The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 19, Number 4
Sep 1995


Conservation and Preservation in Small Libraries. Edited by Nicholas Hadgraft and Katherine Swift. Cambridge, England: Parker Library Publication, 1994. 160 pp.

Nancy Carlson Schrock
Winchester, MA

The modest title of this publication gives little indication of the depth and breadth of its content. The "small library" is the Parker Library, the library of the Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, England, which houses the third largest collection of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts in the world along with illuminated manuscripts and 8000 printed books, 140 of them incunabula. The publication is a compilation of papers, presented in 1988 to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Parker Library Conservation Project. The papers have been updated and substantially rewritten in many cases.

David McKitterick, Librarian of Trinity College, captures the theme of the volume with his statement, "Preservation without context is of no use." In a series of well illustrated essays librarians, bibliographers, scholars, and conservators establish a context for conservation, one in which the needs for physical stabilization are carefully balanced with the demands of scholars. As Nicholas Pickwoad warned, "The moment the structure of a book is interfered with, it becomes impossible to put it back exactly as it was."

The curatorial viewpoint is represented by McKitterick, Nicholas Barker of the British Library, and R. I. Page, Librarian of the Parker Library. In "A Scholar's Plea," Mildred Budney explains the role of physical evidence in historical studies as a type of "manuscript archaeology," requiring collaboration between conservator and researcher. Documentation is essential.

Rare book librarians will find Nicholas Pickwoad's essay "Distinguishing between the Good and Bad Repair of Books" particularly useful. Although much of the text appeared in the AIC Book and Paper Annualas "Determining How Best to Conserve Books in Special Collections," the English publication contains illustrations and gives specific examples of sound repair techniques ("What to look for"), which are missing in the shorter American version. The complement for paper conservation is Nancy Bell's essay "Considerations When Treating Paper Manuscripts," which takes a similar broad overview of the complex factors involved when selecting manuscripts for treatment.

Theory is supplemented by case studies: Melvin Jeffers and Nicholas Pickwoad on rebinding vellum manuscripts; Deborah Willis on paper conservation; and Tony Cains on in-situ treatment of eighteenth and nineteenth century books. Cheryl Porter reviews the anaytical methods available for pigment anaylsis. "Rediscovering Parchment: The Nature of the Beast" by Christopher Clarkson is a pictorial essay with over 50 illustrations that show how much information about the nature, history, and manufacture of parchment can be gained by careful visual examination.

Storage and environment are also considered. Nicholas Hadgraft describes the racking system and wooden pressure boxes designed for 500 medieval manuscripts in the Parker Library. Engineer James Briggs evaluates alternative methods of environmental control. Although his goal of eliminating the need for air conditioning in favor of passive controls and air handling may seem inapplicable to the North American climate, the clear outline of principles and options could be useful for small institutions.

In summary, special collections librarians and conservators will find this volume valuable for its specific conservation information and as an example of the dialog that should underlie informed preservation decisions. As David McKitterick advised, "Behind those two words, 'Preserve everything,' should lie considered judgment, based on understanding, consultation and mutual awareness of the conflicting assumptions in approaching conservation questions from practical, historical and library management viewpoints, to say nothing of those of commerce."

Only 500 copies of the book were printed and half of these had been sold by last April. Copies may be ordered from the Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RH, England. Prepayment is required, preferably in pounds sterling. The cost is £34.50 pounds ($67).

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