Conservation science

Conservator with an electric microscope looking at a display screen.

Our scientists use their specialisms in conservation science and imaging science to provide testing, analysis and interpretation services within conservation and across the library, focussing on materials, collection items and the environment.

Our scientists support the work of conservation 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.

Analytical imaging

A range of imaging techniques are used 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 faded inks and erased or covered writing to enhance and clarify what can be partially observed with the eye.

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.

Read our position paper and strategic direction 2017-20 (PDF format) for more details on our conservation methods and activities.


Blog posts

Important information for email subscribers

Friday, August 13, 2021

Unfortunately, the third-party platform that the British Library uses for email notifications for our blogs is making changes to its infrastructure. This means that from mid-August 2021 it will no longer send notifications by email to subscribers. To find out...

Conservation of Thurloe’s State Papers

Monday, July 19, 2021

You may have seen a recent conversation sparked by one of our ‘Before and After’ conservation posts on the Library’s main social media channels. This may have got you wondering how conservators decide on the best treatment methods for collection...

Iron gall ink on paper: Saving the words that eat themselves

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Paul Garside & Zoë Miller Iron gall ink (IGI) will be familiar to most of us as the characteristic brown ink that we associate with the authenticity and softly aged aesthetic of historic documents. It is the most important writing...

Conservation for Digitisation: A collaboration with the Palestinian Museum

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Amy Baldwin, Book Conservator & Jessica Pollard, Digitisation Conservator In April and May 2019 we had the pleasure of welcoming two members of staff from the Palestinian Museum, Baha Jubeh, Conservation Manager and Bara Bawatneh, Conservator, to the British Library...

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