Restoration of books
in the National Library of Florence

by Rita Messeri

We see the different phases of the restoration of the books: the first phase of work consists in the drafting of an identikit of the exhibit, that is to say an appraisal of the totality of material of which the book consists: paper, ink, leather, parchment and so forth.

The restoration file that accompanies each volume is a direct descendant, perfected and updated, of a type of filing designed in 1966 by Peter and Sheila Waters. Peter Waters was technical director from the end of November 1966 to October 1967 before he passed the baton to Anthony Cains for the following three years.

Peter and Sheila Waters working at National Library of Florence

(Photo: courtesy Mrs Sheila Waters)

The process of restoration might be as follows: if a volume suffers from damp it will first be cleaned. Generally this involves books that were victims of the flood. An initial cleaning is carried out under running water which is followed by a neutralising bath of a low tenor of hydroxide calcium. Then follows the drying process on metal frames at room temperature.

The next phase passes to the restoration and binding department: here the book is reassembled, its spine, comparable to our backbone, is reconstructed, leaving the structure however with room to breath and a certain suppleness - a too rigid binding could cause damage from a lack of resilience.

The restoring of a book in the National Library of Florence
(Photo FAN ©)

For books that have suffered flood damage or dampness in recent years a procedure of tackling the deterioration of the paper through freezing is employed. The specimen is then defrosted by a lyophilic peculiar as far as Italy is concerned to Florence's Gabinetto. The lyophilizer transforms the ice into vapour without passing through a liquid state thus avoiding traumas to the paper's fibres and, where the varnished paper is concerned, prevents the book from becoming one coagulated mass.

The washing of a flooded book at the National Central Library of Florence
(Photo FAN ©)

Unfortunately there are a lack of funds: The Centre of Restoration, financed by the Ministry of Beni Culturali, has taken advantage of the collaboration of foreign firms with which to perform test and control operations on the work carried out. It is hoped that in the future private sponsorships - I'm thinking of the large publishing houses and banks - will become more decisive and constant so we will not lose this cultural and manual heritage and scientific research.

November 20th, 1998)

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