Science and research
Our scientists use their specialisms in conservation science and imaging science to provide testing, analysis and interpretation services within Collection Care and across the Library, focussing on materials, collection items and the environment. They also get involved in external collaborative projects seeking new methods and techniques to best care for our collections.
We support the work of the conservation staff by testing materials (both old and new) used to conserve, protect and exhibit collection items to ensure that they are fully compatible with these items and have long term stability. These assessments are carried out by techniques such as Oddy testing, spectroscopy, spectrophotometry, mechanical testing and artificial ageing.
We also test materials and techniques used to handle and protect the collections in large construction projects at the Library, such as the new Newspaper Storage Building at Boston Spa.
We use a range of imaging techniques to contribute to scholarship and to enhance the interpretation of the Library’s collections. Multispectral imaging, digital microscopy and post-processing imaging techniques such as colour space analysis and principal component analysis have uncovered information previously undetected. We routinely image watermarks, faded inks and erased or covered writing to enhance and clarify what can be partially observed with the eye and are currently using microscopy to assess the visual condition of pigments on some of our most important parchment manuscripts.
Scientific analysis and research
We employ techniques such as infrared spectroscopy, Raman spectroscopy, reflectance spectroscopy and X-ray fluorescence to investigate the composition and construction of collection items, including such components as substrates, inks, pigments and adhesives. This not only aids the conservation of such objects, but also helps to inform scholarship by revealing important information about the history, provenance and use of the collection.
We also carry out research into the underlying properties and behaviour of the types of materials found in many of the collection items (such as paper, parchment and iron gall ink). This assists us in understanding and monitoring the physical and chemical changes which occur in objects over time.
Environmental assessments and interpretation
We work in collaboration with the Estates Department and the Environmental Monitoring Officer to maintain a suitable environment within the Library. We investigate the way in which different types of object respond to changes in parameters such as temperature and humidity, and as a result we are able to offer advice on environmental conditions that will best preserve the varied aspects of the collection over the long term, while taking into account the need to limit energy usage.
We have several ongoing research collaborations with other institutions, including the ‘Heritage Smells’ project (with the University of Strathclyde, University College London and the British Museum) which is looking at the way in which objects release small quantities of volatile gases as they age and the ways in which this might be used to monitor deterioration and change.
It is important for the results of our work and research to be accessed and used as widely as possible. Therefore we disseminate our findings through the cultural heritage sector, and more widely, via publications, conference presentations, training and meetings. We also host students and interns to allow them to learn new skills and techniques.