The surest way to preserve your books in health is to treat them as you would your own children, who are sure to sicken if confined in an atmosphere which is too hot, too cold, too damp or too dry
William Blades, The Enemies of Books, London 1880
During May, as part of the Bealtaine Festival, we held a special workshop on how to care for your personal collection. The workshop was delivered by Louise O’Connor from our Conservation Department who is an expert in the conservation and preservation of paper items.
“There was a really good turnout” says Louise. “We kept it informal so that people would feel free to speak. Most people who attended were retirees but there were a couple of younger people too. There was a good mix of expertise.”
Areas covered during the workshop included; risks to collections such as fire, flooding and pests; environmental conditions such as temperature; how to handle items; and how to store them correctly. “People very much wanted to know the practicalities” says Louise.
“Don’t try to repair things yourself” she advises. “Sellotape is the devil. Never use sellotape! Metal paperclips and staples can also be problematic. Basically all you need to do is protect the item. Try not to handle it too much. Keep it away from light and heat and if you want to consult it, use a copy. Keeping it in a shoebox in your bedroom is better than keeping it in your attic as attics can be dusty and damp”.
Some attendees brought items from their collection to the workshop such as an 18th century music book in poor condition. ”It was interesting because it still had its stationery binding” explains Louise. “When books were made in the 18th century, the binder would put a temporary binding on it and when the book was sold, the person would then rebind it in their own style. It was a cheaper way of selling books. This particular book was still in that form – the pages hadn’t even been trimmed”.
The question on most attendees’ minds was whether their items could be repaired. “Anything can be fixed” says Louise. “Whether you want to invest the time and money is the question. Conservators follow an ethos of minimal intervention. While you could do a lot to something, the better thing is to do the least amount possible and respect the original”.
While NLI doesn’t offer conservation services to individuals, we recommend that you contact the Irish Professional Conservators’ and Restorers’ Association (IPCRA). We also have plenty of information on how to care for your family papers on our website.