Friday, 6 May 2016

Conservation and cake!

Earlier this week Ruth attended what is now an annual get together for Scottish conservators to share ideas and news. Employing a pecha kucha approach, 18 speakers had five minutes each to talk to a room packed full of conservators representing the major nationals for library, museum, art and archive collections, as well as universities, councils and those in private practice. There were also a few aspiring conservators, with students and volunteers there too.

The Centre for Research Collections hosted the event, following in the footsteps of 2015’s host, the National Library of Scotland (NLS), and it was great to be able to welcome so many professionals with shared goals and backgrounds to talk about recent developments in our field. I spoke at last year’s event, presenting a whistle-stop tour of our internship programme for archivists and conservators, but this year I confined myself to loading up all the PowerPoints, enjoying the presentations, and tweeting using #PaperConservators.

All the presentations were well-rehearsed and interesting, but stand-out ones for me touched on some of the issues that we deal with when working to preserve the LHSA collections. Isobel Griffin from NLS talked about prioritising collections for treatment, and being clear and transparent when describing the processes conservators use and the decision-making that lies behind those objects that aren't treated as well as those that are. Mary Garner spoke about preparing collections for mass digitisation, and while we're not doing that with LHSA collections, it is an area that we need to keep up-to-date on to inform our smaller scale digitisation work. Gloria Conti from the National Records of Scotland presented a case study which captured perfectly the relationship a conservator can establish with those represented in the records we preserve - and the responsibility we have to treat the data in the records and, by extension the individuals themselves, sensitively.
A question and answer session with some of speakers

There were also a couple of papers on treating wallpaper in situ: Helen Creasy looked to the historic pinned and tacked repairs on the wallpaper she was tasked with conserving and used toned stainless steel staples to reattach flaking pieces of the paper that couldn't be held in place with conventional adhesive methods. Again, wallpaper is not something we have to deal with here, but Helen inspired me to think creatively when addressing damage to collection items to find the best solution for each case (though I don't think I'll be replicating any of the historic repairs I see on the LHSA collections - Elastoplast doesn't meet any of a conservator’s basic requirements for an appropriate and ethical repair!).

(As a little side note, it was a great to see Ryan Gibson’s presentation showcasing some recent films made by the conservation department at NLS - he very kindly credited our handling video as inspiration for their efforts!

Conservation and cake don't often mix but, as there were no collection items around, some delicious home-baking kept us going through the afternoon - it turns out some of the clever conservators that attended the event are brilliant bakers too!

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