Through conservation keyhole: Erskine photographs

Hi, I’m Kerry, Preservation Assistant and the new member of the Preservation & Conservation team in Archives and Special Collections. Our team is responsible for the preservation and conservation of the Archives and Special Collections materials such as books, maps, plans, letters, journals, posters, prints, architectural drawings, photographic materials and paper-based three dimensional objects.  Our treatments performed in Archives and Special Collections include surface cleaning, removal of adhesive tapes, paper mending, book and documents repair, pamphlet repair and binding, and construction of custom enclosures.


In the last few months I was assisted to Preservation Manager works with the Archivists  to conduct a comprehensive preservation program for the collections including monitoring of storage and handling practices, disaster preparedness and response, staff training, and preservation advice and information for the staff and public. In preservation we also review collection items selected for digitalisation and perform exhibit preparation work on these digitised materials in support of the exhibition programs. From making supports for medieval parchments through checking the environmental conditions, monitoring pest traps, labelling items, to digitalisation of the photographs, my working days in preservation have been interesting and varied.13

Last month we have heard “Through conservation keyhole” from Ela about photographs project and now it’s time to share some of my preservation experience during digitalisation.02My Erskine photographs digitalisation project  focused  on the risk assessment during digitalisation and identifying  potential hazards. The conservator’s role is to facilitate digitisation and make collections more accessible, so often the conservator helps  to decide if a collection should be or not be digitised.  Some of the  items from the Erskine project need some kind of intervention before photography, but most take just a few minutes to ensure that the materials will not be further damaged during the imaging process.  Some parts of the Erskine photographs collection have been previously mounted with masking tape.  Now that the masking tape removal has been completed on the Erskine photographs, and after evaluation of physical condition, the selected collection of photographs has been accepted for digitalisation. Using Flatbed Scanner, we will digitise each photograph. This will enable us to make a copy of the original image for display purposes.  It is essential to perform a condition assessment of the materials you intend to digitise during the planning stage of the project, to ascertain whether they are in a suitable state to go through the digitisation process without being harmed. Before you start make sure you have followed some preservation advice:


  • Check the condition of your items before starting a digitisation project
  • Using the correct lighting for the media is vital. Incandescent (heat producing) lighting should not be used as it can damage paper and the dyes used in paper-based media. They can cause the paper to darken or fade and become brittle due to the breakdown of cellulose fibers in the paper.
  • Clean the place where work will be done when necessary as it is important to avoid dust in the digital image
  • A clean scanner surface is a must when digitising photographs, especially if you want to increase the size of the image. Dust particles unseen to the naked eye can stand out on an enlarged scanned image.  An antistatic cloth or brush will help to keep dust at bay and keep the work surface clean.
  • Wearing gloves is also important as it protects the photographs from oils in your skin transferring to the surface of the image and also onto the glass surface of the scanner and support photographs carefully and holds them with both hands to avoid damage.
  • Keep photographs covered when they are not being viewed immediately
  • If a photograph becomes attached to adjacent materials, consult photographic materials with a conservator
  • The scanner program allows you to decide what dpi you want to use when scanning your photographs. DPI stands for dots per inch (dpi) or PPI pixels per inch (ppi).  This measurement determines the quality of the image. The higher the dpi or ppi the clearer the photo will look.
  • When scanning your photographs be sure to take a look at the back of the photograph as well. There is often important or interesting information found here which you may want to digitise.

Another important issue to consider is the safety of your photographs if you need to scan your images away from your home or workplace. How do you transport the photographs safely to another location? What will the weather be like, is it raining, are you taking public transport? If the photographs are loose, it is a good idea to keep them flat between two sheets of thick cardboard and to protect them from the weather, enclosed within a waterproof covering.14

If you have any problems with your photograph collection and you are near the  library conservation studio on level 2, that’s a good place to start by asking for a conservator advice.




Categories: Archives and Special Collections, Library

2 replies


  1. Through the conservation keyhole: behind photographs in Erskine Project – University of Glasgow Library
  2. Through the Conservation Keyhole: MS Gen 1483 Boyd Charters Preservation – University of Glasgow Library

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