Colleagues from the historic libraries at Balliol, Christ Church, Merton, and Queen’s came to Jesus College last week for a course on handling and cleaning rare books. The course was run by our colleagues Victoria Stevens and Celia Withycombe from the Oxford Conservation Consortium.
Victoria and Celia used examples from Jesus College’s collection to highlight the innate weaknesses of various materials, as well as common problems exacerbated by environmental conditions. We saw leather bindings which shed red rot, cockled (crinkled) book covers, mould growth and pest damage. However, the conservators impressed upon us that the biggest risk to many books was handling, and encouraged us to take particular care not to put pressure on vulnerable areas such as the headbands of books.
Participants were all given the opportunity to practise handling rare books, removing surface dirt with low-suction conservation vacuum cleaners and soft bristle brushes, and tying up detached boards effectively. We were also given tips for monitoring dust levels and devising cleaning strategies, as well as selecting conservation materials which were sympathetic to historical interiors.
The Oxford Conservation Consortium is a group of Icon-accredited conservators based in a studio at Magdalen College. The Consortium was founded in 1990 and offers preservation guidance, conservation work on a range of materials and environmental monitoring services for its thirteen member colleges.
Emma Jones (Graduate Library Trainee, 2013–14)