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The Preservation and Conservation Department actively participates in collaborative research on a local, national, and international level. The Conservation Science and Research Unit was established in 2007 to develop and promote conservation research at the Library.

The conservation, analysis and digitisation of four early medieval Irish manuscripts

This collaborative project between the Conservation and Manuscripts departments, and the Department of History of Art and Architecture, focuses on the treatment, technical examination, digitisation and art historical study of four of the Library’s most important early medieval Irish manuscripts: Codex Usserianius Primus (MS 55), the Garland of Howth (MS 56), the Book of Dimma (MS 59), and the Book of Mulling (MS 60). These, along with the Book of Kells, the Book of Durrow and the Book of Armagh, make up the preeminent collection of early Christian book art in the Library of Trinity College Dublin.

The four manuscripts are all gospel books produced in Insular scriptoria. The texts of the manuscripts have been the subject of scholarly study in the past, however, all have been relatively overlooked from a codicological and art historical perspective. The Garland of Howth, in particular is almost unknown to art historians. The conservation treatment priorities are to complete a full condition assessment of all of the manuscripts, to re-house the fragments folios of Usserianus Primus, and to stabilize the Book of Mulling. Pigment and support analyses will be completed using non-destructive techniques.

The results of the investigations will provide considerable new information on the materials used during the early medieval period and the iconographical sources of the manuscripts’ creators. The digitalisation of the manuscripts will enable widespread access to these rare items and will feed directly into the Library’s display of its collections, and to teaching at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels in the Department of History of Art and Architecture.

This project is funded by the Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Analysis of the Book of Durrow

Undertaken using the Long Room Hub Initiative Fund, this research includes the technical examination of three of the Library’s key early medieval manuscripts, The Book of Durrow (c. 700AD), The Book of Armagh (807AD), and Codex Usserianus Primus (dated to 7th century, but possibly 5th century); using micro-Raman spectroscopy, XRF and multi-spectral imaging.

The focus of the study is on identifying the pigments used for decoration and inks, using non-destructive techniques available through the Preservation and Conservation Department of the Library.

The proposed study of these manuscripts will aim to build on recent significant results achieved for the Book of Kells, by providing new information about manuscripts produced during the period 600-800 AD.

This is a collaborative project, undertaken with the Manuscripts and Archives Research Library and the School of Physics. The researchers aim to look at similarity in the materials used in the production of the manuscripts and will seek to address questions around the sources of supply and to re-address questions around features which distinguish Irish-produced manuscripts. The results of the analyses will provide considerable new information on the materials used during the Dark Ages.

The first phase of the analysis will begin in October 2009.

Analysis of the Book of Kells

The Book of Kells Exhibition

As part of a Long Room Hub research project, the Preservation and Conservation Department, in collaboration with the Manuscripts and Archives Research Library and the School of Physics, has been investigating the materials used for the Book of Kells. The project aims to identify the pigments and binding media, as well as their source of supply, and also to evaluate the degree of change of the materials in relation to the stability of the manuscript and to the original intent of the creators. Due to the importance of the manuscript all methods of examination must be non-destructive.

The first investigations were carried out using micro-Raman spectroscopy with results presented at the BA Festival of Science 2005, and in the Journal of Raman Spectroscopy in 2009.

For the study a HORIBA Jobin Yvon labRAM HR was fitted with remote probe superheads with two separate laser wavelengths (632.8nm HeNe and 532 nm Nd:YAG). With this technique some of the predominant pigments used on the more richly decorated folios have been confirmed. The results highlight the sophisticated use of a restricted palette of organic and mineral pigments. These have been applied with great creativity, as pure colour, and as simple mixtures. Variety has been achieved though considered juxtaposition and simple layering.

Pigments identified include:

blue (indigo), red-orange (red lead), yellow (orpiment), green (indigo and orpiment; verdigris), black (carbon and iron gall ink), and white (gypsum).

Identical Books Project

In 2005 the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded a grant to the British Library, to study the deterioration of paper and books in libraries, under the theme the Identical Book Project (IBP).

The project was lead by the British Library in partnership with the National Archives and the National Archives of Scotland, and the UK Legal Deposit Libraries: - the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, Cambridge University Library, National Library of Scotland, National Library of Wales and Trinity College Dublin.

The aim of the projects was to understand how ‘real-time aging’ - the environment and patterns of use - affect the condition of books, may be used for lifetime predictions. To achieve this, each participating Institution examined approximately 400 identical books in each of their collections, using assessment tools which included the National Preservation Office (NPO) Preservation Assessment Survey (PAS), colour measurements using a Konica colour spectrometer, and pH measurements using micro-sampling techniques and a miniature pH probe. Fibre analysis of molecular weight, pH and fibre furnish of the paper was completed by labs at UCL London, and by Morana in Slovenia.

Further stages of the project included the measurement of volatile organic compounds (VOC) given off by books using using SPME fibres and elastomer strips, with analysis by the University of Strathclyde; and the analysis of SO2 levels in books held by BL and NLW books, along with the use of SurveNIR, a tool developed to determine the condition of paper.

Challenges included:

  • Finding identical books due to the vagaries of cataloguing systems, editions, and production materials
  • Being able to define the environmental history for the IB’s over 100 years

The project is now moving into a new phase, with support provided by the UK Legal Deposit Libraries. Conservators at the six libraries will collaborate over the next five years on methods to fully document the continued use of the IB’s and to record their storage environments. The books will be re-examined at intervals, to provide further information on the life-cycle of books.


Undertaken using the Long Room Hub Innovation Fund, LibVis is a joint project of the the Preservation and Conservation Department in collaboration with the Department of Computer Science. It is a 3D model of the Old Library, within which environmental and structural data has been stored. The data includes internal and external temperature and relative humidity readings, dust levels, visitor numbers, and the condition of windows. The data-sets are visualised in overlaid, semi-transparent windows to allow the user to interpret the information within its spatial context and in relation to other data-sets, as they navigate the model.

Study of Old Library Dust (SOLD)

This project is being carried out in collaboration with the Department of Geology. It focuses on investigations into dust and VOC levels in the Old Library, which forms part of a multi-faceted study of the building, the collections, and the environment.

The Library at Trinity College (now termed the Old Library) was built between 1712 and 1732. It retains its original function as a library and a research space but also houses office space, an exhibition space and a retail area. In the past fifteen years, visitor numbers have increased to over 500,000 per annum, and their impact and that of the modern urban environment is being assessed through the study of the indoor environment.

The high numbers of visitors to the Old Library and urban situation of Trinity College Dublin create significant environmental pressure on the storage conditions with the 277 year-old building.

The results of the first phase of the SOLD investigation show that high accumulations of dust are prevalent on the collection of early printed books and that sources are derived from both inside and outside the Building. The rate of accumulation of new dust is being measured by loss of gloss from standard microscope slides, and data from this ongoing research will be used in the development of a preservation plan for the Building.

The SOLD project aims to:

  • Assess the existing dust in terms of type, source, location
  • Monitor the type, source, accumulation rate and distribution of incoming dust
  • Identify interactions of the sources of pollutants with the collection
  • Provide a model of dust accumulation from which effective environmental management can be developed
  • Increase the research output of TCD in an area of considerable international interest
  • Enable full participation in collaborative research through COST Action D42