Finding my way around the map and atlas collection

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.

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Several Theses in One Binding

In this week’s blog post, Projects Conservator Nicole, gives us an update on the work she is carrying out for the Thesis Digitisation Project…

I am currently working on a collection of theses ranging in date from 1838 – 1850. They consist of theses of all different sizes that have been bound in large book cloth bindings. Some bindings contain up to 9 individual theses, which has made the spine more than 10cm in width. With such large bindings and different sized pages, surface dirt has accumulated in between the individual theses, and the bottom of the spines have become distorted and narrowed.


Theses before conservation treatment

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A Book of Two Halves

Our Projects Conservator, Nicole, describes a technique for repairing books that have broken in half in this week’s blog…

I have now moved full time to the conservation studio at the main library and I have started working on the Latin thesis from 1726 – 1826 which contain a number of PhD thesis in one leather binding.

The majority of this collection is in good condition with just under half needing conservation treatment before digitisation, mostly quick treatments such as being board reattachment. A small number of volumes have been rebound with a hollow and using book cloth which makes them more accessible and easier to be digitised. However, 46 volumes have broken sewing resulting in the text block breaking in half or in some cases three or four separate pieces. This has been caused by repeated use, and forcing the volumes open.

An example of a Latin thesis broken in half

An example of a Latin thesis broken in half, before conservation

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Introducing our New Projects Conservator – Helen Baguley

This week’s blog comes from Helen Baguley, the newest member of the conservation team…

I have been recently employed by the University of Edinburgh on a 12-month contract as a Projects Conservator. This exciting and varied role means I am predominantly located in the University Collections Facility (UCF), and off-site storage building in South Gyle. I will be working within the rationalisation project, looking at the collections which are currently housed there, such as rare books and university archives. I will also be assisting the musical instrument conservator and art department in their work. This will consist of carrying out conservation work and supervising volunteers under the direction of the Preventive Conservator, Katharine Richardson.

Collection items on a shelf at the University Collection Facility

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PhD Theses Conservation

My name is Nicole and I am excited to be in my fourth week as the new digitisation project conservator working on conserving the PhD theses before digitisation. The PhDs I am working on range from 1750–1961 and are mostly bound. The volumes vary in size and material. The earlier volumes are bound in leather and hand written, while the later volumes are bound in book cloth and typed.

At present my time is split between two locations for conserving the PhDs: the Library Annex and the Main Library conservation studio.

So far I have mainly been working on the medical PhDs which include some beautiful and what must have been very time consuming drawings. The volumes also house many photographs and x-rays, including the x-ray of a shilling swallowed by a patient!

My current conservation work focuses on the volumes which had been flagged up by the survey carried out prior to my arrival. The treatments I have undertaken so far include surface cleaning, consolidation of red rot using Klucel G in IMS, inner joint repair to reattach loose or detached boards, minor paper repairs and reattaching damaged spines to volumes using a hollow made from archival paper.

Detached spine on bound volume

Detached spine on bound volume

The aim of the conservation work is to stabilise the volumes for digitisation and to ensure the text and imagery are visible. On occasion rehousing is needed, made out of archival board.

Thesis to be rehoused

Thesis to be rehoused


Keep an eye out for updates on this project!

Boxing Clever

Rehousing is a key part of conservation. But why is it so important? Find out in this week’s blog from Special Collections Conservator, Emily…

We recently received a large number of drop spine boxes to house the Laing Western manuscript collection. This was a part of a month-long project to conserve this collection, which you can read more about by following this link. These boxes are handmade to match the exact dimensions of the book. Not only do they look great on the shelves, they also provide excellent protection for the books. However, they are relatively expensive and time consuming to make. So the creation of these boxes is often outsourced, and reserved for our most important collections.

Laing manuscript collection, before rehousing

Laing manuscript collection, before rehousing

Laing manuscript collection, after rehousing

Laing manuscript collection, after rehousing

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Medieval Manuscripts from the Dirt Ages

February saw the start of a new project to surface clean and rehouse the CRC’s most important collection of Western medieval manuscripts, which were bequeathed to the library by David Laing in 1878. His collection contains 121 Western manuscripts, most of which are very finely illuminated or textually important.

Figure 1. Details of illuminations found in the manuscripts

Due to the age and past storage of the material, many items have accumulated a large amount of surface dirt. As well as reducing the aesthetic quality of the manuscripts, surface soiling can potentially be very damaging to paper and parchment artefacts.

Figure 2. Accumulation of surface dirt on a manuscript

Firstly, dirt particulates can have an abrasive action on a microscopic level, causing a weakening of the fibres. Dust can also become acidic due to the absorption of atmospheric pollutants. Sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxides present in the environment, in combination with moisture and the metallic impurities found in dirt, can be converted to sulphuric acid and nitric acid respectively. This is absorbed by the pages and results in a loss of strength and flexibility. Dust can also provide a food source for insects and mould. Mould spores in the air can settle on the manuscripts and live on the organic material in the dust. At a high relative humidity, these moulds can thrive. Surface dirt can also cause staining of the item. Dirt can readily absorb moisture which causes the particulates to sink deeper into the paper or parchment fibres, making it impossible to remove by surface cleaning methods.

Figure 3. Example of ingrained surface dirt on a manuscript

To remove loose particulates, a museum vac is firstly used to quickly hoover up large amounts of dirt. It has adjustable suction levels, so it can be used on fragile items if needed. A range of attachments can be used to reach dirt in all the nooks and crannies of the manuscripts. The museum vac also has filters to prevent any mould spores removed from the book getting back out into the studio.

Figure 4. A museum vac (left) with attachments (right)

A chemical sponge is then used to remove ingrained dirt. This is a block of vulcanised natural rubber which picks up dirt and holds it in its substrate. It was originally developed to remove soot from fire damaged objects.

Figure 5. Using chemical sponge to surface clean a manuscript

Many of the manuscripts pages are extremely cockled. This has resulted in the ingress of dust further into the text block. Due to this, the manuscripts must be examined page by page to ensure all dirt is removed, which can be very time consuming, especially for the larger volumes. However, all the hard work is worth it. Knowing we are making a difference to the condition of the collection, and seeing the change in the books is very satisfying!

Figure 6. Stages of surface cleaning. Before treatment (left), cleaned with museum vac (middle), cleaned with chemical sponge (right)