Preserving pamphlets: our student conservator talks about her work in the Library

We’re lucky to have Beth Franklin, a student conservator, volunteering at the Library this autumn. She’s working on-site to conserve some of the Library’s nineteenth and twentieth century pamphlets. We asked Beth about the kind of work she’s doing here and what drew her to a career in conservation.

 

Carrying out tape removal In the studio at Camberwell

Carrying out tape removal In the studio at Camberwell

How did you come to volunteer at the Library of the Society of Friends?

Beth: I’m a second year student on the Conservation M.A. course (Books and Archival Materials pathway) at Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London, finishing in 2017, and looking for every opportunity to practice my skills. My undergraduate degree was in Theology and Biblical Studies, so I was interested in Quakerism. When my mentor Ian Watson, a conservator at Lambeth Palace Library, suggested a placement here I jumped at it. After my two week placement last spring I offered to come back one day a week through the autumn.

 

What did you do here during your first two week placement in the spring?

Beth: I broke up books! I had to dis-bind a set of nineteenth century pamphlet volumes. Like all conservation work, it required a steady hand and great care, and it was actually useful for understanding the structure of bound volumes, complementing what I had learned during my course so far.

 

You’re volunteering at the Library throughout the autumn. What kind of work are you doing now?

Beth: I’m working on the pamphlet material that the Library’s NADFAS team of volunteers have identified as needing more extensive work than they can do. I spent a day working with Ian at Sussex Conservation Consortium’s studio, and he helped decide what treatments were appropriate for me to carry out on site in the Library at Friends House, one day a week. Most of my work is repairing paper tears, reattaching covers and removing damaging staples – ones that are hard to get at because they are covered by the pamphlet bindings.

 

Beth’s tool roll

Beth’s tool roll – portable essentials

How does this fit in with the M.A. course you’re taking at Camberwell?

Beth: It’s useful experience. It gives me the opportunity to practise what I’ve learned in a classroom environment in a real life library and archive setting.

 

How long does each pamphlet take to treat?

Beth: It all depends – how long is a piece of string? A simple pamphlet might take ten minutes for careful staple removal and sewing; applying paper hinges to covers using wheat starch paste is longer, with drying time about an hour. I make up the wheat starch paste each time I visit the Library – it goes off in a week and smells horrible! One pamphlet that took a lot of time to treat was published in 2006 (Grow up or blow up, by Charlotte Waterlow). It was a thick pamphlet – 60 pages – with staples all the way through. I had to remove the staples, sew the pages together using the existing staple holes and re-attach the cover with Japanese paper hinges. Taking out the staples led to some loss of spine tape, which needed to be remedied with careful toning.

 

Wheat starch paste, made up for each visit to the Library

Wheat starch paste, made up for each visit to the Library

What’s the most challenging item you’ve treated so far this term?

Beth: A 19th century pamphlet about a visit to Ireland by James Hack Tuke (Irish distress and its remedies. The land question. A visit to Donegal and Connaught in the spring of 1880, Box 77/19). This was a well-used pamphlet whose covers had fallen off. It had been sewn but the stitching had gone, and I had to re-stitch the sections and sew them onto two cords, on site, with only the basic equipment I had here. My mentor Ian advised that it was do-able, and I’m pretty pleased with the result, considering I didn’t have the use of a sewing frame. I made a new paper cover, with a Japanese paper spine and I also had to remove some sticky tape (the bane of conservators).

 

Could you tell us about some of the other conservation work you’ve been doing?

Beth: I worked for a month over the summer at Lambeth Place Library, repairing three leather bindings by re-attaching boards and making a new leather spine – my first opportunity to work with leather bindings in a real life library context.

At the moment I’m also volunteering at the V&A Museum once a week, in their Blythe House store, making book wraps – bespoke enclosures for leather bound books with “red rot”, designed to protect neighbouring volumes (and users!) from the red flaking dust that comes off the volumes.

Enclosure for a book with "red rot"

Enclosure for a book with “red rot”

What drew you to book and archive conservation in the first place?

As an undergraduate I used university special collections for my research at Liverpool Hope University, and I loved it. I ended up volunteering there, and did some basic repair work, which got my interest going. In the future I’d like to work as a conservator in a religious library or archive.

 

Finally, what’s your favourite piece of conservation equipment?

My Teflon bone folder. A bone folder is the conservator’s best friend! But I also love my Japanese bristle brush with bamboo handle, which is beautiful as well as useful.

 

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9 Responses to Preserving pamphlets: our student conservator talks about her work in the Library

  1. Amanda says:

    This is fascinating, thankyou!

    On 7 November 2016 at 10:02, Quaker Strongrooms wrote:

    > Library of the Society of Friends posted: “We’re lucky to have Beth > Franklin, a student conservator, volunteering at the Library this autumn. > She’s working on-site to conserve some of the Library’s nineteenth and > twentieth century pamphlets. We asked Beth about the kind of work she’s > doing here an” >

  2. Beverly Holbrook Treen says:

    Sounds great! Interested in your procedure for red rot items. Do you make them yourself?

  3. Vernon White says:

    Fascinating. And fancy coming across Charlotte again, unexpectedly!

  4. drppsmithgoo says:

    Please thank Beth for what she is doing

  5. Anne Ashworth says:

    How good to think of such detailed and dedicated work being done on documents that would otherwise be lost to history! Long live the Quaker strongrooms.

  6. Jon NORTH says:

    This is brilliant and useful too. I worked with Ted Milligan, Malcolm Thomas and Gil Skidmore in the Library in the 70s and while we did our best to preserve the books and pamphlets we cared for, it is great to see how far the level of care and attention to detail has progressed over 40+ years.

    • Library of the Society of Friends says:

      Thanks for the encouraging words Jon! Thanks to microfilming projects that you and others did so much to organise, and more recently to digitisation projects, we’re able to improve access to collections, but nothing will ever replace the material objects themselves (be they printed, manuscript or visual)! Preserving them for future generations is still an important part of the Library’s work.

  7. Pingback: Good cheer! | Quaker Strongrooms

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