographs, music scores, manuscripts, architectural drawings, and rare books — some dating back to the 15th century. He expertly performs conservation of these items and monitors the environments of Lied Library, the Music Library, the Architectural Studies Library, and the Teacher Development and Resources Library…This expert work is quietly carried out behind the scenes, and while not often in the public eye, it significantly supports public access to the university’s educational resources.

One of Michael’s most significant recent contributions to the community is his work on the New York – New York 9-11 memorial collection. Michael demonstrated initiative and leadership when Special Collections was faced with the daunting task of auditing, conserving, and rehousing over 400 boxes of police and fire department T-shirts that were left at New York New York Hotel in the aftermath of 9-11 to memorialize the fallen heroes of that day.

Perhaps of greatest significance in the past year is the integral role Michael played in UNLV’s successful hosting of the national exhibit tour “First Folio — the book that gave us Shakespeare.” For the first time, rare editions of Shakespeare’s First Folio toured the country. UNLV qualified and was selected as the site for Nevada because we were able to fulfill strict environmental requirements by meticulously following the protocols of the Folger Library to provide detailed daily reports before and during the book’s visit to UNLV.