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07.02.2020

Tru Vue Blog: International Association of Book and Paper Conservators XIVth Congress

From 23 September to 27 September 2019, Emily Hick was lucky enough to attend the XIVth Congress of the International Association of Book and Paper Conservators (IADA) in Warsaw, Poland.

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My attendance was generously funded by the Icon Tru Vue Grant for Continuing Professional Development, the Patrick Cadell Bursary and the University of Edinburgh.

I’m the Special Collections Conservator at the Centre for Research Collections (CRC), University of Edinburgh where I work mainly with the rare book and archive collections, so I was keen to attend this congress which covered a wide range of topics linked to book and paper conservation.

The event was attended by over 400 conservators from 39 countries and it was an excellent opportunity to learn from international professionals, keep up-to-date with current conservation thinking and network with conservators from around the world. It consisted of four days of lectures, followed by a day of optional tours.

Each day, the lecture sessions were broadly broken down into different subject areas. I was able to absorb a huge amount of knowledge in a relatively short space of time and found the event to be inspiring and exhilarating. Although I would love to share all the interesting things I learnt during the congress, in this article I will just summarise a few key learning points that were most useful to me and my place of work.

Conservation decision-making

I learnt how conservators in Denmark are investigating how machine learning can be used to improve the conservation of cultural heritage. By feeding preservation related data into a programme and applying specific algorithms, predictions can be made for new data sets.

New treatment methods

I was introduced to several new treatment methods during this congress such as harnessing electrostatic energy for the surface cleaning of paper documents, the use of LEDs as a light source for bleaching, and the use of a heat mat in conjunction with a water reservoir to efficiently remove protein-based adhesives in hard to reach or sensitive areas. 

New materials

The use of nanoscale celluloses is of growing interest in conservation and I wanted to find out more about this new material at the congress. Two talks discussed the use of aqueous suspensions of nanocellulose to stablise damaged paper. I was interested to hear how the paper strength could be improved with a fine coating of nanocellulose and how this can also be applied without adhesive.  

Technical examination of artist materials

Many talks at the congress focused on artists materials. Two that caught my attention focused on the use of unusual substrates, one on pith paper and another on leather. I was interested to hear about the challenges in conserving this material and the decision-making process behind the treatments chosen.

On Friday I attended a tour of the Institute of Conservation at the National Library of Poland. During the tour we were introduced to the digitisation programme, conservation studios, documentation centre, mass deacidification equipment, microbiological testing and disinfection chamber. This was an excellent overview of conservation at the Library and it was interesting to compare ways of working in this institution with my own.   

In conclusion, I would highly recommend attending an IADA conference to anyone, they are well organised, insightful and inclusive. Likewise, I would encourage anyone, but especially conservators, to visit Warsaw. It is a beautiful city with incredible art, culture and history, and most importantly, cheap beer!

Do widzenia, and hope to see you at the next IADA congress!

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