The British Library Conservation center was pretty interesting – it is located in its own building directly behind the main building for the British Library, and if you didn’t see the signs pointing to where it is, you wouldn’t know it was there. The centre itself isn’t generally open to the public, it seemed like tours and employees only, but there was a small exhibit in the lobby about conservation.
The Conservation Centre works on more than just books: the library has hundreds of books of textiles, textiles that are not part of books, paintings, and much more. The first conservator we talked to was working on thousand year old paper manuscripts that were found in caves. For some projects, it’s taken decades for them to be preserved, simply due to limitations in technology.
Next, we were given a demonstration of book binding, and told about difficulties caused by certain types of binding. Many more modern books, including almost all paperbacks, are not as stable and are more likely to fall apart. We were also given the chance to try our hand at binding an example book. I wanted to take a shot at it, but I have a tendency to prick my fingers every time I hold a sewing needle, and I didn’t want to do that in front of all my classmates! The goal for the books that need to be re-bound is for them to be done in the original binding style.
Our next stop was textile conservation. The artefact being worked on here was a flag from the Royal East India Company Volunteers that was in pretty bad condition. When in use, they’d been around open fires, so a special bath had to be used to wash the flags. We were told how the flag had been conserved so far, and the next steps that would be done.
Finally, we were shown part of the Hebrew collections that are being digitized, and the preservation that the items are undergoing before being digitized.