In April this year, I was lucky enough to be offered a 10 week internship to begin conservation work on the David Laing Bequest of rare books. This internship was funded by the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust and was the first stage in a series of projects on this collection, intended to stabilise and protect the most vulnerable items. It provided me with a fantastic opportunity for some hands on professional experience.
Based in the main library in George Square, I worked in the conservation studio surveying, cleaning, measuring, and rehousing this prestigious collection comprising around 1000 rare books. The treasures in the collection are worthy of the name, including poems in the hand of Robert Burns, and letters from Kings and Queens, as well as numerous early Scottish documents, and other significant literary papers. In only ten weeks, I had to complete work on the whole collection. It worked out at around ten minutes per book, so I wasn’t able to take the time to read very much of it…
The stages of conservation I undertook during this internship were, firstly, surveying and identifying the most vulnerable items in the collection, which were then measured so that individual boxes could be made for them. Secondly, I thoroughly dry surface cleaned the outside of every book, and the inside pages of some of the most vulnerable or dirty. Thirdly, I completed some repairs of loose and torn pages, and finally rehoused any loose pages, and all the vulnerable books into folders and boxes.
Here are a couple of pictures to show the difference a good clean makes to a bookshelf, look at the difference to the book on the end:
As well as cleaning a lot of books, I spent a little time during this internship visiting other departments. One of the huge benefits of an internship like this is the opportunity for professional development, with studio visits, lectures, and work swaps, which I took full advantage of. I even spent some time working with the preventative conservation team packing musical instruments, which made an interesting change from cleaning books… although I think I know which I prefer!
A huge thank you to Joe Marshall, Ruth Honeybone, Caroline Sharfenburg, Serena Fredrick, and Emma Davey for all the guidance and help they gave me throughout this project, and everyone in the CRC for being unwaveringly welcoming and supportive.