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
About the Tropical Nursery
The main functions of the Nursery are to:
- Form a back-up collection of tender tropical plants used to support science, display and education within the gardens. We supply plants for use in displays in the Main Kew conservatries, for festivals and events organised by the Foundation and the Directorate.
- Supply plants for education purposes to the Schools & Families department.
- Act as main propagation facility for the Princess of Wales Conservatory, Palm House and Temperate House as well as supporting the exchange of plants between Kew and other institutions and collections.
- Provide direct education in nursery techniques and the cultivation of tropical plants for the Kew Diploma course, Apprentice and Trainee programme, Internship and work experience programmes and visiting staff from other UK and overseas institutions.
- Support conservation by working with the UKOTs team undertaking propagation and cultivation protocols on targeted endangered species.
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