Don't fret, you can still get your royal wedding souvenirs.

I was in London two weeks ago just taking in the sights with a couple of colleagues–we had the fortune of borrowing a flat from a retired ISU journalism professor.  Thankfully, our travel dates occurred after the royal wedding.  But just in case you were wondering, there’s plenty of commemorative Wills and Kate stuff available.

Movable shelving in King George III's collection allow for easy retrieval of materials.

One of the many places we visited was the British Library, and Martha, our Hertzberg Intern who attended Camberwell, kindly arranged a private tour of the book conservation lab for us.  Frances Sanwell, one of the conservators, showed us around and was a great tour guide.  The lab is in a separate building behind the library, and as we entered, we encountered a permanent preservation education display that was beautifully done.  There were small tools and equipment on the table and video screens built into the wall showing leather work, binding, sewing text blocks, book repair, and cleaning documents.  There was also a glossy pamphlet on basic preservation for library and archives collections for the public.

Interactive preservation display with videos, sample materials, and conservation tools and equipment.

The conservation lab itself is spacious and has wonderful natural light.  The windows, not skylights, are north-facing and have adjustable blinds.

The British Library book conservation lab looking south (left). North-facing windows above the lab (right).

It was pretty quiet in the lab since it was noon, but there were benches throughout the lab.  Most of the benches were designed in a U-shape providing immediate access to an extensive amount of work surface and sometimes a built-in light table.  Below the benches were taborets and lockable cabinets.

U-shaped conservation bench setup with a mounted microscope.

Beyond the main lab there were rooms for wet treatments.  Drying racks were set up, a humidification chamber, washing sinks, and the water filtration system were located in a room connected to the lab.

Drying racks, a humidification chamber, and sinks are located in the adjoining room. The water filtration system is also located in the room.

The dirty room, finishing room, and leaf casting room were all separate from the lab.

Leaf caster.

What struck me as amusing during the tour is that in some ways it was not that different from being in our lab.  Even though both of our labs are spacious, well equipped and nicely designed, we all complain about the same things–reduced staffing and funding, and increased work loads.  Like us, they are faced with maintaining the current collections, dealing with new acquisitions, preparing for exhibits and digital conversion projects, and negotiating with bibliographers.  We talked about a form that they use to work with the bibliographers to prioritize items/collections for conservation treatment.  The process includes several categories within which items are assessed and rated on a total scale of 100.

Case full of delicious pastries in the British Library.

But nothing seems too unbearable after a long day of dealing with bibliographers and toiling away at the bench when there’s a case full of yummy pastries at the cafe in the main library building.

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