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Tuesday, May 17 • 10:30am - 11:00am
(Book and Paper) Post-flood Development of Mass Treatments at the National Library of Florence: The Roots of Library Conservation

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My late husband, Peter Waters, was Technical Director of the Restoration System for the Biblioteca Nazionale di Firenze (BNCF) in the nine months following the Florence flood of 1966. This paper explores the conservation methods employed during those early days of the recovery, and the philosophy and reasoning behind the choices made in the treatment of thousands of damaged books from the great Palatina and Magliabecchi collections. The importance of this event was formative to the development of library conservation as a profession; its impact on modern conservation is discussed. After 50 years I am one of the few participants alive with detailed, personal knowledge of the achievements that occurred during those crucial early months in the BNCF. I worked alongside Peter for three months during 1967 and have access to his diaries, articles subsequently published, and, critically, to his frequent letters home. Those letters will soon be published as a book that will be available at the AIC meeting in Montreal. The early history of the response is treated chronologically and includes: the call for help Peter received from Howard Nixon, Keeper of Printed Books at the British Museum; Peter’s arrival at BNCF the next day (November 25) with Anthony Cains and Dorothy Cumpstey, while student volunteer “Mud Angels” were still digging out books from the basement; the acceptance four days later by the Director, Professor Emanuele Casamassima, of Peter’s recommendation to set up a restoration system within the library itself; and the complete implementation of that system within a mere nine months. Described will be: the changing status of book treatment ; expansion of the small technical team and attendant funding problems; the process of experts defining treatment protocols; design and fabrication of requisite equipment; disinfection; removal of mud, oil and contaminants; and pulling text blocks for washing, drying, mending, collating and rebinding. Efficient methods, including heat-set tissue, devised for the mending of tears, filling lacunae and larger areas of loss, went on to influence professional practice. Thirty mending desks and a fully equipped bindery filled the library’s main reading room, and adjoining rooms were equipped with temperature-controlled washing sinks and drying cabinets, all of which were custom-designed, fabricated and in operation within nine months of the flood. In 1969, inspired by his work at the BNCF, Frazer Poole, Director of Preservation at the Library of Congress, invited Peter to design and then head LC’s large new Conservation Lab, so our family immigrated from England in 1971. Peter developed his concept of “phased conservation” (eventually renamed “Preventive Conservation”), an approach that would have a lasting impact on all conservation. He retired in 1995, after heading the Conservation Office for 25 years. Under Peter’s guidance, honed through the Florence experience, it became one of the major centers for the training of library and works-of-art-on-paper conservators, influencing standards internationally This paper, being an overview of techniques developed during that seminal period, provides a history and information that otherwise might be lost.

avatar for Sheila Waters

Sheila Waters

in Private Practice, Calligraphic Designer
Calligraphy and lettering designer. Widow of Peter Waters, Chief of Conservation, Library of Congress 1971-1995. and !966-1967 Technical Director of the Restoration System of BNCF, the National Library of Florence.

Tuesday May 17, 2016 10:30am - 11:00am EDT
Room 520