Friday, 6 August 2010

British Library Preservation Lab 29 July 2010

Dr. Welch was able to secure three tickets for a tour of the Preservation Laboratory at the British Library. I attended this tour with Ann and Traci.

We arrived at the lobby and were directed to store our things in the locker room and head out to the back of the building. The main lab is located in its own purpose built area beyond a courtyard. The lobby of the lab has several interactive displays including several videos on restoring books and a sound restoring station.

Our tour led us through the studio were the actual conservation and preservation work is performed including the finishing studio where gold leaf and embossing are accomplished. The studio is a purpose-built facility which opened in 2007 (additional work space is on the ninth floor of the library proper and is generally dedicated to flat objects like maps). The studio space occupies the third floor of the structure and was designed with a special sawtooth roof that provides the space with north light year round which is best for conservation work. There are 3 spacious studios which contain specifically designed work benches. A wet area runs along the back of the studio for washing and other aqueous treatments. A fourth studio is a flexible use space that can support project work, workshops, demonstrations and training programs. In addition to the studio spaces, there is separate area for treating items with solvents, an area dedicated to archival box-making.

We were able to speak with two of the studio's workers including a gentleman who trained at the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert and a young woman who had been with the studio less than a year as part of her training for book conservation and preservation. Most of the tour consisted of tourists, not academics. There was a great deal of debate among the others on the tour over the merits of using goat skin over calf skin for recovering books. The consensus seemed to be that the tour participants felt the use of goat skin was simply not as good as calf skin.

Our tour was brief, but afterward, Ann and Traci and I were able to speak more in depth with Francis. Francis has been with the lab for quite some time and was trained there, on-site. While she was a great deal more open to questions following the official tour, I did not feel that I got all of the answers I was looking to obtain. Additionally, I was astonished at the almost flip way in which the materials were handled. I understand that if the staff was overly careful of their charges, no work would be accomplished. I was also surprised that the work performed on this materials was akin to what, in the states, would translate to more of a technical degree rather than something more academic. Altogether a very strange but educational experience. I appreciate the opportunity to have visited the studio.

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