A Family’s Tie to Sheridan Libraries

September 29, 2023 by Ruth Wendlandt | Header image by Will Kirk

Alumnus Michael Siegel’s gift continues conservation fellowship

Michael Siegel is a second-generation alumnus of Johns Hopkins following in his father’s footsteps. Growing up, Siegel, a 1974 Krieger School graduate, learned from his father Henry Siegel the power of books and importance of continual learning. When Henry passed away in 1996, Michael’s mother established the Henry M. Siegel Library Endowment in honor of her husband. As a longtime supporter of Sheridan Libraries, Siegel became aware of the resources needed to continue post-graduate conservation fellow Laura McNulty’s advanced conservation training in the book and paper conservation laboratory and wanted to make an impactful gift.

Michael Siegel who is wearing a white collared shirt and blue jacket is looking at preserved materials in the conservation lab. Jennifer Jarvis is standing to the left of Siegel showing him the items.
Alumnus Michael Siegel tours the conservation lab with Department of Conservation and Preservation Paper Conservator Jennifer Jarvis.

“My dad was the class of ’47. He loved reading,” says Siegel. “I wanted to contribute and support conservation. I knew the gift was going to benefit a good purpose. It’s important to preserve books; we can’t lose conservation.”

The Department of Conservation and Preservation is one of the oldest uninterrupted book and paper conservation departments in an academic research library, with the mission of providing active training of conservators through internships and fellowships.

According to Mark Pollei, the Joseph Ruzicka and Marie Ruzicka Feldmann Director of Conservation and Preservation at Sheridan Libraries and Museums, Siegel’s gift came at the most opportune time — McNulty’s previous funding had ended, and the department was actively looking for alternative sources to support her fellowship. Pollei shares that for the past two years, McNulty has been involved in the conservation efforts of the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of rare books, manuscripts, and ephemera detailing the experiences of early modern women from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment.

Laura McNulty is intently binding a book in the conservation lab. Preservation materials are surrounding her workstation as she fixes a page.
Laura McNulty, Kress Conservation Fellow, repairs a book in the conservation lab.

“Working with such rare and unique materials provided Laura with significant hands-on conservation training that has greatly enhanced her ability to treat a broad range of damaged and deteriorated rare books and manuscripts,” says Pollei. “Michael’s gift ultimately provided Laura an opportunity to continue her once-in-a-lifetime conservation training by working alongside a team of highly skilled book conservators engaged in the conservation and stabilization of these priceless and unique treasures.”

Siegel, who has served on the Friends of the Libraries committee, describes how he wanted to take action on a time-sensitive situation — beyond his outright and planned legacy gifts to the Libraries and to his father’s endowment. Siegel met McNulty when she was working on materials from the Women of Book Collection, seeing firsthand the mentorship and collaboration amongst the conservation professionals.

“I have always enjoyed books. Tangible books. If you don’t preserve these materials you are going to lose these resources. They are works of art,” says Siegel. “Books bring knowledge. Preserving books gives insight into the research, science, history, and social history of that era.”

Mark Pollei is standing in front of a book case smiling. He’s wearing a plaid collared shirt and glasses.
Mark Pollei, the Joseph Ruzicka and Marie Ruzicka Feldmann Director of Conservation and Preservation at Sheridan Libraries and Museums.

Pollei explains how fellowships at Sheridan Libraries allow graduate students to develop advanced skills, from conservation treatment techniques to installation and management of complex conservation workflows. He underscores that book conservation needs to be taught inside laboratories.

“One cannot learn proficiency of advanced conservation techniques by reading a book, listening to a lecture, or watching a video. It requires hundreds of hours of hands-on practice alongside an experienced conservation professional,” says Pollei. “Michael’s gift provided Laura an opportunity to continue her training in the Sheridan Libraries conservation laboratory in order to ultimately gain proficiency, expertise, and confidence as an emerging professional book conservator.”

This past summer Siegel, who lives in Florida, was back in Baltimore visiting family. During his visits he enjoys attending Sheridan Libraries exhibitions, walking the campus, and reflecting on his college days, but more importantly it’s remembering the Johns Hopkins moments he shared with this father — from attending lacrosse games to Homecoming events.

Laura McNulty is wearing a black sweater and is standing behind a counter in the conservation lab. She is looking down preparing materials.
McNulty preserves materials in the conservation lab. Mark Pollei says, “Michael’s gift ultimately provided Laura an opportunity to continue her once-in-a-lifetime conservation training by working alongside a team of highly skilled book conservators.”

“I grew up with Hopkins because of my father. He grew up in Baltimore,” he says. “Hopkins is a part of my family, and it’s nice to think my family might be making a difference.”

That difference is already being felt by the Hopkins community.

“The generosity of Michael’s gift afforded an unprecedented opportunity for Laura to gain the necessary skills, experience, confidence, and ethos to develop as an emerging and competent book conservator,” says Pollei. “As the beneficiary of Michael’s gift, Laura will one day, as an accomplished professional, continue the cycle of mentoring and training the next generation of emerging conservators tasked with preserving tomorrow’s rare materials.”

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Topics: Alumni, Faculty and Staff, Students, Sheridan Libraries and University Museums, Strengthening Partnerships, Support Scholars