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.

Conservation Volunteering Programme at the National Library of Scotland

Conservators from the National Library of Scotland describe their successful volunteering programme in this week’s blog…

The Library’s Conservation Unit frequently receives requests for volunteer placements, and it can be difficult to accommodate these requests within our busy workshop. Following discussions amongst the conservators, we decided to create a summer volunteering programme which would allow us to take a batch of several volunteers, to work for a day a week on a number of appropriate projects. This would allow us to use volunteers in a more efficient and structured way, and to welcome a greater number of volunteers.

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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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Meet the Committee – Isobel Griffin

In this month’s edition of ‘Meet the Committee’ we hear from Isobel Griffin, Collections Care Manager at the National Library of Scotland…

What is your main area of Conservation?
Preventive conservation, conservation science and management

What is your position within the Icon Scotland Group?
I am the Publications Officer. I provide encouragement and practical support to help conservators in Scotland write about and publicise their work. At the moment I’m busy planning the Icon Scotland session at the Icon 2016 conference.

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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

Best of the Blogs – July

Saving work by Scottish Artists and articles on the history of food, drink and textiles in Scotland are featured in this month’s best of the blogs.

1. Paisley on the Web

Did you know that the ‘Paisley’ pattern did not originate in Paisley? It was originally used on shawls in Kashmir and cheap imitations were produced in this Scottish town, resulting in the term. Find out more on the fascinating history of this pattern and of Paisley on this website.

2. The Art Newspaper

Celebrated mosaics by Leith born artist, Eduardo Paolozzi, displayed at Tottenham Court Road tube have been saved from destruction and will be restored at Edinburgh University. Find out more here.

3. Museum and Heritage Advisor

Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s interior for Miss Cranston’s Ingram Street Tearooms in Glasgow will be conserved, restored and displayed as part of a joint project between Glasgow Museums and V&A Museum of Design Dundee. Find out how it was saved and when it will be seen again in this article.

4. National Library of Scotland

From 12 June to 8 November, the National Library of Scotland are running an exhibition entitled “Lifting the lid: 400 years of food and drink in Scotland”. See all the hard work that went into installing an exhibition in this fantastic time lapse video. Click on the link above for exhibition details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paper Conservators in Scotland: Exchanging News & Ideas

An informal conference took place on the 6th of May, a sort of conservation-clan gathering. The event was organised by Helen Creasy ACR, and was hosted by The National Library of Scotland. It was a relaxed get-together, the aim of which was to facilitate an exchange of ideas and promote useful discussion between paper conservators in Scotland in a supportive and non-judgemental way. Fifteen conservators from across Scotland signed up to give talks; there were 30 participants in total. Each presenter gave a very short talk about an interesting or potentially useful aspect of their work. There was no unifying theme beyond paper conservation, so a huge variety of topics were discussed during the course of the afternoon. The length of each presentation was deliberately limited to 5 minutes, meaning that each subject was discussed in a pithy and succinct manner. The event was a resounding success, with many calling for a repeat in the near future. For those of you who were unable to attend, and for those who are simply curious, here is a quick round-up of the presentations which were given.

Paper Conservators Event at the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh

Paper Conservators event at the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh

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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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