Answer: with much patience, hard work and dedication. A love of books is also a must!
Our volunteer book cleaning team were in today, to work their way through the library books. It’s an ongoing programme which has been going on for the last ten years! The team taught me the processes involved with caring for the books so that the collection will last for many more centuries and future visitors.
Once a book is selected and brought to the work area in the Billiard Room, a low suction vacuum cleaner is used to suck away excess surface dust on the book covers. There is a piece of gauze netting which is placed over the head of the vaccuum to stop large bits of loose material (which can be repaired) from disappearing into the machine. Then a shaving brush is used to brush dust off the top edge, fore edge, and tail edge of the books.
The cover is then lightly brushed with a pony hair brush, in the direction away from the spine and off the edge. Soft dusters can be used on covers to remove dirt very gently – dusters can also buff gilded patterns/pictures on covers, but not pressing so hard that the gilding is rubbed away. The book can then be opened, resting it on a foam book rests so as to not strain the binding and spine of the book. The inside pages are then examined, and loose bits of dust, dirt etc are brushed out using the pony brush. Each book is assessed individually – books that are in good condition can have most of their pages brushed, yet books that are in poor condition are usually left until they have been repaired by a professional conservator.
Believe it or not but Terry is not wearing a butcher’s apron in the picture above – the stripey aprons are specially made from soft cotton, so that if a book accidentally touches against you it touches something soft and non-abrasive, and isn’t damaged (which it might be if rough material comes into contact with the book).
If any damage is found in the books whilst cleaning (e.g. the spine is becoming detached, cover slightly peeling away etc) this is recorded and the information passed to the in-house book repair team (we’ll meet them in the blog another time!) If the books are very badly damaged then they will go away to a professional book conservator’s workshop to be repaired and returned to Nostell at a later date. The book cleaning team meticulously record what work has been done to each book, what needs to be done, any significant features in the books, etc – they are extremely organised. And they have to be, as there are approximately 7000 books in Nostell’s library and billiard room combined!
After a book has been cleaned, if necessary (to protect the book from coming apart at the binding) it is tied with two thin lengths of specially dyed material (at Nostell we have a dark brown and a dark khaki green) which blend in with the library colour scheme, and so does not destroy the ‘look’ of the library for visitors to the house.
Once the team have finished working with a book, it is put back on the shelf, and the process is repeated 7000 times for each book in the library. When they have finished cleaning all of the books there is only one thing for it – to start all over again from the beginning!