Library Lab Exhibition 2011

Library Lab, the conservation and preservation element of Particles of the Past provided an insight into the work of the NLI Conservation Department, which ranges across all NLI collections and can vary from devising measures to protect collections of tens of thousands of objects to in-depth examination and treatment of unique artefacts.

The Big Picture - Preservation

All NLI collections undergo a natural aging process, which can not be avoided but can be controlled through preservation measures. In general, these measures will not improve the condition of an object, but will slow down degradation and prevent damage by passive methods. Typically, preservation measures are applied on a collection wide level, so we really do have to see the Big Picture. We take many steps to preserve NLI collections whilst in storage or during access. These include appropriate measures and standards for:

  • Environmental monitoring and control
  • Storage and housing materials
  • Handling
  • Loan and exhibition practice
  • Disaster prevention and response
Preservation  - The Big PicturePreservation - The Big Picture

Wherever possible steps are taken to protect items from damage as soon as they enter the NLI collection, even prior to access; for example the phase boxing of all newly catalogued rare volumes are and use of acid free folders and boxes for sorted manuscript collections. To play your part in protecting our collections please follow the link above to view our film and slideshow on good handling practice.

Many of our preservation practices can be applied to your own collections of photos, letters, diaries, books, prints and certificates- have a read of Library Lab Top Tips  Library Lab Top Tips.pdf (2.79 MB, Adobe PDF) to find out more.

Up Close and Personal - Conservation

Conservation aims to prolong the life and accessibility of collections through interventive treatments, which improve the physical, chemical and often visual condition of an object. The first stage of any conservation treatment is the thorough examination and documentation of the object. Whilst an entire collection may be conserved each item within it will be assessed and a tailor made treatment devised to match its specific requirements. It’s true to say that conservators really get to know the objects that we work on and gain insight into their means of manufacture and history. In carrying out interventive treatments, conservators apply techniques, which have been researched and accepted, using materials, which have been thoroughly tested and known to be chemically and physically stable.

Conservation Up Close and Personal Conservation Up Close and Personal

In some instances, scientific analysis may identify a component of an object; such as paper fibres, pigments, dyes, adhesives or even plastics. All such analyses are carried out by our colleagues at The State Laboratory. The results of analyses can inform the treatment process and provide valuable information about the history or manufacture of an object.

Using craft, science and technology we are working to make our collections available to you and to future generations. If you’d like to see the conservation team at work or see more detail on the step by step conservation of an object, then watch our film and the slideshow below or read our blog posts.

For any further queries, email


Fibre sample under the microscope
Fibre sample under the microscope
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