Collection Care blog

Behind the scenes with our conservators and scientists

Introduction

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

31 March 2020

The mannequin must be unpacked!

Before the Library was closed, three bust forms and one full sized female mannequin arrived at the British Library Centre for Conservation (BLCC). These are the supports for four costumes which were to feature in the Library’s forthcoming exhibition Women’s Rights: Unfinished Business: https://www.bl.uk/events/unfinished-business

Three bust forms on display on desks in the British Library Centre for Conservation.

When the boxes arrived at the BLCC it was not possible to tell how the mannequins had been packed into the boxes. Unable to foresee how long the Library may be shut, it was essential that they were unpacked: it would be problematic if the forms stood on their heads for a long period.

They were unpacked and are now sitting on a table in the BLCC and safely off-gassing in the dark!

Mannequin pieces on display on a table in the British Library Centre for Conservation

Liz Rose, Textile Conservator

19 February 2020

From Integrated Pest Management to Preserving Historic Photos - Spring and Summer 2020 One Day Courses at British Library

By West Dean College of Arts and Conservation

A person with shoulder-length, light brown hair looks through a microscope at a photograph.

The British Library and West Dean College of Arts and Conservation collaborate to deliver Continued Professional Development for those involved with care of libraries, archives and collections, and for conservation students.

Spring and Summer 2020 courses include:

Preservation Assessment Survey Workshop – 3 March 2020

As librarians, archivists or conservators we often know, either instinctively or anecdotally, about the state of our collections. This knowledge is not always easy to quantify or translate into information we can use to influence funders. To ensure access to the resources we need to ensure the long term preservation of our heritage collections we need to be able to present statistically robust information. A sample survey whether of condition and preservation, dirt levels or readiness for digitisation will provide a snapshot of the current situation. This data can be analysed, extrapolated and compared against appropriate standards to provide short, medium- and long-term activities.  A good survey will provide both quick wins and longer-term strategic information for its institution and is an effective tool for accessing funding.

Disaster response and salvage training – 26 March 2020

With reference to case studies, you will learn strategies for dealing with damage through an emergency decision-making exercise and a major incident desktop scenario.

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • identify the key issues that a disaster plan needs to address
  • give examples of the decisions to be made when responding to an incident
  • source salvage equipment to build a disaster kit

Damaged books and bound archives: practical first steps – 2 April 2020

Gain the knowledge to confidently care for the books in your collection though learning:

  • Identification of different types of damage and recognition of the causes.
  • Simple steps for minimising damage.
  • Understanding appropriate treatment options and decision-making for remedial treatment.
  • Understanding use of protective enclosures, including a protective exercise in tying tape and making melinex™ wrappers.
  • Working with conservators and volunteers.

Preserving Historic Photographs – 14 May 2020

Photographs are found in museums, libraries and archives all over the world and their care can present special challenges. This course is aimed at those responsible for their care. You will learn how to identify the common photographic processes, recognise potential conservation problems and solutions and prioritise care accordingly. The environmental, storage and wider preservation requirements of photographs will be covered, including how these might relate to digitisation projects. Examples of the common processes will be shown and discussed as part of the course. Samples of storage materials and enclosures will be given to participants. Handouts will be included. The course is led by Susie Clark ACR ICON, an accredited and experienced photographic conservator. Susie has given many courses in a variety of regional and national institutions in many countries and is used to providing practical help and advice.

Preventing pests by integrated pest management (IPM) – 9 June 2020

This one-day workshop provides an introduction to preventing pests through use of integrated pest management. The course is aimed at anyone with any involvement with, or responsibility for care of libraries, archives and collections. Technical handouts will be given to support the course. You will learn about the main insect pests which attack collections, what they need to live, how to identify them, the damage they cause, ways to prevent them becoming established, understanding pest environments, selecting the most appropriate treatments to control pests and how to make plans to establish an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programme.

Environment: Effective monitoring and management – 18 June 2020

Avoiding a 'one size fits all' approach to environmental parameters, the day helps you to understand the vulnerabilities and tolerances of your collections and then shows how to set realistic and achievable targets that are appropriate to the materials in your care and the resources available to you.

The focus of the day will be on relative humidity and temperature ensuring you understand how they behave and can make informed choices about targets that you set.  At the end of the day you will be in a strong position to take cost-effective decisions and prioritise actions for maintaining a sustainable environment.

Dust and dirt: Strategies for prevention and management – 29 June 2020

This one day course includes practical sessions on how to clean books and discusses cleaning of stack areas. It also provides steps to follow when setting up a housekeeping programme and highlights what to think about if you are considering involving volunteers.

You will learn:

  • What is dust and why does it matter?
  • How to monitoring and measure dust, including a case study in progress at the British Library.
  • Practical measures to prevent dust and dirt.
  • How to clean books and documents, shelves and stacks.
  • Setting up a housekeeping programme and working with volunteers.

Preserving Historic Photographs – 24 September 2020

Photographs are found in museums, libraries and archives all over the world and their care can present special challenges. This course is aimed at those responsible for their care. You will learn how to identify the common photographic processes, recognise potential conservation problems and solutions and prioritise care accordingly. The environmental, storage and wider preservation requirements of photographs will be covered, including how these might relate to digitisation projects. Examples of the common processes will be shown and discussed as part of the course. Samples of storage materials and enclosures will be given to participants. Handouts will be included. The course is led by Susie Clark ACR ICON, an accredited and experienced photographic conservator. Susie has given many courses in a variety of regional and national institutions in many countries and is used to providing practical help and advice.

Courses are £147 each and take place at British Library.

Book online

Enquiries +44 (0)1243 818300

08 October 2019

Conservation and Storage of the Panorama of Lahore

Panoramic Depiction of the Fort and Old City Walls of Lahore’ is a rare scroll painting of the city walls by an unknown artist and dated broadly between the late 18th and early 19th century. The panorama of the city of Lahore arrived into the conservation studio tightly packed into a small custom made box measuring 71 mm x 193 mm x 71 mm.

Scroll housed in the original box

Picture 1. The scroll in its original box.

The box and the item looked unexciting until taken out of the box and opened up. But even then the tight storage made it difficult to appreciate fully the exquisite detail of the painting without damaging the scroll and risking the loss of pigments. The panorama could only be seen in small sections. The scroll did not lie flat, had a cracked surface and a tendency to curl with pigmented areas detaching, particularly in areas where panels of the scroll were joined or cracked.

Damaged area before conservation Scroll panel with joint damage
Pictures 2 and 3: showing a damaged area of the scroll along panel joints before and after conservation.

Once the conservation was carried out to consolidate the pigments and the paper support, and to relax and flatten the tightly rolled scroll, it became obvious that the old box was no longer fit for purpose. In consultation with the lead curator, Nur Sobers-Khan, it was agreed that a Perspex mount (holder) with moving rollers needed to be designed, to enable viewing of larger sections of the scroll without handling the object.

The scroll is often requested by readers, researchers, scholars and historians, interested in studying the painting for its historical, artistic and cultural aspects. The whole panorama of the city measures 2.5 metres, therefore, a larger opening of 55 cm in length of the scroll was considered adequate for viewing and studying it at one time. The construction of the Perspex mount with moving parts and the diameter of the rollers were agreed with the maker, Jonathan Hoskins, who has constructed a similar mount previously for a scroll shown below. He also regularly designs and makes mounts for 3D object for our exhibitions..

The scroll showing Bhagavata Purana

Picture 4, showing ‘Bhagavata Purana’ - Hindu religious text, Sanskrit on silk paper (18th century).

The scroll above, although a lot longer than the panorama, is narrow and attached to thinner rollers while the Panorama of Lahore can be taken off the rollers and displayed in its full length, if needed. Due to the previous damage to the painting which restricted its viewing, the rollers were designed to be larger in diameter. This ensured that the panorama is no longer rolled as tightly as before and that the panel joints lie flat when viewed.

Conservation staff testing the mount

Picture 5, showing a colleague viewing the scroll and testing the mount.

The painting of the walled city of Lahore was much appreciated while in the studio by the public visiting the conservation studio. When viewed from a distance, its beautiful turquoise surroundings often mistaken for the sea until an entourage of people and elephants was spotted when further unrolling the scroll!

The scroll in the new roller open on an image of an entourage of people and elephants

Picture 6: Entourage of people and elephants.

The painting of the city of Lahore can be viewed and appreciated for its artistic value, but it also is a capsule in time showing the city with its walls intact during the Sikh rule. The walls were later pulled down and the course of the river Ravi altered. The river no longer sweeps by the city walls, as shown in the painting.

Part of the scroll showing the River Ravi flowing by the city walls

Picture 7, showing the river Ravi flowing by the city walls.

Annotations marking the location of Maharaja Ranjit Singhs cremation

Picture 8: Annotations marking the location of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s cremation spot.

The present conservation of the Lahore scroll and the new mount for the scroll would enable easier and safer access to the scroll in the future, which in turn would add to the research and knowledge of South Asian history and culture, and perhaps …. solve the dating conundrum!

Iwona Jurkiewicz-Gotch

I would like to thank everybody involved in this project, in particular – curators - Nur Sobers-Khan, Manzo Pasquale and Saqib Baburi for information about the items discussed in this blog as well as Jonathan Hoskins for making the mount and Rick Brown for helping me construct the box and gold-tooling it.