Preservation activities are those aimed to minimise deterioration or prevent damage to the collection. Actions include buildings maintenance, environmental control, providing safe storage, handling skills training, and disaster preparedness planning.
Conservators are supported by preservation assistants who receive training in-house, and undertake tasks such as the removal of surface dirt from collections; re-housing items in archival quality boxes and folders; minor repairs; and documentation on the condition of the collection. One of the major activities is the preservation project in the Old Library.
Environmental monitoring is fundamental to collection care, and is one of the responsibilities of the Preservation and Conservation Department. Heat, relative humidity, and light levels influence the rate of decay of the Library's collections. The monitoring and analysis of environmental data from rooms in which a collection is stored and displayed is essential, as it enables an understanding of the condition of a collection, and the preservation risks. The information is also used to inform buildings managers, so collectively hazards to the collection can be reduced.
The Department has an extensive monitoring system in place in the Old Library which collects data on relative humidity, temperature, and light levels, using a radio telemetry system. Stand-alone data loggers supplement this equipment, and are used in display cases, and to monitor other Library buildings.
A very small percentage of the collection is stored in a climate controlled environment, and this is also monitored to ensure the equipment is operating within the set parameters.
Hand-held equipment is used to spot-check conditions during exhibition installation, to ensure we meet recommended standards for the preservation of the collection. The display cases are designed to provide the appropriate relative humidity levels for the materials on exhibition, and light levels are controlled.
Control of environmental conditions by mechanical or passive means can considerably extend the useful life of materials found in Library collections. See SOLD for further information about environmental issues.
Old Library Preservation Project
The Old Library is one of Ireland and Trinity College Dublin’s most important buildings, and is the repository for the Library’s treasures, including medieval Irish Manuscripts such as the Book of Kells. It functions as a storage area, a display venue, and a research facility for early printed books, manuscripts and college archives. It is also open to the public seven days per week, and is one of the most popular visitor attractions in the country, as well as one of the great research libraries of the world.
Due to the value and the condition of the collections in the Old Library, the Preservation and Conservation Department has focused on its needs, and a large proportion of staff time is given to activities concerning the heritage collections housed in the building.
In the past few years the Department has been investigating a number of problems including high particulate pollution levels, and other environmental hazards in the Old Library, which are seriously compromising the preservation of the collections. The department is collaborating with science departments in College on an analysis of the pollution - its content, sources, and levels. For further information view Study of Old Library Dust.
The Library has recently established a number of strategic initiatives to look at various elements of the preservation of the Old Library Building, and the Old library collections, including:
- A preservation assessment survey of collections
- A full structural survey of the Old Library to determine the condition of the building and to identify weaknesses and hazards
- A full building performance review to determine the status of all internal services, and the environmental conditions
- A future plan for improved exhibitions and Visitor services, and for improved facilities for researchers and staff
- A plan for repair, remediation and preservation based on the outcome of the structure and performance review, to provide an improved environment for long-term storage and access to the collection
The investigations have been supported by funding grants from the Heritage Council, and from the Getty Foundation.
Save the Treasures of the Long Room
Since 2004, there has been a continuously running preservation project in the Old Library known as Save the Treasures of the Long Room.
The aim of the project is to help address some of the challenges and problems affecting the early printed books in the Long Room. These are caused by their age (spanning six centuries) and their materials, as well as the effects of the environment in building.
The work is carried out by teams of Preservation Assistants, who are trained and supervised by a Conservator. The teams comprise full time staff, employed on one-year contracts. Candidates come from all over the world.and a variety of backgrounds including Library and Archive Studies, Archaeology, History of Art, History and Conservation.
The tasks carried out include:
- The removal of dirt from books and shelves with the use of vacuum cleaners fitted with HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters, and low-pressure vacuum tables
- The application of a leather consolidant (Klucel G) to degraded leather
- Minor in-situ stabilising repairs, including the consolidation of delaminated leather, and hinging-on of detached spine pieces
- Tying-up detached boards with unbleached cotton tape.
- The fabrication of custom-made enclosures for fragile items.
- Recording the condition, structure, and treatment of each book in a database
In 2008 work started on collections on the gallery level of the Long Room with 13,000 books on lower perimeter shelves treated by early 2009. By mid-2009, 62,838 books on the north side of the Long Room books had been cleaned. The estimated total number of books in the Long Room is 200,000.
A donation of €50 will enable us to treat five of our rare and precious early printed books, and a gift of €250 will enable us to treat an entire shelf of books. Click below to donate - enter "Save the Treasures" on that page as the specific area you would like to help.
St Catherine’s Library Conservation Project
Since 2005 staff from the Preservation and Conservation Department have participated in this project under the direction of Professor Nicholas Pickwoad.
St Catherine’s Monastery is the oldest continuously inhabited Christian monastery, with a history of over seventeen centuries. The Greek Orthodox monastery is located at the base of Mount Sinai, Egypt, at the site of the Burning Bush, and has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The collection of 3,300 manuscripts in the library is considered to be the oldest and most important Christian collection, and includes twelve pages and fragments of the fourth century Codex Sinaiticus. The library holds 8,000 early printed books including important editions of the Holy Scriptures, and patristic and classical texts. Many of the volumes have notations showing that they were used, over the centuries, by the monks in their studies.
In 1999, a programme to protect St Catherine’s most vulnerable manuscripts was initiated. A Condition Assessment Survey of the Bound Manuscript collection was undertaken between November 2001 - March 2006, followed by a survey of the Printed Books between May 2007 - November 2007. The results of have provided a detailed picture of the condition of the collections, against which any further deterioration can be measured, and from which conservation treatments will be prioritised.
At present activities at the monastery are focussed on the library building which will be renovated to provide conservation workshops and digital photography studios, improved storage, as well as reading space for visiting scholars.
In May 2009 the packing-up of 11,000 bound items commenced in advance of the building work.
Key to the security of the project was the use of a barcode system and handheld scanners to track the books as they are cleaned, wrapped and crated, and finally placed into storage rooms.
More information can be found at the Ligatus (Research Unit of the University of the Arts, London), Mount Sinai Monastery, and St Catherine Foundation Charity pages.