Since her last blog, Project Conservator Mhairi Boyle has been getting to work assessing and conserving the bound volumes from the R(D)SVS and OneKind archives. In this blog, she explains the assessment process used to evaluate the condition of OneKind’s bound volumes. 

In my last blog I was at the Zoo, helping to move the archive on a warm yet rainy summer’s day. It’s now a crisp October and I am stationed back at the Main Library, tasked with conserving the bound volumes in the OneKind and R(D)SVS collections.  

The OneKind archive, before rehousing

First, I had to decide where to start. When working on a long-term project, it’s important to establish an efficient workflow. This project is a little bit different than anything else I have worked on because all the collections were either partially catalogued or not yet catalogued. Project Archivist Fiona Menzies is hard at work establishing an order and organising the metadata for each collection, which means that over time many of the items and boxes will change location. To not disrupt the cataloguing and organisational processes, I decided to start with the larger bound volumes in the R(D)SVS and OneKind collections.  

Upon initial examination, it was clear that the OneKind volumes needed more attention than the R(D)SVS ones. I decided to undertake a more detailed survey of the OneKind volumes to provide an overview of their condition and identify the most common issues. Surveys often go at snail’s pace in the beginning, as you get to know the collection and the common conservation issues and the extent to which objects are damaged. As I got to know the collection, I was able to create damage categories to assign to each volume. I created Categories 1-4, from ‘Good’ to ‘Fair’ to ‘Poor’ to ‘Severe Multiple Damages’. ‘Good’ volumes are in stable, functional condition and require little/no interventive conservation treatment, and the other categories represent a sliding scale of object condition.  

The survey gave me an overview of the condition of the collection

The most common issues were surface dirt; red rot (the deterioration of the leather cover and/or spine); and damaged leather covers and/or spines. 

Surface dirt, red rot, and damaged leather are the orders of the day!

However, the most complex issue with the collection is the amount of Sellotape on many volumes. In many cases, extensive tape has been applied to volumes with damaged/detached boards and/or spines, to keep the volume intact. This will prove to be tricky to remove, because whilst in some areas the adhesive has hardened and come away from the plastic carrier, in many areas it is still fully adhered to the leather. Removing it may in fact further damage the leather.

Red rot galore. This deteriorated leather can be consolidated with Klucel G in Industrial Methylated Spirit

The removal of the tape is one of many ethical decisions which must be considered when treating the OneKind collection. Because this is an archival rather than a fine art collection, the preservation of information is of utmost importance. Because the bindings of the volumes are not historically unique, an in-situ and minimally interventive approach to the treatments will be adopted. To maximise efficiency and speed, tape will be left as-is on areas of the volumes where it does not affect the movement and functionality of the volumes. This will not affect the quality of the treatment, allowing me to preserve the whole collection rather than completely rebinding singular volumes. 

Tape has held this volume together. Now, it can be replaced with archival-friendly conservation treatments

Did somebody say tape?

In a way, I must be thankful for all the tape that I am going to tackle. A well-meaning person recognised the importance of keeping the volumes intact and put in their best efforts to preserve them in their original formats. It means that no boards or spines have been lost into the ether. I will be sure to update when I begin my tape-laden conservation journey! 

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!


Lulu: the most dangerous dog in Birmingham

The purpose of a headline is to draw a reader into the story written below. The dog of death roams a city for five hours”, is a headline that surely makes a person want to read more. It conjures up images of a dog shaped manifestation of the Grim Reaper roaming the streets to claim passing souls, or an atomic age puppy causing havoc on buildings and city infrastructure.

An arrangement of five newspaper cuttings relating to Lulu the dog

An assortment of newspaper headlines relating to Lulu the dog, 1961

The above headline was published by the Daily Mail in January 1961. Other papers at the time had similar headlines referring to Killer Lulu and the germ-carrying terrier. But what is the story behind these headlines and why is there a collection of these newspaper cuttings in the archive of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies?

During the Christmas break 1960-1961, Mr Barry Leek, an assistant in veterinary physiology at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, was visiting Birmingham with his family. Whilst he was driving through town he was involved in an unfortunate incident when a lorry backed into his car. In the ensuing panic his dog Lulu jumped out the car and ran away. Mr Leek quickly informed the police of the missing dog and stressed that she must be found as quickly as possible since she had been injected with the salmonella “duck egg” virus!

A dog, which could supposedly kill a man with a single pat*, was on the loose in Birmingham city centre, and this caused a massive emergency service response. All police officers were informed of the situation, “find this dog…it’s dangerous”. Police cars with speakers patrolled the streets warning people to stay away from Lulu. If anyone had come into contact with her, they were to visit their doctor immediately! The police also visited schools to warn children not to approach the dog and pictures of Lulu were quickly sourced to be shown on the news later that day.

After five hours, Lulu was found in an alley not far from where she was last seen. Relief all round. The city was saved. Though the question remained, how much of a danger was Lulu to society?

Newspaper photograph of Lulu the dog. The caption reads "Lulu...her poison injection brought panic to the city. From the Scottish Daily Express, January 3 1961

A photograph of Lulu the dog, from the Scottish Daily Express, Tuesday January 3 1961

The University of Edinburgh denied that Lulu could have been injected with salmonella. Mr Charles H. Steward, Edinburgh University’s secretary at the time stated, “We have investigated the matter, and we are convinced that the dog is not used for experimental purposes, and that there was NO danger to anyone.” The R(D)SVS principal, Professor Alexander Robertson, agreed by saying no experimentations were carried out on dogs at the veterinary college and even added, “it is not a very serious disease – in fact, I am surprised there had been so much fuss made.” Mr Leek later admitted that no such injection was given to Lulu and she was suffering a case of naturally occurring food poisoning at the time. He was more worried about Lulu’s reaction to children having not been socialised with them and feared Lulu might pass on salmonella to them.

The result of such a major reaction to a dog with a tummy bug lead to protests in Birmingham for different reasons. One being a reaction to why such a dangerous dog was allowed to go through the city without adequate preparation was allowed. The other protests were concerned with dogs being kept for experimental purposes by the University.

These newspaper cuttings can be found in one folder of many in the archive of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, which is currently being catalogued as part of the One Health project. There are plenty of stories emerging from the pages and they will be shared here.


*even I’m getting swept up in the sensationalism