How does it feel to be an intern at the National Library of Scotland?

Thinking about conservation volunteering in Scotland? Find out what it’s like to volunteer at the National Library in Scotland in this article by Marie Renaudin, conservation student from Lyon, France… 

It was kind of hard to find a proper title to this article, I have to admit. How to strike people when you just want to tell everyone how fortunate you are to be an intern in book and paper conservation at the NLS? (Well no, they did not pay me to say that…). As the end is coming soon now, I was lucky to be asked to write a little something on the ICON blog about my impression. The story begins 5 years ago, on my first year of BA in conservation-restoration in Lyon (France), the time when I applied to do a three-month internship at the NLS. I wanted so much to be able to work with this place of great treasures one day that I decided to apply at the very beginning of my studies. As you can imagine, great place cannot stay secret for long, and unfortunately there was no space within 4 years. As my motivation was stronger than ever I have asked if I could be offered my candidature 4 years in advance – that is something we normally don’t do, and with a happy surprise they agreed!

Tear mending in the Ms.3.1.12, National Library of Scotland

Tear mending in the Ms.3.1.12, National Library of Scotland

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Read all about it! Conservation of Newspapers

This week’s blog comes from Claire Hutchison, Icon Intern at the National Library of Scotland…

Newspapers.

Let’s be honest, most of you reading this probably haven’t bought one in a while, or at all! With the internet and social media, who needs a hard copy? We are constantly bombarded with information – it makes sense that we would forget how information used to be received.

My project work as an Icon intern at the National Library of Scotland (NLS) has been looking to preserve that information. We have thousands of newspapers within our collection that are not in the best condition.  My work focuses on a handful of regional Scottish newspapers titles that at risk; their contents are in danger of being permanently lost. For this project, I have been looking into the conservation, preservation and rehousing of the titles. This also includes the environmental controls best suited for newsprint.

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The newspaper collection at the National Library of Scotland

As many of you know, newspapers tend to be daily and normally get thrown out the next day. As a result, the paper is not of the highest quality. Wood pulps are used; these contain lignin, a polymer within the cellulose structure that gives off carboxylic acids and deteriorates the paper. When a newspaper ages, it will become discoloured and brittle. The edges of the newspaper will start to break off into confetti-like pieces putting the text block around the edges at risk of being lost. Normally, the lignin is removed from pulp but as newsprint is short-lived in use they did not remove it. Various alkaline treatments exist to remove acids from paper; but the risks outweigh the benefits when treating large and fragile formats such as newsprint.

Below are some examples of the newspapers within the collection; these were bound by the NLS in volumes of various sizes. Some have been boxed as loose issues or kept in their original binding. The volumes can be very heavy and hard to handle at their size. The majority of the damage is structural; certain titles such as Edinburgh Evening News are regularly requested by readers and this traffic is partly to blame. The binding is also very heavy which takes its toll on the lightweight paper. Common issues faced include brittle edges, tears, creasing and losses. The bindings tend to be in a better condition and have protected the paper to some extent; however the addition of straps and buckles to the binding has caused significant damage to the edge of the paper. Some have been tied too tightly which has warped the boards and torn the paper behind the buckles.

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Example of the damage caused by the buckles along the brittle edges of the paper.

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 Another example of large and successive tears within the volume, likely caused by poor handling.

My work began with a condition assessment of roughly 2000 volumes. Whilst doing this, I researched different methods in the conservation of newsprint both structurally and chemically.  The time and cost efficiency of each method was compared before creating a 2 phase treatment plan for the newspapers.  Currently, a ‘less is more’ approach has been used to improve the structural integrity of the newsprint. Conservation has also been prioritised according to condition. Work has started on those in a ‘fair’ condition to improve accessibility.  These include simple repairs with a reversible adhesive and a dyed Japanese tissue paper.  Any straps or buckles have also been cut off whilst conservation work has progressed; it is a simple yet satisfying task that should improve their condition in the long term.

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Before and after treatment with 10% Methyl Cellulose and Japanese tissue. The repairs are strong, subtle and do not obstruct the legibility.

In the coming months, I will be continuing my research into the preventive side of the project and repairing poorer condition volumes.  I will also be implementing a new fragile formats policy to ensure that the newspapers are handled with care and issued with their overall condition in mind.

Conserving the Scottish Session Papers: A Pilot Project

In this week’s blog, we find out more about an interesting new project taking place at the University of Edinburgh to conserve a large collection of bound volumes….

The Centre for Research Collections (CRC) at the University of Edinburgh is currently undertaking an exciting 6-month pilot project to conserve the Scottish Session Papers in preparation for digitisation.

The collections are held across three institutions: the Advocate’s Library, the Signet Library and the CRC. The collections consist of around 6,500 volumes, comprising of multiple case papers in one volume. The case papers of the Scottish Court of Session are the most significant untapped printed source for the history, society and literature of Scotland from 1710 to 1850.  They cover an extraordinary period in the nation’s history from the immediate aftermath of the Union of 1707 through the Jacobite wars, the Enlightenment, the agricultural and industrial revolutions and the building of Walter Scott’s Edinburgh.

The aim of the project is to determine the most efficient and effective way to conserve the volumes before digitisation, as well as to calculate the time needed to do this, and the associated costs. Efficient workflows that focus on minimal intervention are key to ensure the collections are conserved quickly and are robust enough for digitisation. For this stage of the project, we have taken a selection of 300 volumes from all three institutions in four different condition categories:

  • Good – the volume has minimal surface dirt
  • Fair – the volume has moderate surface dirt, and/or detached labels
  • Poor – the volume has moderate or extensive surface dirt, and/or detached boards
  • Unusable – sewing has broken and the text block is split in multiple places
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Example of an ‘unusable’ book. Text block has broken in half

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A Sticky Situation!

Conservators at the National Library of Scotland face a sticky situation in this week’s blog post. This article was originally published in the NLS blog

A conservator’s job often involves removing non archival tapes from objects which have been used as a repair; however the letter of C. F. Gordon Cumming to John Murray, dated 1885 which is part of the John Murray Archive, proved to be particularly challenging for the JMA conservator. Approximately 40% of the letters surface was covered in tape on both sides of the letter. The paper which the letter is written on is very brittle causing fragmentation to occur; subsequently the tape has been used as a repair. When pressure sensitive tape, like sellotape, degrades the adhesive migrates out of the tape and into the substrate causing significant discolouration and deterioration of the paper. Self-adhesive tapes can be particularly difficult to remove especially on a brittle paper.

An additional consideration for the conservator was the iron gall ink used by the author. Deterioration can occur if the ink is exposed to moisture which would cause blurring of the text. This had to be taken into consideration during the treatment.

Cumming’s letter with tape before treatment

Cumming’s letter with tape before treatment

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Putting Conservation on the Map

This week, Conservator Lynn Teggart from the National Library of Scotland describes conservation treatment of two large maps from the Bartholomew collection. This article was originally posted on the NLS blog.

 The Newbigging Farm map

The first map shows Newbigging Farm and dates from 1864. Examination of satellite maps suggests that the farm still exists, and is based south west of Edinburgh close to Penicuik. The map is printed in black ink on a heavy weight, woven paper, with colour added by hand using water colour paints, and a layer of varnish applied on top. The paper has been lined onto a linen support, and wooden rollers are nailed to the upper and lower edges of the map.

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Using scientific analysis to investigate the unusual discolouration of a David Livingstone letter

In this week’s blog, find out how conservators from the National Library of Scotland and National Museums Scotland have been using scientific analysis to discover more about a letter by famous explorer David Livingstone…

The National Library of Scotland’s collections include a considerable number of letters by David Livingstone, most of which are written a on a white laid paper with an address embossed on the top right corner of the first folio.  One of these letters is strikingly different from the others in its appearance, and the reasons for this were recently investigated in a collaborative heritage science project between the Library and National Museums Scotland. The project team comprised Lore Troalen and Jim Tate from NMS and Isobel Griffin and Simona Cenci from the National Library of Scotland.

The letter in question (Acc.13333) (Fig.1), dated 16 April 1865, is written on a very brittle paper that shows a dark, uneven colour. Apart from the colour, this paper appears to be the same as the white paper used by Livingstone for the other letters he wrote around this time, with an embossed address in the same place. This suggests that the dark colour may be the result of chemical degradation, rather than the way the paper appeared originally. However, the discoloration is more severe than the yellowing which often occurs as paper ages, for example as a consequence of exposure to light.

Acc.13333 showing the brown colour of the paper

Acc.13333 showing the brown colour of the paper

Scientific analysis was proposed to investigate the nature of the degradation processes that lead to the brown discolouration, which would be of general interest and of practical use in determining whether or not to attempt to remove the discolouration. Additionally, it was hoped that some information about the various coloured inks in the letter might be obtained. The analysis was undertaken non-invasively using X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and Scanning electron microscopy in Backscattered mode/energy dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy (SEM-BSC/EDS), with the SEM in Envac mode.

Results

XRF results

The analysis of the ink with the XRF was problematic, because the beam size (about 2 mm x 1.5 mm) was larger than the ink marks, making it difficult to separate the ink from the paper surrounding it, not to mention the paper underneath the ink. However, the results suggested that all of the inks seemed to be iron based, with traces of copper and zinc, and possibly more zinc in the brown ink.

With regards to the paper itself, the XRF showed significant amounts of sulphur and iron, with the iron present in higher concentrations in the darker areas of the paper. This was interesting because in the previous analysis of various other papers of a similar age, NMS has not detected iron at comparable levels.

SEM/EDS results

The SEM-EDS analysis confirmed the presence of iron in the ink that was tested, as shown in the images below.

The area of ink which was analysed using SEM-EDS

The area of ink which was analysed using SEM-EDS

Image above: A detail of an area of writing; the green colouring shows the presence of iron, corresponding to the places where ink is present, and showing that the greatest concentration is where two strokes of the pen overlap

Sulphur was also present in the ink, as seen in the spectrum below. Other elements present in smaller amounts were calcium, sodium, magnesium, aluminium, silicon, phosphorous and potassium, also with zinc in some samples. All samples showed high levels of carbon and oxygen.

With regards to the paper, the elements detected were iron, sulphur, magnesium, aluminium, silicon and calcium, again with carbon and oxygen.

EDS spectra for an area of ink (red) and an area of paper (yellow). The elements zinc (Zn), potassium (K), sulphur (S) and iron (Fe) are notably higher in the ink.

EDS spectra for an area of ink (red) and an area of paper (yellow). The elements zinc (Zn), potassium (K), sulphur (S) and iron (Fe) are notably higher in the ink.

The SEM images of the surface of the paper at high magnification showed in fascinating detail how the ink cracks as it dries out, forming a surface layer which partially obscures the paper fibres.

SEM-BSC micrograph of a rectangle of the paper measuring about 0.6mm across, showing  a line of ink running up the centre

SEM-BSC micrograph of a rectangle of the paper measuring about 0.6mm across, showing a line of ink running up the centre

The SEM images also show small and generally angular particles present amongst the paper fibres. The fact that these particles show up brightly tells us that they contain elements which are different from the paper fibres.

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Discussion and conclusions

Calcium, iron and sulphur are known to be commonly found in iron gall inks, with the concentrations of other elements varying depending on the provenance of the ink[1]. Given that calcium, iron and sulphur as well as zinc were all found in significant quantities in the inks tested, and that the inks are brown in colour, they seem very likely to be iron gall inks.

It is possible that some of the elements found in the paper may be from water soluble components within the inks, dispersed through the paper by wetting, although this seems unlikely to be causing such a general brown colour throughout the paper.

Various reasons for the dark brown colour of the paper were proposed by the project team:

  1. It could be due to darkening with smoke, which seems plausible because sulphur as well as carbon is present;
  2. Since iron is present, it could be due to particles of iron oxide, which were possibly introduced through storage of the letter in a damp and rusty container;
  3. It could be an organic coating such as oil or wax, which would be difficult to detect with XRF or SEM/EDS; such coatings were sometimes applied to make paper more translucent, although a translucent paper would generally have been used for a copy of a letter and this letter seems unlikely to be a copy because it has an embossed address.

If the small, angular particles seen in the SEM images are the substance causing the brown discolouration of the paper, their appearance makes them more likely to be a sooty material or iron oxide than an oil or wax. However, it is also possible that they are a calcium compound introduced during the manufacturing of the paper.

Hence the analysis raised as many questions as it answered, and there were many suggestions for further testing, which could include:

  • Further SEM-EDS analysis, to identify the elements present in the small, angular particles seen in the SEM images;
  • Preparation of replicas to introduce soot and iron oxide, followed by analysis of the replicas and comparison of these results to the results for the original letter;
  • SEM imaging of some of the other letters written by Livingstone at around the same time, followed by morphological analysis of the images to establish whether all of the letters were written on the same type of paper[2];
  • Analysis of the letter to look for organic oils and waxes, for example with Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. Although it seems unlikely that the paper was coated with oil or wax, it would be helpful to eliminate this as a possibility.

If resources permit, we will tackle some of this analysis in the future, and the mystery of the brown discolouration may be solved. Until then, the letter will remain untreated. And who knows – perhaps it will remain that way forever as a testimony to the letter’s unusual storage history, be that in a smoky room or a rusty old box!

For more interesting conservation conundrums and heritage science research, please follow the National Library of Scotland and National Museums Scotland on Twitter (@NLSColl_Care; @ConserveNMS).

[1]                      García, J.A., Ruvalcaba Sil, J.L. and Meeren, M.V. (2014) ‘XRF Study of Mexican Iron Gall Inks: Historical and Geographical Overview of their Chemistry’, MRS Proceedings, 1618, pp. 31–41. doi: 10.1557/opl.2014.453.

[2]                      Kazuyuki, E., Masato, K., Masuchika, K., Barnard, M., Matsuoka, K. and Whitfield, S. (2007) ‘Analysis of morphology and elements on the paper specimens of the Stein collection of the British Library’, in Tradition and innovation: proceedings of the 6th IDP conservation conference, eds. L. Shitian and A. Morrison, National Library of China, Beijing, China, pp. 37-51.

Crowdsourcing Conservation

During the Festival of Creative Learning (20-24 February 2017), the Centre for Research Collections (CRC), University of Edinburgh, will be hosting its first ever conservation crowdsourcing event!

Over a two-day period (20-21 February), with the help of 30 participants, they aim to rehouse section II of the Laing manuscripts – the University’s most important written collection.

Folder from section II of the Laing manuscripts

Folder from section II of the Laing manuscripts

Laing’s collection of charters and other papers is of national importance and the most distinguished of its kind in any Scottish university. It is an essential resource for the 18th century, however, it is in poor condition due to its current housing in unsuitable upright boxes and folders. It is an extremely popular collection, but it is difficult to access and there is a risk of further damage every time it is handled.

Section II of the Laing Manuscripts in unsuitable upright boxes

Section II of the Laing Manuscripts in unsuitable upright boxes

Section II of the Laing manuscripts stored in upright box (left) and damage caused to collection due to storage (right)

Section II of the Laing manuscripts stored in upright box (left) and damage caused to collection due to storage (right)

To solve this problem, we want to rehouse the collection in acid-free folders and boxes. During the event, we aim to complete repackaging work of all 137 boxes. Each day will consist of a training session in the morning, followed by practical work. In the afternoon, volunteers will be joined by staff members from the CRC who will talk to them about their roles, whilst helping to carry out the conservation work. Good quality complimentary refreshments and catering will be provided throughout the day to encourage networking during break times. A behind-the-scenes tour of the CRC, where the participants will get to see the newly rehoused collection will be offered after the event.

Places are limited to 15 participants per day. If you are a student or staff member of the University of Edinburgh, you can book on the Monday session, by clicking here and the Tuesday session, by clicking here. If you are not a part of the University, please email emily.hick@ed.ac.uk to book your place.

Emily Hick

Special Collections Conservator

Conservation Placement in Scotland

Lisa Mitchell, conservation placement student from Northumbria University describes her experience of working at the Centre for Research Collections (CRC), University of Edinburgh, in this week’s blog post…

Over the past two weeks I have had the pleasure of working with the conservation team at the CRC as part of my summer placement for my Master’s degree in conservation on works of art on paper.

Following an intense but fulfilling first year studying at Northumbria University, the summer has provided a very welcome respite from assignment writing and the opportunity to put some of my newly taught conservation skills into practice!
Working alongside Emily Hick, the Special Collections Conservator, I have been fortunate enough to assist her in the completion of the final stages of the conservation treatment of a collection of 32 portraits from India, which Emily has recently written about in her Passage to India blogs.

before-and-after

Indian paintings, before and after conservation

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Student Placement at Edinburgh University

Joey Shuker, conservation placement student from Camberwell College of Art describes her experience of working at the Centre for Research Collections (CRC) at Edinburgh University in this week’s blog post…

I have been very fortunate to have spent the last four weeks in the CRC as part of my summer placement for my masters degree in Conservation of Paper. I have just finished the first year of a two-year masters at Camberwell College of Art, part of the University of Arts London.

I have been working mostly in the studio with Emily Hick, but my placement here has also taken me to the National Library of Scotland conservation studios, The Scottish Conservation Studio (private studio) and I have spent days working at the Annexe (the CRC’s of site facility) with Project Conservator, Katharine Richardson.

One of the projects I spent most time working on was conserving a collection of photographs of Leith in the 1920s.The condition in which the photographs arrived in meant they where not able to be digitised. The prints were mounted on thick card that had distorted due to past environmental and storage conditions. The distortion of the card mount was pulling and creasing the photograph. Being so distorted meant that any pressure to put them under glass during the digitisation process would have caused more damage to the print. The decision was made (before I arrived) to remove the mount backing which would allow the prints to relax and flatten.

Days were spent removing the backing down to the layer just above the back of the print. A scalpel with a no.22 blade was used to remove the backing layer by layer and a pencil grid was drawn on each layer to ensure even removal which would support the print during this process.

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Curved photograph and mount

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Grid on back of mount

After the majority of the backing mount had been removed and the prints began to relax and could be pressed under glass overnight. Backing removal was something I had learnt on my course but I had only ever done it on large prints rather than a collection of small ones.

Doing aqueous treatments on photographs was something I had not yet covered on my course. Emily showed me a humidification method that allowed enough moisture to soften the paste holding the last backing layer on, but didn’t affect the print. We used fords gold medal blotter, which was recommended for use with photographs as it is thinner and holds less water. We used a blotter sandwich for humidification, the prints were humidified for 30 minutes. After this time, the last layer of backing could be easily peeled away and the paste could be removed with a spatula.

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Blotter sandwich

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Removing the paste

After this treatment and being put into a press for a couple of days, the box of photographs that arrived at CRC curved and stiff are now relaxed and flattened and ready to be sent to the photography lab for digitisation. This was a great project to work on as I could follow the project almost from start to finish.

I have learnt many new skills and I have been introduced to new treatment methods throughout my time here. Alongside working with Emily and the conservation team in the studio, I have also had introductions to other members of staff who have taken time to show me their role in the wider CRC such as the Archives, Photography Lab, Exhibitions, Rare Books and the Musical Instruments Conservation studio.

This placement has been highly valuable to my studies and preparing for work after university.

Joey Shuker

Conservation Student Placement

Book conservation skills for paper conservators

Book conservation skills for paper conservators: a two day workshop

Date:              20th and 21st September 2016

Venue:           The National Library of Scotland,159 Causewayside, Edinburgh EH9 1PH

Two day theory and practical workshop, for 10 delegates, run by Icon accredited book conservator, Caroline Scharfenberg.

The boundary between book and paper conservation is fluid. Book conservators need to cover specialist paper conservation knowledge and paper conservators often need to address mixed collections, which also include bound material. This workshop addresses the need for paper conservators to have a basic knowledge about book structures and the typical damage found in book collections. These skills will enable paper conservators to stabilise book collections and to better assess damage and the required repair.  It will also allow paper conservators to better identify damaged bound material, which will have to be addressed by a professional accredited book conservator.

Cost:   £150.00 Icon Members, £175.00 Non-Icon members

Please bring with you:

A small tool kit containing a paste brush, brush for consolidant in solvent, bone folder, Teflon bone folder, scalpel and 10A blades, spatula, metal ruler, scissors and tweezers and A4 cutting mat.

For enquiries contact the event team at eventsisg@gmail.com

 Bookings and payments through Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/book-conservation-skills-for-paper-conservators-a-two-day-workshop-tickets-26486073559