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Collections on the move: Cleaning the RCS Library collections - a job for DAD

15 Sep 2017

Susan Isaac

With over five kilometres of books to clean before we moved the collections to temporary storage while the RCS London home is redeveloped, the Library turned to experts Downie Allison Downie Book Binders (DAD) for help.

DAD cleaning: 1

It is good practice and, for us, a contractual clause to ensure that any items sent to another library are clean. Over time books become dusty, bindings dry out and start to flake, spines become brittle, covers can become detached, and leather bindings can deteriorate leading to a condition called ‘red rot’. No one wants to export a problem to another library.

DAD are based in Glasgow and work with major libraries, institutions and special collections across the UK. They bind books and journals, restore archives and box delicate volumes, as well as running book binding courses. They also offer a specialised cleaning service for libraries, carried out by experienced bookbinders. This was particularly important to us as the collections include rare and fragile volumes, as well as modern books and journals. DAD provide an experienced team, who understand and use conservation–handling practices and conservation–grade cleaning equipment.

DAD started working with us in December 2016, coming down to London from Glasgow for two to five days at a time, and finished cleaning the last books in July. They started working in our basement stores, and then moved on to the Library offices and the Barry Reading Room once the Library closed in May.

Professional cleaning is a precise, methodical process undertaken with great care. The team removes each book from the shelf to dust the covers first. Then, using a conservation vacuum cleaner with a soft bristle attachment, the spine, edges and cover are cleaned to remove as much dust and dirt as possible. Each shelf is cleaned before the books are put back onto the shelves. This is hot and dusty work, and the collections often differ greatly; the historical collections contain books that vary widely in size, from tiny items of 11cm in height up to elephant folios that can reach heights of 120cm.

DAD cleaning: 2DADA cleaning: 3

The Library’s varied spaces also provided challenges for DAD’s teams. Basement stores were cramped, with mobile racking limiting the number of people able to work in each area. Many of the Library shelves are over 3m high, requiring ladders to reach the highest, and some gallery areas contain double height shelves, so team members need a head for heights! In this photo the team are working on the gallery in the Barry Reading Room.

DAD cleaning: 4

Talking to Robin and Lesley-Anne about their work has been fascinating. Despite the heat and dust, they and their teams have enjoyed working with our collections, commenting on how varied the subjects covered are and, as you might expect from expert bookbinders, taking delight in the amazing bindings found within.

Find out more about our plans to provide access to the collections for study and research here. For our Members, access to online resources remain available 24/7 as usual. If you have any questions please contact us.

Susan Isaac, Information Services Manager

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