Tuesday, 10 September 2013

British Library Conservation Studio

British Library Conservation Centre

A conservation team leader took us on a tour of the studio.  I was really interested in the design of the building because it was built specifically for the purpose of conservation.  The room is light and airy, and the ceiling windows are all north facing.  This is because they don’t want direct sunlight to harm the items they are repairing.  They also built the air conditioning system at ground level instead of at the ceiling where it normally is.  They did this so there wouldn’t be pipes that could leak on the materials.  There is also a fireproof cabinet to store items.  It is clear they put a lot of thought into designing a great facility.  The room is really big, with a lot of large workspaces for the conservationists to complete their work.   

Most of the items in the Conservation Studio are from the British Library’s collection or items that it has on loan.  Before an item is accepted for conservation, the conservationists have to estimate how much time it will take for the job to be completed, and how much it will cost.  Then they come to an agreement with the head of conservation and the curator.  The conservationists have to prioritize the best treatment based on how the item will be used and how often it will be handled.  I found it really interesting that for items that are used for reference, the emphasis is placed on making the book durable rather than keeping its original material.  This is because they know these books will be handled by the public more often.  The books need to actually be functional. 

Next we went into the gold finishing room.  I had never seen anything like it.  It is where they use special tools, like typeholders, to put the wording or emblems on the leather bindings of the books.  This process takes an unbelievable amount of precision and skill.  The people who do the finishing at the studio have been working for many years on honing their skills, and they are really talented.  For example, the tools need to be heated to just the right temperature.  It needs to be hot enough to put the finishing on, but not too hot or it will go right through the leather.  The words also need to be straight and in the right spot on the binding.  If there are any mistakes, the whole book needs to be rebound, so the finishers need to be very careful to make sure it’s right.  It was so cool to see the real gold that they use sometimes.  Real gold needs to be cut using a gold knife on a gold cushion.  It is very, very hard to handle because it’s so thin and light.  I touched the gold and it stuck to my finger! It would take a lot of practice and dedication to work in finishing!

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