Conservation treatment

A conservator working on an illuminated manuscript.

The conservation and treatment of collection items is the key that unlocks access to the items themselves or to a representation of them or their content.

We treat and conserve items at different levels, in different ways and for different reasons. We do this onsite in St Pancras and at Boston Spa and externally through procured contracts.

Our teams of conservators specialise in a variety of book- and paper-based disciplines as well as parchment and vellum, photographs and textiles. We undertake a wide range of treatments as required, keeping intervention to a minimum. As part of this process, we also carry out research into formats, structures, sewing and binding styles, as well as the use and deterioration patterns of substrates and media.

Exhibition items

Preparation of items for exhibition and loan is another key role of the Conservation department. We are responsible for treating and documenting an object before it is displayed. If an item item is going to be loaned to another public institution, there are additional risks to be considered and managed and we make recommendations for the safe transport, handling and display of objects, as well as the re-housing of items on their return to the collections.

Conservation for digitisation

With more and more of the Library’s content being opened up by digitisation, we have developed a dedicated team specialising in conservation for digitisation.

When dealing with items for digitisition, our team will:

  • make initial condition assessments of items to be digitised
  • recommend any treatments to stabilise or repair items
  • advise on handling and transport, camera equipment, lighting and book cradles.

Our conservators work with imaging specialists, curators, project managers and procurement managers to ensure successful and safe digitisation of our collections within an agreed schedule.

Read our position paper and strategic direction 2017-20 (PDF format)

 for more details on our conservation methods and activities.

Blog posts

Conservation and Storage of the Panorama of Lahore

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

‘Panoramic Depiction of the Fort and Old City Walls of Lahore’ is a rare scroll painting of the city walls by an unknown artist and dated broadly between the late 18th and early 19th century. The panorama of the city...

From Tackling Digitisation to Preserving Historic Photos - Autumn One Day Courses at British Library

Friday, September 6, 2019

By West Dean College of Arts and Conservation British Library and West Dean College of Arts and Conservation collaborate to deliver Continued Professional Development for those involved with, or with responsibility for care of libraries, archives and collections, and for...

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 The Felbrigge Psalter’s decorative 14c covers (pictured below) are the oldest known examples of English embroidery on a book and a prime example of the type of binding...

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...

More blog posts