THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Collection Care blog

84 posts categorized "Preventive conservation"

03 June 2021

Iron gall ink on paper: Saving the words that eat themselves

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Paul Garside & Zoë Miller

Iron gall ink (IGI) will be familiar to most of us as the characteristic brown ink that we associate with the authenticity and softly aged aesthetic of historic documents.  It is the most important writing and drawing ink in Western culture, initially emerging in the first centuries AD and continuing in widespread use until the 20th century.  Many thousands of examples of its use on both parchment and paper can be found in the British Library’s historic collections, ranging from Treasures and other important items, such as the Codex Sinaiticus, the Lindisfarne Gospels, Magna Carta, manuscripts penned by Henry VIII and the works of famous diarists such as John Evelyn, to more commonplace letters, notes, musical scores and records. And IGI documents will form a vital part of our forthcoming exhibition Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens .

Figure 1: Three sheets of paper with dark brown iron gall ink.  The ink on the opposite sides of the papers is starting to show through.

[Figure 1] An example of IGI on paper (Walpole Papers 73898).

However, IGI may damage the surface on which it is written, and paper is at particular risk, leading to characteristic haloing, fragility, fracturing and areas of loss. It has been estimated that up to 80% of European archives contain items at significant risk of this problem. The potential to cause damage has been known for a long time: in 1765 the English chemist William Lewis published a treatise on the stability of IGI, and over one hundred years ago the Vatican Library warned about the impending destruction of many precious manuscripts from the effect.  However, the ink remained popular, not least for its durability and permanence (it adheres firmly to the substrate, and resists rubbing and washing, unlike carbon inks), but also because it was easy and cheap to make, using a wide variety of historic recipes.  Most recipes are based around four principal components: gallic acid, derived from oak galls; iron(II) sulphate (often referred to as green vitriol); water or an aqueous medium; and a binding agent, such as gum Arabic.  When these ingredients are mixed, the acid and the iron sulphate react together then oxidise to form iron(III) gallate, which is strongly coloured; the ink is typically a dark slate grey when first formed, turning brown or orange as it ages.

Figure 2: A magnified image of iron gall ink on paper, lit from the back, showing dark haloing around the text and areas of loss from regions of heavy ink.

[Figure 2] The effects of IGI corrosion.

Why does this ink cause damage? There are two main, interlinked processes. Sulphuric acid is a by-product of the reaction which creates the ink, and this can lead to hydrolysis of the cellulose that forms the building blocks of paper. Excess iron(II) ions, from the initial ingredients, can also speed up the oxidative degradation of cellulose. In conjunction, these two effects are often referred to as IGI corrosion, and in extreme cases inked lines can actually crack and drop out of the paper surface. We have found that imbalanced recipes and impure ingredients can complicate the aging process and damaging properties of these inks, resulting in wide visual differences. The Instituut Collectie Nederland (ICN) has developed a four level system to categorise the damage caused by IGI , from 1 to 4 ('good' to 'very poor' condition), as shown in these examples from the BL's collection:

Figure 3: The four ICN condition levels, illustrated with examples from the British Library’s collection.

[Figure 3] The condition of IGI on paper: 1 (good condition - no/light discoluration and stable to handle); 2 (fair condition - dark discolouration around ink, with no immediate mechanical damage, but this could result from handling); 3 (poor condition - some mechanical damage around ink, and handling is likely to cause more damage); 4 (very poor condition - serious loss of substance, which will be exacerbated by handling).

Historically, treatments for paper documents suffering from IGI corrosion were much more invasive than would now be considered acceptable, including processes such as lamination, simmering or aggressive de-acidification.  Greater understanding of the material and developments in conservation science have allowed a more tailored, less invasive range of options. For some documents, aqueous treatments will be the most appropriate choice: the items are immersed in a calcium phytate solution, to bind and isolate damaging iron(II) ions, accompanied by gentle de-acidification, to remove existing acids and provide an alkaline reserve.  For other documents, low moisture repairs (using gelatine adhesive, which resists IGI attack as well as providing mechanical stabilisation) or the more conventional support of physical damage will be better choices.  The following chart gives an overview of our thought-processes when considering the best approach; we developed it to help visualise the process and explain our decision-making to colleagues.  As can be seen, we would consider a wide range of factors, including:

  • The state of the IGI and the damage it has caused, assessed using the ICN categorisation.
  • The overall condition of the item, taking into account any signs of damage to its composition or structure, the presence of vulnerable components such as water-sensitive materials, and its general stability and ease of handling.
  • Our 'risk appetite' for the item.  This represents our willingness to accept risks when treating the object, and is related to factors such as cultural value, historic significance and rarity. This would obviously be very low for Treasures items, but even with objects assigned a higher risk appetite, we would not act recklessly or without planning – we may, however, be willing to consider more interventive or extensive treatments to enable the item to be more widely accessed.

Figure 4: A flowchart indicating the decision-making process for the treatment of iron gall ink on paper.

[Figure 4] Decision-making for the treatment of IGI on paper.

This scheme is not prescriptive, however, and each object would be assessed and treated on its own merits. Furthermore, sometimes the best conservation decision is to carry out no treatment at all, and in all cases our work is underpinned by good preventive conservation, in the form of appropriate storage, suitable environmental conditions and sympathetic handling.

Figure 5: A British Library conservator carrying out immersion treatment of a paper manuscript with iron gall ink.

[Figure 5] Aqueous treatment of poor condition IGI on paper, in the BL’s conservation studio.

Many thanks to the Thriplow Charitable Trust for supporting this research.

22 October 2020

On light: conserving material for our exhibition Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights

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Alexa McNaught-Reynolds, Conservation Exhibition and Loan Manager

Two of the items selected for display in our exhibition: Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights appear to be in good condition but have vulnerabilities that may not be immediately obvious. In Conservation we strive to understand every component of an object in order to recommend the best course of action for their long-term care.

Item 1. NEWS.REG170: Daily Mirror front cover: Tuesday 28th March 2017

Vulnerability: newspaper is not made to last

This is an important item in the exhibition, highlighting how strong working women are still sometimes represented in the media today. Newspapers are produced from poor quality wood pulp that is inherently unstable due to something called lignin, and they are not made to last. Lignin makes the paper acidic and when placed in direct sunlight, as many of you will have seen, newspapers turn yellow and become brittle very quickly.

Controversial front page of the Daily Mirror on Tuesday 28th March 2017 showing Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon. The headline reads 'Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!'

Figure 1: Controversial front page of the Daily Mirror on Tuesday 28th March 2017 (NEWS.REG170)

We strive to protect our newspaper collection by storing them in alkaline buffered material, in a stable environment free from exposure to light sources. These actions significantly slow the degradation process.

But what about when one is requested for exhibition? While we are familiar with the vulnerabilities of newspaper generally, we are not sure how stable the media will be under exhibition conditions. The exhibition environment is very stable and the newspaper is subjected to low levels of light. While light level is low, with no UV, and the time is restricted, we are not sure how much of an effect this limited light exposure will have on the media.

In order to get a better understanding of how the media will fair under exhibition conditions, we will be monitoring this item closely. To do this, we are measuring the colour by using simple colorimetry. This is completed with 'Lab*' colour measurements which is a method of representing colour using numerical values, in a similar way to the more familiar RGB or CMYK systems. One of the particular advantages of the Lab* system is that it is based on the way in which the human eye and brain observe colours and determine differences between colours. 'L' represents lightness, from 0 (pure black) to 100 (pure white), while 'a' measures the green-red axis (negative values are green and positive values, red) and 'b' measures the blue-yellow axis (negative values are blue and positive values, yellow). The system is capable of detecting colour changes smaller than the human eye can observe, and so gives us another tool to help us provide the best possible stewardship for the items in our collection.

Controversial front page of the Daily Mirror on Tuesday 28th March 2017 showing Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon. The headline reads 'Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!' This image has been labelled with yellow lines and numbers showing where colour measurements were taken.

Figure 2: Front page of the Daily Mirror with areas marked in yellow indicating where colour measurements were taken.

Highlighted in the image above are the areas where the colours were measured. The same areas will be re-measured at the end of the exhibition. This will detect any colour changes that have happened (hopefully none) and will inform the future display limitations of this item and for other similar contemporary newspapers.

Item 2. Add MS 88899/6/13:  Greenham fence wire from the Angela Carter archive

Vulnerability: highlighter ink loses colour under light exposure

This item is a piece of wire cut from the perimeter fence of RAF Greenham Common Airbase during anti-nuclear protests by the Women's Peace Camp and sent to the novelist Angela Carter who was against nuclear weapons. It was attached to a record card through two punched holes in the centre with typed notes above and below the wire.

Greenham fence wire piercing a white flash card from the Angela Carter archive with high-lighted typed message.

Figure 3: Add MS 88899/6/13:  Greenham fence wire from the Angela Carter archive with highlighted typed message.

Although the item itself is in good condition, highlighter pen was used over the top of the typed message. Highlighter pens contain fluorescent colours which are notoriously light sensitive; they will not retain their colour over extended periods of light exposure. For this reason, we will be displaying this item at our exhibition under low light levels but we will also be limiting future display in order to preserve the bright colour.

At the British Library we aim to make everything as accessible as possible so that everyone can enjoy the collection and see the items in their original condition. However, in order to preserve the collection some items do need to be restricted for various reasons, such as fragile condition, or in these cases, to limit their light exposure and preserve the bright colours for future researchers to see.  Although this means that some items can only be able to be exhibited for short periods, there are alternative solutions for display. For items that were mass produced or have multiple copies, it is possible that a replacement can be found. When an item is unique or other copies are not available, we can suggest a high-quality facsimile be made, this way the viewer can see the uninterrupted exhibition story. In this way, we can maintain the integrity of our collection for as long as possible, as well as finding ways for everyone to enjoy it in the meantime.

Fortunately, both original items will be displayed in ‘Unfinished Business: The Fight for women’s Rights’.

28 August 2020

Disaster Response Plans during COVID-19

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The Conservation Department has a well-established emergency response system with Salvage Teams at both our London and West Yorkshire sites. Team members are on a callout rota and will work alongside other colleagues if we have an incident that threatens our collections.

On 23rd March this year, The UK Government announced a nationwide lockdown in response to COVID-19. We, like many others in the sector, had to re-evaluate our underlying assumptions about how we would respond to incidents affecting our collections. Countrywide we were now discouraged from travelling and asked to remain at home.

We are fortunate that our colleagues in the Estates, Health and Safety and Security teams have continued to work through lockdown, keeping our buildings and collections safe. This reduces the likelihood that the Salvage Team would need to be called out. However, we needed to make sure we understood when, and how, we could effectively respond if either Team were required.

Wet books used as props to train the Salvage Team in sorting and recovery techniques; the books are wet and warped.
A crate of wet and damaged books used in practical Salvage Team response and recovery training

Reviewing procedures

This meant we had to review our procedures in the midst of an unfolding situation. We had limited guidance and prior experience to refer to, and so worked methodically one step at a time. Firstly, we clarified what we were permitted to do under the lockdown restrictions and then considered what changes we needed to make to our procedures. The situation meant that we had to be flexible and we realised that any updates made could be subject to further change at a later stage.

Secondly, we needed to communicate any changes to the Salvage Team and other stakeholders, most of whom were now at home and not necessarily easily contactable.

Close up image of text on page
The aim was to produce clear updates to existing procedures

Team safety

Our primary consideration was the safety of the Salvage Team and other colleagues. We already have risk assessments covering normal salvage operations, so my colleague Emily Watts (Collection Care North Manager) and I began by drafting a COVID-19 specific health and safety risk assessment. The risk assessment covered all aspects of the response, from travel to safe working on site. Considerations included: Under what circumstances could the team travel? Were usual travel methods advisable? Were there personal considerations which meant that people preferred not to be on call at this time? 

Any changes that we made also needed to reflect site differences. For example, in West Yorkshire, most people drive while in London, the majority of the team is reliant on public transport.

Secondly, while we always consider the option of providing advice without being on site, we worked through this in more detail to reduce further the likelihood that anyone would be needed on site. If there was a need to attend, could team members arrange to arrive at the point when they were needed? What practical help could we provide remotely and what did we need to be on site to do?

Risks to collection

At the same time, I was taking part in a separate exercise to assess risks to collections during this period. It is natural to assume that while buildings are closed, risks also increase. However, while some may increase, others reduce. The risk assessment evaluated how the picture had changed and identified any increased risks. The outcomes enabled us to identify any mitigation that was needed, for example, regular on-site checks or closer liaison with colleagues who were on site.

Briefing notes communicated the risk assessment outcomes to the Salvage Team. We also briefed our key stakeholders; this ensured that there was a common understanding of the measures in place should there be an incident during this period.

As time has moved on, the lockdown has eased. We have started to reoccupy and open our buildings, and the risk assessment - as a living document - can be revisited and updated.

Practical salvage operations

Once on-site, we needed to consider how the Team could work safely. We needed to think about how the requirement for social distancing could be incorporated when, by its nature, salvage operations rely on close physical working with colleagues.

We have a range of PPE available to the team, but rather than this being selected in response to the incident, we now ask that people don specific items from their arrival on site. In terms of revised procedures, we want to maintain flexibility and not be too prescriptive. We are therefore encouraging Salvage Team members to plan the response carefully to limit the need for close working wherever possible. The Team have been encouraged to raise issues and, ultimately, told to cease operations if they have concerns.

Small adjustments to workflows can be made to ensure social distancing, but there is a knock-on impact. For example, we can minimise activities that do require people to work together closely, such as sheeting up with plastic. We can encourage the use of tools, such as trolleys, rather than passing items from person to person or moving them in pairs. However, we need to accept that this will mean that working methods are less efficient and so could take longer. Team members may also need to rotate more frequently and work shorter shifts, and have more breaks.

By contrast, working remotely, we have realised that video calling software creates more options to provide an immediate off-site response or to have a hybrid response with some team members on-site and others providing assistance from home.

Four Playmobil figures, wearing personal protective equipment, are shown using emergency response equipment
It was important to ensure the Salvage Team felt safe if they were called out

Responding to emergencies

By working out what the significant risks were, and combining this with the need to ensure staff safety, we could then look at how this would affect our response.

As an example, our system is based on us using a series of pool phones which contain our salvage manual in a set of small files. This structure enables the user to navigate to the content that they want rather than wading through a long document to find the relevant section. Each week, those on-call pick up their allocated salvage phone and then return it at the end of their duty week. Now the phones were with those who last used them with no mechanism to swap them between us.

A priority for me was to ensure that everyone still had this information in some form when they were on-call. Provided as long-form documents, this reinforced how well the small bite-size files works. I'm currently working with our IT department to investigate options to switch from using the pool phones to using secure collaborative tools. These can be accessed on a range of devices, ensuring easier access to all Salvage Team resources by multiple users. Changing systems also presents an opportunity to save costs on handsets and data contracts.

One thing we did maintain was our usual rota system whereby the Team members on-call that week report in by email every Monday morning. However, during the lockdown, we have been using WhatsApp (a group messaging app). Communications go to all team members at once, which means that there is less chance of missing a notification if someone can't do their duty or needs to call out the whole team. Again collaborative working tools provide more sophisticated messaging options which could simplify this further.

Some short term changes to procedures, introduced to cover the lockdown period and early stages of reoccupation, are no longer needed.  However, if the need arose, we could reinstate them. Remote working has also reinforced those temporary procedures that work well which we want to continue to use.

 Identical information is shown on a phone screen and on a piece of paper to illustrate differences in ease of use
The benefits of short electronic files were clear when compared with long form documents

Staying in touch

One of the on-going risks we identified was the challenge of keeping distributed Salvage Team members in contact. Team cohesion is critical; successful incident response depends on everyone working together as a team and supporting each other. Not all team members typically work closely together, and those that do were now physically separated. We have recently recruited three new team members to the London Salvage Team, one of whom had not begun their induction process. It was important to me that they and their colleagues felt supported in this unprecedented situation and so we started to think about how best to do this.

Over the last 18 months, I have completely revised the Salvage Team induction training. One of the new additions is a module around decision-making. This involved looking back at actual incidents to discuss what had occurred, how people were alerted, who did what and how decisions were made. New team members who have completed this fed back that they felt reassured by this and much clearer about their role in an emergency. An outstanding action was for existing Team Members to attend the same session.

We have also been offering individual training exercises, for induction training and general refresher training alongside as group exercises. Feedback from these had been positive as people could complete them at their convenience and own pace. We realised that offering similar activities, to be completed at home, would deliver a double benefit. It was a way of keeping the Salvage Team in contact while also ensuring that their skills and knowledge are maintained.

A slide from a decision-making training presentation, which outlines key principles, is displayed on laptop screen
A presentation on decision-making is a key part of the Salvage Team induction process

In the next blog, my colleague Nicole Monjeau will explain more about this training programme and how it has developed into something much more valuable than we'd envisaged.

Sarah Hamlyn

Lead Preventive Conservator

03 April 2020

Lotus Sutra Project: Conservation of a burnt scroll (Or. 8210/ S.2155)

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The Lotus Sutra Manuscript Digitisation Project at The British Library is a multi-year project which started in 2018. The project aims to digitise almost 800 copies of the Lotus Sutra scrolls in Chinese, with a view to make images and information freely accessible. Out of these 800 scrolls, a large portion of them need conservation work. Our conservators deal with a variety of lengths of scrolls on this project, ranging from 30 centimetre fragments to scrolls measuring up to 13 metres. This blog post covers the treatment of an item which I (Marya Muzart, IDP Digitisation Conservator) had the opportunity to work on. 

Falling under a treatment time estimate of 25 hours, the condition of this item before treatment was not ideal. As a digitisation conservator, my aim is to stabilise the object to:

a) Ensure the item can be safely handled during digitisation and quality control

b) Ensure the text is visible and accessible so that high quality images can be taken

Or 8210 before treatment shown laid out on a desk with visible burn marks and missing areas of text.

Picture 1: Or.8210/S.2155 before treatment

Before treatment neither safe handling or a high-quality image capture was possible. The damage left the scroll incredibly vulnerable. With every handling, small fragments of burnt paper were flaking off. In addition, the burns were making the paper curl at the edges. 

The scroll had been damaged by fire at some point during its lifetime. It is certain that the scroll acquired these burns whilst it was rolled up as the burn damage is throughout its entire length, in a repeated pattern. How the scroll came to be burned, we can only assume. This could have been due to candles, incense or oil lamps used at the time (6th- 11th Century).  It is most likely that while being handled in its rolled up state, it accidentally came in contact with an open flame or heat source. Whilst there may be some large losses, luckily much of the text is still present. 

As this scroll measures 10 metres, it was crucial to work in sections. To start off, I surface cleaned the scroll using some soft cosmetic sponges to remove any surface dirt. Next, humidification was applied to the scroll via a gentle mist, and then flattened under boards and weights. The whole length of the scroll had to be humidified for the paper to lie as flat as possible in order to enable repairs. The introduction of moisture also returned a little flexibility to the burnt areas. 

A toned Japanese paper was selected for the repairs, which has a sympathetic tone to the original paper. A common question we often get is: why do we use Japanese paper, such as kozo (made from the bark of the mulberry tree), when treating an object made of Chinese paper? The long fibres in kozo gives it mechanical strength, tear resistance and flexibility. On the other hand, fibre length in xuan paper (Chinese paper) is much shorter than kozo (and generally other Japanese papers) and consequently its tear strength is not as great. This makes Japanese papers ideal for repairs in paper conservation, it can be strong enough to act as a repair paper, whilst being flexible and light enough to not cause any damage to the original scroll.  

To apply the repairs, I used wheat starch paste. When working with scrolls, the paste has to be the correct consistency to enable enough flexibility for the rolled item. Each repair was then left under a weight for an appropriate amount of time.

Before treatment showing the scroll with burn damage along the full length.

Picture 2: Or.8210/S.2155 before treatment

After treatment showing the scroll with Japanese paper repairs.

Picture 3: Or.8210/S.2155 after treatment

After treatment, the scroll is now in a much better state. It can be safely handled and digitised by trained internal staff. Whilst the burnt edges no longer curl up and now lie flat, notes have been passed on to our trained photographers, to take extra precaution when handling this item. I am pleased with the result of this treatment, it was a great success! 

Scroll after treatment showing the scroll lying flat with repairs. The burnt edges are no longer curling up.

Picture 4: Or. 8210/ S.2155 after treatment

Marya Muzart, IDP Digitisation Conservator

06 September 2019

From Tackling Digitisation to Preserving Historic Photos - Autumn One Day Courses at British Library

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By West Dean College of Arts and Conservation

A woman inspects two historic photographs using a microscope.

British Library and West Dean College of Arts and Conservation collaborate to deliver Continued Professional Development for those involved with, or with responsibility for care of libraries, archives and collections, and for conservation students. Autumn 2019 courses include:

Writing and Using a Preservation Policy – 28 October 2019

A preservation policy provides the opportunity for your organisation to develop a framework for thinking about the role of collections management and care. This training day equips you with the insights, understanding and practical guidance to review or draft a policy for your organisation.

Tutor Jennifer Dinsmore has 40 years of experience working with heritage organisations to evaluate and develop conservation provision, strategies and policies in museums, libraries and archives.

Preserving Historic Photographs – 14 November 2019

The sensitivity of the photographic collections in libraries, archives and museums to environmental conditions and the speed with which images can deteriorate present special challenges. This one day course is led by Susie Clark, an accredited paper and photographic conservator, formerly responsible for a collection of 20 million photographs at the BBC Hulton Picture Library (now Getty Images).

Digitisation: Planning and Processes – 10 December 2019

Digitisation can increase access to collections, provide surrogates for vulnerable originals and enable virtual reunification of collections.  But do you know where to start?

This training day offers you guidance on image specification, file formats, condition assessments, choosing equipment and planning for online access. It focuses on the digitisation of library and archive materials, though the principles are transferable. The day is led by British Library’s team including the Digitisation Conservation Team Manager, Digital Curator for Collections and the Photographic Studio Manager.

Courses are £147 each and take place at British Library.

Book online

Enquiries +44 (0)1243 818300

10 May 2019

All sewn up: British Library colleagues work together to ensure the survival of 100 embroidered and textile bookbindings

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Mary Horrell, Conservation Support Assistant, and Mark Oxtoby, Collection Care Workflow Coordinator stand in front of the enclosure system they have created.
Mary Horrell, Conservation Support Assistant, and Mark Oxtoby, Collection Care Workflow Coordinator

The Felbrigge Psalter’s decorative 14c covers (pictured below) are the oldest known examples of English embroidery on a book and a prime example of the type of binding this project is working to protect. 

The Felbrigge Psalter cover featuring faded embroidery that illustrates The Annunciation, with the Virgin Mary on the right and another figure, thought to be St. John, on the left.
Felbrigge Psalter

Although faded with areas of lost stitching the design is clearly visible. Luxury bookbindings like this have covers of fragile silk, satin, and velvet and are often decorated with pearls, sequins and gold and silver embroidery threads, all of which may require different approaches to conservation but should all be stored in a similar way.

The project to re-box collection items with ‘at risk’ embroidered and textile bookbindings has been ongoing since 2016 and has involved colleagues from various teams including; Conservation, Western Heritage Collections, Basements, Collection Care North and Reader and Reference Services.

The prayer books cover which features green, white, pink and blue thread. The thread is embroidered in a plaid-like pattern, which each square having an optical illusion giving the impression that the square gets smaller and moves further back in space.
C.108.aa.7: 17c English prayer book.  The design has a stunning trompe l’oeil effect which can still be seen despite the loose threads.  The spine piece has also been lost.

The first step of the project involved Maddy Smith, Curator Printed Heritage Collections, and Philippa Marks, Curator Bookbindings, selecting around 100 bindings which needed attention and preparing a preservation bid. Traditionally these items were boxed to resemble leather bindings on a library shelf, stored in sometimes abrasive slipcases, or in tight drop-back boxes lined with woollen fabric.

Curators Maddy Smith and Philippa Marks look at a book with an embroidered cover featuring imagery of deer and plants.
Maddy Smith (left) and Philippa Marks (right) reviewing some embroidered bindings.

Philippa says: ‘The Library’s collection of textile bookbindings is so rich that the problem regarding selection was not what to include, but what to exclude! An important first step was to identify the books which had been boxed in the past or were not protected at all. Boxing provided an effective and practical solution historically, but we now know some elements of the construction can put bindings at risk. Today conservators have a choice of modern materials, all of which have been tested by Paul Garside, Conservation Scientist, and will remain stable and protect the textile and embroidered surfaces’.

A close up of a 16th century embroidered binding.
C.183.aa.6: enlargement of 16c English binding shows red and green embroidery threads, metallic coils and sequins which have oxidised (blackened).

At this point it was down to the Library’s Textile Conservator Liz Rose to devise storage solutions to protect these fragile bindings. Liz was invited to attend an embroidered books rehousing workshop at the Herzogin Anna Amelia Bibliothek in Weimar, Germany, where conservators from Germany, France and Austria discussed storage and handling solutions for these delicate structures to both prolong their lifecycle and enable access.

Liz says: ‘It was a privilege to be the only textile conservator invited to attend the workshop. The organiser, Jonah Marenlise Hölscher, from the Anna Amelia Bibliothek had visited St Pancras in early 2016.’

A closeup of a 16th century embroidered binding showing pearls, metallic thread and a dark green background.
C.23.a.26: enlargement of late 16c binding design comprising pearls.

Following this workshop Liz pursued her idea of using standard sized phase boxes (these are archival storage boxes) lined with Plastazote®. The new boxes were made by Mark Oxtoby, Collection Care Workflow Coordinator in Boston Spa and then lined with removable Plastazote®, a type of foam. The bookbindings were wrapped in Bondina® (a smooth polyester tissue used for conservation).

A close up featuring a figure's head in profile surrounded by a circular frame of gold thread against a red background.
C.65.k.9; enlargement of centrepiece of 16c Italian embroidered prayer book.

 

During the following period Liz and her colleague Mary Horrell, Conservation Support Assistant, consulted with colleagues from other Library departments to ensure that the change from 18c methods to the new approach was approved by all. Prototype phase boxes and bespoke inserts were constructed.

Peter Roberts, Basement 2 Manager, says: ‘The main consideration from the Operations side was how much extra storage space and what sort of storage would be needed when the items returned in expanded, padded boxes.'

‘We got an estimation of the expected dimensions, numbers and configuration of the new boxes from BLCC. We have begun moving four ranges of Case books (rare printed books) to provide enough shelf space to accommodate the new boxes and to ensure each item can be safely shelved. We recently attended a demonstration of the padded boxes so I will be able to brief my team on how to assemble the boxes and what to look out for if any parts go missing/get damaged with use.’

A Danish embroidered binding from the 17th century featuring 3-D floral motifs embroidered in a silver thread against a red velvet background.
C.130.a.11; note the wear around the edges of the velvet covers of this 17c Danish binding and the raised decoration (called stump work).  The clasps (in the shape of a face) would cause damage to neighbouring books if not boxed.

 

The consultation stage of the project is now almost complete and a collection handling morning has taken place where Liz and Mary demonstrated the new storage solution to colleagues across the Library.

Philippa concludes: ‘I was so impressed by the way colleagues worked together, each using their individual skills and experience to ensure that these items, some of them 400 years old, last another 400 years ... at least!’

A close up of an embroidered binding featuring an image of an angel surrounded by foliage.
G.6319 19c French binding by Louis Janet. Enlargement shows the raised nap on the velvet covers at risk of abrasion.

 

18 February 2019

Condition Surveying British Library on Demand

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British Library on Demand (BLoD) is the document supply service from The British Library. Items are purchased specifically for the purpose, in addition to the legal deposit collection, to provide remote access to over 42 million items. Users include libraries, higher education institutions, individuals and commercial customers across the UK and internationally. Launched in 1962 as the National Lending Library, with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), at its peak in the mid - late 1990s, four million requests were received a year. Items can be supplied as scanned digital copies that are e-mailed or physical copies are sent by post.

A screenshot of the British Library on Demand webpage.
BLoD webpage



The material in BLoD ranges in age and format. We have items that are over 100 years old, pamphlets with a few pages to directories that are five inches thick! Some items are fragile because they are older and the paper and/or structure of the item is naturally deteriorating with some damage accelerated through use. Others are new items where modern day mass production of publishing books means they do not always last very long before damage occurs.

The spine of the The Post Office London Directory.
The Post Office London Directory 1922
The foreedge of the The Post Office London Directory 1922 with a ruler indicating the volume is 5 inches thick.
The Post Office London Directory 1922

Collection Care North carry out conservation repairs to the collection, which can include tear repairs, repairing the sewing of bindings, re-attaching boards and many other repairs. It is currently unknown what the overall condition of the BLoD collection is. Collection Care North are in the planning stages of a collection wide condition survey. This will not mean surveying every book, but we will end up with a snapshot overview of the collections condition.

We will sample 400 items from each of the stores that BLoD is stored in. We will place out shelf markers so we know which shelf to take an item from to assess. The 400 shelves are chosen by dividing the number of shelves with collections on them by 400.

For example, if we had 10,000 shelves:

10,000/400 = 25

So we would need to choose an item from every 25th shelf.

A red piece of paper cut in a long, thin strip with the number 400 listed on each side.
Shelf marker
A red piece of paper with text stating 'Please do not remove this shelf marker. Condition surveying in progress.'
Shelf marker

We are going to start in Building 3, where Official Publications are stored. It is one of the smaller stores, to ease ourselves in to the task and to check our methodology works how we want it to. There are over 3,500 occupied shelves in this store.

The survey will record:
•     Object type, e.g. hardback, paperback, monograph, serial, cartographic material, mixed format
•     Storage, e.g. is the item in a box; is there environmental monitoring; is the shelving adequate?
•     Condition, we use a set of four condition codes (see below)
•     Damage – physical, chemical, biological, previous repairs. E.g. Physical –torn pages, detached boards; chemical – brittle paper, light damage; biological – mould or pest/insect damage

A screen shot of the traffic light system used when surveying. Green is good, no evident damage. Yellow is fair, slight damage. Amber is poor, damaged with risk of further damage. Red is unfit for use, significant risk of further damage.

We hope to start surveying before the end of February. Watch this space to find out about our progress!

Emily Watts

07 February 2019

West Dean College of Arts and Conservation to hold series of courses in collaboration with the British Library

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Press Release: February 6, 2019 from West Dean College.

Two images side by side. On the left is a bookshelf with books leaning to the left. On the right is a stack of three dusty books.

For the 5th year, West Dean College of Arts and Conservation will be holding a series of courses devoted to The Preservation and collection care for libraries in collaboration with the British Library - the national library of the United Kingdom and the second largest library in the world.

These fascinating courses are for professionals, conservation students and those interested in
continuing professional development in this area offering access to relevant training and expertise. The first one takes place on Thursday, February 28, 2019 and focuses on Damaged books and bound archives, this is followed by a new course for 2019 - Writing and using a preservation policy on Friday, March 8, 2019 and then:

• April 23, 2019 - Dust and dirt: Strategies for prevention and management
• May 9, 2019 - Preserving Historic Photographs
• June 6, 2019 - Preventing pests by IPM
• June 19, 2019 - Disaster response and salvage
• July 22, 2019 Understanding bookbindings
• July 24, 2019 - Environment: Effective monitoring and management
• September 16, 2019 - Preservation Assessment Survey Workshop

West Dean College of Arts and Conservation is internationally respected for conservation
education, including MA Conservation Studies, and many alumni go on to work in museums and with collections of global significance.

Lizzie Neville, Head of School of Conservation, commented: “West Dean College is delighted to be able to support the delivery of training in this under-resourced area and the excellent reputation of these courses extends beyond the UK, with participants from Europe and as far afield as California and Argentina.”

Most courses are half a day or a full day and all take place at the British Library in London. Prices start at £143 and more courses will be added to the schedule during the year.

For further information and booking, see: www.westdean.org.uk or phone the Bookings Office: +44 (0)1243 818300.

16 January 2019

Course on Asian Papers and their Applications in Paper Conservation

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Instructor: Minah Song, independent paper conservator (www.minahsong.com)
Date: 18th, 19th and 20th June (Tue - Thu), 2019- 3 days
Place: The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB
Enrollment limit: 12
Registration fee: 480 GBP (materials included)

A group of conservators listens as Minah Song teaches.

This three-day intensive workshop is designed to provide both emerging and established conservation professionals with the theoretical and practical foundation for understanding Asian papers and their applications in paper conservation. The workshop consists primarily of hands-on activities with a lecture, group discussions and examinations of various Asian papers.

Participants will familiarize themselves with history and characteristics of Chinese, Korean and Japanese paper-making, including an overview of contemporary Asian paper production. Each participant will be presented with a set of different paper samples and will study the papers first hand and examine the fibers, sheet formation, alkali content and the results of different manufacturing processes and drying methods. Different Asian paper fibers will be compared with the help of microscopic images.

In a practical session, participants will make small-sized paper samples using simple tools with paper mulberry fibers and formation aid. They will also use cotton fibers as a comparison. Participants will make modern equivalent of drying board (karibari) using a honeycomb board and mulberry paper.

Participants will study and share details of various methods of repair and lining techniques using different Asian papers, depending on their opaqueness, texture, and strength, appropriate for specific objects. For example, participants will try double-sided lining with thin mulberry tissue, drying a lined object on a drying board, and making pre-coated tissue with different adhesives. Useful tips in toning techniques with acrylic paints for mulberry paper will be discussed.

Paper conservation tools and equipment including a drying board and rulers.

For further details and online registration see:
www.minahsong.com/workshop

Contact the instructor: minahsongstudio@gmail.com

23 November 2018

Conservation Cats: An Exhibition

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Cats on the Page’ is a free exhibition now open in the front entrance hall of the British Library running until Sunday 17 March 2019.

Have you ever wondered how all the items for an exhibition are prepared?

Once the exhibition concept has been approved and the curators have chosen all the items that they would like to display in the exhibition, conservation becomes involved.

We start by examining each item and checking for the following things:

  • Condition: is it in a condition that is stable for display?
  • Treatment: does it require any conservation treatment to make it stable for display? If so, how much?
  • Display: How is it going to be displayed, does it need any special mounting?
  • Vulnerability: Is it particularly sensitive to light or environmental changes?
  • Touring: Is it suitable for display at multiple venues?

Collection times on a trolley going through the exhibition selection and conservation assessment process

Any exhibition can have between 100 – 300 items selected for display and are spread over many different departments, so assessing each item can be time consuming.

Book entitled Orlando ready for assessment   A selection of books with a cat theme being assessed

Once everything has been assessed anything that requires treatment is arranged to be delivered to the conservation studio, this will usually be about 4-5 months prior to the install of the exhibition (or longer if needed due to high amounts of treatment required).

All items arriving in the conservation studio are brought up on a ticket which has a special code for the conservation department. Not only this, but everything is also entered into our ‘tracker’ book, which allows everything to be signed in and out of the studio.

The types of treatments that we undertake in preparation for an exhibition can range from simple treatments such tear repairs to the opening page or more in-depth treatments such as board attachments and pigment consolidation. Due to the high number of items that need preparation for exhibition, anything that requires more than 10 hours of treatment will generally be removed from the exhibition list and handed over to the Conservation collection care teams for full treatment.

This copy of ‘Puss in Boots’ is a pop-up book that was just one of the items that required treatment prior to going on display.

A pop-up edition of Puss in Boots

Pop-up books are inherently fragile because of the moving parts but this book is also made from very poor quality card that has become very acidic and brittle over the years. It required some minor treatment in preparation for its inclusion into the exhibition.

A shot of the inside of the Puss In Boots pop up book showing some damage to the paper  A shot of the inside of the Puss In Boots pop up book showing the paper repair complete

The Exhibitions team order custom made book supports for each book, specific to the page opening.

Books being installed in to the Cats exhibition

The book is strapped to the book cradle, using Melinex® strapping to help it stay open during the exhibition. It is then ready to be installed into the showcase by the Exhibitions install team with the other material.

Image of one of the completed display cases for the Cats exhibition

The variety of different books and artworks have highlighted the love of our furry friends, ‘Cats on the Page’ is open for three months and free to visit, so don’t miss this lovely exhibition!

 

Alexa McNaught-Reynolds, Conservation Exhibition and Loan Manager