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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Meet the Committee – Emily Hick

This week we bring you another edition of our ‘Meet the Committee’ series. Today we talk to Emily Hick, the Digital Content Officer….

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Emily working on a book at the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh

What is your main area of conservation?

Anything to do with paper! I trained in the conservation of fine art at Northumbria University, where I specialised in works of art on paper. I now work at the Centre for Research Collections (CRC), University of Edinburgh mainly with rare books and archives.

What is your position within the Icon Scotland Group?

I am the Digital Content Officer. I organise contributions to the Icon Scotland Group blog, Facebook and Twitter page and the main Icon website. I am passionate about conservation, and welcome any opportunity to promote it! Scotland has a vibrant conservation community, so there is always lots to share and talk about. If you have an event, project or conservation opportunity in Scotland that you would like to me shout about – email me at hickemily@hotmail.com!

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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

Job Opportunities at Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh

There are currently two fantastic job opportunities at the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh. Please share!

  1. 10-week PAID internship. Closing Date: 16 September 2016
  2. 8-month Projects Conservator (Digitisation) post (search vacancy ref 037065). Closing date: 15 September 2016

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

Meet the Committee – Ruth Honeybone

In this week’s blog post, we meet Ruth Honeybone, Vice Chair of the Icon Scotland Group…

What is your main area of Conservation?

I’m a paper conservator by trade, but I now manage a health archive. Because of the kind of material in the archive, and the fact that I’m based in the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh, conservation and preservation is still a big part of my role!

What is your position within the Icon Scotland Group?

I was, until fairly recently, the Treasurer (a position I had for about five years); I’m now Vice Chair.

How did you first become interested in Conservation?

In my art history undergrad degree I took a module on conservation theory and thought it offered just the right kind of practical vs. desk-based work, and then did some volunteer work in a studio to get a portfolio together. But when I was at school I did one of those tests that are meant to help you identify your perfect career – though, as teenager, I didn’t bother to read the results! When I came to them years later and saw what the test had picked out for me, conservator was second on the list – if only I’d paid more attention at the time I might have come to conservation earlier and through a different route…

Describe your typical day at work…

I don’t have a typical day really – every day is different, and that’s what I love about it! One thing is for sure though I don’t do much practical work anymore but I live vicariously through my conservation colleagues, and I make sure I keep up to date.

What has been your favourite conservation moment?

I like giving emerging conservation professionals jobs! I’m also very proud of a paid conservation internship programme that I helped set up that is still going strong, and hearing about what those interns have gone on to do afterwards.

Conservation is often misunderstood by those outside the profession. What would you like to tell the world about Conservation?

That it’s a highly specialist field but that conservators are an approachable bunch who are always willing to share information and work together to meet shared goals around collection items. And also that it’s nothing to do with recycling newspaper or saving badgers, both misconceptions that I’ve had to explain my way out of in the past!

Making the Invisible Visible – Repairs on Iron Gall Ink

This article reviews a recent training day organised by National Library Scotland on the repairs on iron gall ink. It was originally posted on ‘To Protect and (Con)serve’, the conservation blog for the Centre for Research Collections (CRC), University of Edinburgh. Check it out to find out more about the conservators, volunteers and interns at the CRC.

On Friday 4 March 2015, I attended a one-day training workshop on iron gall ink repairs. The session was organised by the Collections Care Team at the National Library of Scotland and hosted by Eliza Jacobi and Claire Phan Tan Luu (Freelance Conservators from the Netherlands and experts in this field. Please see www.practice-in-conservation.com for further information).

Iron gall ink was the standard writing and drawing ink in Europe from the 5th century to the 19th century, and was still used in the 20th century. However, iron gall ink is unstable and can corrode over time, resulting in a weakening of the paper sheet and the formation of cracks and holes. This leads to a loss of legibility, material and physical integrity.

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Document from the Laing collection, Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh, showing early stages of iron gall ink corrosion.

Unsafe handling can exacerbate this problem. Bending and flexing a paper with iron gall ink can cause mechanical stress and result in cracking of the ink and tearing of the sheet. If this has happened, the area needs to be stabilised with a repair to ensure that further tearing doesn’t occur and additional material isn’t lost.

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Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Books with corroded iron gall ink causing the paper sheet to break.

Paper conservators usually carry out tear repairs with water-based adhesives such as wheat starch paste and Japanese paper. However, this can be harmful for paper with iron gall ink inscriptions. Iron gall ink contains highly water-soluble iron (II) ions. These are invisible, but in contact with water they catalyse the chemical reactions that cause paper to decay. If these ions are not removed before treatment, any introduction of water can cause significant damage to the item. If a tear over an iron gall ink inscription is repaired using an aqueous adhesive, these invisible components will migrate out of the ink into the paper in the surrounding area, and speed up degradation in this location. Since this is not immediately visible, it can take approximately 25 years before the damage is noticeable.

Conservators have only recently become aware of this problem, and have had to develop a method of creating a very dry repair, and a way to test it before application. This is what we were shown during the workshop. First, we created remoistenable tissues for a repair paper using gelatine, rather than the traditional wheat starch paste. Gelatine is used because it has been found to have a positive effect on iron gall ink. It has been suggested that gelatine may inhibit iron gall ink corrosion, however, this has not been proved by empirical research.

To make the remoistenable tissue, we applied a 3% liquid gelatine solution to a sheet of polyester through a mesh. The mesh ensures that an even layer of gelatine is applied to the sheet. Japanese paper is then laid onto this sheet and left to dry. We created three sheets using different weights of Japanese paper, for use on different types of objects.

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Document in the Laing collection showing early stages of iron gall ink corrosion.

When this was dry we had to remoisten the tissue so that it could be used to fix tears over iron gall ink. We were given a personalised mock-up item to practise this on. To remoisten the tissue, we used a sponge covered with filter paper to ensure that only a minimal amount of water is absorbed. You need just enough to make the gelatine tacky, but not so much that the water will spread away from the repair. Two sheets of filter paper are placed over a thin sponge and just enough water is added to saturate it. A small piece of remoistenable tissue is cut from the pre-prepared sheet, and placed, adhesive side down, on to the paper for a few seconds. This is then lifted using a pair of tweezers and applied to a test piece of paper that has been impregnated with bathophenanthroline and stamped with iron gall ink.

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Workstation with four sheets of remoistenable tissue, sponge, filter paper and indicator paper.

Bathophenanthroline has no colour, but in the presence of iron (II) ions, it turns an intense magenta colour. As such, this sheet can be used as an indicator for the soluble iron (II) ions that can cause paper to degrade. If little or no magenta colour shows after application of the remoistenable tissue, this suggests that the repair paper has the correct moisture level and this method can be used on the real object. We used this indicator paper to try out a range of adhesives, to see what effect they had on the iron gall ink.

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Bathophenanthroline Indicator Paper.

As you can see from the above image, the gelatine remoistenable tissue resulted in limited movement of iron (II) ions, whereas the wheat starch paste (WSP), methylcellulose (MC) and water applied directly to the paper has caused further movement. I thought that this was an excellent method of testing the repair technique, as it rendered the invisible movement of iron (II) ions visible. This means that a Conservator can be sure that the tear repair isn’t causing additional damage to the document.

Overall, the workshop was very informative and useful. A large number of documents at the CRC contain iron gall ink, so I’m sure I will put this new learning into practice very soon!

Check out this website for more information on iron gall ink: http://irongallink.org/igi_index.html

Emily Hick

Special Collections Conservator

Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh

‘Broken Pieces’ Podcast

Chloe Medghalchi, an intern at the Centre for Research Collections (CRC), University of Edinburgh, creates interesting and thoughtful podcasts based on items in the University’s wide ranging collections. Chloe interviews staff members and carries out her own  research to gain a better understanding of the material held by the CRC. She then writes, records and edits the podcasts which bring together different objects around a weekly theme.

She recently released this excellent podcast entitled ‘Broken Pieces’ which explores issues surrounding restoration, conservation, and the value of an item when it is broken. You can listen to the podcast using the link below. Keep an ear out for committee member Emily Hick, who is a Project Conservator at the CRC – she pops up throughout the episode!

You can listen to more podcasts from this series here.

 

Paper Conservators in Scotland news and ideas exchange

After the success of last year’s event, and by popular demand we are holding another ‘Paper conservators in Scotland news and ideas exchange’

When: 1pm for 1.30pm start, Wednesday 4th May 2016

Where: Centre for Research Collections, 6th Floor, University of Edinburgh Library, 30 George Square

Cost: Free! Refreshments included.

This event is designed to be an informal opportunity for us to get together to share news and information about our current work. We are looking for 5 minute presentations where you can talk about a topic that you think paper colleagues would be interested to hear about. We invite paper people of all levels of experience to contribute, and are hoping to have a very supportive and non judgemental afternoon.

There will be tea and coffee at the start, at the end, and the in the middle, so there will be plenty of opportunity to chat to colleagues.

Your topic might be about

  • A challenging or complex treatment you are involved with
  • An interesting detail of a treatment
  • A conservation problem you are faced with at work that you would like colleagues’ ideas on
  • A new technique or piece of equipment that you have been using

In May 2015 topics included

  • A demonstration of lining with a hikkake pitching stick
  • The challenges of preparing collections for digitisation
  • Working with embossed paper: a discussion around treatment proposals for rolled squeezes

Presentations will be strictly limited to 5 minutes. To help on the technical side we would like people to send digital submissions for their presentations in advance to Ruth Honeybone who is hosting the event (email to  ruth.honeybone@ed.ac.uk).

The space is limited to about 30 people. We are hoping that up to 20 presentations will be given. Please send requests to present / attend to helencreasy@gmail.com

Don’t be shy! There are lots of us paper conservators in Scotland and we meet up all too rarely. We hope that this event will, like last year, connect us better so we can support and help each other in the future. Read a review of last year’s event here.

Paper Conservators Event at the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh

Paper Conservators Event last year at the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh

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.

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