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

Tour of the Weston Library, Conservation and Special Collections – Tom Dale

We Oxford Library Trainees are a lucky bunch. We have had many interesting and useful training sessions and tours over the last nine months, but few were as remarkable as our trip to the Weston Library.

We met in Blackwell Hall, the Weston Library’s new public space, and were led up to the Conservation Studio. There we were shown a few of the Bodleian’s treasures and taken through how the team of expert conservators assess, repair and conserve our special collections. Highlights included a 9th Century book of Canon Tables and two 17th Century Chinese hanging scrolls, the Maps of the Heavens and the Earth.

Broad Street, Oxford photographer, Oxford University, Weston library, www.facebook.com/johncairnsphotography, www.johncairns.co.uk
Broad Street, Oxford photographer, Oxford University, Weston library, www.facebook.com/johncairnsphotography, www.johncairns.co.uk

 

It is no exaggeration to say that these were awe-inspiring. The fact that Bodleian Libraries has a world-class team working on priceless objects underscores just how special this library system is. We came away speculating about a career change, but these conservators have decades of training and experience under their belts. To see what they get up to, you can follow them on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/bodleianconservation/.

We were then taken to a seminar room for a meeting with Dr Martin Kauffmann, Head of Early and Rare Collections and Tolkien Curator of Medieval Manuscripts. Martin showed us three objects from the Bodleian’s collections to illustrate different ways in which historical collections are valuable. The highlight was a 1217 copy of the Magna Carta, one of three copies from that year held by the Bodleian.

Magna Carta1

The Magna Carta is even more Magna up close

We finished the day with a tour which included going onto the roof of the library, from where we could gaze out over Oxford’s famous spires.

Weston

The Trainees bask in the Oxford sun. I think there was a sun up there somewhere.

Thanks to all who welcomed and shared their work with us. It was a really special afternoon.