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

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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