Innovative Historical Conservation in SCOLAR

A seminar in the University Library organized by SCOLAR showcased two new innovative methods of conservation for rare books – one to extend the lifespan of the books, the other to extend our knowledge of the history of those books and their bindings.

A guest speaker from Northampton’s Leather Conservation Centre, Lara Meredith, a professional conservator, outlined a new technique for combating acidification in leather, which causes red dusty rot of the material. The new technique will give at least another generation of life to rare books suffering from ‘red rot’.

A second speaker, Professor Nicholas Pickwoad, of the University of the Arts London, has devised a new methodology for analysing, identifying, and describing the historical physical structure of rare books – in a way which opens up a whole new field for extending our knowledge of the early origins, production, trade, and use of rare books. Such new data will trace the historical and geographical journey of volumes, and chronicle the narrative of their use over the centuries, the ‘archaeology of the book’ as Prof. Pickwoad noted. Such studies based on whole collections could open up whole new layers of historical evidence to enhance our understanding of the material conditions which prevailed in the book trade and libraries, and of individual ownership and use of books since the dawn of printing in the 15th century.

Dr Thanasis Velios, a colleague of Prof. Pickwoad, demonstrated the database he has created to capture the layers of data discovered using the new methodology of analysis of binding structures and materials, and showed the potential to utilize the data for a range of potential research fields across the Humanities.

An external conservation grant from the Colwinston Trust, negotiated via Development and Alumni Relations (DEVAR), has enabled conservation already to begin on the Cardiff Rare Books Collection, and enabled this seminar, which was attended by University academics, librarians, archivists, and staff from the National Museum of Wales Library and Glamorgan Archives, to take place.

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