Conservation and treatment
The conservation and treatment of collection items is the key that unlocks access - to the items themselves or to a representation of them or their content. We treat and conserve items at different levels, in different ways and for different reasons. We do this here in the purpose-built Centre for Conservation (for items that need the specialist skills of our conservators and which cannot go offsite) and externally, through procured contracts.
We hold events and tours which everyone is welcome to attend.
Centre for Conservation
Estimates and assessments
We assess all prioritised items for treatment at the start of each year and provide a detailed estimate of the proposed treatment and how long it will take to complete. This enables us to maximise the resources and specialisms that we have in-house and plan an effective programme of work over a 12-month period. We also undertake internal consultations to develop long-term strategies for collections.
In-depth conservation treatments and research
Our teams of conservators specialise in a variety of book- and paper-based disciplines as well as parchment and vellum, photographs and modern materials. We undertake a wide range of treatments as required, keeping intervention to a minimum where possible. As part of this process, we also carry out research into formats, structures, sewing and binding styles, as well as the use and deterioration patterns of substrates and media.
Alongside scheduled work to treat items that have been prioritised into the studios, we also undertake a programme of running repairs. This allows for the quick stabilisation of items identified during the day by anybody using or handling them (staff or Readers) as needing some urgent attention. This enables such items to be returned swiftly to circulation and allows us to build up a picture of where more significant intervention may be required.
Support for exhibitions and loans
Preparation of items for exhibition and loan is another key role of the Conservation department. We are responsible for treating and documenting an object before it is displayed. If an item item is going to be loaned to another public institution, there are additional risks to be considered and managed and we make recommendations for the safe transport, handling and display of objects, as well as the re-housing of items on their return to the collections.
Care of the Library’s treasures
We provide care and conservation for the Library’s iconic treasures found in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery, such as Magna Carta and the St Cuthbert Gospel. The Sir John Ritblat Gallery hosts a permanent free exhibition of over 200 of the Library’s most beautiful items, and we work with curators and exhibition staff to organise, conserve and rotate items on display.
Public and professional engagement
We organise programmes and events each year, to engage with our users, visitors and fellow professionals. These include public and professional tours of the Centre for Conservation; seminars and conferences; and Family Archive Day, where members of the public can bring along their own treasures. We give free advice on the best way to look after them.
We offer both funded, year-long internship, and shorter student placements. The paid internships are for recent graduates of conservation courses with some practical experience, and the placements are for current conservation students. All interns and placement students are supervised by a conservator who acts as their teacher and mentor. We work closely with our interns and students to help them develop as professionals, sharing our knowledge, expertise and experience.
Our external contracts
We strive to make accessible as many of our collections as possible, so while our specialists are working in-house we outsource a complimentary range of treatments to external suppliers. These contracts are issued and re-issued through standard European procurement protocols and cover a wide range of treatments, including bespoke boxing, binding, conservation and preservation copying.