As part of our traineeships, we’re each encouraged to host the other trainees at our placements, so that they might learn skills not necessarily on offer in their own ones. The library hosted the first of these last week, and all agreed that it was a fun and successful day!
As the library is closing due to repair work on its ceiling, all the books are having to be wrapped and packed for their safekeeping. Owing to the great age of most of our books, this means more than just shoving them into a box! First, the books need to be vacuum cleaned, before being wrapped in acid-free tissue paper. This helps to stop both dust and sunlight from getting to and damaging the books, as well as forming a protective layer between them and harmful, corrosive chemicals that may be present in non-archival grade card and plastics. Then the books are labelled so that we can keep track of their location. The boxes that they go in are lined with bubble wrap before being loaded, and any voids between the books and the sides of the box are filled with protective wadding.
That may still seem rather simple. The whole point of the swap shop was to show that such an exercise (known as a ‘decant’ in museum parlance) is rarely, if indeed ever, that straightforward. Books come in all shapes, sizes and different levels of condition – what technique may work for one could well spell doom for another. I demonstrated a number of packing options for some of our more poorly books – including one lacking its front and back-boards, spine, and most of its stitching. Even in a library, you can’t bank on every object being of regular dimensions. I showed a number of techniques for dealing with some of the more difficultly shaped objects in our holdings – not just books – including an iron crucifix, shrapnel-scarred organ pipe, and some orchestral batons.
Although I was leading the day, the process was always intended to be a two-way process. Those who had experience in working with collections before (which included most of us) were encouraged to share their insight. Etta showed a brilliant trick for easily lining boxes with tissue paper – which I wish I had learnt years ago – and Emalee had some very useful criticism on my wad-making technique.
Aside from the educational aspect of the day, having the other trainees working in the library for the day really helped with the ongoing decant project, and we got through a truly impressive amount of material amongst the seven of us.