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Preserving the Pearse Papers at the National Library

Friday, 27 June 2014

Only very cool conservators get to work on the conservation equivalent of CSI. Yes, it's fun to wear white coats, flash the ultraviolet light around and talk abut acidity (for us, anyhow!), but the reality of preserving our paper heritage collections is somewhat more mundane. That is until we must deal with LOTS of mould. Then things become somewhat more exciting!


Preservation of the Pearse Papers, funded by the Heritage Council, was recently completed. Conservation student volunteer Valentina Giunta, from Tor Vergata University in Rome, worked on re-housing and surface-cleaning the collection.

Conservation student volunteer, Valentina Giunta, re-housing the Pearse Papers collection


Re-housing the papers was essential to their preservation. Normal stationery supplies are not suitable for long-term storage. They are made from wood-pulp paper that will very quickly turn acidic, creating an acidic ‘micro-climate’. The manuscripts in these folders can absorb the acids, speeding up their degradation. The new grey folders are acid-free, lignin-free and with an alkaline buffer for ‘permanent’ storage. While the new folders may not seem very exciting, they will actively protect the items from degrading.

Spot the difference-new and old folders


A condition assessment found that many papers are mould-damaged. This has resulted in extreme discolouration, ink damage and embrittlement. Some of these sheets are very fragile and cannot be handled safely. The mould and water damage has even resulted in the cementing together of each sheet in one booklet from Cumann na Poblachta (a precursor to Fianna Fáil political party) signed by Margaret Pearse in 1922.

Mould & water damage has resulted in the cementing together of each sheet in this booklet from Cumann na Poblachta


Prior to re-housing, these mould damaged items have been isolated for treatment. The Next step is to plan the conservation treatment of over 450 sheets, which will be undertaken this summer. This will involve solubility testing of all inks, photographic documentation and lots of scratching of heads while we decide how to deactivate mould spores and strengthen and repair all the papers. Stay tuned for more updates on the project this summer.  Now to where did I leave my ultraviolet light…

Letter severely damaged by mould causing extreme discolouration, ink damage, and embrittlement


Blog written by Louise O'Connor, a Conservator at the National Library of Ireland.