Behind the scenes Long read

Geographical School Map Collection Placement Project

I work as a Collections assistant at the University of Manchester Library Special Collections, focusing mainly on the Library’s map collection – which is the largest in the North of England. Therefore, my ICP placement project was devised by Maps Curator, Donna Sherman, and Collection Care Manager, Jim Duff, to include both conservation and collections work on an under-utilised collection of maps. This placement project was part of my studies contributing to an MA in Medieval and Early Modern Studies, governed by the John Rylands Research Institute and the University of Manchester.

The Geography department’s map collection was amalgamated into the University of Manchester Library’s collection in 2007/8 when the specialist Geography Library closed down. Many sheets were able to be added directly into the collection, however there were certain items that were not so easy to embed because of the format of the material. I have been working on a collection of 44 rolled, oversized maps that were previously used for teaching but have not been documented. The continual use of these maps for teaching has led to surface dirt, damage around the poles and also tears within some of the maps. Accordingly, a condition report and cleaning, repairing and rehousing of these objects were needed in preparation for any future handling and to safely store this collection.


To begin my placement, Collection Care Team Leader and paper conservator, Elisabeth Carr, organised a session that introduced me to the basic chemistry of paper and also illustrated the most common treatment techniques that are used within paper conservation. I was able to gain an understanding of the history and science of paper from this session. After this, I created a spreadsheet that incorporated a standard conservation condition report with the metadata fields needed for documentation of each item. Within my spreadsheet, I identified that the back fabric and also the front-edges of each map should be cleaned with a chemical smoke-sponge, and a rubber eraser for the cloth support. I tested out areas of the map to establish that the smoke-sponge would not remove excess material and proceeded in dry-cleaning the maps. I took snapshots of my progress on items and also captured a shot of each individual map, to be stored with the condition survey for reference.


For the second half of my placement I was working with Collection Care Team Leader and book conservator, Laura Caradonna. This time was spent tending to any tear repairs and rehousing the maps in archival material so that this collection can be safely stored away. To begin with, I was able to take part in a session at Joule Library on paper repairs, and this allowed me to practise on some objects from the collections, once I became familiar with the processes and procedures. Laura provided me with an overview of materials that are used for tear repairs. We explored the different types of Japanese paper and various paste recipes that can be used.


Within the rolled maps, there were only a small number of items to be repaired and therefore repairing and rehousing together would save space and time. Whilst repairs were drying on the main table, we both rehoused a number of maps that did not need repairs on a separate second table. We lined the inside of the map with archival tissue paper, which was cut to size in order to cover the media of the map. We would then loosely roll the map back up, surround this with Tyvek material, and secure with archival tapes.


This collection is now discoverable through a spreadsheet and prepared for handling, as well as being housed in archival material appropriate for long-term storage. Therefore, this collection may be used in future for teaching, research, enquiries or within an exhibition. The accessibility of this collection has been increased due to this placement project and this furthermore displays the benefits of projects such as these within the University of Manchester Library.


With thanks to Maps curator, Donna, and the Conservation team: Jim, Elisabeth, Laura and Paul Robinson for their guidance and support.

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