By Traci Norwood, Staff Writer
Most people say hard work pays off; this is incredibly true of the Wilson Scholars
on Symposium Day here at the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF). The
campus came together in a day-long event to gather and learn about the topics
students have been slaving over for months. One student in particular stands poised
at the podium, a big smile across her face with her dark bangs pinned back. This is
Wilson Scholar Kara Chiasson, a senior Creative Writing and English double major,
whose topic is book conservation.
The Wilson Scholar Program is a research based grant opportunity offered to
UMF students every semester, for students who are interested in pursuing research
in a specific area of study on their own. For single semester Wilson Scholars, the
students are honored with a $700 grant in order to conduct their research.
On Chiasson’s topic, she said, “it is about book history, conservation, and
digitization. I researched the different ways books have been produced throughout
history, how and why we preserve them, and what consequences arise in preserving
books digitally. I also explored the world of book conservation firsthand when I
visited a conservation center to have a treatment proposal done on an old family
The treatment proposal is done when a book is sent in to a book conversation
company that assesses the book and determines the repairs needed to return the
piece to its original state. Treatment of older book starts at a minimum of $500 that
covers insurance on the book.
When asked about her project, one can see the excitement in Chiasson’s eyes,
as she is incredibly passionate about her project. The accumulation of her work
was presented in fifteen minutes along with five minutes of questions to show her
In her presentation, Chiasson discussed the reasoning behind her Wilson Scholar
program. The inspiration behind her research is her grandmother’s damaged book
called The Great Hurricane and Tidal Wave, published in 1939, which through her
Wilson grant was appraised for conservation treatment. Chiasson hopes to one day
preserve this piece of her family’s history by having the book repaired.
She is confident with her knowledge as she clearly informs a crowd of twenty or
so on her research. The interest is key as she presents the information along with a
slideshow of her work.
She explains how part of the research took her to Houghton Library at Harvard
University and the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover,
Massachusetts, which is known as one of the leading document conservation centers
in the world.
When asked about her strengths, she remarks “my presentation provides a general
understanding of the different ways books were produced throughout history, the
different ways that these books can deteriorate and be conserved, the fallacies in
the digital hysteria, as well as the realities of seeking conservation work as a private
For every Wilson Scholar, the student must work with a faculty member who aids
them with their project. Chiasson asked Professor of English Eric Brown to be her
faculty advisor. She credits him with being invaluable as a resource in providing
suggestions and as a director of her focus when her project seemed daunting.
Now as Chiasson reflects on her entire process, she says to future Wilson Scholars,
“I encourage you to push through those fears and get out of your comfort zone –
that’s what being a Wilson scholar is all about!”
Many avenues have been opened for Chiasson. She gained incredible first hand
experience with interacting, analyzing, and handling rare books and manuscripts.
She hopes to take her experience onward through a graduate degree in years to
come and credits the Wilson Scholar Program as igniting a passion for book history
and conservation that she will continue to explore academically and professionally.