Report from the IFLA Brazil PAC Centre – A view on the conservation and restoration of the National Library collection


A report from the Center of Technical Processes and Preservation Coordination of Preservation, Biblioteca Nacional 

The Coordination of Preservation is made up by the Conservation and Binding Center and the Restoration Laboratory, each respectively carrying out the conservation, restoration, binding and the packing of books and documents with different degrees of deterioration. Those items that show a high degree of deterioration for which conservation techniques are not sufficient to structurally restore them are sent for restoration. All the books and documents that make up the immense collection of the National Library, from journals and general books to those belonging to special collections such as Iconography, Rare Books, Manuscripts, Cartography, Music and Sound Archive are considered for conservation or restoration.

Preventive conservation

Preventive conservation covers all measures and actions that aim to prevent or minimize future deterioration or loss of parts of the institution’s collections. Preventive conservation faces the challenge of implementing an effective action plan throughout all the various collections of the Library, regardless of their condition. It also covers a wide range of actions that include handling and safeguarding, cleaning, wrapping, packaging and transport; in addition to safety in terms of environmental control (such as: light, temperature, relative humidity, atmospheric pollution and pest control). Furthermore, risk management plans are needed as well as personnel training.

Pre-established ethical, aesthetic and historical criteria are used as guidelines for all the specific technical procedures involved in conservation and restoration.

All the members of the conservation and restoration teams, besides their main duties, act as instructors in courses on conservation, restoration, bookbinding and packaging of such items. They give technical advice to cultural institutions, public and state libraries as well as consulting services for setting up conservation projects and restoration laboratories. They also participate as instructors in personnel training inside and outside the institution, and carry out research to be presented at conferences, seminars, round tables and lectures. They also work as ‘couriers’ for mounting exhibitions of works from the National Library collection.


Restoration is a set of direct interventionist actions that reach the cellulose fibers, which then reverse the physical or chemical damage that has befallen the books or documents over time.

iamge 1

As part of the extensive overview of the technical procedures for the restoration of books and documents, we highlight some very important issues for consideration:

  • A record of the items to be restored must be made through diagnostics, research and photographs before, during and after the restoration (see photos 1, 2, 3 attached);
  • The restored items must be sent for reproduction at the microfilm and digitization laboratories;
  • The reversibility principle must be guaranteed for all the materials used in technical treatments;
  • The compatibility of new materials to be used in the restorations must be fully evaluated.
  • All the characteristics of the books and documents to be restored, and all the fragments to be reassembled in their original position must be noted in detail as evidence.

image 2

For books with their original binding or no binding at all, a set of cleaning procedures is carried out – the pages are dry cleaned with rubber powder and the book is dismantled – which includes the separation of the body of the book from its binding and its sewing structures. Here the different sections and how the book was constructed must be properly recorded on an appropriate documentation sheet, which will serve as a guide to reassemble the book at the end of the restoration. These details are documented in order to prevent any mistakes from being made with the right positioning of the pages and illustrations when re-sewing and rebinding  the book (see photos 4, 5, 6, 7 ). Then:

image 3

  • Solubility tests of the printing and writing ink must be performed before any technical treatments in aqueous media are carried out. Moreover, we must also measure the pH of the paper (see photo 8);
  • The water used in the aqueous treatment is carried out to clean, to remove dirt and to neutralize the acidity present in the cellulose fibers of the artwork. This water must be de-ionized or distilled, free from impurities and metal particles. These aqueous treatments can be divided into two categories:
    • image 4Direct immersion, used on strong primary supports and non-soluble inks (see photo 9),
    • image 6Float washing, using a vacuum suction table on fragile documents such as manuscripts which are severely damaged. This damage has been caused by the ink degradation, most cases being iron gall ink (see photos 10, 11);

image 7

  • The leaf-casting machine is used to fill in the missing areas of the original book and documents with the use of cellulose fibers in the specific tones and appropriate amounts to maintain harmony with the color and thickness of the items under treatment (see photos 12, 13);

image 8

  • The heat suction table is used to carry out lining. This step gives greater strength to the original document that was weakened during the restoration treatment. Lining the back of the document using the (appropriate thickness) Japanese paper and methylcellulose adhesive with heat and pressure. This equipment is usually used on large-format documents (see photos 14, 15);

image 9

  • Parchment binding with the full parchment model (1) and the Espinosa model (2) for rare books under restoration on the leaf-casting machine. This is a binding policy adopted by the Restoration Lab specialists (see photos 16, 17);

image 10

  • There are specific bookbinding restoration techniques that should be used for rare books that still have most of their original binding components (see photos 18, 19);

image 11

  • Packaging for books already restored such as the cross box with the use of lace (1) and portfolio box (2) should be used where appropriate (see photos 20, 21, 22, 23);

image 12

  • Differential packaging should be made for special restored documents, e.g the papal bulls with appended seals of the Manuscript Division (see photos 24, 25).

Jayme Spinelli Junior, Regional Preservation Center for Brazil – IFLA-PAC; Coordination of Preservation – COP


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3 Responses

  1. Sunny Soe says:


  2. Monica Rizzo says:

    Wonderful job!!! Great team at the National Library!

  1. 17/06/2016

    […] has an interesting report from the Center of Technical Processes and Preservation Coordination of Preservation, Biblioteca […]

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