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.
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.
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.
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.
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.