Rock, Paper, Scissors – Conserving the Lyell Collection

Today’s blog post concludes Lyell Intern Joanne Fulton’s two-part series on the Lyell Project. Joanne discusses the variety of work she carried out over the last few weeks of her internship at the CRC.


As my internship at the CRC draws to a close, I can reflect on the many exciting opportunities I’ve had to experience all aspects of the work involved in conserving the Lyell Collection. As I shall discuss further in this second blog, my responsibilities have not solely covered the rehousing of the specimens in the geological collection which was explained in my first blog.

In my last blog, I spoke of the labels on the Lyell Geological specimens, some of which were more fragile than others. In twelve cases, these labels needed to be conserved and re-attached. To do so, I needed an adhesive. While I tested both gelatine mousse and EVA, a co-polymer adhesive commonly used in bookbinding. I chose to use gelatine mousse as I found it to have the strength required and was more historically appropriate than EVA, as the labels had previously been attached with an animal glue.

The labels offered a few different challenges and solutions. Following the discovery that white tack was attached to one of the rocks previously, upon closer look at the labels I found one of these labels had used blue tack to be secured to the specimen. Once I had carefully removed both the blue tack from the specimen and label, I made the decision not to reattach the label but to slip it into a Melinex pocket, which I then housed with the specimen in its box.

A specimen of grey and red laminated sandstone had an awkward placement of its label, meaning the label had suffered more damage than others being only half attached to the specimen. Here, I had to piece together the small parts of paper broken from the label, not dissimilar to a jigsaw, then use a lining to attach this with the remaining half of the label still on the specimen using a thin Japanese paper and the gelatine mousse. As this still meant half the label was not attached to the specimen, as originally intended, I created a little Melinex protective box, so the label could not be accidentally torn in the future.

Before, During and After rehousing and conservation of specimen EUCM.0167.2013

On two other occasions I used a lining to reassemble torn and broken pieces of the labels back together. Some were harder to correctly position together due to the nature of each piece and/or some parts being missing.

Applying the jigsaw-like pieces of a label to a lining

The rehousing and conservation of the Lyell Geological specimens was finished by the end of week six of my internship. With the rehousing finished, I hand-made two book cushions with Tyvek and the excess Plastazote scraps and offcuts. This created a sustainable solution with the waste material, all I needed was a needle and thread.

Book cushions proved to be a simple and sustainable solution to all the waste Plastazote offcuts

My attention then turned to Lyell’s personal notebooks and volumes. Here my aim was to rehouse them whilst gaining new skills in book conservation, skills I was very eager and grateful to learn.

The main aim with the notebooks was to finish their rehousing, not a small feat as 294 book shoes needed to be made in total. However, as this was a task completed progressively throughout the project by all those involved, all book shoes were made by the end of my week seven. As well as this rehousing, I conserved three of Lyell’s notebooks. This consisted of surface cleaning, consolidation of red rot (a degradation process found in vegetable-tanned leather), label repair, corner repair, and repairing inner joints.

Finally, the volumes needed new housing in the form of phase boxes, which provide an additional layer of support and protection to the series. Then, depending on each volume, I surface cleaned, consolidated red rot, and repaired the outer joints. For the outer joints, I used a lightweight paper which I had toned using acrylic paints to match the colour of the volume. Unfortunately, the spine and the leather on the covers were different shades, so I matched my repair paper to a mid-tone. The darker spine is unusual, as usually you see the spine is lighter because of light damage. However, in this case, I believe the spine had previously been consolidated or brushed with a substance that has darkened over time.

Example of a phase box

Having applied the repair paper to the outer joints with EVA, they were left to dry before being trimmed.

My experience at the CRC has improved my skills as a conservator immeasurably, and, boosted my confidence. The highlight for me has been rehousing the Geological collection which was a new experience and challenge, and I leave happy in the knowledge that each specimen is now preserved for the future in its own uniquely carved housing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Welcome to One Health

A new project is taking shape at Edinburgh University’s CRC department!

With funding from the Wellcome Trust, the One Health archival project aims to pull together resources relating to human responsibility for animal health in Scotland from 1823 to the present day. Animal health and welfare is a massive and topical subject and the hope is that this project will allow further research and awareness of animal rights in Scotland. This history can be somewhat imposing, but luckily the project is made up of three separate archives. The papers of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies (R(D)SVS), the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the animal rights charity One Kind.

Let’s break down these different archives since each has its own part to play in understanding the history of human and animal health in Scotland.

Illustration of how to tip a cow from the R(D)SVS collection

Now known as the R(D)SVS, Scotland’s first veterinary college was founded in 1823 by William Dick, the son of a blacksmith and farrier. The college was initially set up to educate blacksmiths and farriers about treatments when shoeing horses, but the college expanded over time to become the world leading veterinary college it is today. Items held within the archive include papers relating to the running of the college, the lives of its staff and students, a vast array of photographs and glass plates slides, research papers, and a host of fascinating objects.

Photograph taken by an unknown veterinarian of the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh, c.1905

The RZSS was founded in 1909 by Edinburgh lawyer Thomas Gillespie with the aim to promote awareness and and conservation of rare and endangered animals from across the world. The original charter states the role of the society was;

To promote, facilitate and encourage the study of zoology and kindred subjects and to foster and develop amongst the people with an interest in and knowledge of animal life

Today the RZSS manages both Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park as well as well as supporting a wide variety of research, conservation, education and public engagement projects both in the UK and around the world.

 

The OneKind archives in store at the CRC

The One Kind animal charity was founded in Edinburgh in 1911 as the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Vivisection. Although the name may have changed over the years (It was known as Advocates for Animals from 1990-2010) the aims of this charity has not. Since the charity’s foundation, they have expanded their aims to encompass far reaching political and social engagement. This is a great resource for those interested in animal welfare, ethics, research and social and political engagement. The material within the archives spans their entire organisational existence and includes correspondence and investigations into the R(D)SVS and the RZSS, which brings these separate collections together.

 

Phew! There’s quite a lot to get through, so be sure to follow this blog for updates and to hear about the stories which are emerging from these collections.

 

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An update from Project Conservator, Claire

My name is Claire Hutchison and I am very proud to introduce myself as the Lyell Project Conservator at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections. I am a Paper Conservator who has worked extensively across archives in Edinburgh on a number of archival projects. My work has led me to become a specialist in fragile formats, such as transparent papers, newspapers and wet press books. This is not my first time working at the CRC; I was lucky enough to be an intern in the conservation studio twice in my career.

I have learnt a lot about Lyell and his dedication to recording his findings since starting. It’s a very personal collection, and it’s clear that they were cherished by Lyell. The labels and indexes are beautifully written and constructed; one can only dream of having the same patience and dedication with their own notebooks. As a Conservator, I was also impressed to find examples where Lyell had hand sewn his index pages into the notebooks. It’s a wonderfully consistent collection which has been a pleasure to conserve. It’s also been made clear to me since starting just how sought after this notebooks are as requests have been flying in; researchers are keen to start connecting those dots across the collection.

Conserving the Notebooks prior to digitisation was imperative in order to prevent loss or further damage to the bindings. The 294 Notebooks were in varying levels of condition, however, overall they were stable with very few requiring intense treatment. It was clear from the flexibility of the spines that they had been well used and heavily manipulated by Lyell on his travels. The adhesive Lyell used to apply his labels and covering material was starting to fail. The earlier Notebooks suffer from red rot – commonly found in vegetable-tanned leathers from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The leather will become dusty, and the fibrous structure will deteriorate, resulting in the damage or complete loss of the leather binding.

Reattachment of covering material before and after

Internally, it was clear that Lyell had held and bent the spines to write into positions that had caused splits to form between the signatures of the text block. If not treated, these will worsen with handling and ultimately lead to loose pages or whole sections of the text block detaching fully from the binding. Lyell used either graphite or ink within his notebooks, so gelatine has been used to ensure that no bleeding or movement of the corrosive iron in the ink occurred. A strip of Japanese paper was applied to repair this inner joint and prevent further splitting (see example below).

Setup and attachment of inner joint repairs

In some rare instances, further intervention was needed where parts of the spine were lost and the sewing was exposed. This required lifting back the leather of the boards either side of the spine and inserting a repair to stabilise the structure. Layers of Japanese paper were applied to the spine and built up to the required thickness of the leather. Then a final layer of toned Japanese paper was applied to the top, blending in with the rest of the spine piece.

Spine repairs before, during and after treatment

Thanks to generous funding from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, two 8-week interns have started working on the Lyell Project. They are helping to assist in the overall efforts of the project, but also have been given their own branch of the collection to work on. Sarah MacLean is currently working on the 1927 donation of letters of correspondence. Joanne Fulton has been given the task of rehousing Lyell’s collection of Geological specimens. This month, my work on the project will continue with the conservation and rehousing of the printed material in the collection, such as Lyell’s own copy of the ‘Proceedings of the Geological Society’.

Stay tuned for more conservation updates soon!

 

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Project Re-boot!

The last few years has seen us all face challenges and embrace change – and the Charles Lyell Project is no different. The Project has said farewell to Elaine and Elise – and we thank them both so much for all their efforts and wish them well. We also need to thank existing University of Edinburgh, CRC and Digital Library staff for keeping the aims and objectives of the project alive – and we can report that there’s been significant progress on recruitment, funding, digitisation, and in conservation.

So – more blogs are GO!

Starting with conservation, we are delighted to signpost you to two brilliant blogs, detailing the work of the fantastic Interns who have been working on the Lyell papers and specimens.

Supported by Project Conservator Claire (her blog forthcoming) the Intern’s light but expert touch has greatly enhanced the health and well-being of the collection. Find out more here:

Righting Letters – Conserving the Lyell Collection | To Protect and (Con)serve (ed.ac.uk)

and

Homes for Rocks – Rehousing the Lyell Geological Specimen Collection | To Protect and (Con)serve (ed.ac.uk)

Reverse of an envelope addressed to Charles Lyell, part of the Acceptance in Lieu deposit. Photograph taken by Sarah McLean.

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Quicker, easier interface for DataVault

We are delighted to report that Edinburgh DataVault now has a quicker and easier process for users. The team have been working hard to overhaul the form for creating a new ‘vault’ to improve the user experience. The changes allow us to gather all the information we need from the user directly through a DataVault web page. The users no longer need to first login to Pure and create a separate dataset record there. Instead, that bit will be automated for them.

I have explained the new process and walked users through the new form in a new and updated how-to video, now combining the getting started information with the demo of how to create a vault:

Get started and create your vault! (8 mins)

The new streamlined process for users is represented and compared to our open research data repository DataShare in this workflow diagram. DataVault is designed for restricted access, but can also handle far larger datasets than DataShare.

The diagram shows the steps users go through in DataShare and DataVault. Common steps are deposit and approval.

The DataVault process includes the gathering of funding information, and review and deletion none of which are present in the DataShare workflow since they would not be relevant to that open research data repository.

The arrow showing DataVault metadata going to the internet represents the copying of selected metadata fields into Pure, where they are accessible as dataset records in the university’s Edinburgh Research Explorer online portal.

Our new course “Archiving Your Research Data”, featuring Sara Thomson, Digital Archivist, provides an introduction to digital preservation for researchers, combined with practical support on how to put digital preservation into practice using the support and systems available here at University of Edinburgh such as the DataVault. For future dates and registration information please see our Workshops page.

A recording of an earlier workshop (before the new interface was released) is also available: Archiving Your Research Data Part 1: Long-term Preservation.

If you are a University of Edinburgh principal investigator, academic, or support professional interested in using the Edinburgh DataVault, please get in touch by emailing data-support@ed.ac.uk.

Pauline Ward
Research Data Support Assistant
Library and University Collections
University of Edinburgh

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New to the Library: Vetus Latina Database

Thanks to a request from staff in Classics the Library now has access to Vetus Latina Database from Brepols. This is an online index to all Greek and Latin patristic citations or allusions to the pre-Vulgate editions of the Bible, collected by the Vetus Latina Institut in Beuron, Germany.

You can access Vetus Latina Database via the Databases A-Z list, Classics subject guide or DiscoverEd. Read More

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Geo-mapping the RESP

My name is Denise Hick and I am a Master’s student in Earth Observation and Geoinformation Management at the University of Edinburgh. Together with Rowan Rush-Morgan, a second-year PhD student in Geography, we had the opportunity of working on an exciting web-mapping internship for the Regional Ethnology of Scotland Project (RESP) within the Centre for Research Collections (CRC).  

A web-map was envisaged as an interactive way for users to browse the RESP catalogue in a visual way, finding recordings based on the place names mentioned within them. There are some examples of using web-mapping technology to visualise archival information, such as this map (https://witches.is.ed.ac.uk/ ) of witch trials in Scotland. However, we could not find any examples that used data directly from within an archival catalogue, so this would be a venture into the unknown both for ourselves and the RESP team.  

Geocoding and updating the Archive  

Throughout the internship, Rowan focused on data preparation. Place names were collated from recording transcripts, these were then converted into co-ordinates using the QGIS Geocode plugin. This was no easy task: in fact, multiple places with the same name exist. You can find Aberdeen in Hong Kong, the USA, and Jamaica! Furthermore, interviewees often refer to places by their locally known rather than ‘official’ names, while other place names have changed over the years. After finding the best possible co-ordinate matches, Rowan added this information to ArchivesSpace, RESP’s digital archive, linking each place name to the interview where it was mentioned.  

Pins on the map 

 While Rowan prepared the data, I focused on setting up the web map. With the help of Scott Renton, IT project manager, and Patryk Smacki, software developer at the University of Edinburgh, we developed an interactive web map for the RESP website using open-source mapping library OpenLayers. This entailed a lot of coding in JavaScript and Python. To improve performance, we then had to come up with an innovative way of plotting the place name data onto the map in the form of clickable pins, because the RESP archive now contains more than 300 different place names!  

The end result 

The final result of our internship is an interactive web map that displays places mentioned in the interviews carried out by RESP in Dumfries and Galloway and East Lothian (consultable here). Users can explore the map and zoom, pan and click on a pin to be directed to all the RESP interviews relating to that specific place. We hope the map gives users a much more accessible way to browse the RESP catalogue and offers an example to other archives of the ways in which web-mapping technologies can be utilised to visualise archival collections.  

We have really enjoyed our time with the RESP team. Whilst at times challenging, it has been an interesting internship and we learnt a lot about geocoding and coding, but also about Scottish geography, life and traditions!  

https://collections.ed.ac.uk/eerc/map

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Prints Gone Off – Conserving the Lyell Collection

Today’s blog post concludes Lyell Intern Sarah MacLeans’s two-part series on the Lyell Project. Sarah discusses the variety of work she carried out over the last few weeks of her internship at the CRC.


With my conservation work on Lyell’s correspondence finally being successfully completed in the sixth week of my time at the CRC, I’ve been able to devote the final fortnight fully to – well – to everything else!

My time in this internship has not, of course, been devoted to Lyell’s letters alone. In fact, I have had ample opportunity to pursue work in many other areas of this exciting collection.

Here I am applying Klucel G in IMS to areas of a notebook cover affected by red rot.

I’ve made the journey out to the King’s Buildings Campus to handle the packing and transport of geological specimens. I’ve made innumerable journeys elsewhere too, gaining insight into the work ongoing at institutes like Historic Environment Scotland as well as the National Library, Museums, and Galleries of Scotland, and forged professional connections with the wonderful staff members there. I’ve boosted my technical skill immeasurably in book conservation, assessing and conserving three of Lyell’s personal notebooks as pictured here. And I’ve rehoused vast quantities of these notebooks by creating book shoes, a bespoke enclosure which protects the notebook but leaves the spine exposed.

After all that excitement, the last big task for me to complete during my time at the CRC has been a comprehensive survey of Lyell’s expansive collection of offprints – a very big task indeed!

An offprint is a separate printing of a work that has originally appeared as part of a larger publication, usually one created by multiple authors – like a magazine, an academic journal, or an edited book. Sir Charles Lyell understandably picked a lot of these up throughout his life, and they range far and wide in subject matter from treatises on the molluscs of Algeria to ruminations on the temperaments of the citizens of 19th Century Reykjavik.

A selection of Lyell’s Offprints in their original state prior to survey and rehousing.

The Offprints also range in physical size from folio (approximate to A4) down to manuscript (more or less A5), a fact that caused initial confusion as the two sizes were alphabetized and housed separately as two different series. And finally, the Offprints range considerably in overall physical condition.

On the whole, they have held up well over the last two hundred years with 12 of the 18 boxes surveyed rating as Grade Two – Fair Condition. The majority of Offprints within this category are reasonably stable, can be handled safely with just a little extra care and attention, and, by and large, show mainly cosmetic or minimal structural damage at worst.

An oversized item that has suffered damage and planar distortion as a result of insufficiently large housing

However, this is not the case across the board.

One issue that I have encountered already in my survey is the issue of size, finding oversized items to be much more common within this series of the collection than initially anticipated. Oversized bound works like that pictured in figure 3 have become distorted and damaged when forced to fit unsuitable housings. Even with time-consuming flattening and other conservation treatment, they will remain too large to fit comfortably within their new housings – so alternatives must be found. As is the case with other oversized flat works like maps and geological diagrams, such items require a great deal of thought and collaboration, leading to a great many conversations with other departments within the CRC to negotiate alternative storage space within available plan chests.

A group of offprints severely affected and embrittled from damage caused by mould.

Another issue that has arisen within this survey is that of the damage caused by mould which, unfortunately, I have discovered within 11 of the 18 boxes surveyed.

I should stress, first and foremost, that the mould I’ve found is historic and entirely inactive. Environmental controls in place within CRC stores have successfully stopped the historic mould in its tracks, depriving it of the warm, humid conditions in which it likes to spread, and ensuring that it can cause no more bother than it already has.

The main challenge that the mould poses now in terms of interventive conservation treatment is the time-consuming surface cleaning process that is now necessary to safely remove it. The mould, although inactive, can appear gritty and is potentially abrasive, so it needs to be removed along with surface dirt in order for the weakened paper substrate underneath to be repaired properly. This, unfortunately, lengthens overall treatment time and potentially complicates the recommendations that I would make about the treatment and care of this part of the Lyell Collection in the future.

Surveying Lyell’s Offprints has been a pleasure not in spite of these unexpected challenges but because of them. The unexpected is something that all archives, libraries and other institutions have to contend with often – as collections grow and become more varied, it can be increasingly difficult just to figure out the extent of what you have, let alone how to handle, and treat it all! The unexpected is also something that I will encounter on a personal level, having now completed my internship and looking to make my next career step as a paper conservator. I’ve gained such invaluable and varied experience throughout my time at the CRC, the challenge of the unexpected is one that I’m now more than ready to meet head on

 

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It Is Our Mantra

Last week I was honoured to accept an invitation to speak at the Library Technology Conclave at Somaiya Vidyavihar University in Mumbai, India, organised by Informatics Limited and the University. A prelude the day before the event included a half-day “Research Data Management (RDM) Basics” tutorial for about 50 attending librarians, which I delivered based on adaptations of our Research Data Support team’s training materials for PhD students and staff. The training exercises, developed from a few other external librarian training sessions I’ve done, focused on building librarians’ confidence in supporting researchers with data management planning and data sharing. Doing the training in person helped me to overcome communication barriers and foster deeper engagement than could have happened online only.

Lighting the flame of the conference

Lighting the flame of the hybrid conference

The conference was on the theme of “Research Data Management and Stewardship: Building Blocks for Open Science,” with a number of eminent librarians, scientists, and educators speaking in keynotes and on panels in six thematic sessions, in-person and remotely. There was a palpable sense of urgency to the proceedings, as those in the room were concerned that India’s scientific institutions, without funder mandates, national open infrastructure, nor observable changes in cultural norms for RDM and Open Science, might be left behind, given this emerging new, more transparent way of conducting research. Questions focused not on the What or Why of Open Science, but how to instigate behavioural change of scientists and researchers, and how librarians could create demand for new services such as data repositories and quickly skill themselves up.

I have some empathy for their position. A decade or so ago I attended conferences which felt more like hand-wringing than change-making, with endless talk of carrots and sticks (and carrot-stick jokes), with researchers explaining over and again their reluctance to be ‘scooped’ by giving access to their data. I am not sure what caused the tipping point to talking about the potential of data sharing and open science to the exciting reality of it happening, but it seems to have come round (more or less). I do still harbour concerns that our own researchers will be left out of participation in the shared infrastructure that is the European Open Science Cloud because of Brexit-related barriers here.

Robin with attendeesOne talk that piqued my interest involved a survey of librarians in Gujarat about RDM and their capacity to deliver new types of service, by Dr. Bhakti Gala. As the Indian LIS (library and information science) curriculum was apparently seen to not be delivering RDM training to any great extent yet, the researcher had asked how the librarians had acquired knowledge of RDM. She said that about half the librarians who had pursued self-training had learned from the free, online MANTRA course (which stands for Research Data Management Training), offered by the University of Edinburgh.

The Chair of the panel, Prof Shalini Urs, with whom I had had a conversation over dinner with about the name of the course, said [naming me, as I sat in the audience] that I would be happy to hear that was the case, to which I of course smiled and nodded. Alluding to our prior conversation about whether the name was a cultural [mis-]appropriation or not, she looked me in the eye and said, “It is Our MANTRA, now.” Which is, of course, the great thing about Openness.

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LILAC 2022 : Student transitions in information literacy :  from school to HE, from learners to researchers

Ruth Jenkins, SarahLouise McDonald and Christine Love-Rodgers at LILAC 2022

Ruth Jenkins, SarahLouise McDonald and Christine Love-Rodgers at LILAC 2022

The LILAC 2022 conference in Manchester this April was a challenge and a pleasure to attend :  my first real life, in person conference for two years! I put aside my laptop with the distraction of its constant stream of email to concentrate on being present in the conference and using my LILAC notebook and pen.

Alongside my colleagues, I was there to present papers about the projects we’d delivered in the COVID years, including LibSmart, our online information literacy course. We’ve developed LibSmart I to develop student information literacy skills to support student transition into the first years of an undergraduate course, and LibSmart II to support student transition into Honours and PG dissertation research. We had lots of great questions about the courses, and interest from Uppsala and Gothenberg Universities in Sweden who are keen to develop similar projects.

Student transitions in information literacy was a key theme of the conference. I attended a session by Paul Newnham on Information literacy and the transition to university education : Reflections and initial findings from Lancaster University. This research study aimed to understand student needs for information literacy and how the Library can support students with information literacy and critical thinking skills. Using qualitative data from groups in Blackpool Sixth Form College and Lancaster University, the study found that both lecturers and teachers thought that students’ ability to find information had deteriorated over the last 10-15 years. However there was wide understanding of the importance of referencing and plagiarism.

Read More

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