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 of Maps in the digitisation project: Qatar Foundation Partnership – Part 2

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Following part 1 of the Conservation of Maps in the digitisation project: Qatar Foundation Partnership, this second blog post will present the treatments of two maps belonging to the IOR collection of the British Library: IOR/X/10065 and IOR/X/10066. Similar to...

Whales, horses and zebras—oh my! Conservation work for the Animals: Art, Science and Sound exhibition

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

In preparation for the Animals: Art, Science and Sound exhibition, Conservation assessed the suitability for display of over 150 BL collection items, of which just over 120 items actually made it into the exhibition. Seventy of these items came into...

Preserving Bach’s manuscripts

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Two Johann Sebastian Bach manuscripts in the British Library’s music collections - the autograph manuscript of the second book of the Well-Tempered Clavier (BWV 870-893) and of the cantata ‘Wo soll ich fliehen hin?’ (BW 5), recently came into the...

Conservation of Maps in the digitisation project: Qatar Foundation Partnership – Part 1

Friday, December 16, 2022

The British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership (BLQFP) is a digitisation project that began in 2012 to create the Qatar Digital Library (QDL). For over ten years this free bilingual online portal has been fed from the British Library´s collections related...

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