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.

The Beauty of Edinburgh

Well I know this one is a little late in coming, but life seems to be running away with me at the moment! Just before Easter, I spent two glorious weeks in Edinburgh in Scotland. Despite being only a train journey away, this was the first time I have ever been to Edinburgh, and indeed Scotland mainland (I have been to the Isle of Arran – also beautiful!), and glorious is a good word to describe the city, it was absolutely amazing. I didn’t even manage to see all of the attractions and was still blown away by the pure beauty of the city itself.

I have always been keen on architecture and interesting old buildings – the ones that peek my interest the most are the ones that look like they could be riddled with secret passages that might have been used in days past for romantic interludes or unsolved murders! Well Edinburgh may be the epicentre of these types of buildings, especially as it seems every other building was the site of the murder of one of Mary Queen of Scots secret lovers! It reminded me of something from The Gormenghast Trilogy, which if you have managed to read (it is a task), you might also see the similarities.

Being a city many built on a hill, it appeared that everywhere was built on top of each other – full five storey buildings were built on top of other five storey buildings, making what looked a bit like medieval skyscrapers with tiny passageways and stairs between them. As I say it was amazing!

I was there for two weeks on a placement with the National Library of Scotland, who had very kindly agreed to take me on for two weeks in their conservation department. The library itself is accessed on the George IV bridge, at which point you appear to be entering a fairly normal five storey institute style building, only to find that you are on floor 11 and the whole building has 15 storeys – it was a bit mind boggling to say the least!

Anyway, aside from the two week placement and the fascinating architecture, I did manage to visit a few of the sites with The Man (he came up for the weekend in the middle) and some of the pubs. The main street in the old part of town is called the Royal Mile, joining both Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, which is the official residence of The Queen when visiting the city.

We managed to visit the castle at the top of the hill and had a tour in the sun – they do an excellent cream tea – and also walk up the giant hill in Holyrood Park. Anyway, enough of gabbling, I cannot suggest visiting enough it was truly beautiful and here and here are some pictures and I will follow up shortly with some more subject specific information on the placement itself!