Course review: ‘Crates and Collections Care: preservation focus for book moves and storage’ with Caroline Bendix, 23rd February 2012

With participants travelling from as far as Edinburgh and Kent, the Crates and Collections Care course, held at the studio of Ogilvie Vaile, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, drew conservators from all corners of the UK to Birmingham to discover and review issues surrounding the movement and storage of collections. For this latest Book and Paper Group CTR course, the delegates represented an encouragingly diverse cross-section of the Book and Paper Group and other conservation backgrounds, with several participants in private practice as well as institutional members from both national and regional organisations. Many were currently involved in book move projects, making the course timely and especially relevant to their working roles. Caroline Bendix delivered a comprehensive programme on the subject combining both theoretical sessions interspersed with practical demonstrations and exercises to give all participants the opportunity to put her methods and advice to the test.

The day started with an overview of the mechanics of packing and moving book collections, based around the tools needed – both physical and metaphorical – to evaluate and accomplish both the process and the procedures for any move, large or small. Using her extensive experience and a case study as an example, Caroline took us through the necessary considerations for planning and executing a successful relocation project. This was geared specifically towards book moves but the information could be extrapolated to the movement of other collections too. The session highlighted important considerations, for example the need for hidden risks to be assessed for instance floor loading, the organisation of equipment and manpower and the assessment of collections prior to packing and handling. The theoretical knowledge we gained was then immediately reinforced by a lively practical session covering packing, wrapping and crating, using books from the art library at the Museum. This saw participants enthusiastically wielding the strapping equipment and assessing the most effective and economic methods for packing, wrapping and crating, in terms of materials, manpower, time and, most importantly, the care of the collection.

The next 3 sessions moved on to wider environmental concerns connected to the storage of collections, starting with a presentation on moulds and pests and the effect environmental conditions had in controlling them. Here we learnt how library and archive materials could be ranked in accordance to their vulnerability to attack and how this could be used as a rough measure for humidity issues within the affected collection. A practical session involving matching damage to
pests and mould consolidated this very well, using some incredible examples of damaged items that Caroline had collected – a sort of grim cabinet of pest curiosities. The next presentation on effective housekeeping and the nature and prevention of dust highlighted how timely, non-interventive measures can prevent or minimise the need for costly and potentially damaging wholesale cleaning of collections. We learned how screening and protection on both an individual and at a collections level could minimise the deleterious effect of dust as well as practical measures for both temporary and permanent screening and storage issues. The final session was concerned with methods for improving storage and shelving for book collections as a very cost-effective means of prolonging their life. It was again reinforced to the group that timely intervention to solve issues was imperative to prevent costly solutions from being necessary. The course concluded with a series of slides showing a storage and shelving “rogues gallery”: the negative outcomes of poor storage decisions and the effects of not addressing simple preservation issues being illustrated very clearly. It gave us the spur we all sometimes need to respond to poor
environments and storage as we come across it and not wait until it arrives on our benches as a repair.

An extra bonus to this course was a visit to the conservation studios of the Collections Department of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery where the Staffordshire Hoard is currently undergoing treatment. Here conservators Deborah Magnoler and Cymbeline Storey showed the Crates course delegates aspects of the collection currently being conserved and explained their treatment approach. This was literally a golden end to an energetic, informative and good-humoured training day.

The CTR committee would like to thank Caroline Bendix warmly for her very well-received presentations and comprehensive overview of the subject. We would also like to thank Louise Vaile, Deborah Cane and all at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, who allowed us to use their facilities at the museum for this course and for allowing us to have the opportunity of seeing their work on the Staffordshire Hoard project in action.

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