State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 45 Autumn 1990



Who, or what, is a conservator? The title “conservator” is simply the modern term for what has been in the past restorer, repairer, craftsman (person) or many other equivalents which indicate those responsible for the care and repair of the various records of human existence. The Macquarie Pocket Dictionary defines “Conserve” in this way: To keep in safe or sound state, preserve from loss, decay, waste or injury. To that we could add the further definition of “restoration”: a bringing or putting back to a former, or original, normal, or unmarked condition or position. These two definitions together encompass the work and the approach of the conservator today. In past times, a conservator's work may have been simply the restoration of an object after damage was done. For professional conservators working today, the term conservation embraces the concept of preventing damage occurring as well as treating damage once it has occurred.
Within library collections, conservators have responsibility for huge numbers of items — both book material and others. In this context, the issues of preservation should not be limited to the conservation professional only. Preservation of the collection, as a means of enhancing long-term accessibility, forms the basis for good management of a collection and should became part of the professional ethic of all library workers.
The Conservation Department at the State Library of Victoria was set up in its present location in the basement in 1972. The area had once been the Paintings Restoration workshop for the National Gallery of Victoria when the library site was shared by the two cultural institutions. The department was established with assistance from the William Angliss Charitable Fund, and by the lobbying of concerned staff who wished to see some of the preservation problems of the collection addressed within the Library by trained staff. From its modest beginning, the department has grown under the leadership of three Senior Conservators: Nadene Hansen, Eric Archer and now Jeavons Baillie. There are now three sections within the department: Paper Conservation (Flat sheet material), the Conservation Bindery and the Photographic section which handles copying services and microfilming. It has a permanent staff of eight full-time and three part-time conservators, binders and photographers, with six additional staff working on preservation projects.
This special issue of the La Trobe Library Journal has been written to give a perspective on issues of preservation for those interested in library collections. Not only librarians, but researchers, curators and collectors should find material which is of interest and relevance to their work in this issue. The articles contained in this issue are by no means exhaustive, either in subject matter or content, but are meant as an introduction to preservation in its many forms: storage and the environment; caring for particular types of collections including books, photographs and manuscript material; the treatment of specific items within the State Library collection; and finally, but perhaps most importantly, as part of a collection management plan.