We catch up with Helen, our Projects Conservator at the University Collections Facility (UCF), in this week’s blog…
As the Rationalisation Projects Conservator my role is to make sure that the risk of damage to the objects which are housed at the UCF is minimised during the project. It is my job to make sure that the objects can be safely handled by the cataloguing team and any readers who come to visit. I am currently working on a collection of maps and atlases which date from around 1840. Many of these objects are beautifully illustrated and are an excellent example of the craftsmanship of the time.
The exterior of some of the books have a thick layer of soot and surface dirt. Therefore the first treatment which needs to be carried out on the collection is surface cleaning. The benefit of this is twofold, it will stop the transfer of surface dirt throughout the collection as well as making the text more visible. I am carrying out the cleaning process in two stages, firstly with a soft brush and vacuum and then the rest of the surface dirt is removed with a smoke sponge. I have found this method to be extremely effective and in some cases the colour change has been quite dramatic.
The maps do not have the same amount of surface dirt as the bound volumes from the same collection, and only a light surface clean was needed to remove the surface dirt. After a closer inspection of them it was clear that they were in need to some more interventive treatment in order to prevent information being lost in the future. Carrying out tear repairs is the next stage for this collection in order to keep the maps as stable as possible. These repairs will be carried out using starch paste and a fine Japanese tissue due to the lightweight and delicate nature of the paper the maps have been printed on. These maps will be rehoused in a custom made box with clearly labelled individual folders to ensure handling is kept to a minimum.This work will keep the collections in a state where they can be easily handled and studied for years to come.
A smoke sponge? The mind boggles! Can you tell us a bit more about this part of your toolkit?
Thanks for your comment. Yes, it has an interesting name! Smoke sponges were originally developed to remove soot from fire damaged objects, but we paper conservators use it frequently to remove dust and particulates from books and paper. It is made from vulcanised natural rubber, which is safe and non-toxic. You can buy it here: http://www.preservationequipment.com/Catalogue/Cleaning-Products/Sponges-Cloths/Smoke-Sponges. You can read more about surface cleaning on our blog here: http://libraryblogs.is.ed.ac.uk/conservation/2016/02/19/medieval-manuscripts-from-the-dirt-ages/