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

A Book Conservator Without Any Books: Part 1

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

By Samantha Hare (Book Conservation Intern) As I write this it’s been 134 days and 6 hours since I last stepped foot in the British Library (not that I’m counting or anything). I began a year-long internship in book conservation...

Starting with A Book – A Conservator in the Lockdown

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The pandemic took the conservation department in the British Library by surprise along with everybody else! Conservators working on physical objects found themselves transported to digital working overnight. For some it was an easy transition, while others adjusted with a...

Paper Express! A Hand-Made Tale

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Heather Murphy Recently, within the conservation studio of the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership, watermarks have been a theme. Throughout the months leading up to lockdown, my colleague Camille and I began developing a project based around some interesting examples...

Rolls from the King’s Library: An Unexpected Arrival

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Rebecca D’Ambrosio What do you do when something unexpected happens? When out of the blue something quite big lands in your hands? This is something that we can all too easily relate to today. Back in March 2019 this is...

More blog posts