Collection Care blog

142 posts categorized "Conservation"

19 November 2018

What’s in a box?

Well, mostly books and newspapers, but other objects in the British Library collection too. We do this at our Boston Spa, West Yorkshire site, where the Collection Care North team are based. They make around 15,000 boxes a year.

What do we box?

  • Legal Deposit newspapers, national and regional titles.
  • Damaged books.
  • Books that have received conservation treatment.
  • Fragile and/or valuable books.
  • 3D objects, for example the 3,000 year old Chinese oracle bones, artefacts from the Punch Magazine archive.
Some of the Chinese Oracle bones in their storage box
Some of the Chinese Oracle bones in their storage box

 

Repaired book with a phase box.
Repaired book with a phase box.

 

How do we make boxes?

We have two digital flatbed cutting machines that cut and crease the card for us. The only manual bit is placing a sheet of box board on the machine and taking the cut out board and folding it into the box.

Six boxes cut out of one sheet of box board, ready for folding.
Six boxes cut out of one sheet of box board, ready for folding.



The machine has three tool heads:

  • A blade to the cut the card.
  • A creasing wheel that marks out the folds.
  • A pen that we can use to write the book or object information on the outside of the box, so no need for sticky labels. 
Zund tool head, Left to right: cutting blade; creasing wheel, pen.
Left to right: cutting blade; creasing wheel, pen.

 

There are a few different designs of box that we use depending on what item the box is for. All of our boxes are made to a bespoke size. If the item is stored/arrived at Boston Spa we measure them on site. If any boxes are requested for items in St. Pancras, then the measurements are sent to us.

Book / newspaper measurer.
Book/newspaper measurer.



The boxes have to fit snugly to the item so that it can’t move around inside. This is particularly important for the newspapers that are boxed. Several editions go in one box; a weeks’ worth of one national title, or a months’ worth of a regional paper. If the box is too big and allows the newspapers inside to move about, this will cause them damage, but it will also potentially cause problems in the store. The National Newspaper Building at Boston Spa is home to the National Newspaper Archive. The building is a high density store, with capacity to store 60 million newspapers. To aid fast retrieval of requested items from the shelves, which are 20 meters high, robotic cranes operate in the store. If a box was too big for a bundle of newspapers and they moved about inside as they were being retrieved this could cause the crane to malfunction with the unexpected shift in weight of the box.

Box board

We use four different types of box board. There are two main differences between them; thickness and structural design. We use a solid card in thicknesses of 6.5 mm and 1 mm, and a corrugated card in thicknesses of 1.1 mm and 1.3 mm. The type of box board chosen depends on the size and weight of the item being boxed.

Sample of 1.3 mm thick corrugated box board.
Sample of 1.3 mm thick corrugated box board.



The corrugated card is stronger, so used on very big or heavy books. However it is thicker and will take up more space on a shelf, so we can’t box everything in the strongest card if it doesn’t require it and a thinner card will offer the necessary protection.

Boxes ready for folding.
Boxes ready for folding.



Advantages of boxing

  • A large range of designs available to suit all kinds of objects, made to bespoke measurements.
  • Reduces potential physical damage caused by handling and transport.
  • Protects against dust and other contaminants.
  • Buffers against changes in temperature and relative humidity. Incorrect levels of either can lead to chemical and physical deterioration.
  • Quick and efficient option to protect fragile/vulnerable/damaged items.
Collection Care Support Assistant operating one of the digital flatbed cutting machines.
Collection Care Support Assistant operating one of the digital flatbed cutting machines.

 

Disadvantages of boxing

  • By placing an item in a box, we are making the item bigger, even if only by millimetres, so a boxed item will take up more room on a shelf.

So if you ever receive an item in one of the British Library reading rooms or from our remote supply service and it’s in a box, that item is probably fragile - so please handle carefully. Boxes proudly made in Yorkshire!

 

Emily Watts, Collection Care North Manager

24 September 2018

Textiles come in all shapes and sizes at the British Library

As part of London Fashion Week Nabil Nayal hosted his presentation at the British Library on Tuesday 18 September. He is an advocate of ‘research in fashion education and practice’ and has used the collections at the British Library extensively. The image below shows how he used Elizabeth I’s famous Tilbury Speech as inspiration for one of his printed textiles.

A photograph of an presentation held at the British Library. Two models, one seated in a white dress, and one standing behind her, who is wearing a gossamer-like material, which has text printed on it, in the form of a old letter from Elizabeth I. The Model, slightly side-on to camera, has flung her arm out, the image capturing the cape-like material around her arm billowing out to the side. The Kings library tower can be seen in the background.www.nabilnayal.com

The Library Collections are diverse and complex, representing many cultures and comprises of published, written and digital content together with letters photographs, paintings, newspapers, sound recordings, videos, objects and textiles.

Textiles are found in all curatorial divisions: Contemporary British; Western Heritage, European and American and most widely in the Asia and African collections. As textile conservator, I have chosen a few of the most beautiful and inspirational objects.

A book jacket lying flat on a white plastazote, on a grey table. The Book jacket is red velvet, with gold thread edging. The front and verso of the jacket is the Prince of Wales crown of three Ostrich feathers, done in seed pearls, with some missing. The crowns are framed by a thick border of flowers  in silver thread.
Royal MS 12C VIII 1 – Chemise book jacket with the badge and motto of Prince Henry Frederick (1594-1612): red velvet, silver and gold metal thread and seed pearls.

See the item online here

A Large folio opened out, of blue pages with red Chinese calligraphy neatly running down both pages in silk. The pages are thinly bordered in white material.
Or 1234 – Manuscript with blue silk pages and red silk embroidery.

Qianlong's Ten Victories: chronicle of ten successful campaigns conducted by the Emperor in 1790. The author is the Emperor himself, and the manuscript contains the Emperor’s own handwriting embroidered on silk.

Explore and learn more about this item here.

A large square silk brocade bag, with twin thin golden twine handles, ending in gold oak leaf bunches. The silk bag is deocrated with a central flower in pink, green and white, surrounded in a vaguely circular patter by large curling leaves, which in themselves are superimposed by small bunches of flowers in purple and pink, with green leaves. The background colour of the bag is a olive green in horizontal lines.
MSS EUR G59 – Large ceremonial, silk brocade bag which housed an ‘Ornamental Letter of Credence, dated 27 Oct 1835, from `Louis Philippe Empereur des Francais' (1773-1850) to Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), ruler of the Punjab 1792-1839’.

Explore and learn more about this item here.

Unfortunately, the above items are all restricted due to their fragile and rare status. Letters of introduction can be written to the curators to request permission to view restricted items.

LIZ ROSE, Textile conservator

10 September 2018

Rehousing two 12th century charters

My name is Wanda Robins, and I am studying book conservation at Camberwell College of Arts, in London. A key component of the Camberwell program is to provide students with ample practical work experience in historical institutions to consolidate the theoretic knowledge gained at university. In addition to one-day per week placements throughout the school year, every student completes a four to six-week summer work placement between the first and second year, which is an opportunity to work on more complex projects and experience full time work in a conservation studio.

I was fortunate to have my placement at the British Library Conservation Centre (BLCC) and had an opportunity to work on an exciting project to rehouse two 12th century parchment charters that were gifted to the British Library from Abbey College, Ramsey.

Ramsey Abbey was a Benedictine abbey founded in AD 969 in what is now Cambridgeshire. The two charters bear the seals of Henry I (king from 1100 – 1135) and Henry II (king from 1154-1189) and grant the surrounding land to the Abbey.

The curators and the conservation team determined that the charters should be rehoused due to the acidic mount board and the frame was not well sealed. It was also apparent that the charters were pasted down to board, which constricts the natural movement of parchment, and would ultimately be detrimental to the charters.

Before Pictures:

 

The charters as shown in their original housing, with in a wooden-framed glass mounting. The two charters sit on the top, with the description of each charter below.
Original frame and condition: frame has gaps and is sealed with tape on back.

The back of the framing, showing black industrial tape running along the join of the frame and backboard. a closeup of the wooden frame corner, showing the frame edges pulling away from each other. the Glass cover edge is also now exposed.

Charter with Seal of Henry I, in original housing.

an image of the Charter with the Seal of Henry I. The charter itself appears mostly white in colour, with a cutout area around the seal, which is a light brown, but has been chipped and damaged, reveaing a white underlying layer.  a closeup of the seal, revealing a warrior holding a spear and shield, mounted on a striding horse.

Charter is fixed directly to board backing.

A close up of the Charter with Henry II's seal, in its original housing. The charter has writing in fairly gothic script, in a faded red on the pale parchment. There are two seals, in a red colour. The left hand seal is slghtly larger than the right.
Charter with Seal of Henry II, in original housing.

 

Backing Removal

Taking the charters out of the original housing proved to be a bit of a challenge – it turns out that someone took a great deal of time to engineer a safe way to mount the seals so they could be set safely within the mount. The seals were set within tubes with cotton pads and cotton wool.

An image of the charter in its original mounting, with one item in the bottom right removed, exposing the backing frame. A metal ruler is lying lengthwise across the mountboard in the middle, and a metal scalpel is also lying lengthwise on the mountboard on the bottom edge.  Underneath the original mounting, showing two tubes packed with cotton wool, to protect the seals that would be lying atop the mount board.

A closeup of one of the tube seals. a hand is lifting the cottonwool out of the tube, revealing the card and paper and the back of the red seal within. the second smaller seal is on the right, with no tube above it.

To lift the parchment off the backing board, we tested with an 80/20 solution of isopropanol to water, which proved effective.

The backing board being gently lifted away from the parchment and the backing board.

Once we had this worked out, I worked from the back and removed layer after layer of the backing board, moistening with a damp sponge. Once I reached the back of the parchment, I used the isopropanol/water solution to reactivate the animal glue so I could remove it with a micro-spatula.

A closeup image showing the peeling away the brown backing board from the pale parchment from around the back of the seal of Henry I Another image, this time zoomed out, of the brown backing board being peeled away from the parchment. A large swathe has been removed, exposing the back of the parchment.

Another view of the backing board removal, this image is zoomed out a little more, showing the charter lying face down on a protective white sheet which in turn is also on a table. to the left of the parchment are scraps of backing which have been removed from the parchment.   A closeup view of the second charter, showing the brown backing board being removed, with the area around the two seals protective tubes as yet unremoved.

A very close close-up of the Backing board removal, showing the paper backingwhich was underneath the card backing board, being slowly eased away from the parchment.

Tools used for backing removal.

a picture of the variety of tools utilised in the charter rehousing. On a grey table rests two small metal spatulas, next to a shiny small sharp ended tweezer, and a small white-handled paintbrush, resting on a china paintbrush holder. To the right of the tools is a clear glass open box, with a small clear empty beaker, and a very small bottle of the chemical mixture which is clear in colour.

It took me several days to get the backing off and in the end, I couldn’t remove everything. There was a notable difference in the two charters, as the older one was much more degraded, so we decided that we would leave a skim of the paper backing and not risk damaging the parchment further.

The back of the parchment, showing the remnants of the paper backing, which looks akin to a white fuzz, which is still present in some areas of the parchment.

Once all the backing was removed we found additional writing on the verso of the charter.

An image of the rear of one of the charters. the removal of the paper and card backing has revealed previously hidden text running vertically down the charter.

During the cleaning process, we noticed that the seal of the older charter, though likely wax, has a grainy texture, and was shedding bits and granules. One of the senior conservators recommended that we consolidate it with a synthetic adhesive, Paraloid B72.

A close-up of one of the seals. This seal, of Henry I, shows clearly the image of a mounted rider, bearing spear and shield. The Grainy texture of the seal, with its browny exterior in contrast to the white underlaying color, where the seal has been damaged or or broken away. A conservator, wearing a brown apron, is slowly stirring a glass beaker atop a hotplate.

Finally, to work out a new mount and storage for the charters, we discussed various ways of tabbing the charters to fix them to a mount board. We planned the tabs first.

A plan of the rehousing, as drawn on paper. The image consists of a large rectangle, with two circles where the seals would lie, and a cut above the seals in line with the charter itself.

Using a light Japanese tissue, we attached small splints to the verso to keep the various strips of parchment in place and protected.

Two pieces of Japanese tissue paper, as seen up close, on a green cutting board, lying next to a set of tweezers. The two pieces of tissue paper are off-white in colour, with very long fibrous edges.   The two pieces of Japanese tissue paper, now attached to the rear of the parchment, where there is a large designed-split to accomodate the seals.

We cut uniform sized tabs of Japanese tissue with a water pen and attached these to the verso with a light application of wheat starch paste. This can easily be removed in the future, if needed.

A series of tabs made of Japanese tissue paper attached to the rear of one of the charters. A black weight, sitting on a light board, is keeping the parchment flat. A blue water pen being used to cut the tissue paper, which is held in place using a clear ruler. Two strips of japanese paper are lying to the side, already eased away from the main sheet.

a example picture of a tab of Japanese paper sticking out underneath the parchment. The flwoing script of the charter can be seen, albeit faded in the light. A hand is uplifting the charter, showing the tissue tabs sticking out from all sides of the parchment, afixed underneath. The Charter is resting on white plastazote.

Once the tabs were adhered to the verso of the charters, we cut slits into a sheet of Plastazote foam and pushed the tabs through the Plastazote so that they would not be visible from the recto.

A hand holding a slim green metal conservation spatula, in a similar size to a small paintbrush, is gently pushing the tissue tabs down into cut slits of the white plastazote base which the parchment is resting on. The tab being eased into the cut slit is at the bottom left of the of the parchment.  Underneath the white plastazote base, the tabs which are attached to the parchment resting atop, can be seen dangling down, after being pushed through cut slits into the material.

The effect was a bit like the charter is floating on top of the foam. The charters are secure and they cannot move around. The Plastazote could also accommodate a small indentation cut into it to support the wax seals

Within its new mount board:

The charter of Henry I, with the brownish seal, is pictured on the new white plastazote base, with the edges of the parchment lying flat against the base.  The same charter, still resting on its new white plastazote base, is now seen with a new conservation-friendly mountboard, which has framed the charter. The mountboard is slightly offwhite in colour.

I was able to get both charters and the two descriptive labels all housed and ready for a new box. It was a really exciting and interesting project to learn about and get to experience. I am so grateful to the various staff that supported me and helped me through it.

During my month at the BLCC I was given the opportunity to share this project with three different public tours. This was really fun and also meant a lot to me as I as I had first become interested in conservation by attending a public tour of the BLCC in 2015.

09 August 2018

Handle Books with Care

To celebrate #NationalBookLoversDay, I’ve decided to write a follow-up blog to my previous post, A Taste of Training. As discussed in my first blog post, one of the activities I am involved with as a Preventive Conservator here at the British Library is training. In this post, I’d like to share some of the information we deliver when providing book handling training sessions, focusing on various binding styles and the tools you can use to help prevent damage. A great way to show your love for books is to handle them with care!

Risks to books

Books may be vulnerable for a number of reasons. A book might be constructed from materials which are poor quality or the book may have been housed in less-than-ideal storage or environmental conditions. The format of the book itself can also cause damage, so it’s important to know how to handle different types of books and account for each format’s weaknesses.

Book supports and weights

Book supports are a great way to minimise damage when using a book. They restrict the opening angle of a book and provide support while the book is being used. This helps to prevent damage to the spine and boards.  Book supports commonly come in the form of foam wedges, but you can also find other styles, including cradles with cushions and cushions on their own.

Weights are another useful tool when using books. Books are, generally speaking, not made to open flat, which can result in pages that want to spring upwards. Rather than pressing down on the pages and potentially causing damage, it’s better to gently lay a weight on the page. Just take care not to place the weights directly on any areas with text or images—these areas may be fragile and susceptible to damage.

A picture of a book, lying open on two black foam supports, with white snake weights running down on the outer edge of the book pages.  The same book as in the previous image, now displayed on a black cushion, which in itself is supported by a cradle underneath. the snake weights are again running down either page on the outer edges.  The book, again lying open, now resting on a black cushion only, with the white snake weights holding the pages open.
From left to right: A book on foam supports, a cradle with a cushion, and a cushion, with snake weights preventing the pages from springing upwards.

Now let’s discuss specific binding styles.

Flexible tight back books

A flexible tight back is a book which has the covering material (often leather) adhered directly to the spine. This means that the covering material flexes as the book is opened and closed. This can cause cracking along the spine, and will worsen as the leather and paper degrade.   

A book, with green leather binding, displaying the damage done to it's spine, as evidenced by cracking running down the length of the spine.
Vertical cracking along the spine of a rigid tight back book (please note that this image, along with all others, shows a sample book and not a collection item; books should not normally be placed on their foredge).

 

A book, displaying the spine facing up, showing a partially bound spine, displaying underneath the leather covering, with minimal space between the text block and the cover.
A partially bound flexible tight back with minimal lining between the text block and the leather covering.



When using a flexible tight back book, place the boards on foam wedges. You may also find it beneficial to use a spine support piece--a thin strip of foam placed in the centre to help support the fragile spine, as seen below. 

A book lying open, resting on two foam book supports. The spine of the book is also supported by a wedge of the same material.
A flexible tight back book on foam book supports with spine support piece.

 

Rigid tight back

A rigid tight back book has more material covering the spine, which makes the spine rigid and more robust. This rigid spine causes the book to have a restricted opening, and the pages of the book will spring upward when opened. The rigid spine can also cause a weakness in the joint--the area where the book boards meet the spine--and may lead to the boards detaching.   

A book in disrepair, showing a complete detachment of the boards (the hard cover of the book, while the spine has disappeared, exposing the text-block.
Whilst not a rigid tight back, this image does show a book with its boards detached—this type of damage is common with rigid tight back books.

 

A partially bound example book, showing the spine partially exposed. an area is highlighted in a white square, showing the bookboard between the leather cover and the textblock.
A partially bound rigid tight back showing a more built up spine: book board is present between the text block and leather, highlighted in the white square.


 

Rigid tight back books do not need a spine support piece. Instead, the focus should be on supporting the boards with wedges and leaving space in the centre for the spine. 

A Rigid Back Book lying open on Foam Supports. The spine of the book is snugly perched within the gap of the two foam supports.
A rigid tight back book on foam book supports; note the pages springing up rather than lying flat.

 

Case bindings

Now let’s get into a couple of the more common types of bindings, which everyone is likely to have on their bookshelf. A case binding, or hardback book, features a textblock which is adhered to the case (or boards) by pasting a piece of paper to the textblock and the case. Over time, the case can split away from the textblock, causing pages and/or the textblock to come loose, and possibly detach completely. To prevent damage to your hardbacks, we recommend restricting the opening angle so as to not cause too much strain to that single piece of paper holding the textblock to the case.   

An image of a book with its cover open, with a hand lifting up the first page, showing how the page paper is attached directly to the textblock and the book case.
Showing the piece of paper adhering the textblock to the case.

 

An image of a book, displaying the damage caused by the text-block splitting away from the case, creating loose and detached pages.
The text block has split from the case, causing some pages to detach and the textblock as a whole to be loose.


 

Perfect bindings

Perfect bindings, or paperback books, are made by glueing the textblock directly to the cover. They are not made to be long-lasting, and as a result, are often made from poor quality materials. As the adhesive fails, pages will detach and come loose. Paperback books are also not very flexible, so they won’t open well. To keep your paperbacks in the best condition possible, restrict the opening angle so you’re not causing a stress point where the adhesive can fail easily.      

A paperpack book, lying down, showing the detached text-block from the cover.  A book with its pages open, showing the detaching of pages from the text block and case.
Left and right: The pages have detached from the cover of this book.

Safe handling

Finally, I’d like to share some general best practice tips to help you safely handle your books:

  • Ensure your hands are clean and dry when handling books
  • Be aware of long jewellery or loose clothing which can catch
  • Lift books instead of sliding or dragging them
  • Don’t carry too many books at one time
  • Handle your books with care and be sure to take your time

If you’re using our reading rooms and do not see any book supports or weights around, simply ask Reading Room staff and they will provide them for you. The more time you take to ensure you’re using best practice when handling books, the longer your favourite books will survive!

Happy #NationalBookLoversDay!

Nicole Monjeau

12 July 2018

Deaf Tours at the British Library Centre for Conservation

The British Library Centre for Conservation offers four deaf tours a year with a sign language interpreter. The next tour is on Wednesday 05 September at 2.00 pm. 

Six free tickets have been reserved for the 05 September tour and are available by emailing Conservation Tours: conservationvisits-tours@bl.uk using the reference Free ticket BLCC 05 09. Tickets will be offered on a first come first served basis. 

Ticket information: Full Price: £10.00; Member: £8.00; Under 18: £8.00 and other concessions may be available.

All tours leave from the main information desk at 2.00 pm. Please be aware that there is a considerable amount of walking and standing as the tour lasts for approximately 60 minutes. 

Roger, wearing an apron and standing behind his desk in the conservation studio, is watching Wayne, standing to the right of Roger, as he uses sign language.,
Roger, Book and Paper Conservator and Wayne, Sign Language Interpreter. Image © British Library Board

 

Please remember that:

  • Bags and coats cannot be taken into the BLCC but can be left in the Conservation Manager’s secure office
  • Unfortunately the tour is not suitable for children under 12 
  • There is also a tour on Wednesday 06 December at 2.00 pm – information will be available on https://www.bl.uk/events/conservation-studios-guided-tour 

05 July 2018

Summer workshop: Twined end-bands in the bookbinding traditions of the Eastern Mediterranean

British Library Centre for Conservation (BLCC) Summer workshops

A close-up picture of a book, placed on its side, displaying a multicolored twined end-band, with blue, red and white.

'Twined end-bands in the bookbinding traditions of the Eastern Mediterranean’

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Dates: Monday 23rd to Friday 27th July 2018
Times: 9.30–17.30
Full price: £400, no concessions
Location: Foyle Conference Centre British Library Centre for Conservation (BLCC)
Class size: Maximum 12 participants
Level: Our workshop is designed for conservators and bookbinders with good understanding and hands on experience in making/sewing book end-bands.

Course description
Although beautiful to look at and interesting to reproduce end-bands have much more to tell about their provenance, their evolution, their purpose and their relation with other crafts.

Twined end-bands often also called woven end-bands represent a distinct category of rather elaborate compound end-bands commonly found in one variation or the other in virtually all the bookbinding traditions of the Eastern Mediterranean.

The aim of this 5-day practical course is to demonstrate and clarify the characteristics of these end-bands and explain their basic technical and decorative variations. Over the curse of the week participants will be able to make at least five different twined end-bands –a Coptic, an Islamic, a Syriac, a Byzantine, an Armenian, and a tablet woven end-band to be taken away at the end of the course.

An introductory lecture will explain their evolution in time and place, their classification and terminology, their structural and decorative features as well as their relation to fabric-making techniques. Working materials, a hand out with explanatory drawings and some reading material will be also provided.

Tutor
Our workshop is led by
Dr. Georgios Boudalis, Head of Book and Paper Conservation at the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Day 1
Tea, coffee and registration
Theoretical and technical introduction.

Morning session: Introductory lecture on end-bands, their history and function within the
evolution of historical book structure, with special focus on twined end-bands.
Afternoon session: Hands-on exploring the basic technique of twining and its structural and
decorative variations.

Day 2
The day is dedicated to a very simple Coptic and an Islamic twined end-band, the later representing probably the type of twined end-band most people are familiar with.

Morning session: Coptic split-twined end-band.
Afternoon session: Islamic twined end-band.

Day 3
As participants are becoming more familiar with twining they work on more complicated types of twined end-bands found on closely related binding traditions. Although these end-bands are structurally identical they greatly differ in decorative patterns.

Morning session: Syriac twined end-band.
Afternoon session: Byzantine twined end-band

Day 4
The day is dedicated to what is possibly the most complicated and time consuming twined endband - that found in Armenian bindings.

Morning session: Armenian end-band
Afternoon session: continue

Day 5
The final day is dedicated to the use of the ancient technique of tablet weaving to make a twined end band. This type of end-band, identified only recently and found in 15th-16th-century Russian and Byzantine bindings, is a good example how fabric-making techniques were adapted for making the end-bands in books.

Morning session: The tablet-woven end-band
Afternoon session: continue

Tutor’s biography
Georgios Boudalis is the head of the book and paper conservation laboratory at the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki/Greece. He has worked in various manuscript collections primarily in monasteries such as those of Mount Athos and Sinai. He has completed his PhD in 2005 on the evolution of Byzantine and post-Byzantine bookbinding and has published on issues of bookbinding history and manuscript conservation. His main interests are the evolution of bookbinding techniques in the Eastern Mediterranean and since 2006 he has been teaching courses on the history of Byzantine and related bookbinding both on a historical and practical basis. He is the curator of the exhibition ‘The Codex and Crafts in late Antiquity’ held in Bard Graduate centre, N.Y. between February and June 2018 and has written a monograph with the same title to accompany this exhibition, published by Bard Graduate Centre.

Previous skills, knowledge or experience
The course is addresses to both book conservators and bookbinders, it is meant to be intensive and therefore participants are required to have previous practical experience of the subject.

Equipment and Wi-Fi
All materials and tools will be provided.

Certificate
Certificate of attendance signed by British Library’s representative and course tutor will be issued at the end of the five day workshop.

Facilities and refreshments
The British Library offers a variety of options for tea/coffee and food available on site and it is conveniently located within London with easy reach to other facilities.
Food can also be taken into the British Library from home and consumed at the premises.

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02 July 2018

Unravelling an archaeological silk bundle

MPhil student Clara Low is studying Textile Conservation at the University of Glasgow. As part of her course she is completing a placement for six weeks between her first and second year, here at the British Library.

The following images were taken by Clara whilst she worked on the unfolding of a silk bundle. The Tangut silk fragment was excavated in Kharakhoto (western Gobi desert) in 1914 by Aurel Stein. Clara used controlled humidification to enable this process. She worked with Vania Assis, paper conservator for the International Dunhuang Project and Liz Rose, textile conservator. See the amazing results below.

Silk bundle resting on paper. The silk is a mottled brown in colour, and while the item is bundled, small printed designs in dark ink can be seen, and in the middle left of the bundle a glimpse of some stars in dark ink.
Or 12380/3665 before conservation. 

 

The Silk bundle partially unravelled. The brownish colour has taken a lighter hue, and also reveals some small holes and tattered edges.
Or 12380/3665 during conservation – revealing a printed design.

 

Clara is working on the silk bundle, contained in a white tray on a bench. She is using tweezers to gently unravel the bundle.
Or 12380/3665 - Clara working on the fragment.

 

The reverse side of the Silk bundle, now completely unravelled and lying flat, after conservation work. The bundle is longer at the bottom, with most of the left hand side of the fragment missing. There can now be seen some characters superimposed on a series of stars on the bottom left hand side. There are also various holes in the silk.
Or 12380/3665 after conservation – reverse showing characters, (bottom left), seams and stitching.

 

The obverse of the Silk bundle after conservation. The repeated printed pattern can be seen more clearly on this side.
Or 12380/3665 after conservation – obverse showing characters and printed stars (bottom right).

 

a close-up of the Silk fragment, showing the five-pointed stars while a fragment of text in Chinese Characters  written in black ink, is superimposed on top.
Or 12380/3665 after conservation – detail of characters.

 

Can anyone tell us what it says?

 

Update: many thanks to Andrew West for a speedy solution:

A screenshot of the Twitter account of Andrew West, who has provided information on the pictured Silk fragment, identifying the as being from the Song Dynasty around 1214 A.D.

Another Twitter Screenshot from Andrew West's account, with another picture of the Silk fragment identifying the birds depicted amongst the stars, and stating this matches the description of another piece.

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.

A series of Environmental monitors, which have a squarish shape with a scren to show data, and a thick antennae,  in a on a shelf.   A group of Insect blunder traps, in a triangular shape with a hollow flat base where the sticky glue is based. The traps are in white, with green writing. They say 'Do not touch' and 'Museum 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. 

Two children look closely as a conservator helps craft a 'spell book' on a table, as part of the Harry Potter history of magic 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. 

Two conservators flank Elena Verticchio as all three study a floor map of an area for a salvage exercise.
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).  

16 April 2018

A Taste of Training

My name is Nicole Monjeau, and I am a Preventive Conservator here at the British Library. I am new to both preventive conservation and the Library, and I thought I would write my first blog post about one of my favourite aspects of my new role—training.

I come from a paper conservation background, and one of the things I enjoyed most about my previous roles was outreach. I loved sharing information about conservation with the public and with colleagues, and found it fulfilling to have such engaged and interested listeners. Collection care awareness is one of the things which drew me to this role, and I was excited to dive right in.

British Library Preventive Conservator Nicole Monjeau, standing in front of a display table bearing books, some resting on book supports.
Cheesing it up in front of our display table.



One of my first tasks upon starting at the Library was to help carry out handling training during Doctoral Open Days for PhD students. These sessions introduce PhD students to the range of research materials available in the British Library and specialist curators and other postgraduate students from across the UK.

During these events, myself and my colleagues spoke with PhD students about the best ways to handle books and other collection items whilst carrying out research at the Library. We showed some tools which can be utilised to make handling easier, such as foam supports to properly support books and snake weights to help hold book pages down gently. The final PhD Open Day in late February provided even more opportunity for outreach. In addition to handling training, we were able to show off some of the conservation tools and techniques we use when treating collection items. This proved to be quite popular, with the PhD students enjoying the opportunity to learn about tear repairs and bookbinding in addition to handling.

These PhD Open Days were a nice introduction to collection care awareness, and a nice way to ease into the training that the Preventive Conservation team does. The Preventive team are now preparing to deliver a series of collection care training sessions to a variety of staff members across the Library, and my experience at the Doctoral Open Days will prove helpful. It’s allowed me to become familiar with our training material and has also helped me to gain confidence in conducting a training session.

A PhD student stands in front of a display table manned by a Conservator, looking at the items on display promoting safe collection care, through coloured print outs and books with book supports.
Our table at one of the PhD Open Days.



Carrying out training has also meant that I’ve been involved in a variety of training-related activities. I have been working on creating a poster and pamphlets which can be used during training sessions. The pamphlets will hopefully be a helpful guide which people can use to remind themselves of how best to support and handle collection materials, and the poster will be a nice visual aid during training sessions.

Preventive Conservator Nicole Monjeau, taking a photo of a book resting in a book support on a small grey table, flanked either side by photographic lights.
Taking new photographs for our training material.



A sketch of a poster for PhD students for handling items, done on lined refill pad.
Sketching out the poster design.

 

It’s also been a pleasure to work with a wide variety of colleagues in the British Library Centre for Conservation. It’s great fun to work with people from different backgrounds, and this only helps our training sessions to be more informative and useful. A big thank you to everyone who has helped the Preventive Team carry out training!

11 April 2018

Textile Discovery in the Rare Books Reading Room

Textiles at the British Library come in many guises. This remarkable book was discovered by a reader in the Rare Books Reading Room last week and was shown to a member of staff. 

The shelfmark is C.70.g.6. and the textile additions are described in the notes field below:

  • Title: [A series of engravings of subjects from the Life of Jesus Christ. Designed by M. de V. Engraved by J. C. Weigel.]
  • Author: Marten de VOS
  • Contributor: Johann Christoph WEIGEL
  • Publication Details: [Nuremberg?, 1725?]
  • Identifier: System number 003817622
  • Notes: The draperies, etc. are cut out, and supplied by pieces of cloth and silk pasted at the back of the engravings.
  • Physical Description: 4º.
  • Shelfmark(s): General Reference Collection C.70.g.6.
  • UIN: BLL01003817622
A page from a manuscript, showing a biblical scene involving Jesus Christ, where the three figures which are brightly colored using textiles.
Engraving coloured from the reverse with pieces of textile showing through cut-out holes.

 

A close up of the previous image, showing the blue and golden-brown textiles which are pasted onto the engraving image of the figure to the fore.Below the image is text in Gothic script, which clearly shows the name of Jesus at the start.
Engraving detail showing texture of textiles.

 

The same image, this time shown from the reverse of the page. The scraps of textiles of various colours including blue and brown, are often superimposed over each other.
Reverse detail showing overlapping textile patches stuck to the page.

 

Our textile conservator Liz Rose is often overwhelmed by the quantity, quality and diversity of the textile objects within the collections. It should be remembered that the British Library is a reference library and many of these wonderful objects can be viewed in the library reading rooms. 

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