Two weeks at the National Library of Scotland

As promised in my last post, this is a little more detail on my placement at the National Library of Scotland. I was hugely grateful to be accepted on this placement, as two weeks is never very long to get into a project and placements always require people to take out time to show you around the building and instruct you in various matters, so I am extremely grateful for the whole conservation team at the library for taking time out of their days to help and advise me.

The National Library of Scotland

Initially I was taken around the building itself and shown how the library works on a daily basis, as I mentioned before, it is a massive building – a bit like a tardis and much bigger on the inside than can be seen on the outside. The studio itself was on the 4th floor, with three additional disaster rooms throughout the library for use in emergencies. The Library’s disaster plan was far more organized than any other I have come across, even down to having work clothes and boots sized correctly for the disaster team members – I was quickly informed that the Library has suffered not one but three major floods, so their disaster plan is not only well planned, but has been accurately carried out as well, which is a great success.

The Studio

The studio was a great space and sensibly laid out with desks for each conservator as well as larger communal work areas and a sectioned area for tooling and finishing and for board cutting.

Sit Hill box machines
The box die cutter at Site Hill
The dies for the die cutter

I also spent a day at the second site for the library which is located at Site Hill on the outskirts of Edinburgh, where half the conservation team are based and carry out work using some of the more heavyweight and visibly dangerous looking equipment!! Like many of the bigger institutions, the NLS found that some years back they were spending huge amounts of funding on storage boxes, and decided to invest in a box cutter, becoming the first institution to have an onsite box cutter – this has made a massive difference to their work load and reduced the amount of work hours per box, therefore increasing the number of boxes it is possible to make per year – so much so that they now make boxes for some of the local institutions that don’t have the same equipment, similarly to the Metropolitan Archives, therefore making the whole process much more economically efficient.

Whilst in the studio I was given the opportunity to work on two projects, the first was the conservation of some maps from the St Bartholomew’s collection and the second was a box for a sculpture.

The Bartholomew collection is a donation to the library of the archives of an early 19th Century Map cartography company who produced and printed maps. The collection itself includes records held in bound volumes many maps. It was some of these maps that I was working on alongside the Bartholomew conservator.

One of the maps prior to repair
Map after repair - spot the difference!!

The second project was the sculpture and was one of a series of anonymous sculptures left at various book associated institutions around Scotland. They are fascinating sculptures and often associated with the Scottish author Ian Rankin. They essentially adapt a book into some of the most intricate paper sculptures – really fascinating work in amazing detail. My job was to make this very fragile sculpture a box in which it could be safely stored. And I am quietly confident that none of the other sculptures will have such a lovingly and bespoke made box! – I will go into more detail on instructions in another post. It was made with board, plastizote and buckram book cloth.

The anonymous sculpture
The complete beautiful box
What's inside the box!

In addition to the maps and this box, which did take me a while, I was also lucky enough to have a go at tooling and finishing. Unfortunately this is not something we cover at Camberwell, which I hope is something that will change in the future as I (and the NLS) feel that it is a necessary skill to cover. Having not done any before, I was understandably not let loose on an actual book, but I did have some instructions from three skilled finishers, who set me on the straight and narrow path to start and practice. As many will know, these skills have to be practiced to great extents as it is not something that can be perfected overnight. I will also go into more detail on this in a later post.

So all in all, a fabulous two weeks that I was thrilled to be able to do. A very big thank you to the National Library of Scotland and the conservation team there.

Tuesday’s at St Brides

This week was my second at St Brides, and I was glad to get started on some conservation. Thankfully Nigel has been putting aside books that urgently need some help and has made a pile of about eight books. These aren’t necessarily the oldest or the most valuable books in the collection, and indeed in this case they are relatively modern, most being perfect bound – but they are ones that, in their current state, are not useable by the general public.

It is important to remember the reason that we conserve books, which is different in each case. At the V&A, it is often because a book is going on display – in a library it is almost always because a book cannot be used. In each case a different approach is required. A book going on display is likely to have more time given to it for conservation, and possibly more funds. It will almost always be a special book, or one a value of some kind or another, possibly it’s pictures, or the binding itself. A book in the library may have none of these attributes, it is unlikely to be of any other value except for the written content, it will almost never have funds associated with it for conservation, and generally no time allowed to it for repair. The latter has various consequences for library books – they fall apart, they get badly mended by people who (although despite having good intentions) are likely in most cases not to have experience in conservation, and they get damaged further. There are, of course, exceptions in every case and Libraries that purely exist to house prestigious collection.

However, this is, generally speaking, the sad life of a library book in my opinion. So I am more than happy to be helping at St Brides, and bring some of their less prestitigious books back into the publics hands. As I say, quite a few of them are perfect bound, and being a very modern form of binding, I am not sure yet how to conserve these in a time efficient. I have grout this issue up with my tutor at college and we may look into good methods of repair. I will also research and come back on this issue.

So with my lack of knowledge in repairing perfect bindings fully intact, I went about beginning on a binding I was more familiar with. This particular book is a reference for type faces, and as such, is printed on good quality paper. It has had a relative amount of previous repairs, using a very white paper to adhere loose pages back into the book. I had primarily thought that with one loose sheet that needed repairing, I would remove the previous repair, both on the sheet and on the book and repair it with a Japanese tissue. However, on finding that several other sheets have also come loose and also have previous repairs on them, I may not do this on every page. This is not preferable to me, though as mentioned above, time and resources for these books are not fruitful! And having removed the paper from the initial loose sheet, taking me most of the afternoon, I am not convinced it is worth it for the book.

 

Tuesday’s at St Brides

A little late I know, but last Tuesday was my first as a voluntary conservator at the St Brides Library in Blackfriars. It was a lovely day and I felt thoroughly welcomed into the team!

The start of the day was a discussion about the team, who is working on what and the changes that have recently taken place within the staff. Conveniently, the voluntary book conservator has just moved across to start working as a librarian at St Brides, so I have come just at the right moment it seems!

I was then given free reign of the collection to try and find myself an MA project, which I have been hoping to find within the library. There is a large amount work to be done on all sorts of books, and it’s going to be great to get to work on them, but a couple of books did stand out as potential projects for my course.

Some of the collection at st brides

I have taken some pictures below of the books, one very interesting one is a collection of German Chocolate box covers. This volume needed some substantial paper repairs, some tape removal and some spine repair. I can’t remember if it needed re-sewing or not, but it seemed like a good project.

Gold around some of the chocolate box covers
Some chocolate box covers

Another was a collection of four pamphlets in a box. Interestingly the paper within the pamphlets was of very good quality and in a good state, though their covers were heavily damaged by their lignin content and had become very brittle. In addition to this, the box was very badly damaged as well. So some interesting possibilities to work on!

The collection of four pamphlets and a damaged box
An interesting 18th century book using early printed material for paste downs
A 17th century vellum binding - fabulous!

 

A visit to St Brides Library

I’ve had an absolutely fascinating afternoon at the St. Brides Library in Blackfriars. The plan was to visit and attempt to find a project for my MA, but I must confess I got rather lost in the wonderfulness of the place – the building, the books, everything! – and have returned home without a project per say, though I have got some potentials here, a particularly interesting one with split stitching.

I must say a very big thank you to Mr Nigel Roche, who took the time to show me the library and the books and tell me a bit of history about the building and the collection.

20111122-185406.jpg
A limp vellum binding
20111122-185351.jpg
vellum on board, with an interesting spine lining
20111122-185414.jpg
Absolutely amazing!
20111122-185425.jpg
Look at that spine!
20111122-185434.jpg
The mark of the printer Aldus, who was one of the first to use romanic and italic font
20111122-185446.jpg
Amazing pencil work in the spine
20111122-185501.jpg
This had very damaged corners, but we were not sure what it was from, initially I thought bugs, but it looks more like its been used for a doorstop!

 

20111122-185510.jpg

20111122-185521.jpg
A cambridge binding
20111122-185534.jpg
I thought this might have been rebound...
20111122-185542.jpg
Speckled edges, familiar to the cambridge bindings
20111122-185552.jpg
The gothic type and small book edges, makes me think this may have been rebound.
20111122-185602.jpg
An interesting lttle binding that looks like it might need a lot work to the spine and sewing structure.
20111122-185610.jpg
Both boards are detached

An afternoon at the Foundling Museum

Well this afternoon was an absolutely fascinating one spent at the Foundling Museum looking at some of the collection held there.

The Foundling Museum was initially set up as a children hospital for abandoned children in the 18th Century by Captain Thomas Coram. The musician Handel was a friend of Coram and strongly supported the hospital, putting on benefit concerts to raid money for the hospital. These concerts were one of the first public renditions of Messiah, one of Handel’s most famous pieces.

It was a collections if Handel’s work, both print and manuscript that we were looking at today. The pictures below should show some of the amazing books that we were viewing, which included a collection of works which was highly publicised earlier in the year for being a previously unknown work by Vivaldi! The whole afternoon was fascinating!

Mondays at MoDA

Over the past four weeks, and for the next two, four of us gals from Camberwell have been spending the day at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MoDA), where we’ve been making archival boxes for their library. The reason for this being that MoDA, and the part of Middlesex University to which it is connected, is moving (quite frankly this seems like an excellent idea to me, as its current location in Cockfosters, seems like the other side of the world after two hours on the tube!!).

Anyway, as any good trainee book conservator will know, books must be protected in a move, especially those which may be fragile in any way – this could be the cover, spine, boards, text block – anything really. So we’ve been making phase boxes for the badly damaged books and melinex wrappers for reasonable conditioned books with their dust jackets in tact. I’m still not that keen on these glued phase boxes, there seems too much margin for error, but I’m getting better at them.

The museum has a large collection of books on domesticity including cookery books, interior design, house keeping etc, many of which date back to the early 20th century, and some possibly earlier still. An excellent collection and great museum, well worth a visit if you’re in the area.

Here are a couple of pictures of the studio – I’m always a fan of seeing studio pictures.