Behind the scenes Collections Series Short read

Introduction to Collection Care

The Collection Care team has specialist knowledge encompassing: books, paper, pith, parchment, leather, papyrus, photographic, and visual collections

The Collection Care team is a multi-skilled team of ten conservators from a range of backgrounds, who are ideally equipped to deal with the wide range of items we hold at the Library.   

So, how did we get here 

The Collection Care department evolved from a Library Bindery established in the early 1950’s by the then Librarian Dr. Moses Tyson and was managed until 1983, by Arnold May MBE 

Book conservators in a traditional book bindery setting
A traditional view of working binderies.  Book Conservators, Mitchell Building, 29.10.1943 – State Library of New South Wales / Public domain

The bindery was almost solely devoted to the rebinding of printed lending collections and was typical of binderies of the day, in that roles were defined by gender. Women carried out work deemed semi-skilled, i.e. book sewing and basic page repairs. The men, who were all time-served bookbinders, carried out the bookbinding and finishing (lettering).  There were different role descriptions and paygrades and they even worked in separate rooms.  

The Shift from Bindery to Collection Care

The first step towards change came in 1983 when an embryonic Conservation department, staffed by a mix of permanent and project funded contract staff, was created to operate alongside the bindery. These two departments co-existed until a change of management and structure in 2008 began the shift from an industrial style bindery with small-scale conservation unit attached, to the all-encompassing Collection Care department. 

From 2008-2015 this department was split into Conservation and Preservation teams, with the Conservation team based at The John Rylands Library and concentrating on Special Collections, whilst the Preservation team concentrated on thesis binding and repairs to the modern lending collections. 

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Commercial thesis binding ceased in 2014, allowing more time to be devoted to Special Collections, which led to an increased profile for that area. Staff numbers reduced over the years from a high of seventeen in the mid 1990’s to the current and highly skilled team of ten based across three locations today.  

Current State and Looking to the Future

The current Collection Care team has specialist knowledge encompassing: books, paper, pith, parchment, leather, papyrus, photographic, and visual collections, as well as the conservation skillsetnecessary to treat these items and materials 

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Collection Care leads crucial Preservation activities including: environmental monitoring; integrated pest management; specialist object handling advice and guidance; boxmaking, and bespoke storage solutions. In the near future, we will be focussing on a scientific approach to preventative conservation, looking at agents of degradation and making better use of the stores. 

Collection Care is also involved with public engagement through events like exhibitions. We prepare items for display, and design and manufacture book supports and mounts using an in-house boxmaker.  

In a forthcoming series of blogs, members from Collection Care will provide insights into their work. The first in the series will focus on the materiality of the book.  




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