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Norman document restorer pieces history back together

With patience and X-Acto Knife and other tools, Brad Koplowitz restores historical documents that matter to people and institutions.
BY CHRIS JONES For The Oklahoman Published: October 16, 2012

The tools of Brad Koplowitz's work are few and simple. The reward his work brings to others is great.

Koplowitz, 65, restores books and documents, one of few people in the profession, and he said the designation gives him plenty of job security.

Koplowitz, a Norman resident, works at the University of Oklahoma Library, where his work calls for him to restore books in the general collection.

He also works from his home to restore documents and books brought to him by individuals, churches and colleges.

His work requires a combination of knowledge, experience and patience. With much of his work he uses an X-Acto Knife, a straight-edge ruler, paste and cloth to repair or stop the ravages of time and neglect.

Koplowitz holds master's degrees in library science and in history. He received additional training in his field at the National Archives Modern Archives Institute in Washington, D.C.

He worked as an archivist at the state archives office, and at the Western History collection at OU, where he was curator. He retired but returned to work part-time at OU.

“I have basically lived in libraries since 1976,” he said. “I grew up in St. Louis, Mo., and I was never in a library as a kid, other than the school library. My folks didn't have a lot of books in our home.”

The items brought to Koplowitz have sentimental and historical value. There are ornate family bibles, deeds and certificates. And the documents of life relating to birth, baptism, marriage and death.

He has worked on business documents, diaries, vintage advertisements and maps.

“Documents began deteriorating at the advent of the industrial revolution because of chemicals in the paper making process,” he said. “I worked on a 17th century certificate of indenture, and it was in great shape because it was on vellum.”

He sees damage caused by water, rodents, and often by folding or rolling. He evaluates the condition of items brought to him and is clear about what can and cannot be done.

The desire to preserve

“There are many people who have a reverence for old documents and they care about their preservation,” he said.

He recalls a 17th century map of Manhattan brought to him by a man whose father was a collector. The map had a small “x” marking the site for a proposed city hall.

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