An Interesting Introduction to One Health

In today’s blog we hear from our new Project Conservator, Mhairi Boyle. Mhairi recently finished a maternity cover post conserving the CRC’s Special Collections and is very excited to be part of the One Health team.

In October 2021, in my previous conservator role within the CRC, I received a very strange message. It read:

“Hi Mhairi, do you have time this afternoon for me to pop by conservation and ask you for some advice? I’ve found what I think might be a bit of frog muscle.”

The message was from Fiona Menzies, the One Health Project Archivist. At the time, Fiona was sorting through the Royal Dick Vet School archive and had come across some a frog specimen adhered to a page of a notebook. As a paper conservator, I do not often get messages regarding animal specimens. Little did I know that this frog muscle would, in August 2022, be mine.

A tiny piece of dried frog muscle on some Litmus Paper.

That is, ‘mine’ in the sense that it is now my job to conserve and rehouse the three collections which fall under the One Health umbrella. Starting this project has been a little daunting – spanning three sizeable collections, we have everything from pig trotters in jars and graduation robes to animal sketches and photographs of farms. Not only this, but the content of the collections is sometimes confronting and unsettling to take in. This project is not for the faint of heart!

You have to be brave to join the One Health team!

On my first day on the job, Fiona gave me a tour of where some of the collections are housed. Although the R(D)VS and OneKind archives are now stored at the CRC and at our offsite storage facility, the RZSS archive is still stored at multiple sites across Edinburgh Zoo. Thankfully this was not a great shock or surprise to me: in my previous role, I went out to visit the Zoo with Fiona and our University Archivist & Research Collections Manager Rachel Hosker.

I’d like to think that running alongside the One Health project is Project MhairiHealth. Although paper conservation work is very practical in its nature, I never imagined that in my role I’d be moving crates of archives and heavy books around a zoo! I’ll definitely be fitter by the end of this project.

Making friends with the locals.

As I mentioned, the RZSS archive is dotted about different locations throughout Edinburgh Zoo. It is the task of Fiona and myself to consolidate everything firstly into one central location at the Zoo, to enable us to see exactly how much material we have and how to move forwards.

Part of the RZSS archive before moving.

At the CRC, we can put most things we are working on onto a trolley, and zip up and down using the library lift to wherever we like with little effort. However, at the Zoo, our moving operation has required us to work with the wonderful staff at the RVSS to move one big chunk of their archive from an office cupboard to what is now our appraisal office. There were quite a few stairs involved, and with impending rainclouds threating our operation, we had to be speedy moving the boxes from one part of the building to another. The last thing we want is a soggy archive.

After filling half of our office with boxes, we decided it was a good place to stop for the day. There are still parts of the archive in several other locations, but we will have to work in batches to process everything.

Stay tuned for the next blog post!

After moving!

 

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Bearing Witness: The Pre-Digitisation Conservation Treatment of The Witness, Part 2

Today we have the second instalment of a two-part series by Projects Conservator Mhairi Boyle. Mhairi spent April 2022 working on The Witness, a collection of Edinburgh-based newspapers held by New College Library. You can read the first part of the series here.


The first instalment of this series focused on the contextual background and the condition of The Witness newspapers. In this final instalment, I will be discussing the ethical challenges of digitisation conservation work and reveal some highlight findings from the collection.

Weak and damaged areas.

In the Conservation team we often use the terms ‘pre-digitisation treatment’ and ‘post-digitisation treatment’. When assessing objects for digitisation, it is important to consider the condition of each object and how it will be digitised. If the pressing or scanning of an object will worsen its condition, pre-digitisation conservation treatment is often recommended. If there is damage to an object that will not be made worse during the digitisation process, then it can be flagged for post-digitisation treatment. In the case of The Witness, each newspaper will be laid flat, and each page scanned. This could worsen the split areas and areas of weakness when each page is turned for scanning. When each page is pressed, the tension from the old adhesive and thread holding each volume together could also create new splits and damage. This presented a new dilemma: we had to decide whether to keep the newspapers bound, or disbind each volume.

There are pros and cons to each approach. As previously mentioned, the binding of the newspapers was two-fold: there were residual fragments of binding and adhesive from the original larger bound volume, as well as a single thread binding which was added later. Removing the original adhesive would be very time-consuming, and potentially further damage the fragile and damaged edges of each page.  After discussing this with the curators and the Senior Collections Manager, we agreed on a partial pre-digitisation disbinding. I removed the additional single-thread binding, which we agreed was adding unnecessary stress and tension to each newspaper. By removing some of the tension from each page, less damage is likely to occur when each volume is pressed flat under a scanner.

The text block was repaired with a thin Japanese tissue, which is strong but also preserves legibility.

I also made the decision to leave the previous repairs in place. Although they have cracked in places, removing them could result in further damage and render` parts of the newspapers illegible. Instead, I repaired vulnerable areas and large losses. I focused on any tears and cracks, which threatened the text block and legibility of each volume. I also repaired areas of weakness which could potentially catch at a wrong angle and worsen when the pages are turned. I used a thin Japanese tissue, which is thinner than the newspapers – this means that if these repairs fail in the future, they should bear the brunt of the damage rather than the original items.

10% w/v carboxyl methylcellulose.

I consulted Projects Conservator Claire Hutchison, who has previously worked on a sizeable newspaper project for the National Library of Scotland, on the best adhesive to use. Claire cited carboxyl methylcellulose (CMC) as her adhesive of choice, because of its viscosity, water content, and drying time. CMC is a ‘cellulose ether’. It is a dry, powdery substance made from purified cellulose commonly derived from wood or cotton. This undergoes a reaction with chloroacetic acid to create CMC, whose structure is more amorphous than pure cellulose. It is commonly used in the food and cosmetic industries as a thickener. In conservation it has three main uses: as an adhesive; to soften and remove historic adhesive; and to strengthen flaky/powdery media. Once it is added to water and vigorously stirred, it magically transforms into a gel overnight.

Because of its gel-like form, it is less likely to further damage fragile paper by way of oversaturating it with water. It dries in a fairly quick time to a clear, flexible film, which is advantageous when working with newspapers, whose pages are turned and flattened.

Areas of weakness have been reinforced with Japanese tissue.

During this project, I became a repair administering machine. Each page of each Journal was re-examined for areas of weakness and repaired.

I did stop a few times to check out the local news from 1800. One of the differences between digital news outlets and physical newspapers is that online there is no need for ‘gap-filler’ articles. These happen to be some of my favourite ‘gap-fillers’.

From rum and ice to extreme teetotalism!

It is also interesting to examine the differences between the language used in the 1800 versus today. I think I could take a few tips from The Witness on how to craft concise-yet-sophisticated prose!

A stern reminder of the newspaper’s publishing days.

The newspapers are now ready for digitisation.

Now that the pre-digitisation conservation treatment is complete, the newspapers will be digitised and accessible online. However, the work doesn’t stop there. Once they return to the CRC, I will examine them for any further damage and discuss further treatment options with the curators. Options include archival rehousing; testing out removal of the historic repairs; and removing the aged adhesive and historic bindings. Although The Witness will be available online, some users will still prefer to come and interact with the material objects themselves.

One of the reasons I enjoy being a conservator is getting hands-on with collections. With so many workflows now taking place entirely through a computer screen, I find the physicality of remedial treatment work very mindful and refreshing. Working closely with The Witness has reminded me of a slightly slower way of life, when consuming the daily news involved physically engaging with an object rather than scrolling through apps and ads fighting for your attention.

Further reading:

Feller, RL., & Wilt, M. 1990, Evaluation of Cellulose Ethers for Conservation, J. Paul Getty Trust, USA.

Tobey, D.A., ‘Preserving history: Here’s how to keep that historic newspaper for years to come’, NYT Regional Newspapers, https://www.mnhs.org/preserve/conservation/reports/nytimes_preserving.pdf

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New to the Library: The Telegraph Historical Archive

I’m very pleased to let you know that the Library has recently purchased The Telegraph Historical Archive, 1855-2016 from Gale, the fully searchable digital archive of what was once the world’s largest-selling newspaper.

You can access The Telegraph Historical Archive, 1855-2016 via the Databases A-Z list, Newspapers, Magazines and Other News Sources guide and DiscoverEd. Read More

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On trial: Manchuria Daily News Online

Thanks to a request from a HCA student the Library currently has trial access Manchuria Daily News Online from Brill. This resource offers scholars of the modern history of Japan in China a multifaceted view of competing Japanese agendas in the China theatre.

You can access Manchuria Daily News Online via the E-resources trials page.
Access is available on and off-campus.

Trial access ends 30th August 2022. Read More

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New! Colonial Law in Africa, 1946-1966

I’m pleased to let you know that the Library has recently purchased Colonial Law in Africa, 1946-1966 from British Online Archives. This database provides access to the African Government Gazettes from 1946 to 1966.

You can access Colonial Law in Africa via the Primary Sources guide, the Databases A-Z list or the African Studies guide. And it will be accessible via DiscoverEd in the near future. Read More

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Using modules in LexisPSL

This summer we’ve increased the number of modules we have access to in LexisPSL due to student demand! Students and staff can now view all the practitioner advice and notes in each of the following areas:

  • Banking & Finance
  • Commercial
  • Corporate
  • Dispute Resolution
  • Employment
  • Private Client
  • Property
  • Restructuring & Insolvency

We find that the materials on PSL are particularly helpful for our Diploma students, but all staff and students can view what’s included by following these simple steps:

  1. Visit the Law Databases page, and scroll down to find the link for LexisPSL.
  2. If prompted, log in using the link that says ‘use academic sign in’ and then select UK Access Management Federation. Select University of Edinburgh from the list, accept the terms and conditions, and if necessary log in using your UUN.
  3. You will arrive at the LexisPSL homepage in the Banking & Finance module. Use the dropdown arrows next to the title of the module to select which module you would like to view. This is highlighted in green in the image below. NOTE: we have access to all the modules with a grey tick next to them.

Screenshot of LexisPSL website, showing the modules available to UoE users.

The Lexis platforms for PSL and Lexis Library will be changing as of September; we will provide further instructions and demo videos on how to access these resources in the first weeks of the 2022-2023 academic year. Look out for information on training and induction sessions from the UG and PG offices in September, or contact us if you have questions in the mean time.

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Recordings of Lunchtime Seminars: Decolonising and Diversifying the Library

Our recent post on Decolonising and Diversifying the Library introduced the short seminar series the ASL team ran during lunchtimes in July. We’re delighted to be able to follow up that post with the news that recordings of all three sessions have now been added to Media Hopper. Please use the links below to access the videos:

Diversity in First Year Scots Law Reading ListsOpening slide from Diversity in First Year Scots Law Reading Lists presentationSupporting Diversity using the ECA Artists Book and Zine CollectionsTitle slide from session on 'supporting diversity with the ECA library artists books & zines collections'

Diversifying your Reading List from a Student PerspectiveTitle slide for session on Diversifying your Reading from a Student Perspective.

For more information on these sessions or if you have ideas for what you’d like to see in future lunchtime seminars, please contact us by email or leave us a comment.

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American Prison Newspapers, 1800-2020: Voices from the Inside

The library has access to a new collection from JSTOR.

Image of books stacked on a small table in the foreground on the mezzanine of the Law Library, looking out across a room full of students studying in the Senate Room (out of focus).

Books stacked on a table on the Law Library mezzanine. Photo by Sam Stills, copyright University of Edinburgh.

American Prison Newspapers, 1800-2020: Voices from the Inside.

The first newspaper published within a prison by an incarcerated person was Forlorn Hope, in 1800. Since then more than 450 newspapers from U.S. prisons have been published. Some are still in publication today such as Angolite and the San Quentin News. 

This collection brings together hundreds of these periodicals from across the US into one collection. Representing various institutions there is special attention on women-only institutions.

The collection is open access and can be accessed via the A-Z list of databases.

 

 

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A Heavenly Rehousing Project!

Today we have the final instalment of a two-part series from Collections Care Assistant, Sarah Partington. In this post, she talks about cleaning and  rehousing a collection of works by the Gaelic Baptist preacher and hymn writer, Padruig Grannd. Sarah has just completed a government-funded Kickstart placement and has now started a new role working with our collections at the University Collections Facility.


The Peter Grant Collection comprises volumes of works by the Gaelic Baptist preacher and hymn writer, Padruig Grannd. These were stored together in a box, along with other printed works, manuscript sermon notebooks, and items pertaining to one of his descendants, Daniel Grannd. The material was put together in the 50s and it had unfortunately experienced the effects of unsuitable storage conditions over the years prior to it coming into the care of the Centre for Research Collections. This was obvious from its condition: in addition to the more common issues with older books, such as surface dirt, loose boards, text blocks and spines, most of the items in the box also showed serious signs of mould, residual staining, and warping from damp conditions in past storage. Conservators and archivists alike will get shudders when they hear whispers of attics, basements or garages…the likely former home of this collection.

The collection in its original housing

Although collated in the 1950s, the collection didn’t actually arrive to The School of Scottish Studies until the 90s. After 20-odd years under the University’s care, it was about  time that this incredibly special collection got the in-depth treatment and rehousing it deserves– as Collections Care Assistant, that’s where I came in!

I began by checking each item thoroughly in order to wheedle out the items showing signs of inactive or worse, active mould, which could spread if left untreated. I breathed a big sigh of relief when I didn’t find any active mould, but as a precaution I still placed the items with past mould damage to the side to avoid any potential cross-contamination. After this, cleaning work could begin on the items that I had identified as being free from the clutches of mould spores.

Left: removing ingrained dirt with a smoke sponge. Right: brushing away dust with a soft brush

I carefully brushed away the dust from the covers, fore-edge and top-edge of each book, after which I used a smoke sponge to remove ingrained surface dirt from the covers, end papers and text blocks. I repeated the same process on the notebooks and loose leaf material, but I was careful to avoid rubbing off any handwritten text or drawings, cleaning around these parts.

FYI, you will notice from the photos that I wore nitrile gloves when I was cleaning the items. This was just in case I came across any mould that I had missed when checking the books initially. Generally, books should be handled with clean, dry hands unless a health hazard is suspected or they have parts made from another material that requires gloves when handling, i.e. metal.

Any books that were structurally unstable and had loose text blocks, spines or covers, were then identified for further attention. In mild cases two cotton tape ties sufficed for securing the covers and spines, but in a large number of cases the books were in such a fragile condition that they needed a custom-made box to stop loose or friable (not the yummy kind) parts falling off. I put these items to the side to return to later.

Cleaning in the fume cupboard

Meanwhile, I began tackling the mouldy items. I put a protective and very stylish FFP3 mask on to protect myself from breathing in the mould spores, and placed the contaminated items in the fume cupboard. I combed each item for mould deposits, and used a museum vacuum on a low-suction setting to then remove them. After they were free from mould, I followed the same process that I had applied to the other items, brushing dust away and using a smoke sponge for ingrained dirt.

Inactive mould before and after cleaning. The reduction in mould spores is visible in the image on the right.

Now that everything was clean and mould-free, it was time to return to the fragile volumes that still needed some TLC. I measured them all, adding a couple of millimetres buffer room to my measurements to allow space for the folds of the rehousing material. I then created individual housing using a cutting board, scalpel and guillotine; I made phase boxes – four flap enclosures designed to protect delicate or damaged books – from museum-grade box board, which is a tough acid-free paper board, casings with spine support for smaller notebooks, and four flap folders for loose leaf material.

Making a custom phase box

I had to do a bit of problem solving here, as it wasn’t always obvious which rehousing solution would be best for a particular item. For example, a collection of printing proofs proved pretty hard to store. They had previously been stored folded up, causing the paper to bend. I consulted our paper conservator, Mhairi Boyle, and she suggested housing them in such a way that they could be made to lie more flat, without the need for further interventive treatment at this stage.

Left: printing proofs in custom folder. Right: printing proofs in custom phase box

Initially, I thought that a folder would work best for this, but the proofs didn’t fit in my custom folder, even though it had been measured to the correct size. The folder didn’t allow the necessary wiggle room for the 2.5cm bends, and it certainly wasn’t strong enough to coerce the paper into a flatter shape. In order to tackle this problem, I resorted to the largest ruler and cutting mat the conservation studio had to offer and I made another custom box for it instead. In the end I had housing that was long enough for the proofs, whilst allowing them 1.5cm depth so that the bends could be flattened out slightly.

The rehousing solution: archival box with fragile volumes in phase boxes

The last step in the Peter Grant saga was separating out the material into archival boxes in a coherent way. I put the items in three categorised archival boxes: printed works by Peter Grant in order of volume, other works, and pre-print items. If you like organisation and tidiness like I do, I think you’ll agree that the end result is very satisfying. More importantly, the collection is now more secure, and its future more certain.

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Bearing Witness: The Pre-Digitisation Conservation Treatment of The Witness, Part 1

This week we have the first instalment of a two-part series by Projects Conservator Mhairi Boyle. Mhairi spent April 2022 working on The Witness, a collection of Edinburgh-based newspapers held by New College Library.


As a child I remember the local tabloid newspaper being delivered every morning, and my dad examining the daily happenings over his morning coffee before heading off to work. At the time I was more interested in the horoscopes and agony aunt sections. Weekends were a more relaxed affair, with a much larger (and more sophisticated) newspaper that barely fit onto the kitchen table. Considered ephemera, the newspaper was read once then discarded, with little thought lent to the matter.

The January 1842 copy of The Witness.

These days I rarely, if ever, purchase a physical newspaper. With the reign of the Digital Age, the news is accessible through the swipe of a fingertip via various apps and videos all shown on a tiny cellular screen. Critical stories are updated by the second with live news feeds, which means you can scroll to your hearts content on a regular basis.

I hadn’t given the modern consumption of news much thought until I was asked to assess the condition of a collection of newspapers belonging to the School of Scottish Studies. The Witness collection comes in two formats: there are 23 folders of partially loose issues which appear to have been removed from bound book volumes, and 26 much larger volumes. As part of a larger digitisation project which aims to make The Witness accessible online, I was asked to assess the condition of the loose monthly volumes prior to them being sent off to an external company to be scanned. Because they are so large, it takes two people to produce one item at the New College Library. Digitising The Witness will enable ease of access to all readers and reduce the need for handling such large items. I met Senior Collections Manager Katharine Richardson at the University Collections Facility to assess the newspapers.

Newspapers are also great forums for practising cursive.

Why is the preservation of these newspapers important? Historic newspapers are physical encapsulations of everything from historic world-changing events to opinion columns which echo the thoughts and feelings of communities from different eras. The Witness is an Evangelical Christian newspaper which was issued twice-thrice weekly from January 1840-February 1864.

The 23 loose monthly items vary from poor to excellent condition. The dates of the newspapers range from January 1842 to October 1843. During this period, a transition was being made from using cotton rags to make paper to using wood pulp, an inexpensive alternative. Wood pulp paper tends to become yellowed, brittle, and crumbly over time, whereas cotton rag paper tends to be strong and better-preserved. Thankfully The Witness was printed on a good quality cotton rag paper, which means that despite the wear and tear incurred through a century of use, the paper is still of a good and sturdy quality.

A large tear obscuring the text block, and some split areas where the paper has previously been folded.

The most concerning issues with the newspapers were tears encroaching into the text block, areas of weakness due to being folded, and fragile pages where the papers had previously been bound together into one area.

A failed historic repair.

An interesting (and challenging) aspect of the condition of the collection is the damage caused by historic repairs. Conservation is a constantly evolving profession with new techniques and adhesives being produced every year, which means that occasionally my job involves removing historic repairs if they are causing damage to objects. Many of the newspapers had old repairs administered with an unknown adhesive, which had failed and split over time.

Two layers of binding: the original adhesive is yellowed and hardened, and the single thread was added later on.

In addition to this, a well-meaning repairer had also taken the time to painstakingly individually ‘bind’ each disbound newspaper with a single piece of thread. Unfortunately, this thread has caused issues regarding the structural stability of the newspapers, causing areas of tension and fragmentation throughout.

After surveying the newspapers, I formulated an action plan, which included a few ethical dilemmas and consultations along the way. Digitising the newspapers involves pressing them under flat scanners, which meant that they required stabilisation through remedial conservation treatment. The ethical questions involved, and the remedial treatment of the newspapers, will be discussed further in Part 2 of this blog series: coming to an online news outlet near you soon!

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