On 12 November 2015, a group of hardy Conservators braved the rain and wind of storm Abigail to travel from Edinburgh and Glasgow to visit the Glucksman Conservation Centre at the Sir Duncan Rice Library, University of Aberdeen.
Rather than being a renovated building, the Glucksman Conservation Centre, which opened in 2012, is a part of the newly built library. Conservators had an input into how the centre was designed, and what equipment was needed, so I was keen to see what this space would look like.
At the start of the tour, we were met by the conservation team; Erica Kotze (Senior Conservator); Louisa Coles (Paper Conservator); Brannah Mackenzie (Book Conservator); and Laura Benvie (Collections Care Assistant), and taken to the lower ground floor of the library where the studios are based.
The space is vast, approximately 250 square metres, and consists of 6 main areas.
The Documentation and Examination Room
All items undergoing conservation are documented both photographically and in written format here before and after treatment. The documentation and examination room provides space for detailed examination and photography of items to be carried out under controlled conditions. The group was particularly impressed by the magnetic wall in the documentation room which enables flat objects to be photographed vertically.
The Main Studio
The Book Conservation Studio
The book conservation studio contains book specific equipment such as sewing frames, a laying press and a nipping press. It is also where any ‘dirty’ jobs can be carried out, such as toning leathers or papers, and paring leather.
The Storage Room
An enviable large area for the storage of conservation materials!
The Decontamination Room
All material that comes into the collection is assessed before entering the store areas. If mould or any evidence of pest infestation is found, then material can be held for treatment in the decontamination room. The decontamination room contains equipment such as a biological safety cabinet and a Bassaire unit (a dust box with suction) to allow for safe cleaning of affected material.
The Freezer Room
The freezer room contains a large freezer that can quickly reach temperatures of -40°C. Items suffering from pest infestation can be frozen in order to kill any pests. In the event of a flood or a fire, the freezer can also be used to freeze material that has been damaged by water.
Following a tour of these areas, and a lovely lunch taken on the 7th floor of the Library with views over Aberdeen towards the sea, we given an introduction to the reading room and provided with a more in depth look at some of the work the Conservators had been carrying out.
First, Laura described her preservation role within the team and discussed recent surface cleaning and rehousing work carried out including spot welding polyester sheets, making book covers and rehousing parchment charters with wax seals.
Brannah then showed us a book she repaired using remoistenable tissue, and demonstrated a reservoir technique of dampening blotter for use in carrying out very dry repairs. The group were also very impressed with Brannah’s designs for non-adhesive book cradles and boxes. These had been designed following the concerns that EVA (pH neutral adhesive frequently used by Conservators) releases large quantities of acetic acid as it ages. A further benefit of these book cradles is that they can come apart after use and be stored flat.
Louisa showed us papyri fragments that she had rehoused. These had been previously stored between glass sheets. However, this is not ideal as it can compress the fragments, and also salts had leeched from the glass causing a whitish discolouration on the surface. These items were surface cleaned, repaired and rehoused in a double-sided sheet of polyester, and secured in place using a spot welder, and stored with a card folder. Static had been removed from the polyester using an impressive looking Zero-Stat gun, the technique of which was demonstrated by Louisa, much to the delight of the group.
Erica then discussed work flow processes and how they choose items for conservation. She finished up by discussing the leafcasting process she has used to repair some fragments of manuscripts.
Overall, the group were very impressed with the stunning space, and the fantastic collections the team get to work with. It was inspiring day, and a great opportunity to network, share ideas and see how another institution works.