Conservation Internship at Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh

In this week’s blog, we hear from Katharine Richardson, Conservation Intern at the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh…

I am currently mid-way into a 10-week internship with the Centre for Research Collections (CRC) at the Edinburgh University Library. Having spent the last four years working in historic houses, I was keen to gain experience in a different working environment. I’m thrilled to have been given this opportunity to work with the research collections at Edinburgh University. It has been very interesting to learn about the challenges of managing a working research collection and the conservation issues that come with it.

I have been working with Project Conservator, Emily Hick, to conserve and re-house an important collection of Greek books once owned by John Stuart Blackie, Professor of Greek at Edinburgh University from 1852 to 1882. The project is funded by the A.G. Leventis Foundation. The collection was largely in poor condition; most of the books were very dirty and had suffered some degree physical damage from years of use and exposure. In this state, many of the books were unable to be used by researchers without suffering further damage. The aim of the project was to stabilise and protect the collection, and thus making it accessible to researchers.

Book, before treatment. Extensive surface dirt.

Book, before treatment. Extensive surface dirt.

My role in the project was firstly to prepare the collection for remedial conservation by documenting the condition of each book before treatment on a database, and then to surface clean them using a museum vacuum with a soft brush attachment and chemical sponge. Once this had been done Emily set to work on the remedial conservation treatments, which has included consolidation of red rot, and re-attaching loose boards and spines.

Detail of spine, before treatment. Spine is detached and partially lost.

Detail of spine, before treatment. Spine is detached and partially lost.

Detail of spine, after treatment. Spine has been reattached using a hollow, and an outer repair carried out using toned Japanese paper and wheat starch paste.

Detail of spine, after treatment. Spine has been reattached using a hollow, and an outer repair carried out using toned Japanese paper and wheat starch paste.

After Emily had finished with the remedial conservation I started re-housing the collection. Each book has received its own made-to-measure enclosure that will protect them from physical damage, and will act as a barrier against dust and the environment while they are in storage.

Books on shelf, after treatment. Rehoused in bespoke enclosures.

Books on shelf, after treatment. Rehoused in bespoke enclosures.

Book in bespoke enclosure.

Book in bespoke enclosure.

Working on this project has been a brilliant opportunity for me to gain an insight into how a conservation project is planned for and managed. At the start of the Internship I met with the CRC’s Development Officer, Leisa Thomas, to talk about how funding for the Blackie project was identified, and the application process. Emily has also been able to give me good advice on how to manage budgets and time during conservation projects.

As I specialized in preventive conservation, it has been fascinating learn more about paper conservation, and to observe Emily and the other conservators at work. I have even been able to have a go at carrying out some basic remedial treatments on de-accessioned materials during a Conservation Taster Day led by Emily and Conservation Officer, Emma Davey.

Conservation Taster Day

Conservation Taster Day

The internship has also provided the opportunity to meet with other Conservators within and out with the University. Last week I met with Jonathan Santa Maria Bouquet, Conservator of Musical Instruments at the CRC, who gave me a tour of his studio and talked about the projects he was working on. I was really interested to learn about the wide variety of instruments in his care and the different treatments and materials he uses for their conservation.

Musical Instrument Conservation Studio

Musical Instrument Conservation Studio

In addition to the project work I have been able to get involved in other aspects of conservation work at the University. So far I have assisted Ruth Honeybone (Manager of Lothian Health Services Archive) in preparing an object for an international loan; taken part in emergency planning and salvage training; and participated in public engagement events, such as Open Studio Days.

One of my main reasons for applying for the internship was to gain experience in a different working environment. I have been able to learn about how the CRC operates and how different departments, such as digital imaging and user services, work with the Conservation department by speaking to staff members based there. I’m very grateful to all the staff at CRC who have taken time to talk to me about their work, and I am especially grateful to Emily, who as an emerging conservator herself, has been able to give lots of great advice on career development.

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