Monday, 5 August 2013

Class 11: British Library Conservation Center (23/07/2013) 

Outside the British Library
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After an amazing and very educational look at Scotland's library and archival systems, it was time to head back to jolly ol' England. Kicking off our last week (I can't believe how fast that went) was a trip to the British Library Conservation Studio.

Housed outside of the British Library, the studio was built specifically to be a conservation department. With skylights placed to filter in the northern light through the roof, an AC system built in and plenty of fire proof cabinets, this is a modern studio dedicated to restoring materials.

Example of book conservation
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Currently, there 150 million items held here, with some newer acquisitions housed in Yorkshire. Our guide today, Robert Brodie, gave us a glimpse in the life of a conservator and showed us how all these items are treated. Gathered around his work station, he showed us how every item that needs to be conserved has to get an estimated bid, how different committees have to accept/deny the bids and ultimately what happens to an item after the bid is approved. Mr. Brodie showed us examples of binding that needed restoring, re backing on a dictionary from 1649 and a variety of Japanese tissue paper that is used for its fibers to fix items. Conservation is a labor intensive process and just seeing a few examples, I can understand why.

Gold Foiling
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After seeing the work stations, our group was introduced to Frances and Chris. They took us to a different section where we got to see how books are embossed with gold finishes. We learned all about the differences between gold foils and gold leafs, the amount of years it takes to become proficient in this art and how much skill really is necessary to be able to do gold finishes. Looking at old volumes, I've often wondered how this lettering was done on the spine and on the covers, now I know. We saw the different types of lettering and fonts, the tools it takes to imprint the books, the blocking press which can be used and the different skins which are used on the covers of books. It was really neat to see just how much detail and work went into saving these old volumes and gave me a new outlook the next time I have the chance to hold or see one. Quite a learning experience!!

For more information on the British Library Conservation Center, check out 

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