Conservation laboratories are worth a visit: we don’t do it so differentlyly in Australia

I’m so new to this business, I know very little. Really.

Sigh. Ok, so maybe I know more than I realise. Sometimes I feel as though I work in isolation. Robin our not so new manager has brought a wealth of experience with her, but that still doesn’t mean that I have that experience.

Visiting conservation laboratories at the British Library and in Oxford was eye opening. While it may feel as though I am not in contact with what the rest of the world is about, but that is not the truth.

I wanted to visit other labs because I wanted to ask questions about how they went about their daily work; how did books come to them? Did they have the same systems as us? Did they do small repairs, repairs to books in the running collection? Did they use bought paste, or did they cook up the starch?

My next lab visit was to the Bodleian Library Conservation Lab. Their temporary location was  about 20 minutes walk away from the centre of Oxford, and from the Bodleian Library. The reason for their relocation was the refurbishment of the Bodleian.

Ceiling of the Bodleian Library waiting room

The main repository for the Bodleian is located at Swinburn, about 50 minutes away. The lab caters for all the university libraries, the Bodleian and the repository. I believe this distance away from the collections is detrimental, or at least makes their work much harder.

Nicole Gilroy the lab manager was very welcoming and showed me around their laboratory. She introduced me to the environmental monitors; as I am involved at the National Library with monitoring dataloggers I was very keen to talk with her staff about what technology they used.

Mostly they gathered their data remotely, using a logger that looked more like a walkie talkie than the small loggers we use at the NLA.

Data logger

The lab takes a floor. It is not as spacious as the British Library, and there are about 8 work stations. As with the larger laboratory, their stations are very well appointed.

laboratory, their stations are very well appointed It is still the holidays, so not many staff are lurking about.

Bodleian Conservation lab

I ask the usual questions, get shown the usual stuff. However a few things stand out:

The difficulties associated with having the lab so far away from the collections. The transport of items in crates twice or three times a week must be a logistics nightmare; a five minute visit to consult with a collection manager turns into an hour excursion.

Crates used for transport between preservation and the libraries

Fascicules: I was introduced to this concept of rehousing manuscripts in this particular manner. Much of their work consisted in fasciculing.


This is a method whereby a single section album is created; pages of the manuscript are side hinged onto the pages using Japanese tissue and starch paste. Everything is reversible. Many of their manuscripts are rehoused in this manner.

the lab’s photo studio for confiles

Both labs in Oxford had their own photo studio, set up in a corner. Due to the frequency of photography required for conservation files, it was more efficient to have their own gear.

In contrast, the laboratory of the Oxford Colleges Consortium is in Oxford itself, hidden behind a nameless stone facade.

Oxford Colleges Consortium Laboratory


None of the labs I visited were bothered with minor repairs such as those that I perform at the Library. They are too busy with more significant works, rather than spending time on mere errata tips-ons or fixing the bindings of softcovers (fiction or non-fiction).

All the labs also used made starch paste; in Australia bookbinders have had a hard time finding a good paste.

I am very grateful to Nicole Gilroy (Bodleian) and  Jane Eagan (OCCC) for taking the time to show me their domains. Both are as different from each other as they are from the British Library’s lab.












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