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.

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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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Ingenious Impressions: The Coming of the Book

This week’s blog is a summary of a six-month internship by Sarah Graham at the University of Glasgow. Sarah helped to prepare for the current ‘Ingenious Impressions’ exhibition at the Hunterian Art Gallery, which closes on the 21st June. Don’t miss out on this innovative exhibition, get down there now!

For the last six months I have been the conservation intern on the Glasgow Incunabula Project at the University of Glasgow. This was in preparation for the Ingenious Impressions exhibition which opened in February and runs until June. There has been a lot of bench work in the studio to prepare this 500 year old material for display but I have also been given experience outside the studio during the installation and engaging with social media. The overwhelming majority of material in Special Collections is available for reference in the reading room and they frequently loan material to exhibitions worldwide. This, however, is the first time they have curated their own exhibition in over 10 years. Over the last 5 years, the Glasgow Incunabula Project (Julie Gardham, Jack Baldwin and Bob Mclean) have catalogued over a thousand incunabula (books produced between 1450-1501) when the printed book was created as we know it today.

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Collecting the Referendum: Preserving Plastic Propaganda

Only six months on from the Scottish independence referendum, and conservators at the National Library of Scotland are already considering the best way to preserve material produced by the two opposing political campaigns. Paper Conservator, Shona Hunter, discusses the difficulties in conserving this modern collection in this week’s blog…

I began working as a conservator at the National Library of Scotland in March 2014. I am part of a team of qualified professionals who carry out remedial treatments, create specialist housing, monitor and control storage environments and train staff and readers on the handling of manuscripts and books. We also prepare items for exhibition and loan. Historic items receive attention as do ephemeral materials which reflect modern life.

The National Library of Scotland is based in Edinburgh, my hometown. I moved back just in time to cast my vote in the referendum on Scottish Independence. Since then I have become involved with repackaging a sample of referendum related paraphernalia. After acquiring some banners, placards and signs, the referendum curator got in touch because she was concerned about the best way to protect and store these items.

Shona Hunter with some modern items from the referendum collection

Shona Hunter with some modern items from the referendum collection

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