More Conservation for Digitization at the Bodleian

In our previous post on conservation, we discussed the actions that Bodleian conservation staff have taken to repair damaged books, reattaching loose boards or mending torn pages. However, another part of the work of the conservation team is to assess and minimise the risk of future damage. Even minor existing damages can be exacerbated by the handling involved in digitisation, necessitating a more expensive and invasive repair before the book is returned to the shelves. In cases where they have deemed this likely, the Book Team have sought to eliminate the risk by carrying out pre-emptive repairs.

One example is MS. Barocci 74, an item from the Barocci collection of Greek manuscripts, which the Bodleian will be digitizing in full. The Barocci collection contains a significant number of Greek-style bindings, which have distinctive raised endbands extending onto and sewn into the wooden boards. The text-blocks are cut flush with the board edges, which are often decorated with grooves. One of MS. Barocci 74's boards was split along its whole length, meaning that the broken half was held together only by the blind-stamped leather covering it. With further handling, the leather would very soon have given way and torn along the board, making repair more difficult, risking the loss of board and leather fragments, and leaving the text-block vulnerable to damage. The book would also have been extremely awkward to set up and handle in the studio.


To improve ease of handling and prevent further damage, the break in the wood was glued back together using rabbit-skin glue, a traditional wood adhesive that is often used by violin-makers. Once the board had been glued, it was clamped in place until the glue was dry. Then, the split was bridged with small parchment patches to prevent a further breakage along the weak point. The book is now safe to photograph, and also safer and easier for readers to handle.


Barocci: before treatment

1: before treatment



Barocci: during treatment

2: during treatment, clamped in position while the glue dries



Barocci: after

3: after treatment: the break repaired and secured with parchment bridges