By Traci Norwood, Staff Writer

Wilson Scholar Kara Chiasson (photo courtesy of Kara Chiasson)

Wilson Scholar Kara Chiasson (photo courtesy of Kara Chiasson)

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.