Author Archives: visitorservices

  1. A Weaving of Words


    Inspiration from the early textile industry

    Chetham’s Library owes its very existence to the popularity of fustian, a coarse cloth of which the warp was linen and the weft was cotton. It was from trade in this fabric that Humphrey Chetham (1580-1653) made the fortune which was eventually invested in the school and library in pursuit of his mission to ‘overcome poverty and cure ignorance.’ It is unlikely that Humphrey himself ever wore this coarse fabric. The word ‘fustian’ in his lifetime had also come to be used figuratively to refer to pompous, inflated or pretentious writing or speech because this cloth type was often used as padding – hence, purposeless words were fustian.

    Scan of exhibition card for Chetham's Library, giving the derivation of the word Text from the past participle of the Latin verb taxer, to weave.

    Textiles and Text share the same Latin origin: the verb texere which means ‘to weave’. It is possible that textiles could have been a form of language even before the advent of writing. What is certain is that some of the language we use today was inspired by the domestic and later the mechanised manufacture of textiles. We follow the thread of an argument, spin a yarn, become entangled in a web, unravel a mystery. An odd or dishonest person may be warped, politicians may be heckled for pursuing fine-drawn theories, or even home-spun arguments. Weaving and unravelling are metaphors for synthesis and analysis. I could go on spinning this out, or decide to wind it all up.

    Pamphyle spinning flax, De Mulieribus Claris – Giovanni Boccaccio 1362

    The two main processes in the domestic manufacture of cloth, spinning and weaving, were a source of metaphor for centuries. Shakespeare’s Falstaff knows that ‘life is a shuttle,’ and in Twelfth Night Sir Andrew Aguecheek’s hair hangs ‘like flax on a distaff.’ Before mechanisation spinning was a woman’s occupation; even in the Book of Proverbs ‘the virtuous woman seeketh wool and flax … she layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.’ In heraldry, the distaff side outlines the female lineage of the family.

    As other processes were developed and mechanised for the production of wool and cotton, so our language continued to be enriched. The importance of the textile industry in Manchester, or Cottonopolis as it became known in the nineteenth century, is reflected in the number (over 500) and quality of books and pamphlets about textiles held in the library.

    Just one striking example shows the interaction of textiles with book-art as well as language. ‘Concerning Cotton 1791-1920’, published in 1920. It is a lavish Art Deco production, containing brochures for each of the subsidiary companies, and it has been suggested that the fairy motifs could be by the celebrated illustrator Arthur Rackham.

    Photo of an illustrated page from Chetham's Library's copy of the book Concerning Cotton, (London, Amalgamated Cotton Mills Trust, 1920)

    Concerning Cotton 1791-1920

    The language of textiles has been and still is used to describe human characteristics. If yarn was twitty or full of twits it meant it had faults such as knots which would make the weaving process more difficult. When fabric was being washed or soaked, it was beaten with a wooden board or bat. This rhythmic action might create drowsiness and a sense of going batty. The waste bobbins used in mills came to indicate something of no value. Doffing one’s cap originally meant taking the bobbins off their spools on a spinning frame.

    A fault which could cause serious problems in the weaving process occurred when a collection of tightly packed broken fibres congregated in clumps in the cotton yarn. When twisted, a crackling sound could be heard. Someone a bit odd or unpredictable was thus known as crackers. When woven cloth has gone through the wet processes it needs to be tentered, or stretched, by means of hooks to prevent any shrinkage and to maintain a uniform width. To be on tenterhooks suggests a state of anxiety or apprehension.

    Photograph of stone tenter posts in Marsden, West Yorkshire

    Tenter posts in Marsden, West Yorkshire

    In the north of England, the fag end was the end of a piece of cloth. Only later was it applied to the butt of a cigarette. In the Yorkshire woollen industry, a medley was produced by dyeing several batches of raw wool in different colours, then spinning them into yarn and weaving them. Later, fettlers were the men who helped to ensure that the huge and thunderous woollen and worsted carding machines were clear of fibres and grease and operated to maximum efficiency. The aim was for all the equipment to be in fine fettle.

    In the 19th century, South American wool clip was imported from South America to be sold in Bradford. Market traders would claim that consignments of Uruguayan (Montevideo) wools always contained ‘full Montevideo bales.’ Over the years this became ‘full Monty bales’ and eventually ‘the full Monty.’

    Scan of Library exhibition tag offering the definition of the phrase 'to cotton on'

    The use of textile language as metaphor continued to expand and develop. The warp and the weft (or woof), referring to the weaving together of horizontal and vertical yarn, has come to signify the building blocks or components of life or of an argument. More mundanely, losing the thread, cottoning on, and lining the pocket, are all self-explanatory terms. Dyed in the wool emphasises that cloth dyed before weaving retains its deep colour and is superior to the wool that is dyed in the piece.

    Tending Textile Mill Machinery – 1950, Chetham’s Library

    The word shoddy had different meanings in different wool-producing areas. In the West Yorkshire woollen district, it was the fibrous waste that was blended with new wool to make heavy goods such as overcoats. Elsewhere, it described the dusty mixed fibres that gathered under carding machines.

    Eventually, it was used to describe any product of inferior quality. During the 1950s the Yorkshire based Association of Reclaimed Fibre Manufacturers attempted to drop the word shoddy altogether but could not come up with a replacement term.

    Moving on from such examples of derogatory terms, the English language is also rich in words for the fabrics themselves. From the 17th to the 19th century in particular, an enormous number of fabrics were imported to Britain – jersey from Jersey, cashmere from Kashmir, jeans from Genoa, denim from Nîmes, muslin from Mussolo in Iraq, damask from Damascus, cambric from Cambray, and many more. But as well as importing textile names, Britain also contributed them to the rest of the world. Cotton goods and household linen are to this day known collectively in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, simply as Manchester.

    As a part of our current exhibition A Weaving of Words,visitors have enjoyed exploring the library looking for tags with various textile related words and phrases, and many have been surprised by their origins. It makes one wonder: which of our contemporary phrases will be studied by future generations?



    Written by volunteers, Kath Rigby and Barbara Tarbuck

  2. The Medals Of The Sun King

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    Inspired by the recent anniversary of the death of Louis XIV, we investigated our two editions of  the Médailles sur les principaux événements du règne de Louis le Grand, avec des explications historiques, or ‘Medals for the main events of the reign of Louis the Great, with historical explanations’ in more detail. Our earlier copy was printed in 1702 by the l’Imprimerie Royale in Paris. We also have the 1723 edition, in a rather grander folio format with engraved borders for each page, which we may revisit on another occasion. The 1702 work was commissioned by the court, and a significant part of its purpose was to enhance Louis XIV’s reputation as the Sun King by bringing attention to significant events throughout his reign, such as military conquests or royal births and marriages. The book is thus a digest of the significant effort involved in producing commemorative medals as a physical reminder of the activities of the state (and Louis as its personification) on almost any occasion that tended to display them to advantage.

    The medals have attracted a good deal of attention from that day to this, and we can recommend several excellent sources online. The Royal Collection Trust points out that the work ‘is celebrated for its ‘roman du roi’ typography, a ‘rational’ design of type using perfectly vertical axis and perfectly horizontal, symmetrical serifs, first produced by Jacques Jaugeon in 1695. Philippe Grandjean was commissioned to cut punches based on Jaugeon’s designs, and this modified type was used for the first time in the printing of this volume’. The Imprimerie Royale was, like much else in Louis’ France, an institution designed to project royal dignity and gravitas. There are eighty-nine items in the collections here with their imprint, all of which are models of fine printing and excellent paper quality.

    Louis’s use of medals as royal propaganda was sufficiently innovative and extensive that it inspired a small exhibition at the British Museum in 2015 entitled Triumph and Disaster, of which there is a very detailed and fascinating review by the (over-modestly self proclaimed) Idle Woman. The frontispiece is a detailed engraving depicting Mercury and two putti with a portrait of Louis XIV; underneath this are the figures of History and Time. The etching of Louis was created by Nicolas Pitau the Younger (1670-1724) a prolific engraver, and was based on a portrait by the famous French Court painter Hyacinthe Rigau (1659–1743). The scene below however, was engraved by Charles Louis Simonneau (1645-1728), and was copied from a painting by Antoine Coypel(1661 – 1722) the official court painter of the King’s brother Philippe, Duke of Orléans. The British Museum provides more information.

    Frontispiece in Médailles sur les principaux évènements du règne de Louis le Grand.

    The 1702 printed work is as much a tribute to the engravers as to those designing and casting the medals themselves, and we will select a small handful to exemplify their work.That below commemorates the beginning of the regency of Louis XIV’s mother, Anne of Austria (1601-1666), in 1643. The medal depicts Queen Anne seated on a throne with the young Louis XIV beside here. As can be seen by the scale of the photo the engraving is small but alive with detail. Queen Anne was not a popular choice for regent given her connections to Spain during a time when tensions between France and Spain were high. Louis XIII, her husband, even tried to prevent her becoming sole regent, but she proved too wily a politician to outwit and had these restrictions set aside in short order.

    Medal commemorating the regency of Anne of Austria in 1643.

    The Coronation of Louis XIV follows in due course: here we see him being anointed with ‘celestial oil’ and the crown being placed on his head by regent and archbishop at Rheims on 7 June 1654. The Archbishop of Rheims (the officiant by custom) was apparently absent on the occasion itself.

    Louis is crowned king of France on the 7th June 1654.

    The medal below was struck to celebrate one of a series of French victories during the Franco-Dutch War (itself part of a protracted struggle between France and Habsburg Spain and its dependencies), the capture of Dôle following the siege of Besançon in 1674.

    Commemoration of military victory.

    Further boasting in medal form is marked by this bird’s eye view of the port of Brest in 1681, intended to impress or even to intimidate with its fortress like strength. The accompanying text describes Brest as ‘this god of ports’.

    Medal of Port De Brest 1681.

    Our next selection highlights the founding of the Military Order of St.Louis in 1693, and shows Louis XIV bestowing this largesse on the French Military. The Order was named after his predecessor Saint Louis, and was intended as a reward for exceptional officers. It was the first decoration of its kind that could be granted to those outside the ranks of the nobility.

    The Order of St Louis 1693.

    The success of the series of medals – and the 1723 posthumous edition ‘du regne entier de Louis le Grand’ runs to over 300 leaves – also contained the seeds of its decline. Piqued, perhaps, by having triumphalist medals issued in commemoration of their defeats and humiliations, his enemies began to issue lampooning and parodic medals on the occasion of some of the defeats and failures that began to occur in the later part of the reign, with the British and the Dutch being well to the fore in this regard. Dutch mockery after the Battle of La Hougue, for example picked up Louis’s grandiose and rather problematic motto nec pluribus impar, ‘not unequal to many’ and decorated their medal of the French flagship exploding with the derisive nunc pluribus impar, ‘now unequal to many’.

  3. Eleazar Albin

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    Recently we had an enquiry about a book that used to be part of our collection; A Natural History of Birds (1731–38) by Eleazar Albin. The work features over 300 painted engravings by Eleazar Albin and his daughter Elizabeth, it is one of the earliest illustrated bird books.

    Albin was a well-known 18th-century illustrator and researcher of natural history. His early origins are obscure, but he was living in London by the early 1700s with his wife and was to have ten children. He has been described as one of the “great entomological book illustrators of the 18th century”. His famous works are A Natural History of English Insects (1720), A Natural History of Birds, and A Natural History of Spiders and other Curious Insects (1736).

    Frontispiece showing a likeness of Albin, from a Natural History of Spiders 1736.

    His early works were published by subscription only, with his History of Insects gaining 170 subscribers. Albin prided himself on drawing his specimens from life, criticising previous illustrators who did not. He attracted powerful patrons such as Sir Robert Abdy of Albins and Richard Mead, physician to the king. These connections enabled him to access extensive collections of exotic specimens to study. He even appealed to his readers ‘Gentlemen … send any curious birds … to Eleazar near the Dog and Duck in Tottenham-Court Road’.

    Despite no longer having the book in our collection, we have a selection of subscription receipts for the three-volume set A Natural History of Birds. This includes an engraved blank receipt form, mainly consisting of the names of 99 birds, each with a checkbox that could be checked when the plate containing the engraving of that particular bird was delivered to the subscriber.

    The plates of birds in this list were for a work paid for by subscription, engraved by Eleazar Albin, assisted by his daughter Elizabeth, for A natural history of birds, which was published in 3 vols., 1731, 1734, and 1738.

    A receipt from our collection listing the birds included in Albin’s work.

    Our collection also contains the original ‘Proposals for printing by subscription, a neat book of English and foreign birds to be coloured after the life with their respective descriptions. The whole work to be printed in one volume in quarto, on a superfine royal paper, and the birds to be engraved by the best hands. No more to be printed than subscribed for. Every subscriber to pay down two Guineas in hand and two Guineas more on delivery of the book in sheets, containing one hundred copper plates. The names & titles of the subscribers to be printed at the beginning of this work.’

    Proposal for the printing subscription of A Natural History of Birds.

    Albin most likely passed away in 1742 as he created no more illustrations after 1741, and an advertisement from 1742 announced the sale of some of his belongings.

  4. Robert Bolton

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    Today (25 May) is the anniversary of the birth of Robert Bolton, a man of whom we are often reminded by the presence in Chetham’s Audit Room of a small and now slightly dingy oil portrait. Bolton’s portrait is one of a series of four oils of uniform size and date, unsigned and by a hand unknown. The four are all celebrated Protestant Lancashire men of influence, and the pictures were ‘given by Reverend James Illingworth BD, 1694’ in the words of the neat painted labels attached to the feet of each frame. Illingworth had died in 1693, so the gift was a bequest. The four men chosen form a group with academic, theological and institutional connections as well as local ones; we’ll pursue those further in a future post.

    Robert Bolton was a scholar, clergyman, and noted preacher. He was born in 1572 on Whit Sunday in Blackburn, Lancashire. He attended the Grammar School in Blackburn, where his father was a governor, and was described as ‘the best scholler in the schoole’. By 1592 Bolton was studying at Lincoln College, Oxford, where his tutor was John Randall.

    Following the death of his father, Bolton transferred to Brasenose due to financial issues, securing a fellowship. On 2 December 1596 he graduated with a B.A and by 1597 he held a Nowell scholarship, a foundation designed for the support of Lancashire men, and endowed by Alexander Nowell, another subject in our gallery of four portraits, Principal of Brasenose and Dean of St Paul’s. Bolton would continue to progress in the academic field, and under the influence of Thomas Peacock graduated B.D. (Bachelor of Divinity) in 1609, entering into holy orders in the Church of England, and developing a zeal for strict Protestantism.

    In 1610, he was conferred by Sir Augustine Nicolls to the rectory of Broughton, Northamptonshire. Bolton was a patriotic puritan minister, remarking upon ‘the mighty workings of King James his works upon the adversaries.’ His zeal was reflected in his published works, many of which we have in the library today, including A discourse about the state of true happinesse and Instructions for a right comforting afflicted conciences [sic]: vvith speciall antidotes against some grievous temptations and Helps to humiliation.

    Bolton was described by some as the greatest classical scholar of his time due to his proficiency in Greek and Latin. Bolton was sixty at his death on 17 December 1631, following a long illness, and was buried under a monument to him in the church he had served or so long at Broughton. The Library also holds a copy of his funeral sermon A learned and godly sermon preached on the XIX. day of December, anno Dom. MDCXXXI. at the funerall of Mr. Robert Bolton Batchelour in Divinity and minister of Broughton in Northampton-Shire. By Mr. Nicolas Estvvick. That we can tell the tale of his life is in large part due to the biographical material supplied probably by Edward Bagshawe, friend and executor of Bolton, and editor of Mr. Boltons last and learned worke of the foure last things : death, iudgement, hell, and heaven. With his assise-sermons, and notes on Iustice Nicolls his funerall. Together with the life and death of the authour. Published by E.B., which is also in the collection here.

  5. The fyrst boke of the Introduction of knowledge

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    Recently we had an interesting collections enquiry, from a reader that we thought we would share. An image was requested from the work by Andrew Boorde, ‘The fyrst boke of the Introduction of knowledge’, which was written in Montpellier and considered the earliest continental guidebook.

    Andrew Boorde was born in Sussex and studied at the University of Oxford before becoming a Carthusian monk, and going on to study medicine abroad. He travelled extensively visiting universities such as Orléans, Poitiers, Toulouse, Montpellier, Wittenberg, Rome, and went on a pilgrimage with others of his nation to Compostela in Galicia.

    By the 1530s he was travelling at the behest of Thomas Cromwell who sought to seek out public opinion on the divorced Henry VIII abroad. Boorde put together descriptions and itineraries of each region he visited, which included almost the whole of Europe. He then sent these diaries to Cromwell who lost them, despite this they would form the basis of his later works. In 1536 he was working as a physician in Scotland, where he reported the public opinion of the Scotsmen to Cromwell.

    Boorde was Travelling again in the late 1530s after the dissolution of the monastic houses in England. This time he made it as far as Jerusalem and eventually settled for a time in Montpellier. It was here in 1542 that he compiled ‘The fyrst boke of the Introduction of knowledge’, writing in rhyme, common dialect, and describing the dress, fashions, foods and customs of each country. For example, the Englishman describes himself and his foibles, his fickleness, his fondness for new fashions, and his obstinacy, in verse. Then follows a geographical description of the country, followed by text in the Cornish language. He dedicated this work to the ‘Lady Mary’, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, Mary was yet to be restored to the succession at this point so was no longer referred to as Princess. Henry VIII declared her illegitimate after he divorced Catherine to marry Anne Boleyn.

    The title page dedicated to ‘the Lady Mary’.

    In 1547 Boorde had returned to England and was practising medicine in London, where he then relocated to Winchester. It was here that he was accused by the bishop of Winchester of keeping three prostitutes in his rooms. Boorde was sent to Fleet prison in 1547 where he would die in 1549.

  6. The Dilapidated College, Manchester


    One of Humphrey Chetham’s first considerations when making the bequest of a library and school for poor boys upon his death was to find a suitable building in which to house it. Coincidentally, there was a vacant property that would suit these needs: the medieval College House in the centre of Manchester. It was built in 1421 to accommodate a college of priests and remains one of the most complete medieval complexes to survive in the northwest of England. The buildings had been confiscated from the clergy by the Crown in the 1540s, sold to the Earls of Derby, and were again seized by the Parliamentary Commissioners from the Derby estate after the latter supported the royalist cause during the civil war. The beautiful old sandstone buildings, together with the magnificent Library interior, create a unique atmosphere for readers and visitors alike.

    However, during Humphrey’s time, the building was not well preserved. The College House, after many years of neglect, was in a poor state. During the Civil War it had been used as a prison and arsenal. Humphrey himself remarked in his letter to Ralph Brideoake, 17 Mar 1648 that ‘the towne swine make their abode bothe in the yards and house’. This letter to Ralph Brideoake inspired a sketch by local artist and assistant librarian at Chetham’s, J.J.Phelps, in 1908 titled ‘The Dilapidated College, Manchester’.

    Phelp’s original sketch.

    Despite the site being a work in process, Humphrey saw the building’s potential and he specified that it was to be purchased by the executors of his will, who were to go on to provide the body of trustees for his charitable foundation. They carried out his wish and acquired the building after his death in 1653. The restoration of the college was carried out by local craftsmen, and a joiner named Richard Martinscroft was entrusted with the task of fitting and furnishing the Library.

    The Library was housed on the first floor in order to avoid rising damp, and the newly acquired books were chained to the bookcases, or presses, in accordance with Chetham’s instructions. Nearly 400 years later the building remains a working library.

  7. Book Clean


    As heritage organisations are opening their doors once again, we are preparing ourselves to welcome back visitors and readers. It will not come as a surprise that our staff have been unable to work in the library for over a year. As a result, the lovely building and collections need a little conservation TLC. Our conservation team has begun the huge task of deep cleaning the library space and cleaning and condition checking the books.

    In one of our previous posts, we covered the importance of dust maintenance, this blog will cover the steps we are taking to remove the dust that has accumulated while we have been under government guidance to work from home. A historic book collection requires a deep clean at least every 2 years, especially if open to the public as a tourist attraction. It is a delicate procedure to remove dust from historic books. As some of our items are at least 500 years old or older each one must be individually assessed as to whether it is robust enough to undergo the removal process.

    Before the book clean can begin, specific steps need to be in place. First, an appropriate work surface must be created by covering a table with a dust cloth, on top of which you can put polythene sheeting. Books should be kept and returned in the correct shelf order as they follow a catalogue system, if this is not strictly followed precious treasures may be lost. To keep this order, you can create acid-free labels with the shelfmarks written in pencil, these should always be removed once the books are reshelved.  Books must be placed no more than 1 cm in from the front edge of the shelf, this is as much for handling purposes as it is pleasing to the eye.

    It is crucial to handle books correctly when removing them and returning them to the shelves as this is where most of the damage can happen. For example, a book can be damaged when pulled out by its spine as this puts pressure on one of the most vulnerable parts of a book. Also, boards can be scratched when the books are returned to the shelves. There are safe methods for removing books from shelves, firstly if there is room, you can put your fingers over the top of the required book and push it forwards from behind you can then draw it out safely. Another option is to push the books on either side of the one you wish to remove towards the back of the shelf. This leaves enough space to grasp the boards rather than the spine.

    (Safely removing a book from a shelf)

    If there is not enough space for the first two options, you can use gentle downward pressure. For example, put two fingers on the text block (book pages) behind the spine, then press down firmly until the book is at an angle where enough of the spine is poking out of the shelf. You can then safely remove the book with the thumb and index finger touching the boards.

    It should be noted that nail varnish, even clear coats, can come off the nail onto the books and should never be worn when handling books or archival material. If nail varnish is present, then gloves can be worn. However, cotton gloves should never be worn as they decrease manual dexterity and could catch on bindings causing damage. Instead, tight-fitting nitrile gloves should be worn. If you choose not to wear gloves while handling books, then hands must be clean and free of hand cream and rings with stones. This is because stones can scratch bindings and hand cream can cause staining. Also, absolutely no food and drink should be in the area, not even water, as liquids cause almost irreparable and expensive damage and food crumbs attract pests.

    Also, any condition reports should be filled in with pencil only as ink causes stains that are costly to remove. A condition record is a great way to record existing damage and offers an in-depth insight into a book’s health. These records can assist in an institution’s application for conservation grants and support an organisation’s Accreditation application. We will cover the damage recorded in condition reports in the next blog for now we are going to focus on the cleaning process. Here at Chetham’s we are only dry cleaning the outside of the books, any other treatment should always be at a conservator’s discretion.

    The following items are required to carry out dry cleaning: a pony hair conservation brush, a conservation museum vacuum, an appropriate dust mask, and some netting. Hold the book firmly across the spine keeping it closed so that no dust can transfer to the pages. Using the pony hair brush, clean along the top edge of the pages, starting from the spine sweeping towards the foredge. For heavy books clean them following the same method but keep them lying flat on the work surface. Brush the surface of the binding with the pony hair brush, never a duster or cloth, as these are too abrasive. The dust removed from the book should be swept into a museum vacuum, the vacuum should be kept on a low setting and have a netting cover placed over the nozzle. The covering prevents loose binding pieces from being lost. To prevent unnecessary pressure on a book’s binding do not open it wider than 90 degrees.

    (Preparing for the clean)

    When cleaning books, book tapes may be present. These are used for books that have detached boards or loose covering materials. After cleaning these should be replaced. Two pieces are typically used one at the top and one at the bottom of a book’s spine. Care should be taken not to cover any tooling, shelfmarks, or labels; they should lie flat with the ties in vertical granny bows at the foredge of a book pictured below. Tapes should always be black, brown, or unbleached cotton from a reputable conservation supplier. If a book is not being returned to the shelf immediately after being tied, make sure you make a note of the shelfmark as you will be forced to untie it otherwise, ask us how we know that one…

    (Book tapes)

    Your generous support is helping us to fund conservation work like this throughout this pandemic while our visitor tour income is reduced. Thank you to every single person who has donated to our Covid-19 Appeal so far.


    By Laura Bryer

  8. Environmental Control

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    Environmental conditions play an important role in the life span of collections, if ignored the problems they cause can build up over time and cause a lot of damage to books and paper. This can lead to the need for expensive conservation repairs or worse irreversible damage.  Monitoring the environmental conditions in a library or archive is crucial for creating the best plan for the preservation of collections.

    The conditions that are recorded will provide proof of good collections and conservation management for funders and professional bodies. This means that the standards and guidelines that are the requirements of government agencies and funding bodies are additional reasons to implement a solid programme of environmental management, as well as the preservation of the collections.  Gathering and acting on data can take a long time, but strong environmental records will mean that evidence of good conservation of collections can be to hand if it is needed as a condition of a grant, or as evidence of need to support applications to fund improvements.

    As environmental conditions are such a broad topic this blog will be focusing on temperature and Relative Humidity. These two areas can have a huge impact on the condition of library and archive collections. It is important to remember that the buildings that house them and the documents they contain, are whole ecosystems and that environmental factors are often a direct result of the building.

    The definition of RH is the moisture content in the air, this content is measured as a percentage. The aim of environmental control for RH is to keep the moisture content of objects as constant as possible. An ideal RH level for collections is between 40% and 65% as recognised by U.K. heritage organisations. Temperature can have a significant impact on RH, therefore its control can be useful in maintaining RH levels. For example, RH levels increase with a lower temperature and decrease with a higher one. Either extreme causes problems as a high RH encourages mould and pests, whilst a low RH will lead to excessive dryness and cracking of organic materials.

    Above: an example of our RH reader

    The correct conservation equipment needs to be in place to effectively monitor temperature and RH levels. Equipment and methods vary across different institutions. Here at Chetham’s we monitor our RH and temperature with the Tiny Tag software. The Tiny Tag device provides up to date readings which alerts conservation staff to any drastic change in environment levels. If a negative change has occurred there are ways to bring the RH down or up to an acceptable level.

    Some simple preventative methods include air conditioning, dehumidification, humidification, and conservation heating. Some control methods are more expensive and less energy-efficient than others. For example, dehumidification uses one-third of the energy of heating for the same RH control. We use a combination of heating, humidification, and dehumidification to keep our RH levels within the recommended 40% to 65%. Our conservation heating is controlled to never go above a certain level as it could cause irreparable damage to priceless paperwork, books, and furniture.

    Below: an example of our conservation heating

    Your generous support is helping us to fund conservation work like this throughout this pandemic while our visitor tour income is reduced. Thank you to every single person who has donated to our Covid-19 Appeal so far.

    By Laura Bryer


  9. Pesky Pests


    Today’s blog continues our conservation series, this time focusing on the damage to collections by pests. The majority of library and paper-based collections will have objects affected by insects and other pests. Such damage appears in the form of holes in books and bindings, pitting to surfaces and chewed areas. This can either be a historic attack or an active one, it is important to distinguish between the two. Books and paper are at risk due to their organic materials which provide a food source for insects. For example, the adhesives used in bindings are animal-based, as are leather, vellum, and parchment. Even wooden boards, textiles, and paper are not exempt due to their natural makeup. There are a variety of pests that are drawn to these organic materials.

    One of the most common insects that cause damage is the furniture beetle, also known as woodworm which will attack books as well as wooden furniture. Most of the damage comes from the larvae. The beetle will drill through a book and lay eggs inside, the larvae will then hatch burrowing out by eating holes throughout the book until they emerge as adults. Death-watch beetles cause similar damage but are larger than woodworm.

    The pests that are drawn to animal products include moths, carpet beetles, and spider beetles. This is because they get their food from a source of protein known as keratin. Keratin can be found in vellum, parchment, leather, and the glues on bindings. Another pest that causes damage is silverfish which will graze on the surface of paper and book cloth. Booklice will also cause damage in a similar fashion to silverfish. Insect damage can be identified by its sharply defined edges and curves. Rodents will also cause problems in collections, mice for example will gnaw and chew on books as they create nests and use them to sharpen their teeth. In addition, their urine and droppings can stain the paper.

    Above: an example of pest damage caused by the furniture beetle.

    The prevention of pest damage is key here as the treatments required for removal can be both costly and cause further harm to collections. By using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Library staff can prevent or minimise problems. IPM methods are a series of monitoring and prevention methods. For example, pests are more likely to reproduce and look for food in warmer conditions, so it is vital to try and prevent temperatures from being too high when storing books and paper. Good housekeeping is essential for deterring pests, as the presence of dust which is made up of organic materials such as hair, skin, clothing fibers can encourage feeding, almost like a starter before they begin eating the main course. In addition, Relative Humidity (RH) must remain stable between 45 and 65 as too damp or too dry conditions can encourage infestations depending on bug species.

    As well as keeping the above conditions under control monitoring tools can be used as part of IPM. For example, blunder traps can be used to trap insects such as silverfish, carpet beetles, and other insects. These are small sticky traps that should be placed in corners and alongside walls and shelves following pest movement patterns. These traps can inform staff of new outbreaks or an increase in number. Pheromones can be used alongside traps that will draw insects such as moths.

    Collections should be checked for signs of recent attack. Indicators include new holes and frass (bug poop). Frass is a good way to tell if the damage is new or historic. Insecticides can also be used to control numbers; however, they must be health and safety approved and non-toxic such as constrain. Constrain is pH neutral and water-based meaning it will not give off harmful fumes. Another option is to use desiccant dust around corners and space edges, this dust will also indicate pest movement if disturbed. These insecticides should never be used on actual collections as they are too harsh.

    There are a few different approaches for dealing with pest-infested items. Firstly, to determine if an object is contaminated it should be isolated and either wrapped in polythene or Tyvek (a breathable polyester). Treatment will depend on the pest species and the severity of the infestation. Specialist treatment should only be carried out by trained conservators. Freezing is a popular method for libraries and archives as this will kill eggs as well as larvae. Books are sealed in polythene and the temperature must be -30°C for three days or -18°C for two weeks. It is crucial that books remain in polythene until they have returned to room temperature. Otherwise, there is a risk of water damage from condensation. This treatment cannot be used on delicate items such as manuscripts. In some cases, heat can be used however, this is a risk for heat-sensitive items. Books are placed in a temperature humidity-controlled chamber at 50°C. Other methods involve placing objects in environments that cause oxygen deprivation with chemicals. These treatments can only be used at a conservator’s discretion and must be weighed against the likelihood of further object damage.

    Below: is some double whammy damage from furniture beetles and rodents.

    We are pleased to report we have no current infestations here at the library and have a strong IPM system in place. Your generous support is helping us to fund conservation work like this throughout this pandemic while our visitor tour income is reduced. Thank you to every single person who has donated to our Covid-19 Appeal so far.

    By: Laura Bryer

  10. Another One Bites The Dust

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    Next in our Conservation series, we will be exploring the damage caused to books and collections by dust. Dust may be something you would expect to find in old libraries, historic houses, and museums. But in fact, conservation staff battle on an almost daily basis to keep this agent of deterioration under control. Dust levels in collections must be managed because it causes damage in two ways. For example, the presence of the actual dust itself causes deterioration, whilst the abrasive removal from books can be potentially damaging, not to mention costly and time-consuming for staff.

    Dust in historic libraries comes from a few different sources including the books themselves. As books are made from organic materials, they become more delicate as they age, leading to a breakdown of materials which contribute to dust fall. Another cause of dust surprisingly comes from the clothing fibres and skin cells of visitors and staff. Books on lower shelves will gather dust, which is disturbed on the floor, whilst those on upper shelves will attract dust from the ceiling and rising fibres, pollution, spores and dirt from open windows.

    Above: an example of how quickly outside factors can contribute to dust fall. (Don’t worry it was taken care of immediately) 

    The presence of dust may just seem like an unfortunate cosmetic problem, however, over time it can cause cumulative damage which results in a process called cementation.  This is when the dust attaches itself permanently to a surface and causes visible damage to an object. How quickly this takes place depends on the conditions collections are kept in. Humidity (water levels in the air) plays a crucial role in this. Dust cementation occurs at a faster rate if humidity is high.

    The removal of dust from books if carried out incorrectly can cause as much damage as the dust itself. Therefore, it is essential that the correct conservation method is carried out. Dependent on book size it is best to carry out the clean in pairs.  Dust must be gently swept off the top and sides of the text block using a soft brush, such as a pony hair brush; a face mask must be worn and the dust should be caught in a museum vacuum cleaner. Netting should be placed over the vacuum as a safety precaution and a low setting should always be used. To avoid abrasion gently brush dust away from the spine to the edge of the text block (fore-edge). Delicate books should not undergo this process, surprisingly 20th-century paper made from wood pulp is more susceptible to damage than paper before the 19th-century, as the wood pulp is more acidic leading to a breakdown of materials.

    There are certain measures that can be put in place to help minimise dust fall in a library, however, some of these can be very costly or in some cases unpleasing to the eye. One of the simpler methods is to place an archival grade polyester sheet over the top of the books called melinex. The slightly static charge in melinex attracts dust to its surface rather than the top of the books. However, this is only effective if the books on the shelf are the same size, also it is very unsightly when placed on shelves in the visitor’s eye-line.

    A more effective and visually pleasing option is that of silk taffeta coverings. Specific silk needs to be used for this process, due to factors such as moldability, shape memory and colour. Strips of this silk are heat cut to the exact length and width of the top of the books and then moulded until they sit flush. This would also minimise the need for as frequent manual book cleaning as the taffeta would be cleaned instead, resulting in less mechanical damage from handling.  To protect individual volumes archival grade boxes (phase-boxes) can be used but this is impractical as a means of mass protection.

    Above: an example of silk taffeta in place

    Both the melinex and taffeta methods can be expensive and not always feasible for smaller or charity run organisations. But there are some more purse-friendly solutions to managing dust. For example, dust mapping is one of the easiest ways to minimise dust in the collection as you can track where it is most prevalent and make adjustments accordingly.

    To track dust, you can use dust monitors, these are essentially cards with a sticky tape which are placed in different locations. Before these are put in place the date is recorded on them and after a few weeks, these will indicate how quickly the dust accumulates in different areas of the library. Another method of dust mapping can include a chart where a traffic light system indicates the levels of dust throughout a space.  A colour-coded layout of the library is created indicating dust severity in the format of red, yellow, and green. Green being minimal red being heavy dust.

    Above: an example of a dust mapping chart

    We pride ourselves on our strong collections care here at Chetham’s and your generous support is helping us to fund conservation work like this throughout this pandemic while our visitor tour income is reduced. Thank you to every single person who has donated to our Covid-19 Appeal so far.

    Blog Post By: Laura Bryer