A big welcome to our new Student Collections Care Assistants

We are delighted to welcome three new people to the Conservation and Collections Management Team this month. Abigail Miskin, Ella Joyce and Isabela Tapia Hernandez will be joining us as our first ever Student Collections Care Assistants.

Ella, Abigail and Isabela will be working with us until the end of July on a range of different projects and activities. Let’s hear them introduce themselves in their own words:

Isabela Tapia Hernandez

“My name is Isabela, I’m 30 years old and I am originally from Chile. I first came to Scotland on a solo trip in the year 2014, and I instantly fell in love with Scottish culture and its environment. Fast forward to 2024 (wow, 10 years later!), and I am currently completing a master’s programme in Collections and Curating Practices at the University of Edinburgh. I love all things ‘early modern’ and I am passionate about material culture, specifically when it’s related to early modern knowledge and science. I’m looking forward to engaging with the objects from the University Collections and hopefully unfolding some of their hidden stories! When not studying, outdoor exploring, or part-time working, I play field hockey under a sunny or rainy bonnie Scotland.”

Isabela will be working with Senior Conservator, Jonathan Santa Maria Bouquet on a project to barcode labels and improve storage systems for musical instrument collections.

Ella Joyce

“Hello! My name is Ella, and I am a second-year history student. My area of interest is early modern history, specifically the European witch trials.

I’m excited to get started as a Collections Care Assistant, and to develop my understanding of preservation and conservation. I also hope to learn more about different careers in the heritage sector.”

Ella will be supporting the Collections Management team over the coming months to deliver various activities including housekeeping storerooms, rehousing collections and audits of disaster response materials.


Abigail Miskin

“My name is Abigail, and I am a fourth-year Fine Art student. For many years now, I’ve had a strong interest in conservation due to my passion for art history (primarily medieval) as well as practical art. I am very excited to join the department as conservation is something I hope to pursue following my degree, and I am eager to figure out my areas of interest and learn more!”

Abigail will be based in the CRC Conservation Studio with Works on Paper Conservator, Amanda Dodd, and Books Conservator, Amy Baldwin. She will be supporting them to deliver interventive treatment to collections as well as working on projects to rehouse collections.

It goes without saying that we are absolutely thrilled to have these three on board. Watch this space to find out what they get up to during their placements!


The Art of Asking: Requesting Loans for Exhibition

By Morven Rodger, Collections Registrar, Heritage Collections

As the Collections Registrar, one of my core responsibilities is coordinating loans from the University’s Heritage Collections to external exhibitions. Whenever an item from our collections is requested by another institution, I work with our conservators, curators, and technicians, while liaising with the borrowing institution, to manage the risks and help make the process as smooth as possible.

I am always excited by new loan requests, and the prospect of sharing our collections with broader audiences, but no loan is without risk, and lenders must balance the risks and benefits to justify their decision to lend. The loan request is a borrower’s opportunity to make their case, explain why they want to borrow, show that they understand the practicalities, and demonstrate the value our items will add to their exhibition.

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Who Made the MIMEd 4477 Double Manual Flemish Harpsichord? (Part1)

In the first post of this two part series, our Musical Instrument Care Technician (and former conservation intern), Esteban Mariño Garza, discusses his Musical Instrument Research and Documentation Internship project to try and discover who made one of the harpsichords in the Musical Instrument Collections of the University. Continue reading

Lingerie, Giant Frisbees and Heavy Lifting: Tackling the ITI Collection at Edinburgh University

By Abigail Hartley, Appraisal Archivist and Archives Collections Manager

Colour image of white shelving along a long grey floor corridor. Three or four bankers boxes sits on each shelf, showing an extensive amount of material.

ITI prior to processing, totalling over 70 linear metres of material

Several months ago, my colleague Jasmine Hide and I wrote two introductory posts about our new roles and what they entailed. This time, I would like to draw attention to a collection we recently appraised, that of the Information Technology Infrastructure, or, in its condensed form, ITI.

Now, it is no secret that – aside from our crucial Digital and Web Archivist team members – most archivists are not experts on the early history of computing. Having said that, for sixty years Edinburgh has prided itself on its forward-thinking approach to IT, particularly artificial intelligence. This is therefore an important collection that needed processing.

Arriving from the Department of Computer Science in 2017, the collection contains material that shows the development of the Edinburgh Regional Computing Centre, as well as the development and implementation of large-scale computing projects, services, applications, and programs from 1966 up to around 2000. It will be of particular interest to anyone researching the development of computing science, both as a practical feature in people’s lives, as well as the academic field.

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It’s Friday the 13th!

It’s that time of the year when the leaves start changing, the air gets cooler, and I get creeped out by works in the collection…

As the Art Collection is an ever-moving beast, on display across the University of Edinburgh’s entire campus and beyond, I am responsible for overseeing the transport of artwork in and out of storage and ensuring locations are kept up to date. However, occasionally I can get spooked out by works that I swear that I’ve never seen before – a fitting topic for today’s Friday the 13th blog!

Let’s start with my favourite. A few weeks ago, I had a move into storage of 40+ artworks due to office refurbishments. It was a great (read: sweaty) game of Tetris in which me and our Collections Care Technician, Robyn, ended up moving approximately 130+ artworks to fit the returning collections onto our art racking. However, after the move while double-checking new locations, I stumbled across this guy, who I had never noticed before:

Noticing the portrait from the corner of my eye

Front view of the work – I can’t look at it too long…

Instantly, I was transported to my first viewing of Ghostbusters II (1989) and my 7-year-old inner child freaked out. It’s our Vigo the Carpathian! Hopefully a river of pink slime is not opening up under our stores anytime soon, but I might get Egon and the gang on the phone, just in case…

The second, which still haunts my dreams, is the classic creepy child photograph. Hanging at the very top of our highest racking, I suddenly locked eyes with the little boy and felt horror enter my soul. I was with other staff members at the time, so they saw the confusion on my face as I explained I had no memory of the work in the slightest.

The photograph as discovered on racking.

A close up on his haunting face…


Have I stumbled across something from the photo album in The Others (2001)? Is it connected to Arthur Conan Doyle and his belief in spiritualism? I don’t have a clue, but I’ve recently moved it, so I don’t have to get creeped out by the image too often.

As we have over 8000 works in the collection, I’m not too surprised that occasionally I come across items that I don’t recognise, especially considering some of the works on campus have never been in storage and only return when work is being undertaken on buildings on campus. To be honest, at this point, sometimes I wonder whether a few of my C&CM colleagues are just having a laugh with me, as I’m sure I’ll come across more unnerving items in store soon, especially with Halloween just around the corner!

Anna Hawkins

Museum Collections Manager

End note: The scariest thing about this post might be my photography, apologies!

Giving Decorated Paper a Home … Rehousing Books and Paper Bindings

In the first post of this two part series, our Collection Care Technician, Robyn Rogers, discusses her Decorated Paper rehousing project. If you want to learn about the uses, production, and trade of decorated paper, you can visit the online exhibition on this collection, curated by Elizabeth Quarmby Lawrence, here. Look out for the second post in this series soon, in which Robyn will discuss mounting loose leaf papers.

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CRC: A Space Odyssey – Day in the Life of a Collections Management Technician 

My name is Jasmine, and I’ve been working here at the University for five and a bit months as the Collections Management Technician. I’m the other half to Robyn Rogers’ role as Collections Care Technician, whose fantastic blog post about her recent work you can read here, and I work directly with the Appraisal Archivist and Archives Collection Manager, Abigail Hartley, whose equally wonderful blog post was featured last month.  

Abigail did a great job of defining appraisal and the challenges to the archivist when it comes to choosing what material to preserve. The archivist is often put in the position of assessing the ‘value’ of the record, a thorny process which comes with a number of ethical challenges. Thinking through these problems, it might seem easier to suggest that we simply keep everything we receive. If we get to keep everything, we don’t have to think through complicated questions, like what is the purpose of the record? And what is the purpose of the archivist? After all, if something has found its way into the archive, isn’t that an implicit statement of its value? Why appraise at all? 

Colour photograph of a cardboard box with the lid off. Inside are folders, papers and photographs.

The process of sorting through material in boxes to first determine what is inside them is the first stage in the appraisal process

An important part of the role of the Conservation and Collections Management team is making collections accessible to researchers. Having tens, or even hundreds of copies of the same record makes life more difficult for cataloguing staff who must list the material, for reading room staff who must retrieve the material, and for researchers who must select, request and interpret that material. But accessibility to researchers is not the only issue if we leave records unappraised. Unfortunately for us, archives are real, tangible spaces with limited amounts of physical room. If records aren’t appraised, we run the risk of running out of space for collections very quickly. Even a digital archive which may appear to have an infinite amount of space is usually hosted on servers, which cost money and can have a significant environmental impact.

Because we are dealing with paper records, in a physical building which does have limited space to house its collections, it’s crucial that we do appraise our records. Doing so ensures that we have enough physical room to safely and securely house all our existing material and continue to expand and develop our archive holdings so that we can support learning, teaching and research. Mapping our existing spaces and finding areas where we can shuffle or rehouse collections to free up more room has been another part of my role. The appraisal work Abigail and I are undertaking will hopefully allow us to increase the free space we have available.  

Appraisal aside, space management can be a complicated affair. We have to work together across teams to ensure all the right people are aware of archives arriving into our stores, identify space for it to be housed, and ensure the space is suitable for the material by making sure shelving is pitched at the correct height and appropriate preservation measures are in place. Sometimes it can feel a bit like playing Tetris. 

Colour photograph of white metal shelves, three in total. On the top two are six cardboard boxes, three columns of two. The third shelve has three boxes, two on top of eachother then one in the centre.

Space management is much easier when all your collections are housed in neat, standard sized boxes, with all the shelves pitched at a standard height, but archives rarely arrive in beautiful acid free standard sized boxes. Sometimes our archives contain objects, like clocks or even chairs, which can’t be housed in a predictable nicely stackable container. Often, archives arrive in large boxes like bankers boxes which take up more space and aren’t suitable for the material’s long-term preservation. Looking at our collections and seeing where we could rehouse materials has been another part of my role, one which I’ve shared with our Collections Care Technician. Space management isn’t all appraisal work – sometimes a simple re-boxing can save a surprising amount of space. 

Appraising collections and managing space in the stores can feel like an overwhelming task in an institution with such vast holdings, and there are lots of tough questions to answer, but the work is incredibly rewarding. Turning an unwieldy bankers box full of loose papers into a manageable archive box which we know contains material researchers can use is gratifying work, and it’s great to be part of the chain of hardworking staff who turn the records we receive into material researchers can use.  

Appraisal Made Easy (If Only…): A Day in the Life of an Appraisal Archivist

Welcome to our Day in the Life Series, where each of our new team members will give you an insight into life behind the scenes at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections. In this post, our new Appraisal Archivist and Archive Collections Manager, Abigail Hartley, discusses what she has been up to since joining the Heritage Collections team in March. Expect one more post in this series, as we introduce our Collection Management Technician, Jasmine Hide.

You may have seen the other week my colleague Robyn upload a new blog regarding her role as Collections Care Technician. If you haven’t… Go go go! Take a look at the fantastic work she has undertaken thus far. Once you have returned, it is my turn to introduce myself and the work I’ll be tackling for the foreseeable future.

Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? My name is Abbie and I have been working at the University of Edinburgh as its Appraisal Archivist since April 2023. These past three months I have been creating an appraisal process and enacting some practice runs on smaller collections in preparation of being let loose amongst the backlog of records held at the assorted Heritage Collections sites across campus.

But what even is appraisal?

Colour portrait photograph showing a total of eight bankers boxes on four white metal shelves - two boxes per shelf. Some of the lids and handles are broken from the boxes being overly full.

During a practice run of testing out a new appraisal process, Jasmine and I were able to get some Edinburgh College of Art papers looking like this…

Appraisal in an archival context is the determining of how valuable a record is to the archive. If it is deemed valuable, then it is placed in the storerooms for permanent retention, ready to be catalogued and made accessible to the public. No two archives are identical, and each has a slightly different focus on what they want to keep. There are some standardised rules no matter the institution – usually you do not need to keep three copies of the same document, signed committee minutes are almost always going to be kept, and a record which is so mouldy that conservation deems it unsalvageable is sadly not going to be retained – but oftentimes, answering the question of is this record valuable? Leads down some almighty rabbit holes.

After all, ‘valuable’ to whom? Who decides what is valuable? How fixed is that definition? These are questions I must carefully consider when creating the criteria for retention.

Colour portrait photograph showing a total of fifteen archive boxes on three white metal shelves - six boxes per shelf then three on the final. The white metal shelves have ben arranged, giving two completely empty shelves for room for growth.

…to this! We weeded out duplicates and superfluous documentation, as well as followed retention schedules and guidance laid out by legislation such as GDPR and the FOI Act. Re-boxing and re-pitching the shelves created additional metres of space.

What do we mean by valuable anyway? It is not a case of its monetary value (though this may play a role). More frequently, its value is determined by two factors: Does it have evidentiary value, and does it have informational value? In our case, these must relate directly back to the University. Decisions are made based on the records’ provenance, their content, their authenticity and reliability, their order and completeness, their condition and costs to preserve them, and their intrinsic value. Legal requirements through GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) and FOI (Freedom of Information Act) can also impact retention decisions.

This means we want to keep records which give a clear picture of the operations, administration and major decisions which shaped the University into what it is today. We also want to keep records which will be of interest to researchers, whether they be genealogists, students, or academics, as well as material that will be used for teaching within the courses offered by the University. We do have guidance on these factors and standards to help us make decisions, but these can be improved and made more specific to the types of collections we wish to hold.

One thing we absolutely do not want to be is arbitrary in our decision making. Can we standardise the act of removing the unnecessary material to create tighter and more easily navigable collections before they even make it to the cataloguing stage? That’s my job to figure out.

With over eight miles of shelving and five hundred years of history, the Heritage Collections of the University of Edinburgh are both immense in scale and immense in workload. Organisations like these tend to create a lot of paperwork, far more than any archivist can keep on top of. Thus, a backlog begins, and physical space becomes a premium commodity. At times, it truly can feel overwhelming; a mountain with no visible summit.

Colour photograph within a strongroom. The floor, shelving and ceiling are white, and the lighting is fluorescent. The shelving rows run down the left and right of the image, and on the shelves are cardboard boxes, lever arch files, loose papers and assorted documents.

With those initial boxes complete, we now move on to the collection as a whole. It spans four and a half rows, so there is much work to be done!

I am going to be working closely with my colleague Jasmine Hide (look out for her blog next month) in a never-ending saga to consolidate and create space within our strongrooms for new incoming accessions, as well as to review existing uncatalogued collections which maybe need a little TLC, and finally make the backlog just a little less overwhelming for our colleagues. By creating lists detailing what we hold and what the final decisions are to be regarding its retention, we aim to increase the findability of these uncatalogued collections, ensure the decision process is well recorded and accountable, flag records in danger for our conservation colleagues, and having the general satisfaction of clearing space.

Yes, this does involve spreadsheets. Many a spreadsheet.

Screenshot of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Some columns are coloured green, red, orange or blue depending on the contents of the cell.

Section of a spreadsheet listing contents, physical condition, and retention or disposal decisions for the Information Technology Institute at the University.

My next steps are to create a list of priorities for collections that need the most attention, formerly establish a workflow to slot the work of appraisal into the broader acquisitioning, accessioning, conserving and cataloguing processes, and of course, actually do the appraising.

We’ll be keeping you up to date with major projects we undertake, with some classic before and after images, so do watch this space for future updates!

Books, Boxes and Bugs! A day in the life of a Collections Care Technician at the Centre for Research Collections

Welcome to our new Day in the Life Series! The Conservation and Collections Management team recently recruited three new members of staff. In this series each of our new team members will give you an insight into life behind the scenes at The University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections. In this post, our new Collections Care Technician Robyn Rogers discusses what she has been up to since joining the team in March. Expect two more posts in this series, as we introduce our Appraisal Archivist and Archives Collection Manager, Abbie Hartley, and our Collections Management Technician, Jasmine Hide.

My first three months at the Centre for Research Collections have been jam packed – I have installed an exhibition, couriered a loan to the V&A Dundee, cleaned one hundred linear metres of rare books, and rehoused over seventy collection items – and that’s just a small selection of what I’ve been up to! On an average day you might find me jet setting across campus to move a harpsichord at St Cecilia’s Hall, or vising our offsite repository, the University Collections Facility, to clean some especially dirty books, before finishing the day in the Conservation Studio making some phase boxes. I feel fortunate to have worked with many fascinating collection items so far, from a Bible that had been rescued after falling down a well, to 60s pop stars’ microphone of choice. This demonstrates what I love about being a Technician working in cultural heritage – our work focuses on preventative collections care, as opposed to interventive treatment, allowing us to work with an exciting breadth of collections material.

The foundation of preventive collections care is good collections storage – if we want to preserve our collections and protect them from damage, we need to give them the right home. This is why the maintenance of good collections storage, and “rehousing”, is the collections care professional’s bread and butter. Therefore, improving the conditions and storage of our collections is a main goal of mine as Collections Care Technician. So far, I have focused on two projects in particular – cleaning the Early Books collection, and rehousing our newly acquired Decorated Paper collection. Most days I will spend some time working on these projects, working in collections stores or the conservation studio. I take a lead on these projects, but liaise with curatorial and conservation staff to guarantee storage and rehousing is fit for purpose. This ensures our collections are safe and cared for, while maximising access for our students, scholars, and the general public. Expect some posts on my Decorated Paper rehousing project soon. If you would like to learn more about Decorated Paper, you can visit our online exhibition, curated by Elizabeth Quarmby Lawrence, here.

This image shows a selection of books upright on a shelf. There is one shorter volume between two larger volumes. The shorter volume does not have a hardcover, so the spine, binding and pages are exposed.

These images are good example of my work in the Early Books collection – this volume was stored loose on a shelf, but the fragile binding rendered it vulnerable to damage through disassociation if a page became loose. The lack of a hard cover also increases the risk of damage through incorrect handling.

The shorter volume in the previous image is displayed in an archival box.

By making a custom phase box, I provided some protection from rough handling, while ensuring that all pages are kept together. The box also prevents dust particles from accumulating within the fragile pages. This volume is now safe to be accessed by researchers in our reading room.













One aspect of maintaining good collections storage that you might not expect is Pest Management. Insect pests can seriously damage collections – so monitoring insect levels in collections spaces is essential. You can see some evidence of historic pest damage to this paper binding in our Decorated Paper collection. Insect pest damage to books and paper is characterised by these rounded munching patterns.

This image shows the corner of a cover of a paper bound volume. The cover is decorated in swirling designs in orange and gold. There are some holes in the cover, revealing the page below.

A paper bound volume from our Decorate Paper collection showing signs of historic pest damage.

A close up of a spider beetle caught in the sticky side of a blunder trap.

A spider beetle caught in one of our blunder traps.










Here at the CRC we monitor our pest traps quarterly, but have regular housekeeping procedures to ensure our collection sites are inhospitable to hungry insects. I recently completed our June trap change – reviewing the insects who had wandered onto our “blunder” traps and compiling the data into a large spreadsheet, allowing me to flag any potential issues. Thankfully our insect levels were minimal and not concerning, though a long term project I am working on is improving our pest monitoring to minimise the risk of pest damage.

When I’m not working to improve the condition of our collections, I am supporting my colleagues at the CRC in collections care tasks that facilitate wider projects. For example, I recently supported our Engagement Officer (Exhibitions), Bianca Packham, in the installation of the A Carrying Stream Exhibition, at the Main Library Exhibition Gallery. This involved moving collections from the School of Scottish Studies, cleaning objects in preparation for display, and installing objects in their cases. This exhibition features three commissions from local artists who have created audio artworks using material from the School of Scottish Studies Archive. Displayed alongside these artworks are a selection of historic recording equipment – some of which were made bespoke for researchers at the university. These are complex composite objects, made of a variety of materials including plastics. Plastics degrade quickly and are notoriously hard to clean. Nevertheless, I was able to surface clean the objects, removing any distracting grime before they went on display. If you want to see these intriguing objects in person, information about visiting A Carrying Stream can be found here.

This image shows a large display case with several pieces of electrical recording equipment displayed in side.

Here I was putting the finishing touches to a display case with my colleague Bianca – arranging objects, labels and text panels. Now that the exhibition is installed and open to the public, I complete gallery checks, monitoring the condition of the artworks and objects on display.









I am keen to work on more of these exciting projects, supporting my specialist colleagues while caring for the variety of collections held by the University. Despite having handled hundreds of objects in my short time here, the collections are so large and diverse that I have barely begun to scratch the surface – there is much more to look forward to!

The Book Surgery Part 2: Bringing Everything Together

In this blog, Project Conservator Mhairi Boyle her second day of in-situ book conservation training she has undertaken with Book Conservator Caroline Scharfenberg (ACR). Mhairi previously undertook a Maternity Cover contract at the CRC within the Conservation Department.

In the previous blog, the examination and initial steps in spine repair and board reattachment of two volumes from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies (R(D)SVS) were described. The first blog in this series can be found here.

After my first session with Caroline, I sat down and pored over all my notes and the millions of photos I had taken. The amount of thought, precision and care that goes into book spine linings and repairs that will eventually be hidden and concealed shows how complex even in-situ book conservation steps can be. After jotting down my notes into a coherent order and cross-referencing everything with Caroline, I came back to the studio a few weeks later refreshed and ready for a full day of training and collaboration.

In this session, Caroline and I focused on making spine pieces and hollows, and examined how to reattach cracked book boards in different ways. One of the things I like most about working in Conservation is that we are constantly adapting and evolving techniques, tailoring them to the objects we are currently working on. This is exactly what Caroline demonstrated to me: informed by our initial examinations of both volumes, we tailored the treatment steps for each book based on its size, weight, and particular areas of weakness.

After the book spines were both lined, providing them with adequate strength, we lifted the cover material off the book boards with along the spine edges so that the new linings could be slotted under the lifted material. Because one book had a leather cover and the other had a cloth-covered spine, it was a good opportunity to practice this technique and see how it works in different scenarios. I personally found the cloth material easier to lift than the leather, because it was lighter and easier to manoeuvre.

The cloth covering the spine was lifted, and the new lining was slotted under the lifted material.

The leather-bound volume was given a new hollow.

We then went onto looking at book hollows, and how the hollow can be adapted for books of different sizes and sewing structures. A hollow supports the volume by giving it flexibility, allowing it to open more fully. Sometimes a book may have had a hollow in the past that has failed/become damaged, and sometimes a book may have never had one to begin with. The leather-bound volume had a hollow-back structure, so we used the traditional hollow structure to re-instate its flexibility. The other volume has a ‘tight-back’ sewing structure, meaning that the covering material has been directly adhered either to a spine lining, or directly to the spine itself. In this case, there was evidence of a previous spine lining.

The laminated spine piece was adapted from the typical ‘hollow’ structure.

Because this volume was smaller, lighter, and had less space for a hollow, we decided to instead create a sturdy yet flexible spine piece, which consisted of three pieces of archival-grade paper adhered together. This took up less room on the already narrow and small spine structure. The spine piece was hinged onto the spine with adhesive, creating a hollow mechanism, and then covered with Japanese paper. Japanese paper was then tugged and adhered onto the boards underneath lifted cover material.



Tightly wrapping the volume and new hollow in bandages allows the hollow and spine covering to fully adhere to the contours of the book spine.

When adhering the spine piece and hollow to their respective volumes, we used 50/50 wheat starch paste and EVA adhesive. Caroline showed me a novel way of applying this – she first went in with the wheat starch paste for flexibility and increased drying time, then used a layer of EVA adhesive over the top for strength. EVA dries very quickly and can be difficult to work with at times, so layering it over the wheat starch paste gave us more time to fix everything into the position we wanted, before tightly wrapping both volumes in bandages and weighting everything down so it adhered in all the right places.

Inner joint repairs help to further stabilise the board reattachment.

After everything dried, I went in and applied inner joint repairs for more stability, applied the consolidant Klucel G to any weak areas of leather, and consolidated the damaged board corners with 50/50 wheat starch paste and EVA adhesive.


I have really enjoyed the collaborative nature of this project and I would like to thank Caroline for sharing her wealth of knowledge with me. It has driven home to me how important it is to have great mentors to help develop your decision-making skills and hand skills alongside. Although there are plenty of reference books and articles, there is nothing quite like working alongside a leading expert in the field.

Both books are in one piece again!