Preservation – A student placement experience of collection surveying and box-making, part1

By Juliana Cordero, Books and library materials Masters student, West Dean College

As a Master’s student at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, I was lucky enough to have a five-week work placement with the Collections Care team at Lambeth Palace Library (LPL) early in 2022 where I learned new skills and techniques and refined my current abilities. I was given the opportunity to work on different projects and participate in several training activities. The variety of the collections and the people with whom I worked have given me invaluable information and experiences.

The LPL collections allowed me to get a better grounding in the daily routine of a book and library materials conservator by working on preventative conservation projects, assisting with daily tasks, talking with my colleagues about working with new materials and meeting people from different areas in the library. The wonderful and skilled Collections Care conservators welcomed me and were very generous with imparting their knowledge of treatments, techniques, materials, and the many aspects of a conservator role.

I worked on 4 distinct projects during my time at LPL including documenting and cleaning of a portion of the Court of Arches collection (a project written about on this blog by other authors), surveying and rehousing a portion of the Chancel Plans collection, boxing the unhoused Archbishop’s Registers and treating a Sion College volume, see second blog.

Chancel plans

The Chancel plans are composed of architectural drawings of church chancels (the space around the altar). The collection includes a combination of modern machine-made paper, handmade paper and tracing paper in a series of bundles that often contain one or two large paper plans and one or more corresponding tracing papers.

The Chancel plans project allowed me to experience how to survey a large collection and taught me the different elements that need to be noted when undertaking a survey. While I was only able to survey a small portion of the collection, I gained an appreciation of one of the first steps in the conservation of a collection.

Two stacks of creased paper on the left is a cream coloured folded plan and on the left a smaller stack of folded tracing paper pages.
Chancel Plans: a fractured tracing paper plan and the corresponding paper plan before surface cleaning, ECE/11/4/444 Minster (Isle of Sheppy) chancel
A stack of creased paper in layers showing a cream coloured plan with architectural details and measures with a smaller stack of folded tracing paper pages.
Chancel Plans: chancel plan bundle with an larger format plan on paper, three plans on tracing paper and an early photograph, ECE/11/4/446 Moreland Chancel

After completing a portion of the larger survey, the next step was to clean and rehouse the plans. The chancel plans were cleaned using a chemical sponge and a soft brush. The paper plans were often canvas backed and in good condition, which meant that they were easy to clean with gentle motions. However, the tracing paper condition varied depending on types of tracing paper. Some of the tracing paper plans were extremely fragile and damaged while others were in good condition.

A tracing paper plan of Milton next Sittingbourne chancel after surface cleaning and flattening
Chancel Plans: Unfolded and cleaned tracing paper plan, ECE/11/4/441 Milton next Sittingbourne chancel
A tracing paper plan of Milton next Sittingbourne chancel in archival plastic sleeve for safe handling
Chancel Plans: Tracing paper plan housed in sleeve for safer handling, ECE/11/4/441 Milton next Sittingbourne chancel

Most of the damage to the tracing paper documents was along the folds. Due to their brittle nature it was often not possible to unfold the documents without fracturing them. Tracing paper documents that were already damaged or were too fragile to unfold, were placed in a manila folder awaiting conservation treatment. Tracing paper and heavier weight documents in good condition and able to be unfolded were surface cleaned and rehoused in labeled Melinex™ sleeves.

I valued this project as it introduced me to the treatment and handling of translucent papers. Because of the range in dates of the chancel plans, I was able to see the transitions and changes in manufacturing and quality over time.

Archbishop’s Registers

Juliana Cordero standing on the right using a wooden book measuring tool with a brown volume within the measuring bed.
Archbishop’s Registers: Measuring registers
Eight grey archival upright book boxes
Archbishop’s Registers: Completed boxes ready to be reshelved

Boxing the Archbishop’s Registers was good practice for making collection housing while limiting material waste. Under the guiding eye of Avery, I measured and made 33 boxes using a Zund project cutter which infinitely speeds up the box making process over hand cutting each box. Despite the electronic help, it is even more important to be accurate in the measuring of each volume. Each book was carefully measured and information recorded about the archbishop, date, volume, and record number so it could be printed on the box spine. The dimensions were input into the Zund software and the box was cut. Part of the purpose of the project was to fit several boxes on one sheet of folding box board in order to maximize material usage.

Juliana Cordero, a woman, standing to the left of two shelves of grey boxes
Archbishop’s Registers: Completed boxing of the collection. Remember to calculate expansion space!