In 2012, Fairfax Media donated a collection of 17,000 glass plate negatives to the National Library. After sorting the collection (see our previous blog post), the next step in making the Fairfax collection available, usable and searchable has been to clean, accession and rehouse the 17,000 glass plate negatives. We have a team of 7 staff working with the collection for this stage. This gives us the invaluable opportunity to discover what the collection has to offer.
The words "leak", "drip" and "fire" make me anxious. I don't even want to contemplate the amount of work a leaking pipe would create, let alone a full scale fire with sprinklers going off. Last month the Library held full day disaster preparedness training. This is the fourth time that I have taken this course, but disaster training is a bit like getting your first aid certificate; you hope you never have to use it but must keep the knowledge up to date.
Everyone who has visited the Library has walked underneath it, but now the Tom Bass lintel sculpture above our front door has received its first thorough clean in many years.
The (cleaned) Tom Bass lintel sculpture at our front entrance
For the past few months our project team has been working on cleaning, rehousing and cataloguing the Fairfax Glass Plate Negative collection which was generously donated to the Library by Fairfax last year. The first step in the process has been sorting of the large collection of over 17,000 negatives. The significance of the collection is related to it's original purpose, to document newsworthy and historical events, people and places from the 1900s to the 1940s.
When asked, I usually tell people I come to work to do craft every day. It's true; I wear a glue smeared apron, cut paper with scalpel knives and play with glue. The week really starts on a Wednesday; that's the day of the trolley run around the various collection points in the library. Nellie, our new binder has inherited this weekly stroll around the library from me. During the week, staff from Stacks, Acquisitions, Document Supply and Asian Collections might come across a book in need of repair.
Ever had the spine of a book fall off into your hands? Would your first brilliant thought be: “I’d better glue this back on before it gets lost.”? The idea of keeping the spine intact and with the book is great; it’s the glueing part that is the problem. You see, in the majority of hardcover books (case bound) the spine casing is free of the book block. Once you glue the spine onto the book you inhibit movement. In this post I thought I'd get technical. Reattaching a spine is a simple affair providing the cover and board are sound and of good quality.
Cultural collections are often made from materials that are chemically unstable and slowing the deterioration of these items is the ongoing challenge of those who care for them. One of these materials is cellulose nitrate, a material that was used for motion picture films and still photography until the 1950’s. As the cellulose nitrate degrades it buckles and the image becomes distorted. It is not possible to stop this from happening, but it can be slowed by storing the cellulose nitrate material at cool temperatures in a special vault.
I've been rather quietly lately about the goings-on in the bindery. I guess it's all become routine, and I forget that from the outside Preservation might seem like a mysterious place. Practise makes perfect; I suppose in any craft one looks to attain a degree of skill that makes the jobs seem effortless. Well, let me tell you about what I've been practising. Much of my work consists in doing the backbone job of binding: sewing. I still do a lot of pamphlet and stab sewing.
The Kenneth Binns Travelling Fellowship is an internal Library grant awarded to a staff member in the first seven years of their career. I was lucky enough to win the scholarship to further my training as a bookbinder and visit conservation laboratories in the United Kingdom. As recently as three months ago I travelled to the London Rare Books Summer School at the University of London.
Recently, the Pictures staff here at the National Library delivered 36 nature prints to Preservation Services for treatment. These beautiful examples of nature prints are from the renowned Bradbury and Evans printing house from London. Nature printing has been a popular printing method since the Middle Ages and has long been appreciated as a scientific tool for documenting plant and fish specimens. Plant and fish specimens are used to print from directly, capturing as much botanical and scientific detail as possible.