THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Collection Care blog

26 June 2018

Preventive Conservation Work Placement

My name is Elena Verticchio and I have just completed a 3-month voluntary work placement with the Preventive Conservation team of the British Library. As a recent graduate in Science and Technology for the Conservation of Cultural Heritage at La Sapienza University of Rome, my particular interest lies in preventive conservation, which employs scientific knowledge to minimise the deterioration of collections. The importance of this multi-disciplinary approach to conservation is ever increasing and good expertise in the issues related to preventive activities is an integral part of most of the job specifications in the field.

Feeling that there was limited access to formal preventive conservation training, I was looking for internships to enrich my expertise as well as allowing me to become familiar with a new working environment. I was able to reach my goal thanks to an Italian Call for Proposals supported by EU funds1, which financed my project aimed at defining the role of preventive conservator in libraries and archives.

During my work placement here, I was given the opportunity to work closely with the professionals of one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world. The office is based at the BLCC (British Library Conservation Centre), but the Preventive Conservation team carries out varied activities throughout many areas of the main building as well as working with colleagues at the Boston Spa site in West Yorkshire.

Environmental monitor  It's a trap

Shadowing conservators, I have been delivering handling awareness training, environmental monitoring and pest management, as well as practising the craft of bookbinding in the conservation studio. In the science laboratory, I had a taste of the analytical equipment and tools used in the analysis and tests on a range of materials, such as the Oddy testing technique, the A-D strips to detect acetate film deterioration and the use of infrared spectroscopy and portable XRF.

In February, I took part in voluntary activities to engage visitors in the Library at the Harry Potter: A history of Magic family day, where I helped engage children in the crafting of their own little spell books. 

Family day

My tasks included collaborating to keep environmental records updated, collecting thermo-hygrometric sensors for calibration and in the regular substitution of the blunder sticky traps used to monitor pests. Also, I was involved in weekly departmental meetings as well as in team meetings to draft the Work Programme for the year 2018-2019, where I could have a wider insight into the variety of activities carried out and I could learn a lot about planning, time management and how to ensure the workflow as part of the role of a preventive conservator.

More recently, I participated in the installation of the upcoming James Cook: The Voyages exhibition and I got involved in the salvage exercise aimed to alert salvage team members to priority items on display. 

Salvage team plans

Salvage preparation. Left to right: Eszter Matyas, Elena Verticchio and Lorraine Holmes.

As an emerging professional, I was seeking to gain a thorough insight into the job and confidence for my future employability. My experience here at the British Library has proved to be hugely beneficial to me, giving me the opportunity to bridge the gap between my academic studies and my professional career. Once back in Italy, I will begin a new internship at the Institute of Restoration and Conservation of Library and Archival heritage based in Rome (IC-RCPAL). I thoroughly enjoyed this experience and I am really looking forward to using the skills I have learned to share the knowledge of the best practices in preventive conservation. 

This blog post is to thank all the conservators who shared their time and experience with me to make me grow as an emerging professional. A special mention goes to the amazing Preventive Conservation team: Sarah Hamlyn (Lead Preventive Conservator), Karen Bradford (Collection Care Monitoring Conservator), Nicole Monjeau (Preventive Conservator) and Paul Garside (Conservation Scientist). Should you have any questions, you can contact me by email at elenaverticchio21@gmail.com.

Elena Verticchio

1I participated in a Call for Proposals for the Programme of initiatives “TORNO SUBITO 2017” aimed at university students or graduates. The grants are comprised of two phases: the first outside the Lazio region at host locations to carry out training or work experience and the second within the Lazio region at host locations (public or private). My project aimed at defining the role of preventive conservator in libraries and archives, gaining experience in major institutions in the field. The first phase included a shared internship between the British Library and the London Metropolitan Archives; the latter, back in Italy, will be hosted in the Institute of Restoration and Conservation of Library and Archival heritage based in Rome (IC-RCPAL).