Collection Care

Image of an item from the Parliamentary Archives' collections in need of conservation work

The Parliamentary Archives Collection Care team sit within the Preservation and Access team; and work to support Parliament’s Heritage Strategy. We provide a wide range of collection care services that aim to preserve the historic and modern collections held at the Parliamentary Archives.  In addition, we offer conservation advice and help to facilitate wider preservation programmes across the Parliamentary Estate. 

What is Collection Care?

Collection Care is a specific activity, undertaken by a small team of professional conservators who, by way of a range of preservation practices, aim to slow down the deterioration rate of the collections in our care. Our primary aim is to find ways of reducing the risk of damage to objects in our care, by preventing harm and stabilising any further deterioration.

Our main focus is to help ensure the future of our collections, whereby we would initially aim to apply preservation ‘passive/preventative’ methods, such as acid-free packaging; provide good environmental conditions, including effective space management; and assist with collection management issues, such as labelling to prevent loss and dissociation.  Archives collections comprise of mostly organic materials (paper, leather, parchment, wax etc) that have a lifespan that can only be lengthened if preservation conditions are fully met, such as good handling and movement of collections to prevent mechanical damage, to environmental storage.

The Parliamentary Archives store collections in BS 5454:2000, the British standard for the storage of archives, which covers a constant Relative Humidity (RH) of 45-55% , and temperature of 15-16oC, which helps to preserve our collections for longer. We are aiming to work towards the more sustainable standard PAS 198:2012.

Conservation comes into play when preservation packaging and other mechanisms are not enough to stabilise an object that is rapidly deteriorating, such as brittle or acidic paper.  In these cases an object would require the work of one of our conservators who may apply ‘minimal intervention’ techniques, such as re-attaching a book board to a binding, or for more serious cases may use ‘full intervention’ techniques, such as re-sewing broken down sewing that holds the gatherings of a book together in the cover (binding), or repairing holes and tears in a paper/parchment document. 

Ethics and standards play a big part in our roles as conservators; as respect for the historic integrity of items and the preservation of evidence is paramount.  Authenticity checking also comes into play when we examine and document as much as possible from our first condition assessment to the end of a treatment process.  The profession of conservation also demands that we continually improve and update our training and understanding of new methods and materials, and follow national and international standards for the preservation of collections.

  • Image: During Conservation (verso): ‘Cardiff Bute Ship Canal’. Removal of old acidic lining.