Collection Care blog

Behind the scenes with our conservators and scientists


Discover how we care for the British Library’s Collections by following our expert team of conservators and scientists. We take you behind the scenes into the Centre for Conservation and the Scientific Research Lab to share some of the projects we are working on. Read more

05 November 2015

How do you decide what to conserve?

Add comment Comments (0)

Almost every visitor (nearly 700 last year) to the Centre for Conservation asks the same question: How do you decide what to conserve?

Estimate forms

Estimate forms ready for checking and approval

Given that the library holds around 150 million items, this is a pertinent question and one that we have to consider carefully. With limited resources we simply cannot treat everything and yet there is a great deal that needs some attention. 

That isn't to say that we don’t look after our collection. Our onsite storage in both St Pancras and Boston Spa (Yorkshire) is carefully monitored and managed to give the best conditions possible for long term preservation. Handling training for staff and readers is a key priority for our Preventive Conservation Team.

Examining collection items

Chris and Frances examine collection items

Rather, an historic collection that has had past use, is currently used and is ageing will show signs of deterioration. Inherent vice or component materials that self-destruct, sometimes rapidly - such as machine made paper containing lignin and impurities - also strongly influences how a collection fares over time.

A system for prioritising which items receive conservation treatment is used to create an annual programme of work. We call this the ‘bidding system’ and in October each year the subject specialist curators are invited to put forward suggestions for projects or ‘bids’ needing conservation. Information about the items is entered into a database and some priority questions are answered during this process.

These questions include:

  • Is the item unique?
  • Does a surrogate exist?
  • What is the level of demand for this item?

The questions are weighted – and carry a numbered score which is automatically calculated by the database. Hence each ‘bid’ has a priority score allocated to it. By analysing the scores it is possible to determine the highest priority items from the clutch of suggested bids based on the current agreed criteria.

Discussing treatment

Francesca and Roger discuss treatment

Items with higher scores are examined by the conservators to create a treatment proposal and an estimate of the number of hours needed to complete the work. The number of available treatment hours for bids, or our capacity for the year, is calculated concurrently.  A work programme is created that matches the number of hours available and hours needed for treatment.

An obvious flaw in the system is that it depends on the curators knowing their collection and putting forward items that are pertinent. Fortunately curators take this system seriously. They are very supportive of the conservation process and throughout the year conservators work closely with the curators to discuss treatment requirements and also possible future bids.

The annual conservation work programme is given final approval by the Preservation Board – an internal governing body designed to oversee the process and confirm that resources are allocated appropriately and strategically. Ensuring both preservation of and access to the collection are some of the core purposes of the Library.


Cordelia Rogerson

Head of Conservation

23 October 2015

Magna Carta Conservation Team at the ICON Awards

Add comment Comments (0)

The British Library conservation team that worked on the Magna Carta project attended a glamorous awards ceremony at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers last night. The team were shortlisted for the Institute of Conservation (ICONAnna Plowden Trust Award for Research and Innovation, which went to Tate for their impressive Rothko Conservation Project. A huge congratulations to the Tate team and to the Imperial War Museum who were also in our category for their amazing space vacuums, air bazookas and duster drones project in the War Against Dust.

Magna Carta Conservation Team

Left to right: Cordelia Rogerson, Christina Duffy, Gavin Moorhead, Julian Harrison

The Magna Carta Project was a collaborative process of sophisticated research and innovation that enabled a pragmatic solution for rehousing and displaying an iconic document. Our biggest challenge was overcoming long held preconceptions and expectations that a high profile artefact required an expensive high-tech approach. You can read more about our work here.

ICON Awards 2015

It has been a great privilege to work with Magna Carta and the curatorial team in the build up to the British Library's most successful exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy.

Many thanks to all colleagues across the British Library and other institutions who helped progress the project into something we are all very proud of. Thanks to ICON and their sponsors Beko for organising a terrific night celebrating an incredible range of conservation work going on around the UK.

Congratulations to all the entrants, shortlistees and winners!

Christina Duffy

21 October 2015

Parchment Internship at the British Library

Add comment Comments (0)

Intern, Parchment Research & Conservation, British Library
British Library job reference 00476
11 month Internship, 36 hours a week (full time), London

The British Library is pleased to offer a funded Internship, concentrating on parchment research and conservation. The internship is funded by the Clothworkers Foundation. The internship will run between November 2015 and October 2016. This opportunity is available to conservators who have graduated in the last 2 years, have limited work experience in conservation, and who wish to develop their research and practical, hands-on conservation skills. The successful candidates will have a book or paper conservation qualification(s) (an MA in conservation would be desirable).

The internship has a bursary of £19,000 with a £2,000 bursary for training and associated travel costs. The bursary will be paid on a monthly basis (subject to tax and NI). The internships are open to those who have the right to live and work in the UK.

Parchment under raking light

Parchment under raking light (Add MS 33597)

The intern will spend approximately half their time working on one or two parchment research projects, supervised by a Conservation Scientist. The projects will be agreed and defined with the aim of practical outcomes for parchment assessments or treatments. The remaining half of the internship will involve developing and implementing a range of treatment options for individual items or a small collection of items. This may include remedial treatment, collection surveys and environmental monitoring. Treatment reports will be written at the end of each treatment project. Projects will be based on material that has been scheduled into the 2015 –16 work programme.

The intern will be expected to use a project management framework and monitor their progress against their work plan. At the end of the internship, the intern will give a presentation of the work completed. Please note that the intern will be supervised by a British Library Scientist and a conservator throughout their internship and work will be monitored on a regular basis. British Library Conservation has some suggestions for parchment research projects and additional ideas are welcomed.

Parchment scroll

A parchment scroll (Add MS 32006)

Please apply online via the British Library website:

In addition to the application form online, you also need to provide two or three examples of treatment records from your portfolio for items you have worked on. This evidence only must be emailed separately to by the vacancy closing date. Include your name and the vacancy reference number in the email (00476).

Closing date 8 November 2015. Please note that applications received after this date will not be considered. Interviews will be held the week commencing 23 November and 30 November.

Dr Cordelia Rogerson
Head of Conservation