After a morning spent with project conservator Emily Hick who introduced us to conservation theory, we had the chance to try out some of the techniques in practice. From surface cleaning to tear repair, we were able to take the first steps in learning how to conserve paper and understand the practical and ethical considerations involved in conservation.
Fin West and John Glass then led a session on the fascinating world of rare books. As cataloguers themselves, they picked out items in collection they had worked with personally. As well as seeing items dating back to the 16th century, we were surprised to learn that the department also features examples of graphic novels and comics. To give us a flavour of their roles at the university, we were each given a varied selection of donated books to assess by checking for duplicate records within the library catalogue.
The final session brought a complete change in tone with a visit to the Anatomy Museum, where we were greeted by two giant elephant skeletons. Ruth Pollitt then introduced us to the university’s extensive collection of specimens. We came face to face with the skeleton of William Burke, of the notorious murderers Burke and Hare. Once part of the teaching resources for Edinburgh’s medical school, the collections are still invaluable for visiting researchers and historians.
As part of the summer school, we were each assigned projects to complete over the week. Our role has been to investigate the significance of social media within the heritage sector. Other projects include designing events to promote the recently acquired Paolozzi mosaics; planning an exhibition using items from the collection around the theme ‘Green’; and learning about the different methods used in collections documentation. Each group will present their findings at the end of the week.
Yesterday brought a slight shift in focus, from a general introduction to an in-depth look at specific departments and museum collections. Our morning was spent discussing both current and future projects and organisation of the library, followed by a more detailed session on Metadata and cataloguing.
Fun fact #1: On a tour of the library we discovered that the self-return machine is based on a potato sorter!
The afternoon introduced us to the University’s Musical Instruments and Art Collections. Sarah Deters, the Learning and Engagement Curator of the Musical Instrument Museums, talked us through both the exciting redevelopment of St Cecilia’s Hall and the extensive collections she works with (including 1000 clarinets!). Today’s hands-on session tasked us with assessing and investigating the provenance of some of the instruments. Due to the redevelopments the instruments are in storage, so we were able to see and learn about the conditions they need to be kept in.
Fun fact #2: Some 19th-century gentlemen commissioned novelty instruments
concealed in walking sticks!
Our final session, led by Art Collections Curator Neil Lebeter, gave us a whistle-stop tour of the collection and its development. An early Picasso, signed by the artist later in life, brought home the uniqueness and extent of the art held by the university. One of their ongoing major projects involves rescuing and reconstructing Eduardo Paolozzi’s mosaics, which had previously adorned Tottenham Court Road tube station.
This week the Centre for Research Collections is running its very first Summer School to provide an overview of different aspects of the heritage sector; with a focus on collections, exhibitions and engagement. We are participating in the Summer school ourselves, and will be taking over the CRC’s social media – so make sure to check out our Facebook and Twitter takeover.
The programme offers its participants hands on experience from a variety of professionals. Staff ranging from an Academic Support Librarian who showed us how much interaction and support the library provides to its users, to Rachel Hosker – the Archive Manager, who presented a powerful case for the relevance of archival material as a ‘memory of society’ as well as highlighting the challenges of managing a collection. Possibly one of the most interesting sections of her presentation was the range of material in the collections: from manuscripts and letters, to drawings and records it was clear that archives contain a broad range of fascinating material which we were lucky enough to handle.
A fascinating afternoon session included an introduction to the Lothian Health Services Archive, which allowed us to engage with some of their many records and gain a greater understanding of the volume and range of records that they held. Using records such as these we were able to trace the lives of individuals, giving us a window into the everyday work of LHSA.
The day left us reflecting on the extent of the collaboration required between departments and individuals, and we look forward to furthering this understanding throughout the week.
Once a fortnight for the past two years I have been conserving 550 sheets of paper belonging to the Carmichael Watson Collection. These date from the late 1800s to the early 1900s and are all mostly in Gaelic, written by the scholar Alexander Carmichael. Most of the sheets needed quite a lot of attention. The majority of them needed surface cleaning. This entailed using a chemical sponge and gentle use of an eraser. There were also sheets which had rust on them where metal paper clips had been attached. Rust was removed with the tip of a scalpel using magnifying glasses. Great care was needed so that only the damaged fibres were taken away. Tears were repaired using Japanese paper and wheat starch paste with the pages pressed to ensure the ‘glue’ had dried. Finally all the sheets were placed in acid-free folders and housed in a low-acid board box.
Some of the sheets had interesting watermarks on them and as an aside from the practical element of this paper conservation I decided to do a bit of investigation in my own time. Some of the watermarks originated from a papermaker in Glasgow. I found out that the United Wire factory which I live near created the wireworks used for making paper, so it is possible that some of the paper on which I had been working might have been created on wires made in this factory.