The British Library can accommodate up to 1,200 readers a day. Each reader can check out ten items at a time. Since the items can be used at such a high rate, general wear and tear can occur. The Centre for Conservation has five different teams of conservationists and has room for six teams. Each conservation team has specialties and only works on those types of materials. When an item needs conservation work it is given to the appropriate team through the curator of a collection. That team takes the items and stabilizes it rather than trying to restore it. This stabilization allows the item to maintain its history. All procedures completed on the items are re-treatable.
On our tour we were shown two different techniques of conservation work. The first technique was the conservation of 300 year old palm leaves. These leaves are religious texts and have serious damage to them. It was interesting to see how they use pulp fibers to hand fill in cracks on the leaves. This process is very meticulous work and leaves that have more damage are repaired by using casters. These casters can speed up the number of leaves that can be completed in a day. The other technique we were shown was how to put on gold leafing on the spines of books. This was very interesting especially since we were shown the traditional way of doing this technique. If done correctly the lettering can remain on the leather for about 400 years without needing additional conservation work.
The conservation studio of the British Library is huge. I was a little taken aback by the size of the area but I really like watching the two techniques of conservation work. This was a good way to end our course work for the month. Photo courtesy of the British Library website.