Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Conserving our Past for the Future

Our final class took us back to the British Library, this time for a tour of the conservation center. Every major library and archival institution does some level of conservation/preservation on their items. Normally, the most important items in the collection are taken care of first and those of less value are conserved later when need or monetary means arise. This is a guiding principal for libraries and archives, for it is far too expensive and time consuming to preserve and conserve every document in the collection.

The same is true for the British Library, which gives a lot of intense care to the most important documents but chooses to give general care to the rest of the collection. For example, the British Library is not involved in a massive de-acidification project. (This means that it would be removing all of the acids from all of the paper in the collection, something that would require an extensive amount of people, time, and money to finish.

Instead, it is focused on preventative conservation, a practice employed by many institutions. The library makes sure that its collections are kept at a certain temperature and are in acid-free folders and archival boxes. They have recently built a low-oxygen storage center in Yorkshire.It keeps the documents at a very cold temperature and doesn't allow them to light on fire. They will be building another one for their newspaper collection very soon.

Moreover, the British Library is a communal institution. It sees itself as the preservation headquarters for all of the archives and libraries in England. Thus, it feels obliged to help out fellow institutions throughout the nation. The Preservation Advisory Center hosts training events for librarians and archivists, gives out free pamphlets on preservation, and speaks at conferences on the subject.

Overall, the Conservation Centre at the British Library is much more than a lot of rooms filled with books, photographs, and documents that need repairing. It is a highly-functioning aspect of the British Library that works to prevent damage to its documents as well as reach out to the archival community in England. The library takes its role as ambassador very seriously and is thus one of the premier institutions in the world in regards to preservation and conservation.

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