Read about our Library Graduate Trainee and her behind-the-scenes work in the Preservation Studio.
As part of my role as the Library Graduate Trainee here at Kew, I am lucky enough to get a taste of the different jobs in the Library, Art and Archives section. I recently spent a week in the preservation studio learning about the role of Jonathan Farley, the Senior Conservator, and helping him to conserve a pamphlet from the library’s collection, dating back to 1849. The pamphlet was entitled: Buildings and monuments, modern and medieval: being illustrations of the edifices of the nineteenth century..., and includes plans and illustrations relating to Kew. Full details about the pamphlet can be found in the library catalogue.
Paper and patience
My week started off with Jonathan giving me a brief history of the development of paper and books. It was fascinating to hear how the processes and materials used for making paper did not change for thousands of years and how it was only when literacy levels increased in the 18th and 19th centuries that new paper making processes and materials were developed to meet the increasing demand.
Over the week I learned that a conservator has to have patience and also the ability to judge how much conservation a book should receive, as it is not possible to give every item the same amount of resources. A book of great importance to the collection because of its subject matter, author or age will receive more attention due to its significance and consequent interest to library readers.
Conserving the pamphlet
We started the conservation process by thoroughly cleaning the pamphlet's pages. I learned that there are two types of dirt, surface and ingrained, and that you start with the lightest cleaning methods and work towards the more aggressive ones, so avoiding any unnecessary work. At each stage of cleaning the item is assessed to see whether anything further is needed or can be done to improve its condition.
Image (left): the front cover of the pamphlet that Debora helped to conserve after it had been cleaned
Image (right): the pamphlet cover after the two types of Japanese paper had been pasted on to prevent further disintegration
After cleaning the pamphlet we pasted pieces of Japanese tissue paper on both sides of the front and back covers because they were quite fragile and were disintegrating. We then filled in any gaps where the paper had been lost.
After each stage the pamphlet was weighted down between blotting paper in order to allow it to fully dry out before we moved on to the next stage. Once the covers had been repaired we attached paper guards to each page and these were then glued together to form the different sections of the pamphlet. These sections were then sewn together and the outside cover glued on.
Once the pamphlet had dried the edges were trimmed.
The pamphlet Debora helped conserve as it looks now.
I really enjoyed my week in the preservation studio. The pamphlet I helped restore is now back in the library’s collection and is available for readers to use.
The conservators do an amazing job and I hope in my future career to be lucky enough to work in libraries that have conservators to help preserve the collections.
- Learn more about the work of our conservators and find out when they will next be giving a talk at Kew
- Find out more about the Graduate Trainee programme in The Library and Archives
- Search Kew's Library Catalogue
- Browse the Library, Art & Archives web pages
Kew's Library, Art and Archives contains many millions of items within its collections. Find out about the diverse teams who look after these collections and make them accessible.
- Archives team
- Directors' Correspondence Digitisation team
- Exhibitions & Galleries team
- Library Information Services team
- Preservation team
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