Preserving the Past

When you consider archives and printed collections, you might immediately think of the information they contain, but you may not necessarily consider what surrounds this information, such as the pages or book covers. If both aspects are not cared for, all can be lost. This is why a crucial part of our job on the ‘Towards Dolly’ project is not just to catalogue the collections, but to preserve them. Some of the material we encounter is fragile, damaged and in need of careful handling, cleaning and repackaging to ensure that it is preserved in the best condition possible, for as long as possible. Many of the items are nineteenth or early twentieth century, so they are not only old but may also have previously been treated roughly or stored in unsuitable conditions.

A few weeks ago, Kristy Davis (the project’s Rare Books Cataloguer) and I received some preservation training, provided by professional conservator Caroline Scharfenberg of Books and Archive Conservation Services Ltd, who also conducts work for Edinburgh University Library. Caroline trained us on the correct procedures to handle and clean items without causing further damage to them, such as using specialist brushes to clean the covers and pages of volumes. In the picture you can see Kristy using the brushes to clean a fragile volume of offprints from the collection of early geneticist Francis Albert Eley Crew (1886-1973).

These preservation techniques seem basic, but the impact they can have is huge! Whether cataloguing these collections or performing some simple ‘TLC’, it is all part of the same thing – that is, ensuring that these important collections are made available for future generations to learn from and enjoy.


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