Collection Care – A student placement book conservation experience, part 2

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

My most intensive project while at Lambeth Palace Library (LPL) was the treatment of one book from a two-volume set of world geography from the Sion College Collection, Parallela geographiae vetertis et noua from 1649 B12.0/B76. I worked on this book under the direction of Sion Collection Conservator Talitha Wachtelborn, who completed the second volume.

I assessed and established treatment options to Talitha’s guidance as it was important to have a unified treatment methodology between the two conservators.  Both volumes had detached boards and no spine coverings. The sewing was broken and the spine folds were very brittle due to acid degradation. Additionally, the volume I worked on had deep cuts through several layers of paper where maps had been cut out, presumably for sale individually.

Brown leather book textblock laying on its side with no leather over the spine. Evidence of sewing is visible from six vertical brown stripes across the spine.
Sion College: B12.0 B76 volume 2, untreated spine

After surface cleaning, I locally resized the spine folds in order to add strength to the paper and to limit the number of paper repairs needed. Locally resizing was a new treatment for me, and since learning of it I have implemented it in other conservation projects. The size included a solvent and therefore Tal and I completed a risk assessment and ensured I applied it under fume extraction. The size was applied to the spine folds using a fan brush to allow a light, even coating.

Cream coloured paper bifolio on light table shows brighter areas where paper is missing.
Sion College: B12.0 B76 volume 2, applying Japanese tissue with wheat starch paste while on the light table

Due to the heavy damage and the necessity of resewing the textblock, each individual spine fold was repaired. These repairs were performed on a light table which made it easier to see paper tears and holes and to position the Japanese tissue repair strips. In sections where a conjoined page was missing, it was decided to infill with a western handmade paper that was a similar weight to the original paper. In areas of excessive damage, a heavier weight Japanese tissue was used to infill losses to enable resewing the book. Due to the many repairs needed and my limited placement time, I was unable to complete the entire treatment which would have consisted of resewing the textblock and recovering the spine with leather. The most dramatic photo of the treatment is where the repair sections can be seen next to the unrepaired sections.

Stack of folded cream coloured paper making up the spine of a textblock. Upper section is smoother. Middle section is rough with areas missing. Lower section is smooth.
Sion college: B12.0 B76 volume 2 in mid-treatment, difference between completed sections visible

In addition to my conservation and preservation projects, I participated in several team training sessions. During these sessions and other opportunities, I learnt about:

  • parchment repair methods including historical methods and adhesives,
  • pest management,
  • temperature and humidity checks,
  • the assessment of books for loans,
  • assessing objects for exhibitions and lectures,
  • disaster training,
  • what is needed to prepare for digitization, and
  • a new method of spine removal and lifting of leather on boards in preparation for a leather reback.

Continuing Professional Development

Four people sat around a table. Person in lower left corner is holding a piece of parchment with black and red ink.
Juliana is located lower right corner holding a piece of parchment.
Historic parchment repair workshop with Collection Care team led by Lara Artemis, Senior Conservator

It was not only the collection and location that enabled me to grow as a conservator, but the people that I have met and worked with. The knowledge and skills that I have learned during my placement at LPL are invaluable and will help me succeed in both my Master’s studies and my career.  I would like to thank Lara Artemis, Meagen Smith, Talitha Wachtelborn, Maria Martinez-Viciana, Arianna Mangraviti, Avery Bazemore, and Atsuko Matsumoto for all their teaching and support, and everyone else at LPL who gave me such a warm welcome and helped in making such an amazing opportunity possible.

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!

What the History student should know about archive collection care

By Georgia Wood, History Masters student, Queen Mary University of London

As someone currently undertaking a History MA at Queen Mary University of London, I feel somewhat qualified to speak on how a history student thinks about archives. I perceive archives as treasure troves of knowledge awaiting discovery and analysis, but never considered how the pieces I request get into my hands.

Teaching about the archive mostly surrounds what considerations the history student and future historian need to make when considering the materials we can access. However, one problem that is brushed over during our course is the physical condition of documents that have often been carelessly discarded and then exhumed by archivists.

My workshop at Lambeth Palace Library was dominated by being taught how to clean and conserve manuscripts. An incredibly delicate process, cleaning manuscripts is necessary to ensure that not only the text is visible and legible, but also ensure the cleanliness and safety of the archive and its users. I had never considered the need to quarantine and observe a collection for possible infestations or active mould. Upon seeing Lambeth’s quarantine room where newly acquired items are held in wait before they can be examined by the archivists, I began to reconsider the role of the archive and how historians understand historical documents.

Rectangular piece of parchment with middle section a dark brown from ingrained dirt.
Court of Arches [Bbb/818] at start of surface cleaning

I was assigned to cleaning documents from the Court of Arches, Bbb series, created in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. I saw how a document can be given new life under the care of conservators. From being almost unintelligible due to the sheer amount of dust and grime on the items, the collection care team was able to get the documents to a condition they could be used by researchers in the reading room.

Three people sitting around a work bench cleaning archive items.
Georgia (middle), History MA student at Queen Mary University of London, cleaning Court of Arches collection items along with Lambeth Palace staff.

The tools a conservator uses is an area I felt I had some understanding of. As a history student a lot of my recommended online media is related to the subject and therefore I have watched quite a few painting restoration videos from large institutions. I assumed that any historical item being restored/conserved had specialist equipment developed to help ensure the best outcome. However, this is not the case. One of the primary tools I used to clean the documents, a smoke sponge, was initially developed to help remove fire soot from walls. The historian is acutely aware of the lack of investment in the humanities, but I had never considered how this would impact the archive. Material held in the archive is the centre piece of historical research and therefore the preservation of historical materials should be a topic in which the historian takes a keen interest.

Rectangular piece of parchment with middle section a dark brown from ingrained dirt.
Court of Arches [Bbb/818] after surface cleaning

Before my experience in the Collection Care studio at Lambeth Palace Library, I had never thought of documents of historical interest being outside the temperature controlled walls of accredited institutions. Perhaps this is because I am a modern political history student, or because I had rarely considered the life of the items I was analysing outside of their initial production, but whatever the case I had never thought documents could become so dirty. My day spent at Lambeth was incredibly enlightening. The next time I go to the archive I will definitely consider how the documents I have requested may have looked before they were left in the care of the archive and made accessible to researchers.