PACSCL Spotlight: Amplifying BIPOC Voices in the Field

An interview with Victoria Wong

What is your role?

Book Conservator at the Princeton University Library (PUL).

How did you get into the field?

I stumbled upon book conservation as an undergrad looking for a work-study job at my university’s main library. I saw a posting for a student technician in the preservation lab and was immediately drawn to the opportunity to work with my hands. Following my bachelor’s degree, I had many, many jobs (recession!), but none of them were as enjoyable or rewarding as my experience working in a preservation lab. I then sought out opportunities to work as a conservation technician and, after over a decade of doing so, I decided to pursue graduate studies in art conservation.

What is your favorite collection item at your institution? What’s the most surprising thing you’ve come across while working in GLAM institutions?

There are so many wonderful items in the collection. PUL carries the largest collection of Islamic world manuscripts in North America. There are also some very rare and beautiful printed Chinese books that are pre-Gutenberg, many of which have been digitized. Mendel Library, our music library, holds one of Beethoven’s musical score sketchbooks. There are also some rich and fascinating manuscript collections, such as the Toni Morrison Papers and the Weidenfeld and Nicolson Records, where I came across a memo to Joan Crawford politely explaining that, as her autobiography was already going to press, it was too late to change its title to “Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Star.” The most surprising thing I’ve come across in GLAM institutions is that the same object might be considered rare in one institution and circulating in another. Also, a commemorative manhole cover.

Tell us about your experience in the library field?

I’ve worked in many of the roles you’d find in a typical preservation and conservation lab and in a variety of settings from state and Ivy League universities, to private art museum libraries and social club archives. As I’d mentioned, I’d worked as a student conservation technician in a library preservation lab. As a student worker, I made archival housings for library materials and also treated general collections items. I later worked as a preservation specialist and library assistant for an art museum library, where I made and ordered custom housings, and also carried out minor treatments on books and works on paper. As a graduate student, I interned at conservation labs for academic research libraries where I focused on treating rare collection items. Now, as a book conservator, I focus on the preservation and conservation aspects of digitization projects and collection moves, and carry out conservation treatments.

Please highlight any projects related to BIPOC art, history, and culture that you are working on.

I have been working with Deborah Schlein, our Near Eastern Studies Librarian, on surveying PUL’s collection of Islamic World Manuscripts in preparation for digitization. I’ve also surveyed about 100 of PUL’s Ming and Qing Dynasty Chinese books for a collaborative digitization project with the National Central Library of Taiwan, who have been working globally with institutions to digitize rare Chinese titles.

How do you think your experience as BIPOC influences your work as a GLAM professional?

My Chinese heritage, and more specifically as a child of immigrants, is at the core of my approach to preservation and conservation. I’m not solely interested in preserving the information within the items that I work with, but the history and culture behind them, whether that is the item’s binding method, the inks and pigments on its pages, or the plant and/or animal materials present. There is so much to learn from the materiality of an object that goes beyond the text that it holds.

If you weren’t a librarian or archivist what would you want to be?

I love to sew and make patterns, and would happily do that if I weren’t working as a conservator.

What do you wish more people knew about your job?

Conservators like to talk about all kinds of stuff! Item-level treatment is just one of many components of a successful and forward-thinking preservation department. We’re here and happy to talk about other aspects of preservation, like scientific analysis, environmental controls, safe handling practices, pest infestations. All the good stuff!

If you could give advice to emerging professionals, what would it be?

Every project or assignment, big or small, is an opportunity to learn and continue to develop your skills and senses. No two projects are exactly the same, and you never know when a previous experience will come in handy. With that being said, self-preservation is what will keep you going in the long run.

What are you currently reading or listening to?

Summer Walker’s Still Over It and a podcast on traditional Chinese medicine.

What are three things you enjoy outside of work?

Sewing, hiking, and spending quality time with the people I love.

What is your personal philosophy?

“Is this a good idea?”

Where would you like to go on a dream vacation?

I’d go to Huanglong Valley, China for the pools and hot springs. I’d stay for the Szechuan food.

What have you always wanted to try but never have?

I want to ride a motorcycle, but I am also afraid of riding a motorcycle.

You’re happiest when…

I’m with my family, friends and cats (who I also consider family/friends).