Conservation science

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

All sewn up: British Library colleagues work together to ensure the survival of 100 embroidered and textile bookbindings

Friday, May 10, 2019

Mary Horrell, Conservation Support Assistant, and Mark Oxtoby, Collection Care Workflow Coordinator Ever wondered how centuries old textiles have endured whilst today’s t-shirt only lasts a season? Library colleagues from different departments have been working together to develop new ways...

Consider the cover: conserving a Chinese book

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The British Library's next major exhibition, Writing: Making Your Mark, opens 26 April and runs until 27 August 2019. In preparation for the exhibition, conservator Rebecca D'Ambrosio has been working on the conservation of one of the items which will...

British Sign Language Tours at the British Library Centre for Conservation

Monday, February 25, 2019

The British Library Centre for Conservation offers a number British Sign Language (BSL) tours during the course of the year. The next tour is on Wednesday 13 March at 2.00pm. You can book your tickets from the box office +44...

Condition Surveying British Library on Demand

Monday, February 18, 2019

British Library on Demand (BLoD) is the document supply service from The British Library. Items are purchased specifically for the purpose, in addition to the legal deposit collection, to provide remote access to over 42 million items. Users include libraries,...

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