“The fundamental role of the conservator-restorer is the preservation of cultural heritage for the benefit of present and future generations…”*
I remember very vividly John L. Sharpe, a rare book historian and conservator, teaching a class at my conservation course in Italy and describing conservation as a triangle with History, Science and Craft at each vertex. 14 years on, I believe that definition was absolutely spot on. Conservation is a wonderful profession which combines very diverse skills. It requires manual dexterity and an insightful knowledge of material science, backed up by a sound historical background.
At National Records of Scotland, conservation is taken care of by Conservation Services Branch. We are a team of eight Conservators from different backgrounds and with a wide range of skills and expertise. We look after the physical wellbeing of the records and we make sure that practice is applied in their care.
We work with the whole range of archive materials, including flat paper and parchment documents, bound volumes, wax seals, maps and plans, photographic material, modern material and modern media.
And what do we do for you?
We treat records when they are in bad condition. We stabilise them to prevent them deteriorating further or we carry out more extensive treatments to restore their usability. We also do a variety of other things. Many, really!
We assess and prepare records for digital imaging, and we take care of a series of preservation activities like triaging new accessions and re-packaging. We monitor the environment in our store rooms and we carry out surveys. We also prepare records for exhibitions and we install and courier them when they’re on loan. We advise our colleagues and the general public on the correct handling of cultural heritage, and offer advice on preservation and conservation to the Scottish Archives and to privately owned archives.
This specialist work by Conservators helps to preserve the national Scottish collection, which in turn makes it available to the public.
Recent projects we have worked on include preparation for the Famous Scots from the Past Exhibition – you can read about the four subjects of the exhibition here; here, here and here. We also oversaw set-up of a new environmental monitoring system across our stores, the conservation of a Court book in very poor condition that led us to some interesting discoveries and the monitoring of vibration and dust in General Register House during the recent St. James redevelopment project.
Our studio is always very busy, and who can say what we’ll be up to, by the time this blog post is published!
If you ever need to enlist the services of a conservator, or if you’d like to speak to a particular one, we recommend searching the Conservation Register.
And if you fancy finding out about conservation and preservation in more detail, then you should have a look at the *ECCO guidelines for a more in-depth description of what the role involves.
Gloria Conti ACR
National Records of Scotland