Mushrooms, Cheese, and Other Challenges

As part of the Library Graduate Trainee Scheme here in Oxford, we trainees take part in weekly sessions covering a variety of aspects of work in the library and information sector. This year the sessions have been conducted remotely over Teams, and so far have included topics such as reader services, working safely, resource discovery and supporting disabled readers.

A few weeks ago, we took part in two back-to-back one-hour sessions, with the first focusing on conservation and collection care and the second on special collections. I found both sessions so interesting that I thought it would be worth writing a short post about just some of the things the conservators and collection keepers at the Bodleian Libraries get up to.

First, we were given an overview of the Bodleian Libraries’ conservation work, including the different drivers behind collection projects and the three areas within which the conservation teams operate: paper conservation, book conservation, and preventive conservation.

Next, one of the preventive conservators talked us through a little of what their work entails, including IPM (Integrated Pest Management, to keep an eye on those sneaky insects who like books as much as we do), the environmental monitoring used to maintain stable conditions in libraries such as Duke Humfrey’s Library, and, finally, some of the more peculiar conservation challenges the team has faced over the years – including how to preserve a book made of mushrooms!

Then it was time to head over to the conservation workshop. In previous years, trainees visited the workshop at the Weston Library in person. This year, the workshop held their first ever virtual tour, delivered via tablet video call. The workshop itself is a large, airy, open-plan space, and we were shown around and introduced to several of the conservators and some of their current projects. (Did you know that you can use enzymes to separate pages? I definitely didn’t!)

After a short break, we “visited” the Special Collections, and had a “show and tell” of some of the more eclectic items held by the Weston Library, including a book of processed cheese (another left-field challenge for the preventive conservation team!).

Even though we were unable to visit the Weston Library in person, it was still a real privilege to be introduced to this side of the Bodleian Libraries and to get a flavor of the kind of expertise and care that goes into curating and taking care of its vast collections. A big thank you to everyone who made it possible!

You can learn more about conservation at the Bodleian Libraries by following @bodleianconservation on Instagram or finding them on Twitter (@BodCons), and you can take a look at the Special Collections blogs here: https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/weston/finding-resources/scblogs

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