THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Collection Care blog

Behind the scenes with our conservators and scientists

Introduction

Discover how we care for the British Library’s Collections by following our expert team of conservators and scientists. We take you behind the scenes into the Centre for Conservation and the Scientific Research Lab to share some of the projects we are working on. Read more

03 February 2017

Job opportunity: Conservator – Adam Matthew Digitisation Project

Full Time, Fixed Term Contract to 31 March 2018

The British Library leads and collaborates in growing the world’s knowledge base. We have signed a partnership with Adam Matthew Digital to make thousands of digitised historic documents and manuscripts available online to researchers, scholars and the general public. The Conservation department, which comprises some 50 people, is responsible for the care of one of the largest, richest and most diverse research collections in the world.

Cover is going to be reattached to text block

This is an opportunity for an experienced Conservator to work closely with the imaging team, Project Manager and Curators. For the majority of the time you will be based in the imaging studio carrying out the ordering of materials to ensure the workflow, condition checks and preparation treatments on a range of collection items that are being digitised as part of this project. Some conservation treatments will be carried out in the conservation studio. You’ll operate with minimal supervision and have the skills and knowledge to plan, manage and track your work to ensure that deadlines are met. You must be able to communicate effectively with people at all levels, and be able to keep clear, consistent and accurate records of all activities undertaken.

You need to have either a degree in conservation or equivalent knowledge and skills sets, and practical hands-on experience in conservation of library materials for digitisation and/or large-scale conservation projects. A broad knowledge of available conservation treatments within the field of book/paper conservation together with the ability to diagnose conservation problems and to develop and evaluate options for solutions. You should also have a high level of manual dexterity and the ability to treat fragile and delicate materials, together with knowledge of materials chemistry and the properties, behaviours and interaction of a wide range of organic and inorganic materials. A good knowledge of preventive conservation issues is also required with the ability to deliver training on the handling of library material to support and implement best practices within the British Library/Adam Matthew Digital partnership project and collaboration with the colleagues in the main British Library Conservation Studio (BLCC).

Job reference number 01095
For the full job profile and to apply please visit British Library website, https://britishlibrary.recruitment.northgatearinso.com/birl/

Closing Date: 26 February 2017
Interviews will take place in mid-March 2017

31 January 2017

PhD placement opportunity: Textiles in the British Library

Textiles are a numerous but perhaps unexpected part of the collections at the British Library. These intriguing and delicate items require careful storage, handling and conservation to preserve them for the future. Since the British Library’s first Textile Conservator was appointed in January 2015, hundreds of textiles have been discovered within the Library’s collections. These range from fabric covers for Torah scrolls and silk escape maps of Berlin, to a Japanese children’s book resembling a baby in a sleeping bag and Captain Cook’s book containing samples of bark cloth from the South Pacific Islands.

Textiles

This first textile-focused PhD placement presents an opportunity to gain insight into a relatively new area of the Library’s work and contribute to raising the profile of a currently less well-known part of the collections. Working alongside the Textile Conservator, Liz Rose, the placement student will be responsible for completing an internal database of textiles in the
British Library collections. This will involve working with curators across collections to view textile items, photograph them and input their details into the database using the Library’s shelfmark conventions. In addition, there will be opportunities for the student to write blog posts about newly-identified textile items for the Library’s blogs and other public platforms.

During the three-month placement (or part-time equivalent), the student will be a full member of the Conservation Team and will have the chance to assist with holding public tours and events in the conservation centre and with preparing textile items for exhibition displays or external loans. As well as developing specialist knowledge of a wide range of textiles and their conservation needs, the placement thus offers a chance to gain transferable skills in event management and public engagement.

The placement would suit PhD students with an interest in textiles from a range of disciplinary backgrounds. The main requirement is the ability to keep clear and consistent records, and strong IT skills. Training in the handling of fragile textile items, the Library’s subject-specific naming conventions, as well as an induction to the textile collections and to the wider work of
the British Library Centre for Conservation will be provided at the beginning of the placement.

View a detailed placement profile.

Application guidelines

For full application guidelines and profiles of the other placements offered under this scheme, visit the Library’s Research Collaboration webpages. The application deadline is 20 February 2017. For any queries about this placement opportunity, please contact research.development@bl.uk.

A note to interested applicants

This is an unpaid professional development opportunity, which is open to current (or very recent) PhD researchers only. To apply, you need to have the approval of your PhD supervisor and your department’s Graduate Tutor (or equivalent senior academic manager).

Our PhD placement scheme has been developed in consultation with Higher Education partners and stakeholders to provide opportunities for PhD students to develop and apply their research skills outside the university sector. Please note that the Library itself is not able to provide payment to placement students, nor can it provide costs for daily commuting or relocation to the site of the placement. Anyone applying for a placement at the Library
is expected to consult their university or Doctoral Training Partnership/Doctoral Training Centre to ascertain what funding is available to support them. The Library strongly recommends to universities that a PhD student given approval to undertake a placement is in receipt of a stipend for the duration of the placement.

24 November 2016

Applications of Image Processing Software to Archival Material

Images of archival material are useful to both conservators for monitoring changes, and to researchers for detailed analysis and permanent access to collection items. Image processing allows historical documents and other collection items to be studied without the risk of damage to the primary source. The increase in digitisation projects is generating large volumes of image files that can be processed to enhance the understanding of our collections without physically handling fragile material.

ImageJ is a powerful public domain Java-based image processing package. The nature of open source software allows for the constant update and availability of new plugins and recordable macros designed for specific tasks. ImageJ’s built-in editor and a Java compiler allow for the development of custom acquisition, analysis and processing plugins. In April 2013 I presented a poster at the ICOM Graphics Documents Working Group Interim Meeting in Vienna, outlining the applications of image processing software to archival material . The full poster can be downloaded as a PDF here.

C-DUFFY-poster

While several improvements have been made to the functionality of ImageJ since 2013, I hope this poster provides useful information to those less familiar with image processing techniques.

ImageJ was originally designed for the purpose of medical imaging by the National Institutes for Health by Wayne Rasband, but has since found applications in many fields. It can be run on any computer with a Java 5 or later virtual machine, as an online applet or as a downloadable application (Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, Mac OSX, Linux, Sharp Zaurus PDA). ImageJ offers features similar to commercially available image processing software packages such as brightness/contrast adjustment, frequency domain filtering, binarisation and particle analysis.

Christina Duffy

21 November 2016

The Conservation and Spectroscopic Analysis of a Burmese Concertina Binding

Background

Last year I was asked to conserve a high profile, yet highly degraded late 18th century Burmese Concertina binding (OR.3591). Almost everything that could go wrong with a paper-based manuscript had gone wrong with this. It was mouldy, it had pest damage, the media was coming off the paper, and there were significant losses of the paper substrate which had compromised its handling and legibility. Consequently the item was deemed ‘unfit’ for use by the British Library, and was in desperate need of conservation.

Concertina Bindings

A concertina binding, also known as an accordion binding, is a binding method that sits somewhere between a modern sewn book and an ancient scroll. Concertinas are customarily a long sheet (see Diagram 1), or multiple adhered sheets (see Diagram 2), folded vertically into panels, which can then either be displayed as a continuous sheet, or picked up and read like a book (making it far easier to handle than the often cumbersome scroll).

Diagram 1

Fig. 1 A concertina binding like OR.3591, formed of one continuous sheet of paper.

Diagram 2

Fig.2 A concertina binding formed of multiple sheets adhered together.

Figure 3

Fig.3 OR.3591 The carved relief wooden end board.

Fig.4

Fig.4 OR.3591 Stratified, highly deteriorated concertina folds.

OR.3591

This concertina was formed of one continuous sheet of handmade light brown long-fibred eastern paper (see Diagram 1), folded into 24 panels, between two dark wood boards with carved relief designs. Coloured paint and inks on a white ground adorned both sides of the paper. Side A illustrated Buddhist cosmology and side B illustrated fortune telling. The manuscript was acquired from a collector by the British Museum in 1888. The accompanying letter reads:

This book was found by me in the Laywun hut at Thatwé which is about 20 miles S.E of Yamethin in upper Burmah. Thatwé was occupied on the 10th December 1886 by a column of the 3rd Brigade under the command of the Brig. Gen W.S.A Lockhart.

The Burmese interpreter informed me that the pictorial side represents the progress of a saintly man from the nethermost regions to the acme of all goodness. One man shown upside down is the supposed after reaching an exalted position, to have led an immoral life for which he was sent down.

The tables on the reverse are those from which the horoscopes are worked out- every Burman always carries a horoscope."

P.D Jeffreys Lt. Col.
The Connaught Rangers
Late Brigade Major
3rd Brigade Burmah Field Force

Figure 5  Figure 5 and 6
Figs. 5 & 6 OR.3591 Accompanying letter from L t. Col Jeffreys.

Condition: the paper

Fig.7

Fig.7 OR.3591 Manuscript torn into two parts.

The paper was soft, weak and fragile to handle, distorted, holey and creased. The manuscript was in two parts, having torn down one of the fold-lines. There were also extensive losses on each panel, due in part to rodent damage.

The manuscript had also obviously been exposed to water at some point in its lifetime as there were clusters of black spots, which were identified as inactive mould. The water had also stuck the folded panels together, which had later been forced apart, skinning (or tearing off) the top layers of the paper, leaving them stuck to the opposing panels.

Figure 8  Figure 8 and 9
Left: Fig.8  OR.3591 Skinned, creased and torn panel edge with off-set accretions and media. Right: Fig.9  OR.3591 Water damaged media and inactive vegetative mould.

Condition: the media

Water damage had also solubilised the media, causing it to smudge and offset again onto apposing panels. When examined under microscopy the paint was powdery or ‘friable’ and was coming off the paper, suggesting the paint’s binder was exhibiting stronger cohesive rather than adhesive properties, and had ultimately failed in its utility.

Fig.10 and 11

Left: Fig.10  OR.3591 Friable powdery pigment media. Right: Fig.11  OR.3591 Example of visually obstructive off-set media on opposing panels.

Pigment Analysis via p-XRF Spectroscopy

Portable X-ray Fluorescence (p-XRF) Spectroscopy is a non-destructive elemental analysis technique for quantification of nearly any element from Magnesium to Uranium, which enables conservation professionals to identify pigments. Precisely identifying pigments governs the succeeding conservation treatment as some pigments can be adversely affected if treated incorrectly - for example some discolouration if exposed to some solvents. Identifying the pigments also gives invaluable insight into the history, materiality and manufacture of the manuscript.

Fig.12

Fig.12  OR.3591 Analysing pigments via use of p-XRF spectroscopy.

P-XRF analysis was carried out using a Bruker ‘Tracer-III SD’ portable device, and the resulting data was then compared against suitable reference data to determine the identities of the pigments. Four pigments from the manuscript were examined: red, white, yellow and green. In addition, the composition of the underlying paper was also assessed, and this datum was used as a ‘background’ so its influence could be removed from the results.

The data suggested that the four pigments are: red - vermilion; white - lead white; yellow - orpiment;
green - orpiment plus an organic blue (possibly indigo).

* Elements given in parentheses are present in minor quantities.

Table

Fig.13  OR.3591 p-XRF spectra.

Treatment

The manuscript was first photographed, and then the media cross-sectionally solubility tested with deionized (D/I) water, ethanol and a 50:50 mix. All media was soluble in water and 50:50.

Mould reduction

The dry surface mould was brushed gently with a sable brush into a HEPA filtered vacuum according to COSHH standards. Extreme care was taken during this process to limit loss of original media. To ensure absolute mould deactivation, the recto and verso of mould damaged areas were treated via local application of ethanol using a fine brush.

Humidification

The manuscript was humidified in a controlled environment using a blotter, Bondina and Gore-Tex stack covered with a polythene sheet. This process relaxed the paper and reduced its distortions, enabling me to accurately realign the fibres, creases and tears using tweezers.

Fig.14

Fig.14  OR.3591 Humidifying the manuscript.

Media consolidation

Straight after humidification the media was consolidated. Jun-Funori, a pure Japanese algae-based consolidant was made up to a 1.4% and inserted into a nebulizer. The nebulizer, which dispersed the consolidant in a fine mist, was then passed cross-sectionally over each panel on each side. The process was repeated twice until friable pigment was sufficiently consolidated, and the manuscript was left to dry. Jun-Funori was selected for the consolidant because it has documented success at consolidating friable media and it has a low refractive index so it is suitable for matte pigments. When emitted via nebulizer the particles penetrated between the friable pigments, adhering them to the paper.

Fig.15

Fig.15  OR.3591 Consolidating the friable media with Jun-Funori emitted in a fine mist via nebulizer.

Structural consolidation

A Japanese kozo paper ‘Nao 2.2’ was selected for infills and repairs due to colour, weight and availability. The paper was not toned as this would have taken up a large amount of time, and its likely inconsistency would have been more visually distracting than the selected paper.

The tears and holes were repaired with the kozo paper, torn and trimmed so the edges were neat but fibrous, and adhered with wheat starch paste (WSP). The losses were infilled with three layers of the paper, needled out along the loss edge, and adhered onto the manuscript again with WSP. This tri- laminate infill was of equal-weight to the manuscripts paper as desired.

Fig.16

Fig.16 OR.3591 The manuscript consolidated with Nao 2.2 kozo tri-laminate infills adhered with wheat starch paste.

Fig. 17

Fig. 17 OR.3591 The 2 parts of the manuscript, part 1 post conservation treatment, part 2 pre-conservation treatment. 

The infills were trimmed with a straight-edge and scalpel and the manuscript refolded using a bone folder. The manuscript was finally re-housed in its original (cleaned) box.

Figs.18 and 19

Figs.18 & 19  OR.3591 Folding the conserved manuscript back into its original concertina format.

The overall treatment took 113 hours, due to the sheer size of the object and the number of infills that needed to be carried out. The manuscript is now back in use and can be requested by readers - job done!

Fig.20

Fig.20 OR.3591 The conserved item having been returned to its original box.

Fig.21

Fig.21 OR.3591 Foredge showing consolidated concertina folds.  

Fig.22

Fig.22 OR.3591 A section of the conserved manuscript.

Fig.23

Fig.23 OR.3591 A section of Side B showing Burmese horoscopes.

Fig.24

Fig.24 OR.3591 The completed manuscript.

Fig.25

Fig.25 OR.3591 A section of Side A showing Buddhist cosmology.

Fig.26

Fig.26 OR.3591 A section of Side B showing the extent of infills that were required.

Daisy Todd

11 November 2016

The British Museum Bindery heroes

In the British Library Conservation Centre there is a small plaque commemorating four members of the former British Museum Bindery staff who were killed in the First World War.

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Until 1927 the work of binding and restoring the library's collections was contracted out to private concerns. The earliest contractor was appointed in 1760 and in 1881 the firm of Eyre and Spottiswoode was awarded the contract to supply binding services to the Museum Library. In 1927, His Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO) took over the Bindery and continued until April 1982 when the staff of the binderies became employees of the British Library.

The four men commemorated are Pte Horace Crawley, L/Corp Horace Davis, Rifleman Thomas Wickham and Pte Alfred Williams. I have been trying to discover a little about who they were and when and where they died. The main source of information is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)’s website, which gives details of all casualties and where they are buried or commemorated. Further information can be found at The National Archives in the War Service records and the battalion War Diaries. The War Service records show when and where each person joined up – unfortunately they are incomplete as many were damaged or destroyed by enemy action during the Second World War. The Commanding Officer of each battalion wrote a brief summary of each day’s events in a War Diary: these usually state where each unit was and may give details of the actions they were involved in.

Three of the men could be identified without difficulty from the CWGC website.

Horace Charles Davis

Lance-Corporal, 21st Battalion, The London Regiment (1st Surrey Rifles). Service no. 1786. According to his War Service record, Horace Davis joined up on 7 August 1914, one of many who volunteered in the wave of patriotic enthusiasm that swept the country immediately after the declaration of war on 4 August. He gave his age as 17 years and 4 months, and his occupation as Catalogue Assistant at the British Museum. He was the son of Edwin and Maria Davis of Chryssell Road, Brixton. He died on 15 September 1916, aged 18, at the battle of Flers-Courcelette and is buried in Warlencourt Military Cemetery, on the road between Bapaume and Albert, Pas-de-Calais. (If the age on his gravestone is correct, he would only have been 16 when he joined up.)

The 1st Surrey Rifles moved to the Somme front in July 1916, and on 10 September joined the line at High Wood. As part of the battle of Flers-Courcelette they moved into Mametz Wood on 15 September and then attacked a German trench, the Starfish Line. According to the War Diary:
4.45pm. Battn advanced in artillery formation to the attack with a fighting strength of 19 Officers and 550 ORs [Other Ranks]. Arrangements could not be made for artillery support or adequate covering fire, and as the leading platoons came under observation they were subjected to an intense artillery bombardment and later to heavy rifle and machine gun fire. The casualties in this advance amounted to 17 Officers and 490 other ranks, of whom a large percentage must have been killed by heavy shells. The remaining officers and a few NCOs and men dug themselves in and held on to what ground they could occupy until the Battn was ordered to withdraw at 7.30am on the 16th.

This was the first battle in which tanks were used, though in a different part of the field.

2

Horace Davis’s gravestone in Warlencourt Military Cemetery.

Thomas Frank Wickham

Rifleman, 1st Battalion, The Rifle Brigade. Service no. B/203615. Son of Thomas and Elizabeth Wickham of Twisden Road, Kentish Town. Died 23 June 1917, aged 41. No known grave, but commemorated on the Arras Memorial, which honours those who died in the Arras sector between Spring 1916 and August 1918.

In June 1917 the 1st Battalion was operating east of Arras, south of the River Scarpe. The War Diary states:
June 22/23. During the night of 22/23 Battalion HQ moved to [map reference] H30 d2.5 in bank near Lone Copse [south of Fampoux and west of Pelves]. I Coy moved up to Welford Trench.
June 23. At 1030pm B Coy made a raid on the enemy’s trenches in I25 b, resulting in the capture of 1 officer and 6 ORs, and accounting for about 35 others.

The account is incomplete but it is possible that Wickham was killed in hand-to-hand fighting during this raid on the German trenches, which would explain why his body could not be recovered.

3

Thomas Wickham’s name appears on one of the huge walls of the Arras Memorial.

4

The Arras Memorial lists the names of 34,785 men who have no known grave.

Alfred George Williams

Private, 18th Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment (1st Public Works Pioneers). Service no. 204113. Son of Alfred and Charlotte Williams of Eresby Road, Kilburn. Born in Willesden on 20 December 1897 and worked in the Book Department at the British Museum. Joined up on 28 June 1915, giving his age as 19 though he was only 17 years and 9 months. Died of wounds 11 October 1918, aged 20. Buried in Etaples Military Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais.

The Pioneers provided support services to the front line, repairing trenches, tunneling, laying rail tracks, revetting canals etc. Many of the men were miners or had experience in heavy construction. In September 1918 the 18th Battalion was working west of the Canal de St Quentin, between Cambrai and St Quentin, making roads passable and demolishing damaged bridges. The War Diary gives little information, but records that on 26 September the battalion was working on the 33rd Divisional HQ and approaches, and on the preparation of the Etricourt – Heudicourt horse transport tracks. 2nd Lieut. Howell and four men were wounded and eight killed. Williams was seriously wounded in the left arm, left leg and chest and was evacuated to the 3rd Canadian General Hospital in Dannes-Camiers (between Etaples and Boulogne) where he died on 11 October.

DSCF2782

Alfred Williams’ gravestone in Etaples Military Cemetery.

6

General view of Etaples Military Cemetery.

This leaves us with Horace Crawley. Nobody of this name appears in the CWGC database; the only casualties named Crawley from the 6th Battalion, London Regiment are T H Crawley (no first names or age given) and Ernest Victor Crawley. Further searching revealed that T H Crawley is commemorated on the Mill Hill War Memorial, and the related website suggests that this was probably Thomas Horace Crawley, who is also commemorated on the Crawley family gravestone in the churchyard of St Mary’s Catholic Church, Kensal Green. His date of death matches that in the CWGC database, so we can be reasonably certain that this is the right person. However, his parents lived in Barnsbury, so it is not clear what links Kensal Green, Mill Hill and Barnsbury.

T(homas) H(orace) Crawley

Rifleman, 6th Battalion, The London Regiment (City of London Rifles). Service no. 3396. Son of Horace and Bridget Crawley of Barnsbury. Died 7 April 1916, aged 19. Buried in Hersin Communal Cemetery, 5km south of Bethune, Pas-de-Calais.

The 6th Battalion, London Regiment was known as the Printers’ Battalion because many of its members were recruited from Eyre & Spottiswoode’s printing works. Early officers included George and William Spottiswoode. The battalion was stationed near Vimy Ridge from March 1916, and according to the War Diary:
6th April. Battn in billets at Villers au Bois [about 5km NW of Arras]. Baths at the disposal of the Battn from 8am to 12 noon and from 2pm to 6pm. All ranks bathed according to orders issued. All ranks washed and greased their feet before going into the trenches. The major, adjutant and Company Commanders went to reconnoitre the left sub-section, Carency section prior to taking over. 5 officers and 250 ORs detailed to work under REs [Royal Engineers] on Cabaret Rouge. Lieut Col M A Mitchell CMG returned from England.
April 7th. Battn in billets at Villers au Bois. Battn paraded at 9.45pm for the purpose of proceeding to the trenches, left sub-section, to relieve the 17th Battn London Regt. Owing to heavy shelling by the enemy of our communication trenches relief was delayed for an hour. Order of relief, Front Line C Coy, Quarries B Coy, A Coy in cellars at Ablain St Nazaire, D Coy in dugouts, Sunken Road, Ablain St Nazaire. Relief complete at 1.25am. 1 officer and 60 ORs remained at Villers au Bois as a permanent working party (under RE).
April 8th. Battn in the trenches. There was good deal of sniping activity immediately after dawn. The enemy shelled Cabaret Rouge with shrapnel. 1 officer and 60 ORs wounded.

It is possible that Crawley was killed by the shelling of the communication trenches or by a sniper. He was presumably known to his colleagues in the Bindery as Horace rather than Thomas, which is why that name appears on the memorial.

7
8

Horace Crawley is buried in the British section of Hersin Communal Cemetery.

9

The Crawley family grave in Kensal Green (from the Gravestone Photographic Resource).

From this gravestone we can see the sadness of the Crawley family: Horace’s younger brother Joseph died when he was only 3 and Horace was killed when he was 19. Mr Crawley died in 1929 and Mrs Crawley lived on until 1943.

So there we have it: three young men who joined up, presumably thinking that fighting would be more exciting than book-binding, and an older man who certainly did not have to fight (conscription for men up to the age of 41 was not introduced until January 1916), but who maybe volunteered out of a sense of duty. We salute them.


Sources

Commonwealth War Graves Commission: http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead.aspx

Mill Hill War Memorial: http://www.roll-of-honour.com/Middlesex/MillHill.html

Gravestone Photographic Resource: http://www.gravestonephotos.com/

Alfred Williams: see Mike Hall, A Miners’ Pals Battalion at War, vol. 2, pp 273-274. Kibworth Beauchamp: Troubadour Publishing 2015. ISBN 978 1784620349

The National Archives
War Service records: file series WO 363 and WO 364
War Diaries:
6th Battn, London Regt. WO 95/2729/2
21st Battn, London Regt. WO 95/2732/5
18th Battn, Middlesex Regt. WO 95/2417/5
1st Battn, Rifle Brigade. WO 95/1496/4


Dr Barry Knight

03 November 2016

Mounting and Framing: Preparing the Maps and the 20th Century Exhibition at the British Library

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Mounting one of the largest maps in the exhibition.

In a few days the Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line exhibition will open in the main exhibition area in the British Library. The preparation for this exhibition started well in advance and involved several departments within the British Library. As a conservator and project manager for this exhibition I worked closely together with the exhibitions department and curator.

The exhibition department conveys the wishes of the exhibition designers to the conservation department and together we discuss the possibilities of making that happen whilst ensuring the physical condition of the object remains unchanged throughout the whole process. At an early stage we evaluate each item together and discuss possibilities and potential practical issues. This includes assessing whether or not items need conservation treatment prior to mounting, what type of mount and what type of frame the exhibition designers have requested and will it be suitable for the item. If the object does need more than minor treatment before mounting and framing then that is further discussed with the curator.

There are many ways of mounting and framing. Museum standard conservation mounting and framing puts the best practice conservation principle of using methods that do not damage the object or speed up the degradation process in any way first. What little adhesive we do use is reversible and the different types of mount board are all acid-free archival quality boards. The works of art on paper are attached with different types of hinges made of Japanese paper and wheat starch paste. Self-adhesive tapes are never used in direct contact with any paper object, no exceptions. It is however used to attach different layers of mount board together to create a more rigid backing or when attaching the fillets to the inside of the frame to provide distance between map and Perspex. When possible we use non-adhesive solutions, such as photo corners made out of inert and transparent polyester sheeting.

2  1

An example of two postcards mounted for this exhibition with handmade polyester photo-corners inside a window mount allowing the edges of the object to be visible.

Three commonly used methods are; a ‘window mount’ where the object is hinged to the backboard and the edges of the object are overlapped by the window mount. A second option is a ‘float mount’ with regular V-shaped hinges made of varying types of Japanese tissue in combination with fillets to create distance between object and Perspex. Distance between the two is necessary to prevent potential adhesion of media to Perspex. The type of Japanese paper chosen is based on weight, thickness and relative transparency of the paper substrate. A third option is a slot mount which will allow the hinges to be slid through incisions in the back board. This option is favoured for heavier objects and/or undulating objects. Depending on the needs of the object these methods are combined and adjusted in a variety of ways.

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Several mounted maps ready to be framed.

There is a difference between temporary framing and (semi-)permanent framing. While the same best practice principles apply to both, mounting and framing an item for potentially decades, as opposed to 3-6 months, requires a different approach with different materials. For instance using any self-adhesive materials is usually the weakest link in any long-term solution. However for an item that will be exhibited for less than 6 months, the use of self-adhesive tapes can be an effective time-saving option.

Conservation grade self-adhesive tapes are a reliable and useful material because they will not degrade significantly within six months. Using tapes also reduces the time required to remove items from frames and mounts as opposed to a conservation quality adhesive such as EVA, which makes it a desirable option for shorter exhibitions.

For permanent framing other factors become relevant. For instance the bare wood on the inside of the frame might off-gas and cause the paper to discolour over long periods of time. This might not happen with modern frames in combination with temporary framing methods, but it could potentially happen when works of art on paper are exhibited or stored in frames indefinitely. To prevent this, a barrier is created by applying a layer of inert material between wood and the mounted object.

The same idea applies to light sensitivity of media on works of art on paper. Longer exposure means a larger risk of fading or discolouration of the media and/or paper substrate over time. Our preventive conservators work with the exhibition department to establish the best compromise between causing the object the least potential damage whilst making sure there is sufficient visibility for visitors to be able to fully appreciate the objects.

However with (semi-)permanent exhibitions the amount of light accumulates over the years, increasing the risk of damage. One way to alleviate this risk is to invest in a type of Perspex that is not only anti-static, low reflectance, low scratch, light weight, but also 99% UV filtering. High quality conservation glass that is low reflectance, shatter proof and 99% plus UV filtering certainly does exist, but apart from being costly the sheer size of the maps in this particular exhibition exclude the option of glass due to weight.

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Lizzie Martindale framing one of the maps for the exhibition.

Almost all of the maps for this exhibition were mounted and framed exclusively for the four month exhibition that opens on 4 November 2016, but there are a few that were framed for permanent housing. After the exhibition ends on 1 March 2017, these objects will return to storage in their current frames. This was done at the request of the curator who expects these items to be requested for loans and other exhibitions in the future. One example of that is My Ghost 2000-2016 by Jeremy Wood1 (see picture) which was slot mounted onto white mount board with Japanese Paper hinges and wheat starch paste and further adhered to two sheets of cross-lined conservation quality corrugated board with EVA adhesive to make a more rigid mount. The inside of the wooden frame was covered with a barrier layer and the fillets were adhered to the inside of the frame with reversible EVA adhesive.

2 5Left: Frame in front has barrier and fillets adhered to inside of the frame and is ready for the map. Frame in the background shows fillet drying with weights keeping them in place. Right: Mounted object ready to be framed. 

1 My Ghost 2000-2016 by Jeremy Wood (Maps CC.6.a.83)
From the 1990s Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology became increasingly available to civilian use, most prominently in car navigation. Artists also came to appreciate the use of GPS for capturing, commemorating and commenting upon patterns of existence. Jeremy Wood pioneered drawing with GPS, using a receiver to track his movements, using his body as a ‘geodesic pencil’. This print shows 16 years of Wood’s movement around Greater London, the white lines representing his movement by foot, bicycle and motorised transport, the yellow lines by aeroplane. Lines occasionally abruptly stop, reminding us that even digital mapping can occasionally fail.

The majority of maps for the Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line exhibition where float mounted with V-shaped Japanese paper hinges onto white museum mount board to complement the white frames. The joy of conservation mounting and framing is that one often has to come up with creative solutions in the moment because a work of art on paper will have special requirements that make it impossible to use one of the standard methods. One example within this exhibition was Maps C.49.e.56, Post-War New World Map published in Philadelphia in 19422. This map has its own decorative and protective binding. The map could not be temporarily removed for the exhibition without causing damage to both volume and map so it was decided to incorporate the volume inside the mount so as not to have to separate the two.

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Measuring the edges of the binding on to corrugated board.

2Author: Maurice Gomberg. Shows protectorates and peace-security bases. Title continues: As the U.S.A., with the cooperation of the democracies of Latin-America, the British Commonwealth of Nations and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, assumes world leadership for the establishment of a new world moral order for permanent peace, freedom, justice, security and world reconstruction.Citation/references note: The Wardington Library: important atlases & geographies, property of the late Lord Wardington and the Pease family.

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Left: The cut away was covered with self-adhesive tape with a paper backing to cover any sharp edges. Right: Making sure the binding fits; height and width as well as depth.

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The corrugated board covered with double sided archival quality self-adhesive tape so that the next board layer can be attached efficiently (without drying time). None of the tapes used are in direct contact with any of the objects.

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Layer of white museum mount board attached with self-adhesive tape to the corrugated board underneath.

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Left: Making sure the volume is secure within the multi-layered mount. Right: After unfolding the map the edges are adhered to the museum mount board using Japanese tissue V-hinges and wheat starch paste.

Within this exhibition many large maps were framed in standard frames, but there were four maps so large that a box frame was a better option. A box frame in this context is a frame built around the mounted object and attached directly to the wall. The maps were slot mounted onto corrugated mount board with a border of white Japanese paper to cover the edges underneath. The weight and undulation of these larger maps meant that it was needed to distribute the weight by not only using hinges around the edges but also dispersed integrally and to have one large hinge just above the middle. The hinges were attached to the back of the map with wheat starch paste. The hinges were slotted through and attached to the back of the corrugated board with EVA adhesive and a second cross-lined layer of corrugated was attached to the back for added support and rigidity. The benefit of this material, besides being of conservation quality, is that it is lightweight yet rigid and can be ordered in very large sizes. Finally the layer of white Japanese paper was adhered to the back of the corrugated with EVA adhesive.

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The positions of the hinges are marked with an awl and incisions are made along the edges so the side hinges can be slotted through. But first the hinges dispersed along the back of the object are adhered to the corrugated mount board with wheat starch paste and left to dry under weights.

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Seen from the opposite side.

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Hinges were slotted through and adhered to the backboard. Larger hinge can be seen above middle.

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Second layer of cross-lined corrugated board is adhered on top with EVA adhesive. The layer of white Japanese paper to cover the board edges is now ready to be wrapped around and adhered to the back of the corrugated board.

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The finished mounted map is attached to the backboard using non-adhesive Perspex clips. Finally the frame is attached to the wall on top of it.

Working on this project and getting to see the exhibition take shape over the last few months has been very rewarding. I’d like to especially thank Janet Benoy, Mark Browne and Tom Harper for their support every step of the way and to Lizzie Martindale, Julia Wiland, Daisy Todd, Rick Brown, Jenny Snowdon and Gavin Moorhead a wholehearted thank you for helping with the mounting and framing.

Kim Mulder

Book now to visit Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line.

31 October 2016

Talk: Fabric of the Library: discovering textile conservation

Feed the Mind is a series of inspiring lunchtime talks exploring the rich diversity of collaborative research taking place at the British Library. Fabric of the Library: discovering textile conservation takes place on Monday 7 November at 12.30 pm in the Eliot Room, Conference Centre, British Library.

I am Liz Rose, textile conservator at the British Library and I am giving a talk about the textiles I have found in the British Library collections and some of those I have treated. This amazing collection ranges from a contemporary book to a 4th century piece of silk and many beautiful objects in between.

Tickets are £5 and can be booked here.

There will be an opportunity for questions and discussion, all in the space of your lunch-break. I have included a couple of images to whet your appetite but don’t forget the free tea, coffee and cakes!

Textiles 1
Or 9430 Image copyright the British Library Board

Textiles 2

C 24 d 5  Image copyright the British Library Board

 

25 October 2016

Research Strategy Summit - National Heritage Science Forum

Tolbooth, Stirling - 10 November, 18.00-20.30

The National Heritage Science Forum (NHSF) is holding a Research Strategy Summit in Stirling on 10 November 2016 to discuss priorities for future heritage science research, look at emerging topics of research interest and explore potential for collaboration.

Stirling,_Tolbooth

There will be three key speakers at the summit:

- Professor Ian Simpson (University of Stirling), talking about interdisciplinary and collaborative research
- Dr David Mitchell (Historic Environment Scotland), speaking on technical and scientific research and opportunities for public engagement
- Nancy Bell (trustee of NHSF) speaking about NHSF’s ‘Filling the Gaps’ project to identify research carried out since the publication of the National Heritage Science Strategy, and the opportunities for future research.

The Summit comes at the end of a busy year which has seen us:

- Adopt a policy supporting Open Science and develop a Gold Open Access fund to underpin it
- Promote the sharing of research equipment between members through our Kit-Catalogue
- Host a public meeting on ‘Opening Up Heritage Science Research’ with Wikimedia UK and the Shadow Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy in Westminster, Chi Onwurah MP
- Give evidence to the House of Lords inquiry into the impact of Brexit on UK science
- Contribute to policy discussions with the Westminster government around the formation of the new UKRI (UK Research & Innovation) and the UK Cultural Protection Fund.

Forum members work together to share ideas and innovations, maximise the public benefit from heritage science, and speak with a coherent voice on policy and public issues. We hope you’ll join us on the 10th November both for the Summit and for the drinks reception afterwards.

Please register to attend, by 31 October 2016 using Eventbrite.

NHSF is delighted to be working with Historic Environment Scotland to hold this event.


Alastair McCapra
Chair of Trustees

17 October 2016

From West to East: Conservation of the Chinese novel ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’

By Heather Marshall

Six volumes arrived in the Conservation studio at the British Library. They are all bound in Western style bindings, quarter bound in dark blue leather and marbled paper, and they are very much in the format and style with which you will be familiar when looking at a traditional book.

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One of the six volumes, open, showing the restricted opening, detached boards and spine piece.

I discovered that these volumes contain one of the greatest Chinese novels: the Dream of the Red Chamber (in Chinese: Hong lou meng), written by Cao Xueqin in the 18th century. This edition (British Library shelfmark: 15333.a.1) was made during the Qing dynasty, and it is dated 1811. It is a printed item.

The Dream of the Red Chamber is also called ‘The Story of the Stone’ (in Chinese: Shi tou ji) and it is one of China’s greatest classic novels. Written during the Qing dynasty, this work is widely recognised as one of the pinnacles of Chinese fiction. It narrates the story of two branches of a wealthy aristocratic family (the Jia family) and gives us a vivid account of the Chinese culture and society at that time, portraying funerals, rites, cuisine and medicine aspects.

However, it is relatively unknown in the West, despite the fact that the first translation into English was produced in 1812, just one year after the production of this Chinese copy. It is curious that the original item has at some point been rebound in Western style. The size of the novel is remarkable and when bound in Western style it arrived at 23 fascicules in 6 volumes! The current Penguin books edition is longer than War and Peace!

Books and other collection items in libraries often go through several transformations by being put into a number of different bindings in their several hundred year lives. This can vary from complete rebinding from one style to the next or an amalgamation of styles, through different repairs deemed necessary over the years.

Until recent years, when an item from East Asia was ingested in a Western library’s collection, it was usually rebound with Western style technique, including a hard cover with a spine, which usually contained the title in English. It was in fact believed that in this way the items would have been better stored on the shelves and the paper would have been more protected from dust or humidity. The same happened for the British Museum Library’s items from China (now the British Library’s Chinese collection).

The British Library Lead Curator for East Asian Collections, Sara Chiesura, has informed us that more recent and contemporary acquisitions are left with the original binding and put in a custom made box for shelving. This approach goes along with the current conservation trends, which tends to intervene as little as possible on the original items, and to adopt non-invasive techniques to stabilise them.

As a Book Conservator making decisions about the type of repairs needed to a fragile or damaged binding can be very complex and you will always need to consider the evidence which gives the story of the past. Do you keep a book in its current format and make repairs? Sometimes, in fact, even if the Western style binding is not ideal for East Asian items, the binding itself becomes part of the history of the item, and can sometimes reveal information about previous owners or collectors.

Would a new binding be better able to protect the book for the future and honour its history too instead?

The repair work on these Chinese items became therefore a rare case at the British Library. After a discussion with the curators, we decided that the ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ would have been taken out of its current western style bindings and been put into a Chinese style thread bindings, housed in wrap around ”Tao” cases. Using strong, archival materials, the 6 volumes (23 fascicules in their original format) deserved the sympathy of a return to their origins and a non-Western approach was the best option for the original fragile, thin paper and the need for gentle opening and a secure binding.

As with many Chinese books that have been rebound in Western style, the tight hard binding in contrast to the fragile and this Chinese paper often does not work. In this case, the solid animal glue at the spine created a tight opening and did not allow the bindings to open far enough to see all the text. The detached boards and spines caused much damage as well.

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Above: one volume after the animal glue was removed from the spine, clearly showing the divisions into fascicules of the original Chinese book and leaving the evidence of the more recent Western style binding.

Working with the item, I immediately noticed some original holes (in the paper text block), which gave me evidence of where the original Chinese thread sewing was. I could therefore reuse these original holes to recreate the sewing for the Chinese binding, tracing back the binding’s original state.

The so-called “Thread Binding” was the usual Chinese binding format in 1811. It is strong and the sewing rarely breaks. Thread bound fascicules in wrap around cases (known as “Tao” cases) would last indefinitely. They allow the flexible pages of each fascicule (which are double sheets, with the fold where the pages are turned) to open flat under their own weight and not be restricted by the spine.

The treatment stages:

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Open fascicule showing repairs to be made with Japanese tissue.

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Repairs were made (with wheat starch paste, a neutral adhesive and Japanese tissue) to the delicate spine edge which is still partly glued together by the animal glue used on the previous Western binding.

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Detail showing remains of the original paper twists and their holes.

The paper twists are used to bind the loose leaves of each fascicule before it is sewn. They are made from a twist of paper pointed at one end and in this case inserted in two places into each fascicule. The Chinese style binding is very strong and the paper twists are often thought of as an ‘inner binding’. They hold each fascicule together before sewing and can act as a back up to the sewing if it breaks.

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Paper twists inserted.

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Trimmed paper twists.

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One stitched fascicule.

Each of the 23 fascicules were re-stitched using the 4 existing sewing holes, using a strong linen thin thread. Extra care was taken to re-use these holes by sewing with a very blunt needle. The needle then finds the hole and eases gently through without causing any damage to the fragile paper.

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Traditionally thin silk (lined with paper) is folded around the corner of each fascicule to protect the corners and give another source of strength. In this particular case aero cotton was lined with Japanese paper.

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Re-sewn fascicules (with corners and covers).

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Flexible opening.

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Cases (Tao style cases) were custom made to ensure the fascicules have a snug fit and give very good protection to the book. It is a big advantage of the Chinese style of binding that the elements work together but can also be separated. The wrap around case has to be exactly the correct size. If it is too tight the fascicules can bend, if it is too loose fascicules may fall out! These cases were often remade several times in the book’s life. In this case strong, archival materials have been used so correct storage and handling will ensure good protection for the fascicules and cases in the future.

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The wrap-around case is made of board covered in cloth, lined with paper, and then fastened with bone pegs.

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“Chinese Book” is the expression used for the whole object. For this copy of the ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ 23 individually bound fascicules were encased in 6 wrap around cases (keeping with the format of the 6 western style volumes which arrived in the studio).

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With thanks to Sara Chiesura for input on this post.

Bibliography:

Atwood, Catherine, ‘Japanese folded sheet books: Construction, materials and conservation’ in The Paper Conservator, papers from the 10th anniversary conference, 14-18 April 1986, part 2

Helliwell, David ‘The Repair and Binding of Old Chinese Books’ in The East Asian Library Journal, Spring 1998, Vol. VIII, no. 1

Ikegami, Kojiro, ‘Japanese Bookbinding’ adapted by Barbara B. Stephan, Wetherhill, London, 11th edition 2007

Wood, Michael, ‘Why is China’s greatest novel virtually unknown in the west?, in The Guardian, 12th February 2016

04 October 2016

Conservation code cracking: finding meaning in hidden symbols

Everyone loves a good puzzle - and this was definitely found to be the case when Flavio Marzo, conservation team lead for the Qatar/British Library Project, sent an email around to colleagues with a series of mysterious symbols attached. What did they mean? The ancient doodles were uncovered by Flavio during conservation work of a manuscript from the Delhi Collection. Could the code be deciphered by British Library experts? Flavio reports.

Digitisation processes can be quite repetitive. Here at the British Library Qatar Digitisation Project we try to achieve the best we can and this means a lot of quality checks to ensure high levels of efficiency through standardised processes.

There is no difference in our approach to the conservation strand of these digitisation projects. Standardised treatments are applied daily to a great number of items that are processed and prepared to enable a good final result and to ensure safe handling of library material. Unsurprisingly, these items are unique and their content extremely fascinating.

Recently, as part of the material scoped for the second phase of the project, I had to repair a manuscript before imaging and uploading onto the Qatar Digital Library.

This manuscript contains two mathematical treaties bound together dating back to the beginning of the XVIII century. It was in need of conservation treatment because the sewing of a previous restoration attempt was impairing the opening making some of the text inaccessible and impossible to be imaged.

The manuscript is one of 36 scoped for the project belonging to the Delhi Collection. The Delhi Collection encompasses more than 2900 manuscripts stored across the British Library. The manuscripts are all that is left of the Imperial Mughal Library that was acquired by the English run Government in Delhi after the final destruction of the Delhi Red Fortress.

Those texts are now finally becoming available to readers for the first time thanks to the surrogates that we are uploading onto the Qatar Digital Library website. They all are in very poor condition and for this reason many of them have never been made available to readers in our reading rooms.

The prime concern for conservation when treating items is to find the right balance between the level of intervention necessary to make a book strong enough to be safely handled while still preserving the unique and invaluable physical features related to its history and use. These concerns are even more apparent for the Delhi Collection manuscripts since their history and the vicissitudes relating to their move to London are still quite confused.

This manuscript and the treatments carried out to conserve it are a very good example of how challenging it can be to decide what to do and where to stop, but also a very unique case of a fascinating discovery. When the little manuscript (measuring just 182 mm high, 120 mm long and only 7 mm thick) was brought to the studio its book block was detached from its cover.

Delhi Arabic 1925
At a certain point of its life the manuscript was restored and a new over-casted sewing was made to keep the loose, badly damaged pages together.

Construction of the book block
Diagram of the construction of the book block and the full leather cover.

This new sewing, even if achieving its purpose, was badly impairing the opening of the book making some of the marginal notes illegible.

Hidden annotation
Annotation disappearing into the gutter before (left) and after (right) the removal of the over-casted sewing passages.

We know from historical sources that these manuscripts were moved from Delhi to Calcutta for evaluation in the view to be then transferred to London; it was during this time that they were left neglected and befell extensive damage. It was most likely around the same time that the manuscripts were crudely restored and the present cover was applied to the text.

Changes are unavoidable during restoration processes, but conservation is committed to keeping this to a minimal level and always trying to preserve evidence of past treatments while keeping detailed treatment documentation.

After consultation with the curators it was decided to remove the over-casted sewing to improve the opening. The passage holes of the sewing thread were left undisturbed and even the passages of thread on the first and last sheets, not causing any harm to the book, were left and secured in place with wheat starch paste.

Unfortunately most of the pages of the two small manuscripts, repaired even before this last restoration campaign, became loose with no clear evidence of the original construction of the sections.

Many of the sheets were attached to each other at the inner joint and it was decided, after discussion with the curators, to keep this arrangement since no other evidence of thread passages was found. New joints were made with Japanese paper to create the bifolia for the quires.

Book block construction after conservation

Diagram of the construction of the manuscripts after conservation.

The three sections were sewn together with an unsupported sewing using the holes found in only three conjoint bifolia. This is represented in the previous diagram by continuous black lines.

The different layers of original spine lining were re-adhered as they were originally. The end leaves were re-connected to the book-block by gluing them along the spine edges to the first and last leaves of the book, as they were previously.

Only the front right paste down, originally attached to the inner face of the board was left detached and this was due to a very interesting discovery. During the conservation treatment of the end-leaves some hidden manuscript annotations came to light.

Right board
The right board of the cover was made from reused manuscript material. A couple of signatures (now under investigation) appeared, accompanied by what looked like a series of squiggles almost entirely hidden by the leather cover.

After a more careful examination it became clear that these symbols were actually much more than simple doodles. I decided to figure out how to decode them.

The code
The line of symbols emerged partially obscured by the turn in of the leather cover on the fore edge of the inner right board.

An email was written with images attached and it was sent to all colleagues working here at the 6th floor within the British Library/Qatar Partnership: an open invitation to participate in the decoding. Less than an hour later the mystery was solved. The squiggles were in fact a rebus - a puzzle where words are represented by pictures and letters, and its translation came out as: I see you but you cannot see me

The breakdown is shown below:

Code

What an incredible and exciting discovery!

This really is the most appropriate motto to what I am always saying about conservation and the challenges in preserving evidence of historical clues: they are there, they look at you, but we are not necessarily able to see them.

The curator of the Arabic manuscript strand of the project, Bink Hallum, was the person who cracked most of the code. This demonstrates how tasks can be resolved through collaboration and sharing of expertise.

So many invisible pieces of information, during our careers, look at us from the items we handle everyday. We don't always have the necessary knowledge to see them, but surely we have the responsibility to preserve and convey them for posterity.

Flavio Marzo