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Thursday, May 29 • 3:00pm - 3:30pm
(Book and Paper Session) The impact of digitization on conservation activities at the Wellcome Library

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In 2010 The Wellcome Library, Euston Road, London, embarked on a project to digitize all of its Library’s holdings. It is now into Phase 2 of the project and plans to be finished in 2015. All treatments in preparation for digitization are undertaken with the aim of stabilizing objects for digitization. Conservation decisions and treatments are based on three basic principles, minimal intervention in the context of a research library, re-treatability and the ‘fit for purpose' principle.

My illustrated talk describes the Wellcome Library’s Conservation and Collection Care approach to the care of its collections during digitization projects. It outlines the considerations needed for the co-operation between all interested parties to facilitate the various types of digitization projects. It lays out the expected level of care and protection while fulfilling the goals of digitizing Wellcome Library’s holdings in a safe and timely manner. Condition assessment and preparation for image capture of the collection are carried out by Conservation staff at the beginning of the workflow.

There are two levels of treatment preparation for digitization. Level one can be carried out by trained digital preparers and level two by staff in the conservation studio. The treatment data are held in the Conservation and Collection Care Department consistent with the permanent retention of records related to treatment and assessment of collection items beyond the duration of the project. All conservation data related to the project, e.g. surveys of condition, assessment spread sheets, and treatment records, will be made accessible within the strands of the project.

Conservation and Collection Care is one component in a complex workflow. The greatest risk to any physical object is in the handling, and the nature of the digitization process means that objects are often handled in new ways in new contexts, or with greater intensity. It is the risk of damage or loss from handling that conservation aims to collaboratively mitigate; handling guidelines are written to elaborate on this. These aim to achieve effective communication between different collection areas and stages of the workflow by constantly sharing and updating information.

Communication with all parties involved in the digitization process is key, as is the recognition that each digitization project has a specific value for each of the following variables: the scope of the collection to be digitized; its current physical condition; the demands of the equipment to be used; the experience of the trained personnel involved. All Wellcome Library Staff involved in the digitization process share responsibility for the care and handling of the collection during digitization.

All digitization projects require conservation recommendations for logistics and handling during image capture. The Conservation Team is responsible for ensuring that the necessary training with written guidelines is provided to all personnel involved in digitization, including Wellcome collection staff and outside contractors whom we encourage to submit their own handling guidelines. In practice Conservation and Collection Care is part of the group of advisors during the initial preparation for each digital project. Collection item needs and handling training vary depending on the condition and scope of the selected projects.


Gillian Boal

Conservation and Collection Care Manager, Wellcome Library
Gillian Boal works at the Wellcome Trust in London. She is head of Conservation and Collections Care at the Wellcome Library. For most of her career she worked at the University of California, Berkeley in the Main Library as the Hans Rausing Conservator in charge of Conservation Treatment... Read More →

Thursday May 29, 2014 3:00pm - 3:30pm PDT
Grand Ballroom A