My Summer Placement at the Liverpool Central Library

This summer I did my placement in the Liverpool central library. The Liverpool central library is one of the most significant buildings in Liverpool and its restoration had just been finished in 2013. It is a very wonderful redevelopment project which include demolished the 1960’s library and 1970’s extension, preserve and restore the Hornby, Picton and Oak Room facilities, and Rebuild a new Central Library and a repository for archives. The redevelopment is always a good chance for conservator to get involved and do something good for the collection. That’s exactly what the conservator did during the redevelopment project.

Along with the redevelopment project, advanced conservation studio, high-tech repository and new preservation management program have been set up in the library. The new repository inside the library provides 17km of new shelving over four floors, to store library’s archives of over 3.2 million items as well as providing space for twenty years’ future growth. And because of the variety in formats, repositories at different floors have been assigned to house a specific format, and temperature and humidity levels are highly controlled according to the formats. Also, different colours and coding of the shelves are used on different floors to make identification quick and easy.

This conservation lab where I work in has only one conservator and one technician. And unfortunately, the only conservator Sharon also left after I finished my placement there. But anyway, it is a newly build conservation lab and is well equipped. Conservation work carried out here focus more on objects from the archive collection. Before objects enter this conservation lab, they will go through a documentation reception area first for initial processing, like checking, cleaning and packaging.

The Conservation Laboratory. Photo courtesy of Liverpool Central Library.

During this month, I was able to get involve in some routinely preservation management work, include pest monitoring, make sure the environmental control system runs well, and regularly turned the page of a valuable book –“Birds of America’, which is housed in a custom-built, climate-controlled showcase.

For the conservation treatment, I got the chance to experience three different types of archives with a variety of material and media.

The first project I did was a sketch book, which includes 58 original pencil drawings in it. And it is one of the three volumes of Hugh Magenis’s sketches books held by Liverpool Central Library. This sketch book was bound on the shorter side of the page. It is fully covered in cloth, with black on the spine and red cloth on the sides. And it had been repaired before. It is sewn on a tape support with two sewing holes. Every page has a thinner strip of paper pasted on the for-edge. Before treatment, all the paper strips pasted on the for-edges are brittle and many of them have teared or split away.

The treatment I have done were surface cleaning, removed all the historical repair tissue and cloth guarding material. Matched up those separated small paper strips and reattached them. And then did the resewing and rebacking. After the paste-down had been lifted, there were some leather and cloth residue can be seen, which suggests that the original covering material was black leather on the spine and black cloth on the sides. So finally I got the chance to do leather rebacking! And after treatment, I made a four flaps to rehouse it.

Another conservation treatment I finished was a parchment documents of Deed of covenant. The document is intact overall, but it is soiled by dust, and has creases on the foredge. The spine area of the cover is degraded and has many small creases along it. All of the sewing threads are broken and thus all the pages have get loosed. The treatment was to clean, flatten, repair and rehouse them in order to make them more accessible and provide them with a better storage.

There were creases along the edges, especially the edges of the cover and so a flattening treatment was necessary. During the spot-test, I found that media were soluble in water and the iron gall inks presented free ions, so there was a need to work locally, which would avoid to humidify the full parchment. During the process, I used a solution of IMS to humidify the creases with a cotton swab. Then arranged blotters and small weights on top of them, and let them dry. And it works quite well.

Goldbeaters skin is a thin transparent membrane with great tensile strength which was traditionally used as an interleaf for the manufacture of gold leaf. It is a genuine skin-like product, which is considered to respond to changes in relative humidity and temperature in a similar way. Besides, transparency was another good reason for use in treatment. Actually in this case I could just use thin Japanese tissue to repair the tear, because there is not text on it, but I don’t want to miss this chance.

There are different ways of using goldbeaters’ skin. They can be applied with gelatin or parchment size. But if there is a need to use minimum of water or none at all. Acrylic resin or isinglass coated membrane can be used. Another point is that they should be used with a layer of carrier (like melinex), because the skin is very sensitive and curl immediately when it contacts with humidity. In this case, I choose the isinglass coated method, and a mixture of water and ethanol was applied using a damp swab to active the adhesive. It is a very useful method for the repair of extremely deteriorated parchment which is sensitive to liquid adhesive.

For filling the losses, I used a small piece of new matching parchment, cut to the shape and pared around the edges. The other way to do it is laminate Japanese tissue with goldbeaters’ skin.

The last project I did there was treatments of some loose archives which were severely damaged by rats. And because the inks are very sensitive to water, so I choose Klucel-G in ethanol as the adhesive. But I found that it is quite difficult to set such a big piece of tissue in place by using Klucel-G. But I don’t have enough time to exploiting another method, which is a pity.

PS: Special thanks for Sharon and Val for having me and offered such a wonderful experience. :) And also thanks for these lovely ladies, who have been working here as a volunteer for more than seven years!

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