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The Manuscript Division’s conservation liaison, in consultation with manuscript specialists and with conservators from the Preservation Directorate’s Conservation Division, identifies collection materials in need of conservation and recommends specific items for prioritized treatment.

Each year, treatments of individual manuscript items and large scale rehousing projects are carried out by the Conservation Division’s team of conservators.

Telegram before conservationTelegram after conservation

A transatlantic cable message from 1873 (Anna Spafford to Horatio Gates Spafford) before and after conservation treatment. American Colony in Jerusalem Collection, Manuscript Division.

Walt Whitman notebook

Special Feature: The Conservation of Walt Whitman’s Notebooks

Treatments of manuscript materials vary according to conditions unique to each item. Conservators may provide custom rehousing, make intricate repairs to paper, re-stitch bindings, examine inks, or wash historic documents to remove years of grime or to retard processes of deterioration.

Brittle or damaged documents are carefully mended and reinforced, stained items are restored to improved appearance, and rolled or folded items are expertly flattened. Conservators draw up detailed proposals prior to carrying out treatments which must be approved through consultation with the manuscript specialist in charge of the collection from which the items come.

Conservators also sometimes examine documents for historical reasons. They may lend their expertise to help determine questions of physical origin, including what means and materials were used to create a printed or manuscript item, or in what era certain elements in a document might have been produced.

All Manuscript Division materials slated for exhibition are subject to conservation review, during which time each item on an exhibition list is examined to determine its specific conservation and exhibition display needs.

During these reviews, the conservator considers the exhibition history of items requested for display. She stipulates whether an object is in condition to be loaned and if so, the proper display support needed (such as a mat or backboard), the permissible light exposure levels, the length of display time to be allowed, and any special needs regarding how an item must be conveyed.. Documents are sometimes specially matted for exhibitions, and if a bound item is going on exhibit, it will be measured for a custom cradle. Further conservation may await loaned items upon their return to the Library’s collections.

Need a conservator?

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Tips for taking care of your own collections

Protecting your family heirlooms

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  October 14, 2010
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