Hands on! A paper conservation workshop at the University of Canberra

Cleaning suppliesSusan Thomas and Jen Hill, the curators of rare books and music respectively, spent a day at the University of Canberra recently learning the basics of paper conservation. While most of the day was “hands on”, the presenters, Dr Mona Soleymani and Ian Batterham, began the day talking about the history of paper making, its composition and common additives and the various contributors to paper deterioration.

Paper cleaning task

Then came the first of our practical tasks. We worked on our own sheets of paper—purposefully dirtied and defaced—to try various techniques of surface cleaning, including vacuuming, gentle brushing and scraping. We also tried using a range of cleaning products ranging from the everyday to the highly specialized.

A paper washing task followed: our heavily acidic and brittle paper from the classifieds section of a 1970s newspaper was checked for colour fastness, then given a magnesium carbonate bath in order to de-acidify it. We also learned different ways to flatten and dry paper.Washing paper

Tissue paper Japanese


Next we used carefully torn pieces of Japanese tissue paper to repair a printed paper sheet with several rips on its edges. High quality Japanese tissue, with long fibres visible to the naked eye—combined with a purpose-made adhesive—gave remarkably good results considering our beginner status. Our last task was to attach a backing sheet to a small colour print.

Backing and repairingThe course was expertly taught and very enjoyable. As curators it has given us knowledge and understanding that we can apply day-to-day in the management of our collections.

Jennifer Hill (Curator, Music)


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