Collection Care at the Parliamentary Archives has developed in the past few years from bookbinding to conservation and preservation. The team are Lois, Oriana, Tiffany, Tom and Lara, who are all trained as library and archive conservators. We look after the many historic items held in the Parliamentary Archives and help to preserve them for current and future generations. We also assist with conservation programmes for the House of Commons and House of Lords Libraries and occasionally work on the art you see around the estate.
21st century collection care is a complex and varied job that requires an extensive knowledge of science, history and craft based skills.
Our work in the Archives falls into two main categories that aim to use preservation to help facilitate access to the collections in our care:
- Conservation: Treating damaged or deteriorated items to stabilise and improve their condition
- Preservation: Preventing damage from occurring in the first place by improving environmental conditions, storage and collection movements in transit, and by raising awareness about best practice in collection management relating to collections care.
Tom and Tiffany have recently joined the team as part-time Collection Care Assistants. We asked them to tell us about their experiences so far:
Tiffany: Hello! Having initially trained as an artist, I recently graduated from West Dean College (University of Sussex) with an MA in Conservation of Books and Library Materials. It’s been a great experience at the Archives so far, I have been working on joint preservation projects with Tom, as well as undertaking book conservation work for the various libraries across the estate.
Tom: I qualified last summer from the Paper Conservation MA programme at Camberwell College of Arts (part of the University of the Arts London). So far I have mainly worked on preservation projects such as dust monitoring on the Parliamentary tourist trail and producing specially designed archival boxes for rolls of historic parchment stored in the Archives. I am learning that the role of the conservator is ever-evolving and we need to be flexible as we never know what will come next!?
A couple of weeks ago the whole team were delighted to welcome colleagues from across Parliament as part of the Parliamentary Heritage Tours. We showed people around the studios and talked about recent projects and ongoing work that the team is involved in. It was a great opportunity to ‘demystify’ collections care and answer questions about what we do. We thoroughly enjoyed the tours and look forward to welcoming more visitors in future!
A typical day for us at the moment is carrying out repairs on damaged books or documents, specifically prioritising this around preparing for items to be digitised, or going out on loan or being used in the search room; monitoring environmental conditions; helping researchers handle fragile items and preparing displays for exhibitions. In addition, we are frequently asked to research and advise on many matters relating to heritage, such as looking at some of the archival specifications for digital printing, showcase stipulations and historical bibliography. It’s a challenging job but never a dull one!
Do check out future blogs as we will keep you posted on anything interesting that we come across.
If you want to know more about the profession of the conservator here are some useful sites: