Letter Caroline worked closely with Museums, Libraries & Archives London (MLA) from 2003 – 2008 and provided all 19 library preservation audit surveys during the period when these were funded by MLA. The programme was inspired by a survey that she had carried out for the Pharmaceutical Society in 1997.

She also designed an Access database for the survey and continuing management of library collections for a major survey of the 7,500 books belonging to the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe in 2002, which was subsequently extended to be used for National Trust and other libraries. It provides detailed reports on all aspects of types of damage, as well as minute-by-minute costings of repairs. See sample reports below.

In December 2012, Caroline carried out a pre-digitisation survey of two archive collections at Windsor Castle, designing an Excel spreadsheet that included recording the condition, nature, timing and costs of conservation and various types of support needed. Working closely with the conservators at the Castle and ably assisted by Angela Warren-Thomas, 660 bound volumes and 130 boxes of material were surveyed in 12 days. This model has subsequently been used by other conservators.

Caroline carried out a survey of the books in the library at Sissinghurst Castle for the National Trust. As a result, a 5-year project to condition assess and stabilise the collection was implemented, with trained volunteers and conservators working closely together. The project was completed in 2018. and was short-listed for the 2015 BEKO Conservation in the Community Award.

What may be covered in surveys:

  • Building configuration, maintenance and associated risks
  • Environmental conditions and controls, plus current environmental monitoring and recording practice
  • Light and UV levels and controls, plus current monitoring and recording practice
  • Protection against airborne pollutants
  • Pest monitoring and control
  • Display conditions and practice – materials, mounting methods, case and plinth structures etc
  • Search room facilities and practice
  • Storage provision and equipment, shelving etc
  • Storage packing methods and materials
  • Handling practice
  • Security
  • General condition of collections
  • Personnel experience and practice
  • Fund raising
  • Conservation in action

Different types of survey and outcomes:

Surveys may take a few hours or several weeks, so it is important that there is a clear understanding of what outcome is required before deciding upon which kind of survey is required. Examples are as follows:

  • An overview, which may take up to a day and will provide a general idea of condition and conservation requirements. Not all items listed above could be covered.
  • A detailed overview, which provides a more-detailed view of the condition and conservation requirements of the collection and provide some general costings. All items listed above could be covered.
  • A 400-item survey, which provides a detailed analysis of the condition of 400 items randomly selected from the collection, from which a 95% (+/- 5%) accurate figure on the conservation needs and costs of the whole may be extrapolated.
  • A detailed survey of everything in the collection or within a particular section.

Surveys are becoming an essential requirement for funding applications and ensure that the long-term care of the collection is based on facts.


Case Study

Survey of the books at Sissinghurst Castle, Kent

The collection of 11,000 or so books date mostly from the C20 and were collected by Harold Nicholson and Vita Sackville-West. The books bear much evidence of readership by the owners, with some written by them, many reviewed by them and annotations and insertions in a large number of volumes. The nature of books of this age is that the materials from which they are made, as well as their structures, tend to deteriorate more quickly than those in earlier bindings, so a survey of the collection was essential to discover its condition, stability and how it should be looked after in the future.

During the 5-year project to conserve the collection a range of conservation issues were tackled, including improving the conditions in which the books are stored, in-situ stabilisation treatments and using the conservation work to provide interest and education for visitors to Sissinghurst. A complete list of books in need of studio conservation has been created and work will be sent to several conservators over the coming years.

“Caroline’s excellent survey of the book collection at Sissinghurst Castle provided a clear and insightful summary of the collection. The deeper understanding that this provided was the starting point for a major conservation project.”

— Hester Liakos, Property Manager, Sissinghurst Castle, Kent (National Trust)