Tag Archives: Conservation

Behind the scenes at the Shakespeare pop-up exhibition: How to make your very own book cradle- An instructable!

As part of the preparation for the Shakespeare pop-up exhibition book cradles were especially made for a selection of volumes exhibited. This was done to make sure that the books that were displayed were fully supported and not to put undue strain on the open volumes and bindings. Improper display and handling of books can cause irreparable damage! To avoid causing damage to the open volumes each book has a cradle especially made to fit each individual book on the specific page it is opened on!

How to make your very own book cradle

1. Decide what page you want to display your book on.

2. Using a large sheet of paper (bigger than your book!) draw a horizontal line towards the bottom of your sheet of paper.

3. Open your book up to the appropriate page. Stand your book up on your piece of paper with the spine on the horizontal line.

4. Mark on the paper the edges of the boards and the spine.

5. Like dot to dot join up your marks!

6. Measure the lines you have drawn.


7. Pick up your card, mark one end of it to indicate the starting point. Starting a couple of cm along the baseline from the bottom left hand corner, mark on the strip all the points where the line changes direction.

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Preserving your family papers – a practical approach to the preservation of photographs

Conservation materials commonly used in AH&P

Conservation materials commonly used in AH&P

Last month we posted up some basic pointers for the preservation of personal papers, including a few general guidelines for the care of photographs. This post will focus specifically on photographs to allow for additional detail in the suggestions for their particular care.

Since their invention in 1839, photographs have become such a common feature of most people’s lives that it is easy to forget how vulnerable they are. When considering how to handle, care for, store, and display your photographs it may be helpful to bear in mind that a photographic image is the result of a chemical reaction which occurs when light-sensitized material is exposed to light. Most importantly, this chemical reaction does not stop once the image has been captured, it is merely temporarily interrupted. So from that point onwards the length of a print’s life depends, amongst other things, on being able to prevent this chemical reaction from continuing until the image is lost. This is done primarily through limiting exposure to heat and light. Despite a photograph’s seemingly robust appearance, it is probably the least durable and most easily damaged of all image types.

Of course, a photograph can be created by one of many processes, and images have been made on a variety of materials ranging from glass and paper to metal or plastics. While each photographic process is unique, and photographs can vary dramatically in appearance and format, there are things which can be done to help preserve them for as long as possible.

Some of the following have already been mentioned in the previous blog post, they are included again here for completeness sake.

Handling basics

  • Ensure hands and working surfaces are clean, dust-free and dry and only hold photographs, slides, and negatives at the very edges. Finger prints cannot be removed and attract dirt so, ideally, white cotton, vinyl or nitrile powder free disposable gloves should be worn.
  •  Try to keep items on a flat surface for support and, when carrying items from place to place, use a box lid or tray – particularly if you are working on large photographs, glass negatives or lantern slides. If you have a large collection of photographs and again particularly if you are working with glass negatives, it may be worth covering a stiff piece of card with several layers of white tissue and using it as a work surface. You can tear off a layer of tissue as it becomes dirty and the pad you have made will act as a cushion should you accidentally lose your grip on the glass.
  • Do not force curled/folded items open as this will cause damage. If your photographs are loose and beginning to curl, store them face down to stop this from getting worse until you can put them into sleeves or mount them.
  • Cased photographs such as daguerreotypes should not be dismantled even if only to change a damaged cover glass. The image on the support surface is not ‘fixed’ and the slightest disturbance will cause irretrievable loss. It is advisable to seek the advice of a Conservation professional regarding care and storage of these items.
  • Do not leave your photographs out in the light unnecessarily. Cover prints you are not working on or looking at – or turn them face down. Even short bursts of exposure to light will contribute to a photograph fading and colour photographs are especially vulnerable.

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It’s a wrap!

Protected volumes in the Cotton Collection

Volumes in the Cotton Collection ready to move.

As regular readers will know, work on our archive collections has been ongoing for some time. Following the closure of Archives and Heritage in December, we have started the lengthy task of wrapping and securing our local studies collections, making sure these often unique reference works are protected during the move.

There are many items throughout the collections which will need specialist Conservation treatment and repair once we are in the new library. For the time being, we are taking some basic steps to preserve the items in their current state and ensure that no further damage occurs until then. Continue reading

Moving house

Waiting to be packed

Waiting to be packaged.

Packing to move house requires a lot of planning, making to-do lists, putting things in boxes, careful wrapping of those much loved fragile belongings, and labelling so that you and the movers know what should go where. Packing up an entire archive is not very different. There’s just much more of it! In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the on-going jobs we have been doing over the past few months:

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Preparations for the move to the new Library of Birmingham

2 Hours in 1 Minute Timelapse from The Iron Room on Vimeo.

The archives searchroom will close on 23 November 2012 so we can get ready for our move to the Library of Birmingham, where we’ll reopen on 3 September 2013.

Not unreasonably, some of our customers have asked why we need to close for the better part of a year just to move some boxes of papers. Well, as an archivist who’s been working exclusively on preparations for the move for over two years, I thought I should explain.

The archive collections we currently hold stretch over 16km of shelving, and comprise tens of thousands of boxes, rolls and volumes – and that’s not including our published local studies material and newspaper volumes. In order to move all our material safely (and find it again at the other end) we need to ensure that every single box and volume has its reference number written on it, and that we have recorded as much information as possible about it in our database, CALM.

Over the last four years a dedicated team has been working to enter information into CALM from our old paper records. This means that many of our catalogues can now be searched electronically, and we can easily track when, and who by, a collection was deposited. As part of this we have taken the opportunity to improve our catalogues where we can to bring them up to modern cataloguing standards. You can see some of the fruits of our work in the Archives and Heritage catalogue at http://calmview.birmingham.gov.uk/calmview

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More on the move

Library of Birmingham, 2/08/2012. The gold band around the middle of the building is where the archives will be stored.

In collections development, preparations for the move to LoB have been gathering pace. Work to ensure that our collections are documented on the department’s database has been going on for the last 3 years. A team of 2 archivists and 2 archive assistants have been measuring the size of each archive collection, counting the numerous different box types we use to store different sized items in each collection, double checking collection reference numbers and shelf locations, and, where possible, adding as many of our paper catalogues as possible to our catalogue database. This is to ensure that all the information about a collection is in one place for our staff to search easily and so that the collections can be securely moved to the new archive stores in LoB.

Lifting a heavy volume in the stores.

Much of this work is very time-consuming and labour-intensive as we hold over 6000 archive collections. Now, as we draw closer to the move date, we are boxing up any loose material and ensuring that reference numbers are clearly visible on the outside of volumes or boxes so that the collections can be easily found by the removal company, safely and securely transported, and easily relocated in their new home. Sometimes this work can be physically difficult as some of the volumes are extremely big and heavy (see above photo!), requiring several people to move them, and sometimes they can be very dusty due to the conditions in which they were kept before they came to the archive. This work is going on at the same time as more specialised packaging work which the Conservation team is doing for collections containing items such as glass negatives and rolled maps and plans. We expect all of this work to take up the remaining time before the move to our new home next year.

Eleanor, Archives Assistant

Preparing to Move

An image of the archive's shelvesIt’s an exciting and busy time here. As you may already know, the service is getting ready for its move to a new home in the Library of Birmingham (LoB) in 2013. Preparations are already under way: this summer we have introduced an appointments system in the searchroom and a change to our opening hours in order to allow us to have more time to work on the collections so that they can be moved. Over the next year we will be checking that all printed and archival collections are listed in our databases and our conservation team will be continuing to ensure that collections are appropriately packaged for safe transportation.

A render of the new libraryIn collections development, a team of four spent most of this summer in the stacks checking what was on each shelf and ensuring that our locations database is accurate. In total they surveyed 15788 shelves, that’s 9.8 miles of shelving! Other staff are dealing with our accessions backlog as well as making sure that any at risk collections are brought to us and continuing with the never-ending task of cataloguing collections so that they can be made available. There will be more up-dates on the preparations for the move over the coming months.

Eleanor, Archives Assistant

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