Collection Care blog

84 posts categorized "Preventive conservation"

19 November 2018

What’s in a box?

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

What do we box?

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

 

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

 

How do we make boxes?

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

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



The machine has three tool heads:

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

 

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

Book / newspaper measurer.
Book/newspaper measurer.



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

Box board

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

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



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

Boxes ready for folding.
Boxes ready for folding.



Advantages of boxing

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

 

Disadvantages of boxing

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

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

 

Emily Watts, Collection Care North Manager

10 September 2018

Rehousing two 12th century charters

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

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

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

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

Before Pictures:

 

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

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

Charter with Seal of Henry I, in original housing.

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

Charter is fixed directly to board backing.

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

 

Backing Removal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tools used for backing removal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Within its new mount board:

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

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

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

09 August 2018

Handle Books with Care

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

Risks to books

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

Book supports and weights

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

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

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

Now let’s discuss specific binding styles.

Flexible tight back books

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

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

 

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



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

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

 

Rigid tight back

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

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

 

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


 

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

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

 

Case bindings

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

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

 

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


 

Perfect bindings

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

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

Safe handling

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

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

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

Happy #NationalBookLoversDay!

Nicole Monjeau

26 June 2018

Preventive Conservation Work Placement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two conservators flank Elena Verticchio as all three study a floor map of an area for a salvage exercise.
Salvage preparation. Left to right: Eszter Matyas, Elena Verticchio and Lorraine Holmes.

 

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

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

Elena Verticchio

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

16 April 2018

A Taste of Training

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

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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



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

 

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

19 February 2018

Digitising books as objects: The invisible made visible

Book conservator Flavio Marzo explores how the experience for users of online library material surrogates could be easily improved by enhancing invisible physical features of books.

Working as a book conservator within digitisation projects has been my job for many years. I started in 2006, only one year after joining the British Library Conservation team here in London after leaving my country, Italy.

The subject of that digitisation project was the digitisation and virtual reunification of the Codex Sinaiticus, possibly one of the most known and valuable manuscripts in the Western world. The Codex was compiled in the IV century AD and is the oldest surviving and most complete version of the Old and New Testament. Many years have passed since that project and digitisation has become a common work stream within public institutions. This is especially evident within libraries which now compete in uploading material from their own collections to make them available for scholars, students and readers across the globe.

Technology has improved immensely since then and a lot of ‘ink’ has been spread across physical and virtual pages about the remit, the limitations and the advantages of what is offered to the public through the surrogates uploaded onto countless web portals. This piece is just another little drop into this ocean of ink to share some considerations built upon experience and from the perspective of a book conservator who sees, because of his professional background, the limitations of this, but also the exciting challenges to overcome them.

Books are physical objects and the pleasure of opening them, turning the pages, looking at (when decorated) the illuminations and their pigments, or at the accretions of the ink strokes, even smelling them, cannot be recreated on the screen of a home desktop. This does not mean that we cannot improve the experience and possibly further close the gap between the real object and the two-dimensional images.

I now work for the British Library/Qatar Foundation Digitisation Project and for the past 5 years, with a team of two conservators, I have been repairing documents (printed and hand written) and Scientific Arabic manuscripts for the team of scholars and photographers who are doing the real magic by gifting the world with the content now available on the Qatar Digital Library website (https://www.qdl.qa/en).

I have worked with books all my life since I was a 16 year old apprentice in a Benedictine Monastery. I have to admit that I am not an avid reader but I love books as objects and I get very excited about all the different little features and materials they are made from. How is it possible to please someone like me when offering online surrogates of complex items like books?

Books are recognised as 3D items and a lot of work has been done to migrate the content of those printed and manuscript texts into online, easy to access versions, but very little has been done to capture their physicality as objects.

Photographers, like any other professional, follow strict professional standards defined by general rules and specific project boundaries. Those standards are built to assure that the best possible result is achieved consistently and the meter to measure this result is the quality of the final product i.e. the image to be uploaded. Those images are supposed to reproduce as faithfully as possible the text and the carrier of the content of a book. Very rarely attention is given to the substrate or to the physical features of the object.

Lights for digitisation are carefully positioned to avoid shadows and they help to reduce surface irregularities and anomalies. This is all to the benefit of the written text and/or of the decorations, but with much loss for the lovers of the book as an object!

Here I want to describe some very practical ways to achieve different results and show some ‘behind the scenes’ of items I have been working on and how these very interesting results can be achieved with simple straight-forward techniques that do not require any high-tech equipment.

Raking light

I have mentioned the Codex Sinaiticus and I would like to start with it.

An image from the Codex Sinaiticus showing the page as viewed under normal light conditions.
Revelation, 2:7 - 3:5, British Library folio: 326. This image: Normal light.
The same image from the Codex Sinaiticus showing the page as viewed under raking light conditions, which shows as a much darker image..
Revelation, 2:7 - 3:5, British Library folio: 326. This image: Raking light.

 

All the available remaining pages of the Codex from the different geographical sites where they are presently held (The British library, The Library of the University of Leipzig, The National Library of Russia in Saint Petersburg, and the Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine’s) were digitised and uploaded onto the purposely created website (http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/). Contrary to common practice, all the pages were imaged both with normal and ‘raking light’. 

When imaging pages of books with normal light the attention is placed primarily to achieve the full readability of the text. Lights are placed and conditioned to radiate evenly over the surface of the page making sure no shadows are created and paying great attention to colours and tones to ensure they are as close as possible to the real appearance of the object reproduced.

What ‘raking light’ does is very different and the resulting image reveals a completely new landscape. Placing the source of light horizontally relative to the page results in an enhanced texture of the substrate which highlights and brings to life all the physical features present on the surface of the pages. These interesting and unique features can relate to the preparation of the writing surface or more generally to the specific material the substrate is made of e.g. papyrus, parchment or paper.

Here are some details of pages of the Codex Sinaiticus taken with raking light.

A page of the Codex Sinaiticus cast with raking light. This light has revealed the ruling lines, both horizontally and vertically, used to keep the text in place. An image of the Codex Sinaiticus as viewed from the top of the page looking down, under raking light conditions. The light has revealed the scraping of the surface of the parchment. The image also shows pricking holes, circled in red, which was done as an aide for ruling the page as an aide for the scribes.
In the previous images the source of light is now helping us to appreciate this famous manuscript on a completely different level.

Horizontal and vertical lines, holes pierced through the page, and scratch marks now appear clearly. They are traced on the surface of the pages for a purpose; those are features related to the page preparation that happened before the text was traced onto it.

The ‘bounding lines’ (vertical) and the ‘writing lines’ (horizontal) are impressed with a blind (not too sharp) tool onto the parchment sheets. The holes, highlighted with red circles in the second image, are used as a reference. This is known as pricking holes for the ruling of the page to provide the scribes with a guide for writing.

The scratches visible on the surface of the page are most likely the marks left by the pumice stone. The pumice stone was commonly used to prepare the surface of the abraded parchment sheet to make it more absorbent and therefore improve the grasp between the grease substrate and the writing ink.

Thanks to this lighting system it is also possible to see the direction of the indentation of those lines and holes. This information can help codicologists, even from the comfort of their homes, to understand from which side of the folio they were traced and pierced and so recreate the step by step process of the creation of an ancient manuscript.       

One of two images of a letter sent by the Emir of Baghdad to Lord Curzon in 1899. This image is taken under normal light conditions, with clear neat Arabic script contained in two borders, underneath a decorative image heading in red and gold.  The same letter from Emir to Lord Curzon as taken under raking light conditions. This image has revealed how the image was folded, and the number of folds that can now be seen, that were not visible under normal light conditions.
In this image we see the images of a letter sent by the Emir of Bagdad in 1899 to Lord Curzon when he was appointed Viceroy of India, first taken with normal and then with ‘raking light’. In the first image the letter is just a sheet of paper beautifully arranged and decorated with writing. In the second image the light tells us a completely different story; it shows us the use of this letter, the way it was folded and the number of folds it had.

How incredible that it is possible to see all these different insights by just slightly moving a lamp!

Transmitted light

Another technique to read paper from a different perspective is using ‘transmitted light’. 

This image of the same letter from the Emir of Baghdad to the Lord Curzon, is now revealed under transmitted light, another technique of reading paper, to have a watermark, with a Lion holding a flag bearing the word 'Reliance' within a circular sigil entitled around the inner edge as 'The Lion Brand, Croxley number 693, London. some watermark text is obscured by the overwriting Arabic script.

Simply by placing the same sheet of paper onto a light table (i.e. illuminating from below) it is possible to bring a completely new scenario to life. In this image for example we can clearly see the watermark impressed onto the sheet of paper of the previous letter, detail impossible to be seen only looking at the image taken under normal light.

Paper can be hand or machine made, and sheets can bear chain and wire lines or possess watermarks or not. These details can be of great interest to scholars and add valuable information to the understanding of documents in relation to their use and circulation.     

A page manufactured using laid and wove paper, which is revealed distinctively by transmitted light, showing the chain and wire lines on the paper. On the page itself can be seen a large central watermark of a Sphinx like creature with a crown between it's wings. On the left hand side of the page is arabic script in red, with text in black handwriting on the right hand side of the page.   a comparison to the left hand image of  laid and wove paper, this image of a machine-wove page from the India Office Records, shows the difference in paper, with no chain and wire lines and a clearer paper. The Page itself has again, a large watermark underneath the text, of the words 'Government of India'. Superimposed is flowing cursive handwriting in black ink.

Here are some more examples of sheets of laid and wove paper taken from different files from the India Office Record material, some showing again the characteristic chain and wire lines (except the last one which is actually a sheet of machine made wove paper) and some very distinctive water marks highlighted and made visible thanks to the used of transmitted light. 

Visualization of the physical collation of manuscripts

Books are made of folios and pages and those folios are ‘bound’ together. How the bindings are made is one of the real wonders of books. The variances are numberless and the materials and details of execution not only delight nerds like myself, but more importantly they inform researchers about the history of those books, giving insights into the objects that open doors to sometime unexpected cultural landscapes through links between different craftsmanship and cultures.

To describe a book structure is a very delicate and laborious process, but one that conservators are trained to do and that they automatically do many times when conserving those books as they record the treatments being carried out.

A lot of work has been done during recent years to create tools able to easily make this complex information sharable with the wider audiences. One I wish to mention here is VisColl, developed by Dot Porter at the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania (https://github.com/leoba/VisColl) in collaboration with Alberto Campagnolo at the Library of Congress, a friend and colleague.

A image capture of a page from the University of Pensylvania, of a program called VisColl. The image, with a muted blue background, shows four images of a digitised manuscript, with a section on the left hand side showing the structure of the book and the pages digitised, in white.

In this image we have, additional to the images of the digitised pages, diagrams (on the left) of the structure of the section where those pages are located and, highlighted in white, the specific pages shown on the screen.

Those diagrams, surely more easily understandable than many wordy descriptions, can help researchers to step into a completely new level of understanding for the manuscript, providing vital information about the history of those items, the way they were put together and possibly evidences of late alterations or even forgeries which may have occurred throughout the centuries.

Digitisation has opened new ways to look and make use of books and, I believe, the improvement of understanding of physical features is the next step that should be consistently and widely taken to enhance the online user experience.

One of the issues digitisation has brought to the attention of conservators and professionals involved in the care and preservation of library material is the fact that by enhancing the ‘fame’ of objects we can cause an increase in how much those same objects are requested for access.

To justify restriction in handling objects, which for the most part are very fragile and extremely valuable, we need to improve the online metadata and the amount of information available with the surrogates. Those presented here are just some examples in how, quite easily, this can be done.

Obviously the smell will stay within the walls of the libraries, but those are pleasures to be experienced in situ, and alone (almost..!) at the table of the reading rooms. No surrogate can replace that for the lovers of books. 

13 February 2018

Conservation Internship in Digitisation (British Library, The National Archives, Bodleian Libraries)

Salary £21,000 pa
Full Time (36 hours per week over 5 days)
Fixed-Term 2-years (9 months British Library, 9 months The National Archives, 6 months Bodleian Libraries, Oxford)

The link to the vacancies website is here

This is a training internship designed to equip an emerging conservation professional with the skills necessary for developing a career in managing and supporting digitisation work. The internship will be co-hosted by The British Library, The National Archives and the Bodleian Libraries with each institution offering complementary but distinct experience over a 24 month period. It is intended that the internship will present the role of a Digitisation Conservator as a newly emerging discipline and will support a current skills gap in the sector. The internship is funded by the Clothworkers’ Foundation.

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world’s leading research libraries. The National Archives are the official archive and publisher for the UK government and guardians of over 1,000 years of iconic national documents. Bodleian Libraries provide a world-leading library service to support the University of Oxford in research and education. All three institutions continually digitise collections to enable greater access and preservation for current and future users.

Whilst digitisation involves creating a digital image of an object using a camera or scanner- this is but one element of a complex work flow. Specialist conservation support is also an integral component of the procedure. Condition assessments and surveys, conservation treatment that enables image capture, project planning involving numerous stakeholders and development of methods and equipment to digitise complex and non-standard items all fall into the remit of a Digitisation Conservator.

The internship is available to conservators who have graduated in the last 2 years, have limited work experience in conservation, and who wish to develop their career in supporting digitisation. The successful candidates will have a book or paper conservation qualification(s) (an MA in conservation would be desirable).

At the end of the internship you will be required give a presentation of your work and learning to the internship host institutions.

The internship has a bursary that will be paid on a monthly basis and is subject to tax, and is open to those who have the right to live and work in the UK.

The Job Role

You will work as part of existing teams of Digitisation Conservators, Imaging specialists, Project Managers, Curatorial and subject specialist staff to plan and undertake digitisation of collection items at the British library, The National Archives, Bodleian Libraries.

The projects will vary in size, from individual items to thousands of items and will cover a range of formats from books, archives, manuscripts and objects. Projects may be commercially funded, philanthropically funded or funded by the institution. You will work to agreed miles stones and deadlines for the projects.

Main Tasks

To complete, under supervision, treatments on books, manuscripts and paper based items from the Collections at the host institutions selected for digitisation. This will include:

  • Assessment of items to determine their suitability for digitisation.
  • Developing and undertaking treatment to ensure the improved condition, longevity and accessibility of collection items to enable digitisation.
  • Making decisions about appropriate procedures to use on each item, and therefore self-management to plan and organise work effectively in order to meet wider project timescales and workflows.

Update project documentation, including databases and spreadsheets.

Order collection items from storage areas to the imaging studio for assessment, preparation and digitisation, liaising with library assistants for delivery.

Assist imaging colleagues with queries regarding the collection care aspects of digitising collection items. Assist imaging colleagues when scanning or photographing fragile material.

To role model collection security at all times and ensures collection items are stored securely.

Liaise with the project managers and conservation managers to give regular updates on project progress and highlight any issues.

To take responsibility for own continuous professional development and monitor own learning against an agreed learning plan.

To keep accurate written records detailing treatments undertaken on each individual job, time spent, recording methodology, techniques and results of treatments.

Assist in administrative work as/when required. Attend project meetings when required.

The post holder will be required to participate in Conservation and project related public programmes, talking to members of the public and to represent the work of their studio or area, when required.

Ensure that they have knowledge of and observe the appropriate COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) regulations, and follow the recommendations for the safe handling and use of chemicals, materials and equipment and general health & safety controls in all areas of their work and to participate in/co-operate with the risk assessment process.

Expected to demonstrate a willingness to take on a range of tasks and to develop new skills, as appropriate, in own or other departments/directorates to support the delivery of the institutions services as required by line management.

Essential Criteria for the Internship

Must have graduated in the last 2 years with a degree in book conservation or in paper conservation. Be able to demonstrate relevant conservation skills, including diagnostic, remedial and research skills.

Be able to demonstrate the benefits of the internship to their professional development and interest in conservation for supporting digitisation.

Good written and verbal communication skills, including the ability to communicate preferred treatment options and implications of these options, ability to write reports and to produce clear documentation.

Good time management skills in order to prioritise workloads and meet tight project deadlines.

An understanding of, and ability to apply the professional code of ethics to practical conservation projects.

Able to work in a team with other professional staff within communal studio space, contributing to the maintenance and management of shared equipment and space.

The right to work in the UK.

Good computer skills in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel.

Additional Information

The time spent in each institution will be divided as follows and in this order:
British Library – 9 months
The National Archives - 9 months
Bodleian Libraries – 6 months

A mentor who is involved with digitisation conservation projects and is experienced in the subject will be assigned to the intern in each institution, working closely with the intern and to monitor and evaluate progress. The intern will have regular 1:1 sessions with the mentor. An overall plan of work and major learning objectives will be agreed with the intern and 3 mentors at the outset but with detail of exact projects per institution to be decided more locally.

The intern will be expected to use any annual leave due to them during their time at that particular institution and cannot carry it over.

Candidates should note that the internship is for the period specified and does not lead to a permanent position at any of the host institutions.

How to Apply

Please email cordelia.rogerson@bl.uk attaching the following:

1. A letter of interest, which should include how the internship will benefit you and what skills and experience that you will bring to the British Library reflecting the list of criteria for the internship as stated in the Internship Profile.

2. An up to date CV.

3. Two or three examples from your portfolio for items you have worked on.

4. Name and contact details of two referees.

5. A statement indicating that you are able to work in the UK. Official documentation will be required if you are short listed for interview.

The closing date for applications is midnight on Sunday 4th March 2018.

Dr Cordelia Rogerson

Head of Collection Management South

If your application is short-listed, you will be invited for interview to take place around Mid-March 2018.

18 January 2018

Job Opportunity: Conservator, Gulf History and Arabic Science

Description: Part time (0.6 FTE / 21.6 hours per week), fixed term contract to 31 December 2018

The full job description and application process can be found here.

Caring for the world’s knowledge

A book in the process of being bound, is held in place in a wooden vice on a desk.

The British Library leads and collaborates in growing the world’s knowledge base. We have signed a major partnership to make thousands of digitised historic documents and ancient manuscripts – relating to centuries of history of the Gulf – available online to researchers, scholars and the general public across the Gulf region and around the world. The Collection Care department, which comprises some 40 people, is responsible for the care of one of the largest, richest and most diverse research collections in the world.

This is an opportunity for an experienced conservator to work in a small, busy team. You will be carrying out conservation and preparation treatments on a wide range of collection items relating to the Gulf region that are being digitised as part of this project. You’ll operate with minimal supervision and have the skills and knowledge to plan, manage and track your work to ensure that deadlines are met. You must be able to communicate effectively with people at all levels, and be able to keep clear, consistent and accurate records of all treatments undertaken.

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

For an informal discussion about the role, please contact Flavio Marzo, Gulf History Arabic Science Project Conservator on 0207 412 7740.


Closing Date: 11 February 2018

Interview Date: 22 or 23 February 2018

10 October 2017

Magic in Conservation – using leaf-casting on paper and palm leaves

As the library is preparing for the opening of the new exhibition: Harry Potter: A History of Magic, on October 20th, and objects for the exhibition begin to arrive into the studio, our minds turn to ‘magical’ transformations of objects in conservation. Visitors to the studio are often stunned by amazing transformations of objects in our care, particularly when shown before and after photographic evidence of treatments. But our work is not based on tricks, but knowledge and skills, and is far from instantaneous! However, there is one conservation process known as ‘leaf-casting’, which comes nearest to ‘magic’, as understood in the traditional way of things happening suddenly in front of our eyes. Similarly to a performing magician, with prior preparation, a conservator using a leaf-casting machine can transform a damaged object in an instant with the help of paper pulp, gravity, and suction!

A blender to the left, a white rectangular leaf casting machine in the middle, and a book press to the right.
Picture 1: Tools of the trade: A blender to make the pulp, a leaf-casting machine, and a press.




The mechanical pulp repair process only takes less than a minute! Holes, tears and missing areas disappear, as if by magic once the paper item is put into a leaf-caster!

A piece of paper with two printed images. The paper has holes and losses.
Picture 2: A paper item placed on the grid in the leaf-caster and masked off.



Paper pulp is poured from a blender onto the piece of paper in the leaf casting machine.
Picture 3: Next, the leaf-caster is filled with water and paper pulp poured into the machine.



The piece of paper with the holes and losses filled using the paper pulp.
Picture 4: The missing areas are filled with paper pulp once the water has been sucked out of the machine.



The leaf-casting process draws on the principles of papermaking and is particularly successful for large-scale repair of damaged artefacts. Our test repair, illustrated above and below, shows the torn edge and holes seamlessly covered by new paper fibres with the repair being more visible in the areas round the edges where the degradation of paper fibres was most pronounced.

The piece of paper on a grey background, with the top image showing before treatment and the bottom image showing after treatment.
Pictures 5 & 6: The damaged paper before and after leaf-casting.



Although the process is mainly used for paper, it has also been tried out on palm leaves as part of the final research project carried out in the Copernicus University in Torun, Polandi. The process was not widely known, but offered a real opportunity for dealing with a large amount of damaged material in a more efficient way than it had been done previously. A Tamil manuscript - Sri Vaishnava Sect doctrines by Pillai Lokacharya - written on 256 leaves was a case in point.

A variety of treatments were tried out on the leaves before they arrived in our studio. They had very old string repairs, and roughly 25 of them were treated using fish glue and palm leaves to repair the missing areas.

The top image shows a palm leaf repaired with string along the bottom left edge, and the bottom image shows a palm leaf repaired with palm leaf on the left hand side.
Pictures 7 and 8: Examples of older string mends and a palm leaf repairs respectively.



The remaining leaves showed varying degree of damage ranging from worm holes, breaks, damaged or missing ends and edges. Some were totally fragmented with the text completely lost.

10 palm leaves on a light table in varying conditions. Many have damage or loss at either edge.
Picture 9: Typical damage to the leaves (1-10) made more visible by the light table.



With no undamaged leaves left in the batch to be conserved, I suggested that we try the leaf-casting on leaves that have suffered severe loss to the base material. Before the process started, the inks incised into the palm leaves had to be tested and proved to be stable. The leaves were leaf-cast in batches of 5 using toned paper pulp. Once they were taken out of the machine, they were dried, pressed, cut into individual strips, faced with toned Japanese tissue and cut to size using a template.

On the left is the palm leaves in the leaf caster, and on the right the case leaves sit on a white surface to dry.
Pictures 10 & 11: Leaves in a leaf-caster and dried respectively.



On the left, individual strips of the cast leaves are placed below the original palm leaves, and on the right the cast leaves are faced with tissue.
Pictures 12 & 13: Leaves cut into individual strips, faced with tissue and cut to size.



The template gave a rough idea of the length and width of a leaf, particularly if it had ends missing or was incomplete. It was not meant to make them uniform, keeping those with undamaged ends or with a natural curve unchanged. Below are two batches of 10 leaves from the manuscript before and after conservation.

On the left are 10 leaves prior to treatment, with holes and losses along the edges present. On the right, the palm leaves have been conserved, with the losses infilled using the cast leaves.
Pictures 14 & 15: Leaves 1-10.



On the left is 9 palm leaves prior to treatment, and on the right the holes and losses have been filled.
Pictures 16 & 17: Leaves 241-250 before and after conservation.



Leaves with less damage were not put through the leaf-caster, but mended by hand. A surgical needle was used to insert toned paper pulp into worm holes, and small missing areas. A piece of blotter paper was placed underneath for absorption of excess water.

The top image shows a close up of two palm leaves infilled by hand. The bottom image shows a beaker with paper pulp and the needle used for infilling.
Pictures 18 &19: Showing an example of leaves mended by hand and a beaker with toned paper pulp and the needle used for mending.



The leaf-casting technique used on the palm leaves had several advantages. It returned some flexibility to the leaves, making them less brittle, and it was also a time saving treatment when compared to the traditional repairs using palm leaves. The before and after photographs of the treatment have this magic ‘wow’ quality of seeing items transformed not by a magician, but by a skilful practitioner!

Iwona Jurkiewicz

 

Notes: I would like to thank my colleague Lorraine Holmes for training us to use the leaf-casting process, and for helping me with the conservation of palm leaves.

iThe conservation procedure to repair the palm leaves manuscript from Cambodia was developed as a final conservation project by Anna Hałucha-Lim in the Copernicus University in Torun, Poland – for details see:

Anna Halucha-Lim ‘Kambodżański rękopis na lisciach palmowych (XIX/XX w.) ze zbiorów Muzeum Azji i Pacyfiku w Warszawie – propozycja konserwacji zachowawczej ;Torunskie Studia o Sztuce Orientu, Torun, Tom 1.

04 October 2017

Talk: Iron Gall Ink - Conservation challenges and research

Join Zoë Miller and Paul Garside in a lunchtime Feed the Mind talk at the British Library to find out how conservators are treating manuscripts at risk of being destroyed by their own writing.

Iron Gall Ink: Conservation challenges and research
Mon 9 Oct 2017, 12:30 - 13:30

Full details and booking information can be found here.

So what is the problem with Iron Gall Ink?

Handwritten text on a piece of paper with laid and chain lines visible showing fracture and losses in the iron gall ink.

Conservators caring for the 150 million items in the British Library face many challenges, from crumbling paper to detached book boards. But arguably one of the biggest issues is the conundrum of how to care for one of the most widely used and inherently damaging historic inks - iron gall ink.

You have probably come across this ink with its distinctive brown colour and halo of discolouration. Made from a combination of tannins (from oak gall nuts), iron sulphate (extracted from cave walls or pyritic nodules) and gum Arabic, this ink can become corrosive and thereby damage the writing surface it lies upon. Why was such a damaging substance used so prolifically? Because iron gall ink can be made from readily available materials, and cannot be rubbed or scraped away without leaving a textual stain behind. Thus it was used to write important manuscripts and legal documents for thousands of years. These include such iconic ‘Treasures’ of the Library as Magna Carta and the Lindisfarne Gospels, and range from illuminated manuscripts to personal correspondence and formal maps to impromptu sketches including those of Leonardo Da Vinci.

A geometric drawing done in iron gall ink, with the ink being lost or water damaged in some areas.

The beauty - and evil - of the recipe lies in its properties of corrosion. When applied to paper or vellum the ink ‘burns’ into it leaving a mark which is insoluble in water or alcohol, and which cannot be erased. Over time it may attack the underlying paper or parchment, weakening the material and causing areas of text to be damaged or lost. In the very worst cases, we can lose the text completely as it drops out of the sheet of paper! The work of conservators is vital in identifying vulnerable items and intervening when necessary.

Handwritten text with iron gall ink showing some areas of severe loss where the iron gall ink has destroyed the paper.

What can be done? Come and find out at our Feed the Mind talk on Monday 9th October where, using visual examples, we will examine the historic use of this ink, including the influence which different recipes and writing implements can have on its properties. We will illustrate the range of treatments that are currently used in the Conservation department to address this problem, some traditional and some very modern, as well as the ongoing research to develop new approaches. This will demonstrate one of the many ways in which conservation helps to safeguard the collection and ensure its survival for future generations. Book your place now.

A handwritten page with most text written in iron gall ink and some text written with a red ink.

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