Thanks to the generosity of donors during the 2018 appeal, preservation work continues on the extraordinary collection of PROMPT theatre scrapbooks in the National Library’s collection. In Part 1 of our blog on preserving the scrapbooks, Director of Preservation Services Vicki Humphrey introduces us to conservator Kerry McInnes:

Fragile scrapbooks of performing arts ephemera dating from as early as 1857 are a captivating part of the National Library’s collection. They include scrapbooks of circus, vaudeville, theatrical performers and sport athletes in Australia and New Zealand; a scrapbook of Bessie Campbell, ‘Banjo Queen’; opera and operatic life in Australia; and, Ballets Russes Australian tours, 1938-1940, among others.

Conservation treatment work was required on most of the scrapbooks to prepare them for digitisation. The work focused on stabilisation to ensure that they are not damaged, or where some damage already existed, not further damaged in the process of digitisation.

The level of conservation work is not the same as that required to prepare the scrapbooks for direct and repeated handling that they would receive in the Reading Rooms. So, although the primary purpose of digitisation is for increased access to the content of the scrapbooks, there is also a preservation aspect to ensure the content of the scrapbooks can be accessed without handling the originals.

Conservator turning pages of a theatre scrapbook

Conservator Kerry McInnis assessing one of the scrapbooks and planning her treatment approach

Kerry McInnis, a conservator with nearly 40 years’ experience of treating paper-based collection material, was engaged to carry out the work.

Kerry’s approach was to look at each scrapbook as a whole. While at the same time focusing on the detailed work that would result in the necessary level of stabilisation. Kerry articulated her approach which was very much based in conservation’s professional ethics (AICCM Code of Ethics), encompassing the principles of minimal intervention and retreatability – that is being able to undo treatments if they need to be redone in future. Kerry also noted her sense of responsibility to the intent of the original scrapbookers.

Typical treatments that Kerry carried out were:

  • mending tears where the tears intruded into the inserted scrapbook material – the approach in these cases was that the content and scrapbook inclusions was more important that the album pages
  • repairing areas where even minimal handling was likely to result in damage or increased damaged
  • flattening areas to enable reading
  • in a few cases, repositioning items that were at risk of damage because they were too close to the spine
  • repositioning items that had come unstuck. It was possible to see where they had been from clues on the page – adhesive marks and/or discolouration of the paper
  • removal of discoloured pressure sensitive tape (sticky tape)

Open scrapbook showing tear in binding with hand resting on page

The album pages in some books had become brittle over time, leading to splitting along the area where the pages flexed when turned. Left untreated this could have resulted in pages and their attachments being misplaced.

Over the coming months, we will continue to perform necessary preservation treatment on this unique collection so that the PROMPT theatrical scrapbooks will be available to researchers in July this year.

Part 2 of our blog will continue to document preservation treatment of theatre scrapbooks in the Library’s collection.