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.

2 Replies to “Two weeks at the National Library of Scotland”

  1. Lovely box! The sculpture is very lucky 🙂 (Secretly I think I like the box better…)

    Will be interested to hear your thoughts on gold tooling. We bought some kit at work (art school print workshop) but had no formal instruction and found it very difficult indeed!

    1. Ah – I will get them up ASAP – I am in Norwich at the moment, but will try and do that next week – I’ve heard rumours that it can be hard to get the gold to stick, but I didn’t have any trouble, so it may well be in the method…

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