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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsSPEAKER 1: So in this section, we're going to talk about how we care for manuscripts here at the [? Cadbury ?] Research Library. What did we do to preserve them? How do you ensure the longevity of your collection so that it's available for research? The collections here tend to be predominantly organic materials, and they can really vary in date. And some of the earliest materials are papyrus which is plant-based, but we also have paper, leather, and we have photographs. So we have a mixed media in our collections here. And the way we care for things are really in two ways. So we think of conservation has preventive conservation and interventive conservation.

Skip to 0 minutes and 48 secondsSo preventive conservation, as the word sounds, is about stopping damage from happening before it starts and to do this, we use passive methods such as environmental control in the stores. So we keep our stores at a very stable temperature and relative humidity. We aim to keep the stores around 18 degrees Celsius, and the relative humidity is around 50% RH. And an important part of conservation is just monitoring that environment and ensuring that any problems are reported. So this is a tiny tag, and this is a typical piece of kit that we would use to monitor the temperature and the relative humidity. And at the moment, it's showing that the studio we're in is just under 50% RH.

Skip to 1 minute and 38 secondsIt's 49.5, and the temperature is 22 degrees in here. It's a little bit warm, but we also factor in human comfort. So for human comfort, 18 degrees is too cold. You can't have that in a reading room but somewhere around about 20 is fine. And I'm also holding this, so it's going to put the temperature up a bit. We also think very importantly about light damage so this really comes into play when we're putting manuscripts on display. Light damage is irreversible. Fading cannot be undone, so it is really important that we think really carefully about how long we display manuscripts. And do we turn the pages so that we're not exposing the same page over and over again?

Skip to 2 minutes and 19 secondsAnd with star items like the Burning Koran where you only have one by [? failure ?] for size that you can display. This is really important to keep a record of this because once the ink has faded, it can't be replaced. So we stipulate when a manuscript goes on display that it should have very low lighting. And normally we say around about 50 lux. And here I've got a light metre, and this is very simple piece of kit again. I just press Vis for visible light and that will tell me the light reading in here. It's 704 lux, so that's very bright.

Skip to 2 minutes and 54 secondsAnd we have that brightness particularly in the studio because we're doing fine work on manuscripts, but it also means that when we've not got the manuscripts out we must cover them up to obscure them from the light.

Skip to 3 minutes and 8 secondsOther forms are things like safe handling practise. So safe handling practise in the reading room and the staff working with manuscripts is really important. So we have things like this book cushion and that will support a manuscript when it's open in the reading room. We use a clean hands policy but with some manuscripts, we do stipulate gloves like the Burning Koran, so this is a pair of nitrile gloves, and they will protect manuscripts from the oils coming off our hands. So another important element when you're protecting manuscripts in storage is boxing. So a simple box like this made of archival folding boxboard can protect a manuscript, and this box is made from very densely packed fibre.

Skip to 3 minutes and 53 secondsAnd in the event of something like a fire and the sprinklers going off, it would take several hours before this box was affected by water damage. So these boxes are all custom made for manuscripts. We measure each manuscript, and they should fit perfectly. So here's one. This is a small Arabic Christian manuscript. Fits nicely in the box and then it will go on the shelf. So in addition to preventive conservation measures, we use intervention conservation treatments. Now, this is much more unusual. This is when we decide that a manuscript or a work of art in the collection requires treatments across some form of repair to stabilise it.

Skip to 4 minutes and 33 secondsMaybe it's going to go on display or maybe it's used a lot in the reading room or in teaching and it's a heavily used star item, and it's not standing up well to handling. So we have to have good reason before we would carry out any conservation treatment. Conservatists abide by a code of ethics whereby treatment should always be reversible and the minimum required to stabilise an item. And we document every stage of our work, so we'll write down in stages all of the processes that an item is going through.

Skip to 5 minutes and 4 secondsAnd then if we ever need to come back to that item, or we find that a material we've used is no longer a viable conservation treatment, we've got a record of what's been done to each item and that's just very good practise. I've got examples here of a manuscript before and after conservations. So this is a lovely little Islamic manuscript, but it's demonstrating some very typical problems of manuscripts of this period. So we can see there's staining on the pages, there's some copper corrosion, and it's quite tricky to handle. It's got some lovely illustrations. There's some residue of tapes on the bindings. Some modern masking tape.

Skip to 5 minutes and 52 secondsSo something like this would be a candidate for some conservation, but we would preserve this original Islamic binding. This one here has been for conservation. It didn't have a binding, actually. It had a very modern binding when it went, so it's being put into a non-western binding but the copper corrosion's been repaired, the staining's being reduced, and it's in this new leather binding for each flap making it much more stable for handling.

Conservation and preservation

In this film, Sarah Kilroy discusses the different methods used by conservators to care for manuscript collections.

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This video is from the free online course:

The Birmingham Qur'an: Its Journey from the Islamic Heartlands

University of Birmingham