Preservation Policy

Preservation Policy objectives

The Preservation Policy involves a comprehensive statement on the preservation and conservation of all materials held in the collections, including manuscripts, rare books, maps, portraits, photographs and microfilms. Its aim is to ensure the long term accessibility of all items.

While DWL’s Preservation Policy directly addresses the needs of manuscripts and rare books in the Library’s strong rooms, sections of the policy are also applicable to other parts of the collections held within the Library.

The preservation policy provides the following benefits:

  • The policy is a public statement of the preservation aims of Dr Williams’s Library.
  • It guides members of staff on preservation and conservation issues.
  • It enables the allocation of resources for the care of materials in the collection.
  • It supports the use of preservation methodologies for physical and digital materials.
  • It enables the development of preservation initiatives.
  • It stresses the library's accountability for preservation.
  • It advises readers in the preservation of manuscripts and books.

Preservation principles

Dr Williams’s Library's holdings include rare and, in the case of archives and manuscripts, unique material of local, national and international significance. DWL's preservation principle is to preserve its varied material in perpetuity, in its original format. In some instances the creation of a surrogate copy is appropriate for preservation and sometimes dissemination purposes. The creation of a surrogate does not remove the need to preserve the original. Every preventive measure should be taken to avoid damaging or interfering with an item’s physical integrity and historical validity.

In general, DWL's policy is one of preventive preservation, in preference to active conservation.

Active conservation measures are considered when projects include accessing and photographing very fragile material. This must consider the physical state of the item, its further deterioration, if left without conservation measures, and any special value it may have. Its possible future use is also determined and a decision taken as to the priority of conservation treatment. If the value or condition will be irrevocably changed by such treatment other solutions must be sought.


The Library recognizes that access to its collection is important. Yet a balance must exist between the needs of readers and the preservation of irreplaceable manuscripts. Preservation and conservation involve not only repair, but storage in optimum conditions of correct temperature and humidity and proper handling of material by staff and readers.

A conservator and an archivist have two main responsibilities:

  • The preservation of manuscript/archive material for future generations.

  • The obligation to make such material available to searchers who need to consult it.

Both these responsibilities are important but the first must take priority over the second. If manuscripts are destroyed by bad management within the library or by one careless reader in the search room, they will never be available in the future.

All items, including manuscripts, in the Collections should be catalogued, as resources permit, and a major priority is to add them to the online library catalogue. Care is taken to ensure that the catalogue record provides sufficient detail to enable potential readers to identify the items they wish to see, to avoid unnecessary retrievals. Likewise, where a surrogate copy of an item has been created, the catalogue should indicate its presence, so that unnecessary handling of a fragile object is avoided.

Accommodation and Storage

The strong rooms are furnished with ‘Ecospace’ rolling stacks, storage furniture that meets British Standard BS5454: 2000, Recommendations for the storage and exhibition of archival documents. They are specially designed with perforated uprights to encourage airflow. Their construction, design and installation were particularly aimed at strength and easy movement. A telemetric system of data loggers connected to the under floor heating system aids the regulating of a balanced temperature and relative humidity and is in use in all the new strong room storage areas. Fire detection measures are in place, and special removable window panels keep the lighting levels to a minimum.

The criteria for housing archives, manuscripts and rare books follow standards set up by the National Trust, designed for historic buildings where air conditioning would compromise listed building requirements.

All material held in the manuscript and archive strong rooms is in a secure area enclosed within the conservation department. Access to these storage areas is limited to the Director and Conservation team. Cleaners and external maintenance contractors are accompanied at all times when working in these areas.

Most material held in the strong rooms when requested is consulted under staff supervision, principally from the conservation department. Rare, sensitive and fragile documents must be accessed in the rare books and manuscripts reading room situated in the basement area. All applications to consult manuscripts and rare books must be approved by the conservator. Readers must provide valid identification. The conservator needs to receive requests one week prior to the readers’ intended visit in order to check the condition of the manuscripts required, to carry out necessary work and to regulate the use of the rare books and manuscripts reading room. No coats are to be taken into the reading room and readers are asked to place their personal belongings beneath the coat rack in the conservation studio, which is a secure lockable room. No reader is to be left unsupervised at any time.

Collection maintenance and housekeeping.

In the strong rooms the shelves are kept clean and manuscripts are stored in order of shelf mark. Bespoke boxes are used for fragile and rare material, as well as for vellum and parchment bindings. Melinex book jackets are made for reversed calf bindings, paper bindings and pamphlets which need added protection. Items, too fragile for use, are wrapped in acid-free tissue, appropriately tied, labelled and marked with a red dot to signify that the item is ‘damaged’ and not accessible. In time a red dot will be added to catalogue entries to show if an item is in unavailable. Spine labels are never attached to historic bindings; shelf marks can be found written in pencil on the inside front board of a book or on the top right hand side of archival material. Loose boards are tied with archival tape. Only materials supplied by recognized preservation equipment suppliers are used for housing rare material.


A manuscript or rare book is only selected for conservation treatment if it proves to be in long-term high demand, so as to ensure its continued availability for consultation. The conservation treatment aims to interfere as little as possible with the history of the binding or archival material. Photographs are always taken before any work commences. If a specific volume or document requires technical treatment not available in-house, specialists will be sought. They will have a proven track record of work in rare or early printed books and manuscripts and their techniques, materials and treatments must be in accordance with the highest professional practices. Care is taken to ensure that all conservation undertaken is reversible, interference with the physical structure and appearance of an item is kept to a minimum and all physical features integral to an item’s historic integrity are preserved.


The cleaning of items is approached with appropriate equipment and carried out by trained technicians or conservators. Special sleeves made for individual items, four-flapped folders and the measuring of rare books and bound manuscripts for bespoke boxes are all carried out in-house. Small paper repair work is undertaken by the conservator. The cleaning of mould, damaged material is only carried out by the trained conservator or Harwell specialist cleaners.


Digital Imaging of manuscripts, rare books and all fragile items is carried out by the conservator or by specially trained staff. If the library requires an external professional photographer for manuscripts, this is to be overseen by the conservator.
If an item is highly used, of uncommon rarity or in a delicate condition, it is at risk. Surrogate copies may be needed to minimize damage to such items. These may be created in digital, microfilm or bound paper facsimiles. In such cases readers use the surrogate, unless they have a justifiable reason for seeing the original. Any further copies required may be made from the surrogate copy. All creation of surrogates is carried out in accordance with the laws of copyright and intellectual property.