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

Lotus Sutra Project: Storage Solutions

Monday, December 7, 2020

Paulina Kralka and Marya Muzart The Lotu...

Lotus Sutra Project: Scroll with Blue Cover

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Marya Muzart, Digitisation Conservator, International Dunhuang Project Picture 1: Close up of digitised scroll after treatment. The Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation Project at The British Library, is a multi-year project aiming to conserve and digitise almost 800 copies of the...

On light: conserving material for our exhibition Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Alexa McNaught-Reynolds, Conservation Exhibition and Loan Manager Two of the items selected for display in our exhibition: Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights appear to be in good condition but have vulnerabilities that may not be immediately obvious. In...

Learning to Communicate: Before and After Lockdown

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Samantha Cawson, Digitisation Conservator The conservation profession takes skills sharing seriously and so the need to open up channels of communication is essential. This is especially true of The British Library’s Centre for Conservation (BLCC), which has collaborated with institutions...

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