Through conservation keyhole: Just a Little Can Make Difference

On the 5th December International Volunteer Day, we have heard from Jenny about her placement and now it’s time to hear from Kirsty!

My name is Kirsty and I’m studying MLitt in Art History: Dress and Textile Histories at the University of Glasgow. For the past eight weeks, a fellow student, Jenny Macleod and I have been working on the Blackhouse Charter Preservation Project at the Glasgow University Archives.


 The first few weeks of the project consisted of doing conditions reports on the charters.  The parchment which the charters are made of is very old, over 600 years, and it was a great opportunity to be trusted to work with something which is so old, valuable and delicate. We had to wear the correct equipment to work with the parchment – always using gloves and wearing a lab coat if we were working in the Virology section. It was great to learn how to handle the parchments properly; a valuable lesson in object handing! Condition reports were a good way to start off the project because it improved my way of looking at things; being able to look for small details that made a huge difference to how the parchment is interpreted.  For example, what I thought were damage marks on the parchment turned out to be scraping marks from the parchment preparation process. What I always like about working on projects like this is how much you learn as you undertake the work, and this was no different. Through doing condition reports on the parchment, I found out more about the history of the Blackfriars and their connection of the University of Glasgow. I started to recognise symbols on the parchments, and found out the meaning of these symbols: mainly symbols from the Blackfriars Order.

It was also interesting to see the different sorts of damages that the parchments had sustained over the centuries; some damage was centuries old, such as holes in them which might have been where they were hung up on the wall, and some were newer, like damp stains. It was also interesting to see the different conservation methods which had been carried out on the parchments; some beneficial and some which had a detrimental effect, such as some which had been backed on to a piece of paper which had made the parchment more brittle. 

6The next step of the project was probably my least favourite; making boxes to fit the parchment.  This involved measuring the parchment to fit a piece of card which went inside a custom made box. I really found the measurement part difficult, and it took me a couple of attempts to work out how to do it properlyAlthough I think my difficultly lay in the fact that so many numbers were involved with the measuring – not my strongest point. At the beginning, it took me an entire day to make one box. However, I think it has made me become a more methodical thinker, and to measure things properly, so although it was difficult at the time, it’s been a useful experience.

The last two days of the placement I found to be the most interesting; working at the Paper Conservation Studio and carrying out Integrated Pest Management (IPM) on the collections.  The Paper Conservation Studio was fascinating, and it was great to get the chance to be able to do some conservation; really satisfying to see the dirt being cleaned off of the documents! I came across some equipment that I had never used before, like an amazing electrical eraser that was great to work with. 

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 The fifteenth century parchment was remarkable under the microscope; it gave us a better idea of how the parchment had been made, and the damage which had been sustained over the centuries. 


Our last day of placement might seem the most gruesome; working with pest management but I found it really interesting! We had to check all the pheromone traps in the archives for insects, take a photograph to record them, and then replace them if there were too many insects.  Compared to the last check which had been done in October, I think Jenny and I were really lucky because we only had one particularly scary one (we might have screamed a little bit), but the rest were fine.  It’s a really important task to carry out because of the threats to the collection from insects, so it was good to know that what we were doing was helpful. I’ve had a really good experience at the archives during my time here, and I’ve definitely learned a lot.  I really liked the opportunity to work in a team, because I think it could be quite a lonely experience if you were by yourself.  I’d definitely have been more scared of doing the Pest Management section if I had been by myself! Thank you very much for letting me have this opportunity, and I’m sure it’ll be valuable to my current studies, and to my future career.  

For young students especially, volunteering is a chance to gain life experience and the feeling of making a difference in archive preservation. Volunteers past, future and present belong to Archive Community.

Thank you all of them and thank you for all the work volunteers do within our Archive Heritage.


Categories: Archive Services

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