Collection Care blog

42 posts categorized "Digital preservation"

28 April 2014

As white as a...colour calibration target

The Macbeth ColorChecker(R) is often observed in digitised images adjacent to the subject being imaged. It is a colour calibration target used widely by photographers to achieve consistent colour within a studio environment. Good colour management allows the photographer to have continuity to achieve the same result with any camera. The rectangular cardboard target consists of a grid of 24 squares of colour samples, each with a measureable spectral reflectance. Reflectance refers to the fraction of incident light reflected at an interface. The spectral reflectance of these patches does not change under different lighting conditions in the visible spectrum (this is not the case in the ultra-violet and infra-red – see footnote* below), so are reliable to track colour changes in this range.

A book lies open on a black background. The left-hand page is shown and is filled with a hand-drawn picture of four medieval people in a turret with crenelated walls. Three are kneeling down, on the right side of the picture. Two of these, a man in a blue gown and a lady in a green dress and white headdress, are holding their hands together as though praying. The third kneeling figure is wearing a red tunic and blue hood. He is holding a stick and looking over his shoulder towards the left side of the page. On the left side of the picture the fourth figure, a man, is standing over the other three. He is wearing a red and green gown and a red hat or turban. Above the volume is the calibration target, which is a black piece of cardboard covered with 24 brightly-coloured squares in different colours. The squares are laid out horizontally in four rows of six. Along the bottom of the target is a measurement scale in centimetres and millimetres.
Cotton Nero Ax f86v

CC by Calibration target shown over f.86v of Cotton Nero A.x. during imaging of Sir Gawain & the Green Knight. The target is set to be on the same focal plane as the folio. Targets are often cropped out of final processed images

The idea of a colour chart came about in a 1976 paper in the Journal of Applied Photographic Engineering by C. S McCamy, H. Marcus and J.G. Davidson entitled A Color-Rendition Chart. The abstract states “A color chart has been developed to facilitate quantitative or visual evaluations of color reproduction processes employed in photography, television, and printing.” Their paper has been cited over 350 times to date. The original chart consisted of a 4 x 6 array of patches, each 5 cm square.

A person holds a colour chart in front of their chest. The chart fills the photo except for their hands and some surrounding areas of their black and white shirt. The chart is a black piece of card covered with 24 squares of bright colours, laid out horizontally in four rows of six. It is roughly 30cm x 20cm wide
Original size target

CC zero The original colour chart consisted of square patches of side 5 cm. The same size chart is still available and used today

There are still 24 patches on modern colour calibration targets but smaller versions are now available with patches measuring 1 cm wide. The X-Rite ColorChecker(R) Classic target used in our lab is shown below with a scale, focusing target, and reference number that we attached.

A rectangular piece of black card with 24 squares cut out of it is laid over 24 squares of bright colour. The squares are laid out horizontally in four rows of six. A measurement scale in centimetres and millimetres runs along the bottom edge of the black card, to the right of the word “MegaVision” printed in white, and a small white rectangle filled with a combination of lines and numbers. The serial number 130901 runs vertically up the left edge of the card.
ColorChecker(R) Classic

CC by The ColorChecker(R) Classic target has 24 colours in a 6 x 4 grid. The colours are painted in matte on smooth paper and surrounded by a black cardboard border. 

The colours are roughly divided into four kinds. The top row is composed of colours which approximate natural objects such as human skin (dark and light), blue sky, the green colour of a leaf, and a blue chicory flower. The second row is made of miscellaneous colours encompassing a good range of test colours. The third row is comprised of the primary (blue, green, red) and secondary (yellow, magenta, cyan) colours, and the fourth row represents a uniform gray lightness scale ranging from brilliant white to black.

A chart with four columns. In each column are six coloured squares, with the name of the colour written to the right of the square. The text is in black on a white background.
Colours labelled

CC by Colours in the calibration target. These colours are precisely measured and can be described in terms of the Munsell color system (a colour space describing colours in terms of their hue, lightness and chroma)

Larger colour calibration targets do exist such as the ColorChecker(R) Digital SG which boasts a gamut of 140 colours.

A dark grey rectangle with rounded corners, covered with 140 brightly-coloured squares laid out horizontally in ten rows of fourteen. A 6cm measurement scale is in the bottom right corner of the rectangle. In the bottom left corner of the rectangle the word “gretagmacbeth” is printed in light grey. Along the top of the rectangle the words “Digital ColorChecker SG” are printed in light grey.
ColorChecker(R) Digital SG

ColourChecker(R) Digital SG boasts the widest colour gamut available. Its design is based on the original ColorChecker(R) target but is enhanced for digital photography. Image copyright X-Rite, from X-Rite website

For consistent colour, photographers can take a shot of the calibration target with the camera set to capture raw files. Shooting raw is the only way the camera chip can capture all of the information available in the scene. The image is opened in image processing software such as Photoshop, and a script is run on the image which opens it multiple times with different settings. Results are measured and a status is generated with values which can be used to fine-tune the camera’s colour calibration and get processed colour to match the original scene (or alternatively to distort the colour for special effects!).

While colour calibration targets are on the whole produced in the same way using the same materials, on average, every colour target is ever-so-slightly different. The colour difference may be very small and only measureable using other scientific methods. Colour difference is a metric of interest in colour science - the standard metric being Delta E (ΔE). This definition allows colour difference to be quantified in a way which is more reliable than just using adjectives, a practise which is detrimental to anyone whose work is colour critical!

Our multispectral imaging system captures images in Lab colour space, where L is lightness and a and b are colour-opponent dimensions. Lab colour space approximates human vision and is device independent. It includes all perceivable colours with RGB and CMYK spaces (see our previous post What the CMYK? Colour spaces and printing) sitting within its larger gamut, so file sizes are generally much larger. Values for L, a, and b can be tracked once the image has been white balanced using the white colour patch on our calibration target as a reference. However, Lab files don’t open in all software packages so quite often it is necessary to transform images into other spaces such as RGB, but the original Lab file is always stored.

Colour Science is a fascinating and growing area of research. For fun you can try out this Color IQ test from the X-Rite website to learn more about how you see colour, and to find out where you can get your own targets.

Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina)


*While the Macbeth ColorChecker(R) provides 24 colours with consistent spectral reflectance under typical lighting conditions in the visible spectrum, it does not behave similarly in the ultra violet or infrared parts of the Electromagnetic Spectrum. Another material such as Spectralon is required for imaging outside of the visible range. The property which defines a diffusely reflecting surface (i.e. an ideal “matte”) is called Lambertian reflectance and Spectralon exhibits highly Lambertian behaviour with a spectral reflectance of >99% from 400-1500nm and >95% from 250-2500 nm. Spectralon is a fluoropolymer - others include PVF, PVDF and PTFE (Teflon). Spectralon has the highest diffuse reflectance of any known material over IR (infra-red), VIS (visible) and NIR (near-infrared) regions of the spectrum, and is therefore very expensive, but necessary to track colour difference during multispectral imaging.


McCamy, C.S.; Marcus, H.; Davidson, J.G A, 1976, A Color-Rendition Chart, Journal of Applied Photographic Engineering Volume 2, Number 3, pp 95-99

X-Rite website, or follow X-Rite on Twittter

10 March 2014

“Islamic/Western” features in three India Office Records manuscripts

Flavio Marzo, Conservation Studio Manager for the British Library/Qatar Foundation digitisation project reports on the conservation of three manuscripts from the India Office Records.

A new conservation studio has been set up at the British Library to support a digitisation project as part of the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership programme. The Library’s Arabic material has been scoped for the creation of a new web portal where, in a year’s time, around 500,000 images will be made available online to the general public.

The font cover of a manuscript, in poor condition. The leather applied to the board has degraded significantly. The first layer of leather appears to have peeled off leaving a random pattern of darker brown-orange and lighter  brown-orange colouration of the leather layers. There is a large white label positioned towards the top, with text faintly reading “Old Index from January 1846 to December 1846. The white label is worn with all edges and corners suffering losses, leaving tattered and jagged edges. There is a modern blue sticky label towards the bottom reading “Not for direct photocopying copies may be ordered from IOR NEG 9300”
Front left board of MS IOR/R/15/1/105

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The majority of material identified for digitisation comes from the India Office records. Many of the files that form this collection are related to the Gulf area, and so are deeply connected to the history of Qatar and its neighboring countries.

The India Office Records are a very large collection of documents relating to the administration of India from 1600 – 1947, the period which spans Company and British rule in India. The archive is held here at the Library and is publicly accessible.

As the formal document of British presence in the Persian Gulf, IOR/R/15 is a fascinating series within the India Office Records, giving a unique insight into a colonial encounter between European imperial power and tribal shaikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula coast.

One of the most striking features of these Records is the variety and mixture of formats and features related to different manufacturing techniques. These range from bound printed or manuscript volumes to folders containing loose leaves, folded maps, photographs, miscellaneous textile offcuts and samples of products sold in the colonies during the English occupation. In many cases these records were produced by a local workforce in the countries where the IOR officers were stationed.

This mixture of local craftsmanship and foreign taste (and in some cases even foreign materials) has produced very interesting objects which carry a fusion of western appearance and “Islamic” manufacturing techniques.

In this post I want to present some features of three bound manuscripts from the India Office Records: IOR/R/15/1/105, IOR/R/15/103 and IOR/15/1/161.

Front board of a manuscript, with a large discoloured cream-white paper label, with faint brown text reading “Book No.246 from January1857 to December 1857” and below in bright red text reading “Nothing of importance.” The label is in okay condition with no losses or abrasion, but quite stained, possibly from the adhesive  layer below. The leather covering the board is in poor condition, with patches left of lighter orange-brown are the result of peeling and lifting leather. There is a large area of leather loss by the bottom left of the white label, exposing the mill board below.
Front left board of MS IOR/R/15/1/161

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A front cover to a manuscript, completely detached, sitting askew on top of the textblock, with a damaged white paper label towards the middle, and a modern blue sticky label towards the bottom. The board itself is in poor condition, pearing blotchy with varying pale and dark orange-brown colours. The board is in extremely poor condition, cracked from the top right corner down to the lower left side. The crack has caused significant loss to the white paper label, also in poor condition and discoloured, with faint brown text. The blue label is in good condition and reads “Not for direct photocopying copies may be ordered from IOR NEG 9299”
Front left board of MS IOR/R/15/1/103

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These manuscripts were produced in the middle of the 19th century and contain collections of letters sent from the British Political Residency in the Persian Gulf stationed at Bushire (or Bushehr) on the south western coast of Iran.

Many of the features of these volumes are traditionally considered to be Western. They were all bound in full leather and decorated with similar finishing tools without the use of gold (blind tooled decoration).

Detail of the blind tooling that decorates the border of the cover. Blind tooling is the impression of design left by a heated metal tool without the addition of gold leaf. The blind-tooled design used on This cover is a small pattern in the shape of an S, and where one S ends, another begins in a continuous design.
Detail of the tool used to decorate the cover of two of the manuscripts


Detail of the blind tooling that decorates the border of the cover. Blind tooling is the impression of design left by a heated metal tool without the addition of gold leaf. The blind-tooled design used on This cover is a small pattern in the shape of an S, and where one S ends, another begins in a continuous design.
Detail of the tool used to decorate the cover of two of the manuscripts

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They are written in English on western handmade paper. The countermark in the image below indicates that the paper was produced in 1843 in Stowford Mill, which continues to make paper to this day.

A manuscript sits flat on a desk with the spine facing us. The front board is missing, and the  first page of the manuscript is being held up at a 90 degree angle. There are losses, small tears and creases along the edges. Light is shining through the page from the back, illuminating the features of the sheet. We can visibly see the laid lines, and the watermark in the centre of the sheet reading “STOWFORD MILL 1813.” The watermark and laid lines are lighter than the surrounding paper due to the manufacturing process. Paper is produced by a screen being dipped into and lifted out of a slurry of paper fibres suspended in water. The construction of the screen has raised lines, and sometimes a watermark, a design from wire and attached to the screen. These raised areas result in a thinner layer of fibres than the rest of the sheet, and visible with illumination.
Page from one of the volumes, photographed in transmitted light to reveal the countermark

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Other aspects of these books have been produced using ‘Islamic’ style binding techniques. For example, the textblock sections are secured with ‘unsupported sewing’. The Western binding technique of using a material (vellum or cord) to sew around, attaching the sections to it using the thread, is absent here meaning that it is only the thread itself securing the sections together.

Another example is the execution of the endbands that you see in the images below. These are typical of Islamic bindings as commonly recognized in the field of the history book by the way they are sewn and by the final pattern and appearance.

The endband is presented vertically and at a slight angle and left of the spine. The endband is made from white string, and resembles a braid. It is in quite poor condition, the internal leather chord of the end band is visible, as the threads of it are worn and falling off. The bottom edge of the manuscript to the right of the endband is stained and discoloured. The orange leather of the spine and backboards wrap around the image.
Islamic style endband
The head of the text block is shown, vertical, and almost directly on, with the orange-brown leather spine on the right hand side out of focus and going away from us. The end band is made of white string and is in good condition. The anchor stitching is to the right of the endband, descending into the spine folds of the textblock.
Islamic style endband

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It is clear from this mixing of binding influences that these volumes were not produced in a Western bindery! It is likely that the materials were provided by the India Office, along with specific requests regarding the appearance, which tie in with traditional Western tastes. The rest was down to the knowledge and expertise of the local binders, and what an exciting interesting fusion of styles it has resulted in!

An open book sits on a blakc table. The book is on an angle, cutting off all four corners of the manuscript in the picture. The colour of the sheets of paper have a green off-white tinge to them. The text is written in brown ink, and is neat tidy cursive, written on blank sheets, but still keeping the writing in neat even lines. The page on the right is guarded into the book, meaning it has a long tab of paper attached to the latter, the tab is then used to secure the sheet within the book structure. In this opening, the writing butts up right to the edge of the guard. The sheet on the left side is not guarded, however the writing goes right into the tight gutter, which would be very tricky if not impossible to write after being bound. It could indicate that the volume was bound after the letters were written and not produced as a blank notebook.
The writing close to the gutter of the book can make it difficult for digitisation.

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In these specific cases, we re-housed the books in custom made archival boxes and repaired enough of the damaged paper and boards to stabilise it for future handling.

They will soon be fully digitized and available online on the Qatar National Library web site. The process of digitisation gives conservators the opportunity to assess large numbers of items in a short period of time, enabling them to more fully understand the collection. In this case, it allowed me to appreciate the fusion of binding styles that make these items so interesting. Their content will be made available and their peculiar and unique features will be preserved.

An open box made of a single piece of board which folds to cover a book, with paper tabs to secure it closed into slots on the fore edge of the box when closed. Made of a thin board white on the inside and blue on the outside, it is known as a phase box. There is a manuscript sitting inside of the open box on a green table. The manuscript has a white label towards the top of the front board, and a blue label towards the bottom. The front board is mottled with dark orange brown to light orange-brown patches due to leather loss and damage.
The final product!

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Flavio Marzo

22 January 2014

Digital Preservation Training Programme: snuggling up with OAIS

An important aspect of digital preservation advocacy in recent years has been the recognition of the importance of developing professional knowledge and skills at all stages of a career. To support this, research projects like DigCurV (Digital Curator Vocational Education Europe) and APARSEN have spent considerable time developing frameworks and curricula for digital preservation training, aimed at cultural heritage professionals at different levels of seniority and career stage. In the UK, the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC), of which the British Library is a member, provides a range of opportunities for digital preservation training and continuing professional development.

It was thanks to a scholarship from the DPC that I was able to attend the Digital Preservation Training Programme (DPTP) at the University of London Computer Centre last November. Led by Ed Pinsent and Stephanie Taylor, the course aimed to provide delegates with the skills and knowledge necessary to respond to emerging issues in digital preservation from an organisational perspective.

The attendance was international, with representatives from a diverse range of institutions including library, archive, record management, technical and business backgrounds. There were many motivations for attending the course, from delegates who were taking responsibility for initiating a digital preservation strategy within their entire organisation, to others who were preparing for digital archives to be ingested into their collections. As a recent graduate in archive administration, I have some foundation knowledge in digital preservation however I could recognise gaps in my understandings on issues such as preservation systems, cost models and risk assessments.

The core modules of the DPTP evolved around understanding the OAIS (Open Archival information System) model, of existing tools developed specifically for practical digital preservation purposes, and of current legislation and standards of this sector. The DPTP was well managed and engaging, with presentations broken up by short individual tasks which allowed time to examine and absorb tools and concepts, and group activities which were more problem solving and collaborative.

Image shows an arm being tattooed with Digital Preservation Training Programme flow chart

The first rule of digital preservation club… OAIS. OAIS photograph courtesy of Flickr user wlef70 / Creative Commons Licensed

Group work encouraged an imaginative but analytical approach to developing digital preservation strategies within an institution, evolving in complexity over the duration of the course. By day three the group tasks had broadened to a critical analysis of a genuine institution’s digital preservation implementations and mapping them against the OAIS model. This was an excellent exercise as it encouraged groups to think of different stages, people and status of records throughout digital preservation activities and examine the strengths and weaknesses of these within a particular organisation. This was then balanced on the ‘three-legged stool’ model of resources, technology and organisation to pinpoint where improvement should be focused. Finally considered in this holistic approach was how all of this tied into ISO 16363 Audit and certification of trustworthy digital repositories.

One of the highlights of the course was a talk by Sharon McMeekin of the DPC on cost models and risk management. This session explored the financial risks of data loss and benefit realisation of successful digital preservation practice, evidencing the value of digital records so that institutions perceive them as valuable.

The course delivered an excellent introduction to many aspects of digital preservation in just three days. For those who would rather a shorter introduction to digital preservation, I would also highly recommend the DPCs ‘Getting started…’ and ‘What I wish I knew before I started…’ conferences. As an early career information professional, I am noticing an increase of job advertisements stating digital preservation as an essential or desirable proficiency. This discipline is still emerging and evolving, and it is a great time to develop skills in digital preservation.

For further information on the DPTP see:
And for DPC events:

Ann MacDonald, Internship Digital Preservation

13 January 2014

Read All About It #2 - Building a Future

This is the second in a series of blog posts discussing the challenges of caring for the national newspaper collection - how we’ve worked to preserve it and keep it accessible in the past and how we are going to do so in the future.

The national newspaper collection is on the move. Its current home at Colindale is no longer fit for purpose – either as a repository able to offer long term sustainability to the collection; or as a facility for readers to experience the modern, dynamic newspaper and news service that we want to offer. This recent BBC News report paints a vivid picture.

We know the collection is vulnerable, and if we don’t act now to move it into better conditions, we risk more of it falling into such bad condition that we will be unable to issue it without increased damage or loss, if at all.

Our survey says…

In 2001, as part of a three year project to survey all of the Library’s collections on all of its sites, we surveyed the newspaper collections at Colindale using the PAS (Preservation Needs Assessment Survey) methodology. The results showed that the newspaper collection is the most vulnerable of all of the Library’s collections and gave us a statistically sound picture of the state of this national collection. Our results showed that 34% of the collection at Colindale was unstable – 19.4% in poor condition, 14.6% unusable.

We know that improved storage is the best way of preserving the whole collection for the long term, and our new Newspaper Storage Building (NSB) is undergoing its final testing as I type.

However, this is just the latest – and most ambitious – effort to strike a balance between the long-term preservation needs of the collection and our duty to make it available to users.

The ties that bind

To the bindery workshop!
Wooden sign directing to the bindery workshop on the 3rd floor in gold lettering

When reader facilities were added to the original Colindale repository in 1932, a bindery was also created on the 3rd floor. Here, new legal deposit intake was bound, and older papers were conserved – pulled down, de-acidified, repaired and re-sewn and re-bound. Treatment and binding styles varied depending on the age, type and size of newspaper - machine sewn; hand-sewn on tapes or cords, buckram and leather, half and quarter; finished in foils, mostly, but occasionally gold leaf.

As the conservation and binding of newspapers proved to be less and less cost and time effective over the years, benefiting only a small part of a vast collection, the bindery was closed in 2001. However, because of the work that was done, there are many thousands of volumes in perfectly good condition today that otherwise wouldn’t be.

Below, the bindery at Colindale in full production in the 1980s.

Colindale in the 1980s
Image showing the binders working in the Colindale in the 1980s

CC by Newspapers ready for sewing, by machine and by hand

Colindale in the 1980s
Image shows workers in the bindery preparing newspapers for sewing

CC by Forwarding and finishing

Lights! Camera! Microfilm!

We know that not everyone is a massive fan of microfilm. From a user point of view it has few of the advantages of digital and it’s not the real thing. But for the long term preservation of content it has proved its worth and without the large-scale microfilming programmes undertaken in the 1970s and onwards, a significant portion of our content would simply be unavailable today in any form.

A worker in Colindale microfilming a large volume. The book is on a stand and there are lights above
A worker in Colindale microfilming a newspaper

CC by Microfilming at Colindale began in the 1950s. In 1971 a dedicated microfilm unit was completed. At its height the unit operated 20 cameras and the BL produced (internally and externally) approximately 13 million frames of newspaper content annually

For we are living in a digital world, and I am a digital girl...(sorry, Madonna)

We still copy newspapers today, to increase access to content and to preserve the originals, but the format tends to be digital rather than microfilm. For instance the Library is working in partnership with DC Thompson Family History to digitise 40 million pages of 19th and early 20th century newspapers and make them available on the British Newspaper Archive website. Interestingly, where we can’t scan the original newspapers, the microfilm we created over the last 50 years is proving an invaluable alternative scanning source.

“What are you able to build with your blocks? Castles and palaces, temples and docks.” (from Block City by Robert Louis Stevenson)

New storage building
Image of new storage building, the building is a mixture of greys and blues, it has a yellow door and railings along the front of the building

CC by The new storage building, with the main void at the back and the support building in front

Well, what we’ve been able to build with our blocks is a brand new storage facility for the national newspaper collection at Boston Spa, known lovingly as NSB – Newspaper Storage Building (we love to tell it like it is!). This state-of-the-art building will secure the long term future of the collection. In a complete (improved) reversal of storage fortune for the collection, it will be stored in the dark which will protect it from the damaging light levels that were unable to be controlled at Colindale.

The temperature will be 14⁰C and relative humidity 55%, a vast improvement on what was able to be achieved at Colindale. More importantly, it will be maintained at a steady level which overall will provide an environment for the collection that will slow down the rate of deterioration. Crucially, the oxygen level is purposely low at 14-15%, eliminating the risk of fire (ignition is impossible). The ingest and retrieval of newspapers is automated, which means in turn that the storage can be high density.

Lying down on the job

Not us – the collection! If you read our first post, you’ll know that the collection varies in size enormously, from volumes no bigger than a pocket diary to volumes weighing nearly 20 kg. Storing these large and heavy volumes vertically is causing physical damage, particularly where the boards are no longer attached and providing support, so in the new building the collection will be stored horizontally in stacks which will ease the pressure on the bindings and stabilise the text block. A ‘stack’ consists of a bottom board, a stack of volumes, and a top board. The boards and the stack are secured by straps. The stacks are stored on huge carrier trays in the storage racking, each holding various permutation of stack sizes.

It all stacks up

We’ve set a maximum stack height of 400 mm for each stack. Volumes will be grouped together by condition and stacked by size, with bound volumes being alternated spine to foredge to provide a stable stack with an even weight distribution. In order to do this, we’ve undertaken a massive data gathering exercise, determining the size of every item in the collection and assigning a condition rating of good, poor, or unusable.


Footprint plot
Graph showing the seven sizes or footprints, relating to the board sizes on which items will be stacked

The collection was divided into seven sizes or footprints, relating to the board sizes on which items will be stacked. Footprint 1 is any volume up to 380 mm (h) x 310 mm (w), while footprint 7 caters for volumes between 820-1012 mm (h) x 680-770 mm (w) – we have several hundred of these. 

It’s a wrap

Knowing the condition of each item in the collection is important if we are to direct our resources appropriately and effectively. For this project, it was even more crucial because of the handling and transport logistics involved in moving from one building to the other. To protect items that are particularly vulnerable, we are shrink-wrapping those in poor and unusable condition.

Shrink-wrapped volumes
A pile of shrink-wrapped volumes being tested for stability

CC by A stack of three shrink-wrapped volumes, being tested for stability

Three images showing the construction of the building from the beginning and throughout the building process
The installation of a giant crane inside the building

CC by One of the giant cranes is lifted into place. These will run up and down each aisle delivering carrier trays through a sealed air lock to the work stations in the support building

Another image of the giant crane inside the building, this image also has several site workers in it which highlights the vast size of the crane and space
Image of the light grey and yellow work stations with fencing behind them

CC by The workstations in the support building

Building stacks
Two workers building stacks inside the test facility. With many large half leather bindings with brown spines in two piles

CC by Stacks being built in a dedicated test facility

It’s no small undertaking to move such a large and vulnerable collection half way up the country, so in our third post on this topic we’ll spend some time with Moves Manager Sarah Jane Newbery to find out what the challenges are – and how it’s all progressing.

For more information on the newspaper moves see: and follow us @BL_CollCare.

Sandy Ryan

06 January 2014

Scalable Preservation Environments: the nuts and bolts of digital preservation software tools

The British Library is a partner in the SCAPE Project, a Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) project co-funded by the European Union. Its aim is to enhance the state of the art of digital preservation in three ways: by developing infrastructure and tools for scalable preservation actions; by providing a framework for automated, quality-assured preservation workflows and by integrating these components with a policy-based preservation planning and watch system. Other partners include leading European libraries, universities and companies. A full list is available on the SCAPE website.

Digital preservation tools
A cartoon illustration of a small man in grey scale unlocking a box with vibrant colours and symbols such as musical notes, pictures, media players and written text

CC by CC BY-NC 3.0

The British Library's Digital Preservation Team undertakes the R&D necessary to ensure the Library is able to implement the right technology and best practices to support digital preservation, at the right time. We have previously blogged here about our “Twelve Principles of Digital Preservation”.

Staff from the Digital Preservation Team - whilst representing the British Library’s interests within the project - lead the project in two key areas: we chair the technical coordination committee responsible for all technical developments within the project, and we lead a work package on creating and evaluating the execution of workflows for large scale digital repositories. We are also involved in two other “testbed” work packages related to web archiving and research datasets, as well as work packages surrounding the take-up of project outputs involving dissemination, demonstrations and training.

Our technical work within the project includes development and enhancement of characterisation and quality assurance tools and associated large scale workflows for characterisation of content within web archives, file format validation & identification of DRM in ebooks, and quality assured file format migration of TIFF files to JP2. Similar work by other partners includes characterisation of large audio/video files, audio migration, large scale ingest to a repository, arc to warc migration and other types of file format migration.

For execution of these tools and workflows across large scale data sets, the project uses Apache Hadoop. At the tool level however, software is discrete and can be used separately or within other large scale processing frameworks. The project is also creating services around policy-based preservation planning (Plato) and watch (Scout), and defining the necessary interfaces to enable all these entities to work together.

Some of the digital preservation tools and services that have been developed within the project include;


xcorrSound  - a suite of tools for automated quality assurance of audio migration processes.

image of blue sound wave on XCorrrSound software

The tools can:

  • Find overlaps between sequential audio files
  • Find occurrences of a smaller section of audio within a larger dataset
  • Compare two audio files to see how they correlate

Matchbox can automatically find duplicates images, for example duplicate scans, or match images from two separate scans of a book.

Images of several scanned pages with red and green lines linking copies together

Jpylyzer  - a JP2 (JPEG2000 part 1) validator and properties extractor.

illustration of a hot air balloon on Jpylyzer software with several cream numbers on top of the image on the left and a duplicate scan on the right

This tool can be used to:

  • Verify if JP2 files conform to the JP2 specification
  • Extract information about the encoding profile used for the file. This can be compared to an institutional encoding profile for verification

c3po (screencast) - a software tool for visualising and investigating the content types contained within a collection

Nanite can characterise files contained in web archives (arc/warc) without first extracting the files. The tool can be used on a Hadoop cluster.

Pagelyzer - visual, structural and hybrid comparison of web pages.

Image comparing two similar web pages with text and images outlined with red and green squares


Plato is a preservation planning tool that integrates content characterisation, preservation actions and automated object comparison.

Scout is a preservation watch system that consolidates information from several sources (web, content, registries, policies) and monitors that information against a defined policy.

Image showing Scout system with blue icons, depicting content, policies, registries, web and human knowledge with arrows pointed to a large eye (the scout) which has an arrow coming out the bottom pointing towards an envelope labeled 'risk notification'

As you can see there is a wide variety of tools being produced or enhanced within the project. There are many more that are not listed. If you are interested in finding out more about any of these tools take a look at More in-depth blog posts can be found on the Open Planets Foundation blog:

William Palmer

Digital Preservation Technical Lead, SCAPE Project.

31 December 2013

New Year’s Resolution: 300 ppi?

Did you know that image resolution has absolutely nothing to do with how an image looks on a screen? It is a fairly safe bet that more of our collections will be digitised in the next few years. As technology moves on with great pace there is often debate as to the “best resolution” that images should be captured at. But what does that actually mean? This post will try to explain what is meant by the terms pixel and image resolution, and will demonstrate the relationship between them.

Pixels and megapixels

Digital images are made up of thousands or even millions of pixels (picture elements). A pixel is the smallest addressable element in a display device with a specific assigned value that can be read by a computer and mapped onto a grid to recreate an image. Each pixel is a sample of an original image, so the more samples available result in a more accurate representation of the original. We can change the appearance of an image by manipulating the pixels or by getting rid of some of them to reduce the file size. Below we see a digital image of the Gospel of St John from the Lindisfarne Gospels (British Library, Cotton MS Nero D.IV). It is obvious that the image on the left with more pixels is of a higher quality than that on the right.

Cropped portrait of St John, he is wearing purple, gold and green robes. He has gold curls framing his face and a orange and yellow halo behind his head.


Pixelated closeup image of the portrait of St John. He is wearing purple, gold and green robes. He has gold curls framing his face and a orange and yellow halo behind his head.

CC by The image with more pixels produces a more accurate representation of the subject matter. The image on the right looks “pixelated” due to the visibility of the pixel boundaries

How pixels control resolution

Pixels control image resolution because the closer the pixels are placed (i.e. the more there are per inch), then the denser the image becomes with detail. Similarly, the fewer pixels an image has per inch, the further apart they are spaced, resulting in less detail and an image of poor quality.

Image resolution is therefore concerned with the number of pixels per inch (ppi) printed out on a piece of paper, and the size of those pixels. Since the software takes care of the pixel size, it’s really just the ppi that you need to think about.

Let’s try to understand that better by taking a look at an image captured with a DSLR camera. Below is a photograph of our new multispectral imaging system opened in the open source image processing software package ImageJ.

Screen shot of open image
Image of multispectral imaging system in the foreground, it has a black circular stand and a blue concertina like body with a black box on top which has black and orange wires coming out of it. In the background there is a desk and book shelves.

CC by Fullsize, uncompressed image opened in ImageJ

If we look at the title bar of the image we can see some details about the image file.

Screen shot of open image title bar
Title bar of digital file, it has the image name at the top and below that the amount of pixels shown (6000x4000)

CC by The title bar tells us the name of the image file, the percentage size in brackets, and the number of pixels

The title bar (DSC_0074.JPG (16.7%)) tells us that this file is only opening up to 16.7% of full size. The image is just too large to open on the screen at 100%. Below the title bar we can also see that the size of the image is 6,000 x 4,000 pixels (i.e. there are 6,000 pixels running along the image from left to right and 4,000 pixels running from top to bottom). That sounds like a lot of pixels. If we now zoom in on any part of the image we can see these pixels as little squares of colour.

Zooming in
zoomed out image of a portion of the multispectral imaging system


Zooming in
Zoomed in image of a portion of the multispectral imaging system focusing on the blue handle


Zooming in
Zoomed in image of a portion of the multispectral imaging system focusing on the blue handle, which has now become pixelated

CC by As we zoom in on the image it becomes apparent that it is made up of pixels

If there are 6,000 pixels along the top of the image, and 4,000 pixels along the side, then my incredible math skills suggest that there must be 24,000,000 (= 4,000 x 6,000) pixels in total, or 24 million pixels, or 24 megapixels (MP). A quick glance at the camera manual will show that this camera (Nikon D5200) has in fact got a 24 MP CMOS sensor, so our powers of deduction are correct.

Resolution doesn’t mean anything until you go to print

We now know that there are 6,000 x 4,000 pixels in our image. Great! But what does that mean if we want to print out this image on a piece of paper? How does a pixel correlate to the size of the page? Will the image fill the whole page or will it just appear as a tiny thumbnail? Take a look at the image resolution by opening the image up in another great open source image processing package called GIMP, and opening the Set Image Print Resolution window.

Set Image Print Resolution
Image of menu to set the image print resolution, it lists the print size (width 20.000, and height 13.333) an the x resolution (300.000) and y resolution (also 300.000) in pixels/in. Below this are the menu options 'help', 'reset', 'ok' and 'cancel'.

CC by Open the image in GIMP and navigate to the Set Image Print Resolution window

Here we can see that the X and Y resolution is 300 pixels/in which means that that for every inch of paper we have, there will be 300 pixels printed. So if we have 6,000 pixels along the top and 4,000 along the side that means we must have 6,000/300 = 20 inches along the top and 4,000/300 = 13.333 inches along the side… and if we look at the print size in the window above we can see that has already been calculated for us.

20 by 13+ inches is quite a large size. How can we print it out smaller to fit on our page? We need to fit more pixels into each inch, and since the size of an inch can’t change then the size of the pixels must change. That is done automatically for us by GIMP or Photoshop, or whatever image processing software package you are using. Let’s say we set our image resolution to be 600 pixels per inch. In that case we can see that the print size has adjusted to a much more manageable 10 x 6.67 inches. The resolution changes as the physical image size changes because the number of pixels that make up the image are being spread over a greater or lesser area.

Set Image Print Resolution
mage of menu to set the image print resolution, it lists the print size (width 10.000, and height 6.667) an the x resolution (600.000) and y resolution (also 600.000) in pixels/in. Below this are the menu options 'help', 'reset', 'ok' and 'cancel'.

CC by By increasing the number of pixels per inch we can fit our image into a smaller area of the page

PC monitors are generally considered to be low resolution devices meaning that images look good on screen even if they have a very small total number of pixels. This reduced number of pixels also allows images to load faster leading to an overall better user experience. But if you try to print it out, you may be disappointed at the tiny image that emerges from your printer. Printers are high resolution devices and require an image to have a resolution of about 300 pixels per inch to look sharp and to be of a good quality. 300 ppi is generally accepted as the resolution for professional quality printing, but that number is increasing all of the time. There are many great articles and tutorials about this and other aspects of digital objects found on the Digital Photo Essentials Tutorial for anyone new to the world of digital photography or photo-editing.

Best of luck with your New Year's Resolutions!

Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina)
Imaging Scientist

19 December 2013

Supporting the UK digital preservation community through SPRUCE

The Library’s digital preservation team has worked on numerous externally funded projects over the past decade. Here, Maureen Pennock looks back at the work of the JISC-funded SPRUCE project, a collaborative initiative between the British Library, the University of Leeds, the Digital Preservation Coalition, the Open Planets Foundation, and London School of Economics, to support grass-roots level digital preservation activities in institutions across the UK.

Digital preservation
Cartoon illustration of a pink floppy disk inside a grey glass cloche.


Digital preservation
Cartoon illustration of a yellow cassette tape, some of the grey tape is protruding from the bottom of the cassette.

Of all the projects we’ve been involved with in the past, the SPRUCE project stands out for not only the number of useful outputs it delivered, but also its impact on practitioners across the UK.  SPRUCE has made a real difference to the people it supported, directly engaging with the wider community to meet their requirements with practical tools and support. Community and content owners are essential aspects of digital preservation, and SPRUCE sought engagement with content owners to deliver tools and processes that they need right now. Because that’s one of the things about digital preservation: it’s not just something that you do in the future, when your content is in a repository. It’s something that you do from the very moment you first acquire content, all the way through the lifecycle. It’s an ongoing activity. 

SPRUCE mashup participants
Photograph of the SPRUCE mashup participants, they are stood in several rows in front of a glass building with green hedges either side of them.

CC by SPRUCE-style mashup at York in September 2011

A core component of SPRUCE’s success was the use of agile events such as Mashups and Hackathons. These brought together practitioners (who contribute digital data and preservation challenges) and developers (who apply tools to solve the practitioners’ challenges). Requirements, approaches, software tools and other information gathered during the events proved invaluable in developing subsequent SPRUCE outputs. The project delivered a wealth of digital preservation tools for an enormously wide range of content types, and funded twelve more for supplementary development, including:

• Enhancements to the publicly available FITS and C3PO content characterisation tools

• A Resource Audit and Comparison Tool, ReACT

• A MediaWiki extension to enable extraction and transfer of Facebook data to MediaWiki

• Appraisal and Asssessment prototype solutions

• Tools to detect bitrot and repair it

• De-duplication solutions

• Fixity and Quality Assurance tools

• Migration solutions

In addition to these content-focused events, the project brought partners together in a booksprint to deliver the first ‘Digital Preservation Business Case Tookit’. Twelve digital preservation experts spent three days in a hotel in Manchester and brainstormed the toolkit, using their own expertise and the knowledge generated throughout the course of the project. The toolkit has been widely welcomed as one of the most useful non-technical digital preservation tools currently in circulation. Readers are encouraged to use the toolkit, hosted on the DPC wiki, whenever they need a business case for digital preservation-related funding. 

Data management
Cartoon illustration of a green SD card
Preserving digital assets
Cartoon illustration of a blue and grey reel of film.

Another project highlight is the production of COPTR, the first Community Owned digital Preservation Tool Registry. COPTR consolidates a number of pre-existing tool registries, uniting and supplementing them in a centralised database so that we no longer have to search across multiple registries before finding the tool we need. Like the business case toolkit, COPTR has been heralded by the expert community for its success and usability.

We’re sad to see the end of SPRUCE. It was a great project with a small budget but a huge impact. As the funder said, ‘SPRUCE is one of the best things we’ve done for many years’. Take a look at the website, use the toolkit and the tools, and add to the wiki if you can. The project may have ended, but the community it enabled can continue to grow if we keep working together. 

Maureen Pennock

13 December 2013

Digitisation as a preservation tool; some considerations

Digitisation projects are today more and more a common and established reality in many big and small public institutions. The expectation from the public for online access has placed great pressure on public institutions which hold collections of historical and artistic value to provide it as soon as possible. Large investment in digitisation projects has had a major impact on the work pattern of many institutions, and on the collections involved in the processes related to the digitisation workflows.

I am a book conservator currently managing the conservation studio that has been created for the British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership programme. Phase 1 runs until December 2014 and aims to digitise and make available online 500,000 images for scholars and the general public. These images will be taken from various British Library Arabic materials and it is our duty as conservators to support the digitisation process ensuring that no damage is caused to the library items processed through the digitisation workflow.

Phase box
Image of custom made phase box on a green table, the back of the box is grey and in inside is white. resting on the centre of the box is the heavily damaged manuscript which has a detached board.

CC by An example of a custom-made phase box for this heavily damaged manuscript

I want to present in this post some considerations about what conservation could potentially gain from these types of projects and how I think the long term preservation of historical items and their features can be improved through mass digitisation projects. The previous sentences make quite provocative statements. It is not a secret that conservators tend to look at digitisation projects, and in general at projects involving multiple processes, with caution if not suspicion. In general conservators are often against the “mass” approach and digitisation processes are primarily focused on targets that are sometimes strained under tight deadlines and budgets. This can be an unsuitable environment for the normal conservation requirements.

Conservation means attention to detail and much of the work involves time-consuming treatments carried out by skilled professionals at their benches. These treatments are often present to help public institutions achieve their aims and fulfil their strategic priorities. Enabling access to library collections is one of the more important principles of sustainable stewardship. Conservation at the British Library has in the last few years adopted the “fit for purpose” approach. With re-treatability and minimal intervention approaches clearly in mind, we know that today we have to plan our work in a more efficient and effective way. Planning is a fundamental step in our daily and long term work and to do so we need to know which specific goal we want to achieve.

In the present case for the British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership programme, digital surrogates are the aim; good quality reproduction of items capable of providing online customers (scholars, readers and the general public) with the information they require. There are many steps between the shelves of the British Library storage areas and the cameras in the photographic studio. Conservators need to be present throughout each stage of this flow to support and to enable successful digitisation.

This can be difficult to achieve as full time conservators are expensive. Work needs to be customised but this certainly doesn’t mean compromising on the quality of the work carried out on collection items. In the context of the British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership programme, a document about policies and procedures was produced by the conservation studio at the very beginning of the project. In this document we state that due to the scope and the nature of the project, we cannot treat items that are in need of conservation work that would take more than five hours. This means that generally we are not “fully” repairing the items we are processing through the workflow, but instead we are treating the items to a condition that enables digitisation.

After assessing the condition of the items brought into the project we decide if they are fit for handling, and if so they can proceed along the work flow. Quite often items with minor damage can still be digitised because the imaging and cataloguing processes (even if very intense from a handling point of view) are carried out in a highly monitored environment where we provide training for each member involved in handling library items, and constant support where needed.

We have also devised a colour “traffic” light system that we use to communicate through our tracking system on an online shared drive with the other strands of the project. A colour orange dot, for example, placed next to other information on the shared drive highlights that an item is in need of careful handling due to its fragile or damaged state.

A screenshot of the SharePoint window. Showing how an item is tracked through conservation. The SharePoint lists the shelfmark, batch, format, title, workflow stage, conservation indicator, its status, and assigned group. The items are pink or turquoise with a orange (in need of careful handling) or green (fit for handling) dot.

CC by Screenshot of the SharePoint window with information about items processed. Coloured dots highlight the conservation status of these items: orange: in need of careful handling/support from conservation, green: fit for handling

By doing this we ensure that all risks relating to possible damage occurring to items during handling and use are mitigated. At the same time we make possible the creation of surrogates from items that would otherwise not be available to readers in the reading rooms due to their condition, if not only after extensive conservation work. By providing surrogates to readers we should be able to preserve the original physical item from further handling, and this can only be achieved if an item’s access is subsequently reduced.

This is already quite an achievement - when it works, but even in such a customised capacity we can do more than that and the magic word here is “housing”. Good functional housing can be provided by creating customised, and not necessarily expensive, enclosures. If correctly used, phase boxes, folders, and Melinex enclosures provide very effective solutions to prolong the existence of fragile and endangered items.

We also provide supportive treatments such as repairs to major tears and weak areas. These are carried out only to minimise the risk of further damage during handling. This does not mean that as conservators we are sacrificing our knowledge and experience, but it means that we are shifting our expertise towards a wider and more comprehensive approach regarding what we can do for the preservation of our collection.

Conservation, as the word itself says, is the profession aimed to “conserve” items and all their historical features. Looking at the few examples below it is very clear that quite often full treatments have resulted in the complete transformation of the physical nature of the treated item. New sewing, heavy repairs applied to the supports, and new arrangements of items (loose leaves to a bound format) have completely jeopardised the understanding of the physical history of those items.

The left side of the image shows volume flat on a green desk, the volume is in poor condition and has a red label on the front which states 'not to be issued refer reader to'. On the right side of the image there are two brown volumes in a slip case, spine out with darker brown labels with gold tooling.

CC by Two originally “similar” items have, after restoration, lost most of their original physical appearance and therefore invaluable information related to their history

I love books and I love the feeling of handling items that are as they were meant to appear when they were produced. Physical features are an integral part of the history of an object, and too often paper based items are considered only for their content.

Nothing of importance!
Leather bound volume with skinned leather and a large white label on the front with reads, in red ink, 'Nothing of importance' there are also some annotations above this in black ink but they are not legible.

CC by Unfortunately, many bindings and other physical features have been discarded as “Nothing of importance”!

In the following image it is possible to see how good intentions translated into over-restoration. This practice has caused a lot of losses of original features and therefore vital information about the item.

Guard book
Yellow guard book of rebound documents, book is open on green desk showing annotated pages. Behind the volume is an another guard book and a slip case which both of the guard books nestle in.

CC by Guard book of documents that were originally bound together. The paper is laminated and then “hooked” with paper hinges to be bound in the present format

It gives great personal and professional satisfaction to see my input valued and to enable others to enjoy items I am conserving in their original state. It is not always possible or even advisable to completely stop to do full treatments to damaged items, but it is important to remember that we take on a great responsibility by doing it. It is a natural and understandable expectation that we want to see things “as new”, but that is not the aim of conservation.

I like to say that conservation is not about preserving what we can see, but is to be able to leave things as they are as much as possible; it is what we cannot see that really matters.

Heavily damaged manuscript
Heavily damage manuscript with brown cover. There are three images of the manuscript, the top image shows the front of the volume which has a white label adhered with black writing which cannot be read from this image; and a red sticker which reads 'not to be issued refer to' printed in black ink. The left image on the bottom left shows the gutter of the manuscript when open and the image on the bottom right shows the inside top right corner of the board when the book is open.

CC by This heavily damaged manuscript has been digitised and re-housed in a box. By doing this we have been able to preserve all the original features of its contemporary binding, remnants of the sewing threads and materials used in the making of the cover. These details provide clues about specific crafts employed, as well as shedding new light on issues like provenance of the object. They may even inspire new approaches for the interpretation of its content

Mass processing workflows such as those employed in digitisation projects offer conservators a great opportunity to gain understanding about entire collections and not just about single items. By processing a great number of items the conservator acquires knowledge of a whole group of items leading to a wider understanding of the collections and the issues relating to them.

It is a great challenge for conservators to make the best use of this newly acquired knowledge. We have to be able to share what we learn with other strands of our institutions, and also more broadly with interested outside audiences. Information dissemination has never been easier with blogs and Twitter feeds allowing us to share our knowledge quickly and efficiently. It is an opportunity for better communication that we should embrace.

Flavio Marzo

Gulf History Arabic Science Project Conservator

07 November 2013

Read All About It! Preserving the National Newspaper Collection

You may have heard that we are moving the national newspaper collection from its current home of the Newspaper Library in Colindale North London to a brand new storage facility on our Boston Spa site in Yorkshire. Want to know why? Then read on!

In the background of the image is a window with bright light shining through, casting a hazy glaze over the entire image. Books rest on shelving, with the books mainly being in shadow due to the bright light. The light also shows a large amount of dust particles floating in the air around the books.

 Cc-by The dust of another day’s research settles as the sun sets over Colindale

In a series of Read All About It! blog posts we’ll take you behind the scenes of the Newspaper Collection. We’ll tell you a little bit more about it and share some Stop Press! fascinating facts. We’ll explain exactly what newspapers are made of and what makes them so vulnerable. We’ll share with you the collection care challenges we’ve faced in managing the newspaper collection and the ground-breaking steps we’re taking to preserve it and keep its content available.

We’ll show you why we’re moving it, where we’re moving it to, and let you have a little insight into the massive logistical challenge that this involves. And we’ll give you a little taster of what you can expect from the forthcoming News and Media Reading Room at St watch this space! Follow us on Twitter to keep an eye open for new blog posts.

Sandy Ryan

24 October 2013

Collection Care Conference 2013: Evolution or Revolution: the Changing Face of Collection Care

Last week Collection Care hosted an international conference at the British Library. Over 120 delegates from 17 countries convened in London from 14 – 15 October. The conference was divided into six sessions covering the health of collections and the provision of care; an evolving profession; teaching & training; collection care business models; perspectives and practitioners; and digitisation and collection care. A high calibre of papers was given leading to some lively debates where it was concluded that more communication and collaboration between collection care disciplines is required.

A picture of the British Library as seen from the main entrance outdoors. In front of us sits the Newton sculpture by Eduardo Paolozzi, which depicts Isaac Newton leaning over and measuring with a compass. Behind the sculpture is the main entrance to the Library.

CC Zero The British Library

Reading a book can change your life. Engaging online can change the world - Bill Thompson

The need for heritage professionals to come together to exchange ideas and challenge mind-sets was a key theme throughout the sessions. Head of Partnership Development at the BBC Archive Bill Thompson gave the keynote speech and discussed how technology is giving the Enlightenment another 500 years. He stressed how we are not in a Digital World, but an Age of Electronics that is shaping our existence. One of the major challenges faced by professionals is to keep up and meet changing user expectations for delivery.  

Change in collection care mustn’t be disruptive, but adaption to outputs of technology is essential. It was speculated that we might be reaching a point where simulacra of objects in collections may be more useful than the originals. Thompson encouraged us to embrace the potential of new technologies, but to be aware that older ones will not go away.   

Give us screens, but give us bookshelves too – Bill Thompson  

Dr Cath Dillon, post-doctoral research associate at UCL in the Centre for Sustainable Heritage discussed the Collections Demography project and shared the stakeholder’s views on value, change and lifetime. The project defines health and end of life of collections. Dillon asked how long books should last for and reported that most said 100 or 1,000 years. She found that when considering historic documents the public are very reluctant to rate collections as ‘unfit’.  

If conservators are not flexible they won’t be brought to the table for budget planning – Caroline Checkley-Scott  

Conservation is considered a small profession in the UK with about 3,000 active conservators. It was a common theme in the conference that there is a need for teams to respond flexibly to rapidly changing requirements. Kenneth Aitchison, Skills Strategy Manager at the Institute of Conservation (ICON) discussed shaping the future of conservation. Conservation labour market intelligence indicates that 65% of conservators are women, 35% are men, the average age is 42.9 years old, and the median salary is £26,000.   

Flavio Marzo, Conservation Studio Manager for the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme addressed the audience on Tuesday and stressed that conservators need to sell themselves to sustain their value. For digitisation projects Marzo has realised that conservator knowledge is part of the value where the ultimate aim is the image. The physical location of the conservation studio of the Qatar Foundation Project supports integration with the rest of the team allowing conversations to happen which ordinarily might not. Marzo was joined onstage by Qatar Project Conservator Anna Hoffman who outlined her ‘Conservator’s Charter’: learn from experience, communicate and share expertise; and be visible and creative.  

Jocelyn Cuming, Course Leader for the MA Conservation at Camberwell College of the Arts talked about conservation education. Cuming emphasised that although knowledge of materials is fundamental, knowledge was not in itself sufficient for conservation students. A need for skills in communication and advocacy was identified, as well as a constant re-evaluation of requirements for conservation education and training; such as including care of digital materials. Annie Petersen, Preservation Librarian for Howard-Tilton Memorial Library at Tulane University noted that those working with analogue and digital collections don’t communicate very well. She noted that many new graduates wanted digital to be covered more thoroughly in their preservation education.  

Prue McKay, Supervising Conservator for Projects and Exhibitions at the National Archives of Australia thought students should learn a framework of procedures and rationale at university, and develop skills on the job.   

My reality - save all the things! - Megan De Silva  

Megan De Silva, Object Conservator at Monmouthshire Museums Service pitched that while big organisations work to a strategy, small organisations tend to work to a ‘to-do list’. De Silva stressed that strategic thinking is important for smaller organisations, as well as for larger ones.  

It’s not heritage and digital collections; it is the Collection – Dr Cordelia Rogerson  

Head of Conservation at the British Library, Dr Cordelia Rogerson, asserted that change is the new normal. We need to explore how concepts of authenticity and integrity in digital preservation relate to conservation more generally. At the British Library, Digital Preservation recently became part of Collection Care and is headed up by Maureen Pennock. Pennock stressed that digital collection care has to be managed from the beginning in the same way as traditional collection care.  

We don’t need a digital strategy – we need a strategy – Bill Thompson  

It was raised that there are far fewer people working in digital preservation than traditional conservation and the digital skill set of the 3,000 active conservators in the UK was queried. It is unknown whether any of those 3,000 conservators work on digital content. Juergen Vervoorst, Head of Conservation at The National Archives shared with delegates that 120 million records were delivered online last year from The National Archives; 200 times that delivered in reading rooms. 

Dr Rogerson also highlighted that we need more evidence on usage patterns following digitisation, and is keen for a project on the subject to be supported.  

The conference was a great success and we thank all of those involved in the organisation and participation of the event. We invite comments and contributions from any of our delegates to the Collection Care blog, and hope to continue the debate by sharing our knowledge and ideas.  

Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina)
Imaging Scientist

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