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Collections and conservation assistant Roxane Burke describes the recent book security project in the Porteus library, with thanks to Fulham Society funding.

This was one of the first projects I was involved with since starting my new role as collections and conservation assistant here at Fulham Palace. It involved overseeing the updating of our security for the books housed in our fantastic and original bookshelves in the Porteus library.

The library was created to display the books belonging to Bishop Porteus (Bishop of London, 1787-1809) after his death. Although his collection is now housed at Senate House library (University of London); we possess some very wonderful old volumes, some of which date to the 17th century and some from loans belonging to the family of previous Bishops of London. The large and heavy leather-bound volumes are of particularly interest to me!

The Porteus library is many visitors' favourite room in the Palace (credit: Dimitri Lisitsyn)

Our aim for the conservation work was to replace the old wiring, which was highly visible. It had created some accessibility issues and in some places caused damage to books. A new system was required for each individual shelf so that the collection could remain accessible when necessary. It had to be discreet but efficient.

In order to know how much material was required for the job, each shelf had to be measured since the bookshelves were custom-made and were of varying size. Our marketing and events executive, Elowyn Stevenson, measured the width and depth of 168 shelves during the initial lockdown period when most members of staff had to work from home.

The final step on our journey (once funding was approved) was the conservation work – this was undertaken by  Ruth Stevens ACR from Sussex Conservation Consortium with the help of her assistant Giorgia Genco. It took them 69 hours over five days to complete the project. The materials used for the security system are simple: archival brown box board and nylon wire.

Two boards were required for each shelf – these were individually measured against the height and depth of the first and last book on the shelf. Every board was inserted with two holes at its front which was used to attach the security wires that would run along the breadth of the shelf.

Our next concern was that some of our books were too tightly packed and not always adequately supported against other similarly sized items. This is important in order to prevent warping of books from occurring. Myself and our MA Museum Studies placement student from Kingston University, Adreanna Uttke, spent three days shifting books, allowing for breathing space and recording their new locations.

Giorgia Genco working at height (credit: Ruth Stevens)
Ruth Stevens fitting the security line (credit: Giorgia Genco)

Books were pushed to the front to allow for airflow at the back of the shelves to minimise the risk of mould development. Boards were also measured for empty shelves, destined for future acquisitions. The final result is absolutely fantastic and I hope that once we are able to reopen after this second lockdown that visitors will be able to admire the bookshelves in this truly remarkable room!

The museum shop has temporarily moved into the Porteus library; when we reopen, visitors can visit the library via the café or by booking a free museum time slot.

The finished product - the security lines are barely visible!