In the Conservation Studio: book cradles

Hello, everyone! We are the two new (soon to be old) interns at the Glucksman Conservation Centre. We come from MA Conservation courses in the UK – Carrie is at Camberwell studying books and archival materials conservation, Stacey is at Northumbria studying conservation of art on paper – and we’re here to give you a look at one of the projects we’ve been working on during our time here.

Pic of carrie and stacey

Stacey (left) and Carrie (right) watching a demonstration by Brannah (middle), the book conservator. 

A new exhibition which explores the influence of the University of Aberdeen’s founder, Bishop Elphinstone, will be opening in October in The Sir Duncan Rice Library gallery. Along with other university collection items, and objects from further afield, the exhibition will include seven books from the Special Collections Centre. The conservation team has been involved with the planning of the exhibition, to ensure that items are displayed in the safest way possible. As such, we have begun making book cradles for each of the volumes that will be exhibited.

Here are two types of book cradles, a titled cradle (behind), and a flat cradle (front)

Here are two types of book cradles, a titled cradle (behind), and a flat cradle (front). 

There are several considerations to be taken into account when deciding the best way to display an item. For books, there are various types of cradles that can be used effectively. These can be made from different materials, like archival board or Perspex. It is important to ensure that the books’ joints and spine are well-supported throughout the duration of the exhibition, and that the materials used are strong, chemically stable, and won’t adversely affect the book while it is on display. For our purposes, it was decided that tilted cradles would be used, to improve readability for visitors, while also maintaining a safe angle of display for the books. Archival board was chosen which meets the criteria stated above. It is also cost-effective and good for the environment, as the cradles can be recycled after use.

Making a book cradle is not as easy as it may seem. Each cradle is customised to support a specific book, opened to a particular page. Every book going on display needs its own specially-made cradle, precisely measured with angles of tilt calculated.

The two of us had the opportunity to learn how to construct cradles from scratch, for two very different books in the exhibit. Have a look at some of the steps we took to reach the final product.

The position of the book is simulated in order to create an accurate profile drawing. It is important to ‘feel’ where the book is most comfortable when opened as the structure of the book can be damaged if it is opened too wide.

The profile of the book is recorded by tracing the outline of the book with a marker over a sheet of Perspex.

The outline is then transferred onto a sheet of paper which will be used throughout the entire cradle making process.

Some measurements and calculations taken to finalise the dimensions of the cradle.

Carrie making some reference points on her profile drawing.

Scoring sections of the archival board to achieve the bent portion of the cradle where the book will sit comfortably as indicated by the profile blueprint.

Melinex stripAdding clear strips that will be used to hold down the pages of the book during exhibition.

supportAdding additional support to the cradles

adding a lip to the cradleAdding a ‘lip’ to the front of the cradle for additional support and a cleaner aesthetic

Final cradle without bookFinal cradle with bookAnd here is one of the finished cradles with and without the book!

Posted by: Carrie and Stacey

Flash Fiction Competition 2014

BWS-Logos-RGB-(red-V3)Our Flash Fiction competition is back for its third year and it’s time to get writing again! Be part of Book Week Scotland 2014. Get inspired by four fabulous images from the Special Collections Centre’s rare books and archives and send us your 500-word short story. The Adult and Children’s competitions will be judged by prize-winning authors who will narrow the entries down to special commendations for each image and an overall competition winner for each age category. The winners will be announced at the beginning of Book Week Scotland (24th – 30th November). All competition entries will be published on the Special Collections Centre website.

The deadline for submissions is 12 midnight on Monday 27th October 2014. You can see small versions of the four images below; for more information about the competition and higher resolution versions of the images, visit our Book Week Scotland webpage. 

We look forward to receiving your entries!

Flash Fiction image 1Flash Fiction image 2Flash Fiction image 3Flash Fiction image 4

Posted by: Lynsey

History Hunters – summer schools 2014

With all the whirlwind of New Found Land events this summer, we’ve barely had time to catch our breath let alone report on one of our favourite annual highlights – summer school. This year we ran two “History Hunters” summer schools for 7-11 year olds in July, so this blog post is somewhat overdue! But better late than never, as the saying goes.

The theme of History Hunters was Victorian Egyptology, and over three mornings the children learned the skills needed in order to become Egyptologists themselves. Building on our existing Discovering Ancient Egypt primary schools workshop, this was a chance for us to explore our collections even further and see where they could take us.

This was the second year we worked in partnership with the University Museums service for summer school, and on Day 2 the children got to see and even handle real ancient Egyptian artefacts. Read all about it below!

Day 1

The children were introduced to the field of Egyptology and they explored some of our Victorian collections, including sketches, archaeological ‘squeezes’ and transcriptions and translations of hieroglyphs. They learned about the importance of recording your findings, and tried out some of the different methods available. They also developed some important research skills and found out information about the Egyptian deities. In week 2 we added a bit of drama as well, with the children telling some of the weird and wonderful stories of the gods in freeze frames!


Day 2

This was our ‘away day’ at the Zoology Museum. Our colleague Gillian from the Museums Service brought out a variety of ancient Egyptian artefacts including canopic jars, animal charms originally found wrapped in mummies and a stone carving with a cartouche. The children learned how to handle, identify and research the artefacts. Back at the Special Collections Centre they made their own clay charms inspired by the ancient Egyptian ones they handled at the museum.


Day 3

This was the last morning of the summer school, and it was a busy one! Not only did a real archaeological conservator come to talk to the children about what it is like to work on a dig (Margot has worked on many, many digs all across the world, including one at the Valley of the Kings in Egypt), but the children learned how to carry out a dig themselves and how to record the contextual evidence around a find. After an intensive session of digging, recording and analysing, it was all go to create a final exhibition for parents and visitors!

We always love doing summer school because not only do we get to work with our participants for longer than usual and get to know them better, but it’s also a chance for the children themselves to create something really substantial with the collections. We’re always impressed by the final outcome, and it’s great to see so much effort going into the exhibition and how proud the children are when showing it to their parents!

Posted by: Sarah

Wagons Roll!


We’re nearing the end of our summer New Found Land events programme, and yesterday we had our last Family Fun session for this current exhibition. The children learned about how the pioneers crossed Canada in covered wagons in search of a new life on the Canadian prairie. The wagons contained everything the emigrant families owned – personal belongings plus food, supplies and tools for the journey. Once they set off, the wagon was the only home they knew. During the day, the emigrants would often walk along side the wagon rather than riding in it, because the wagons were so full and the load was heavy for the oxen or horses pulling them. Each night, the emigrants would make a new camp in a new place and they would cook their dinners over open fires. Sometimes they took the covers off the wagons and used them to make tents to sleep under.

The journey took many months. Sometimes the days would be long and boring, but sometimes they could be exciting or even dangerous. Dangers included both hostile humans and wild animals. The emigrants often travelled together in wagon “trains” so they would have the protection of greater numbers.  Other scary things could happen as well, such as wagons overturning on steep slopes and hurtling down hills. Not only would that be dangerous for the emigrants and their animals, but the wagons might break. If that happened, a family would just have to stop there until they fixed their wagon – and hopefully there would be fresh water nearby!

It must have taken real ‘pioneering spirit’ to set off on such an adventure, heading off into an unknown continent in the hopes of building your own farm! Could you imagine doing the same thing yourself?

Below you’ll find pictures of the event and “how to” instructions for making your own covered wagon.

How to make your own covered wagon

You will need:

  • a small cardboard box, preferably cuboid (e.g. a herbal tea box)
  • brown card
  • brown tissue paper
  • white paper
  • corrugated cardboard
  • 1 bamboo skewer
  • sticky tape
  • glue stick
  • scissors
  • pencil

Step 1: Make the wagon box

Cut out one side of your box to make an open wagon box.

1. Cutting lid off box

2. Make the frame supports for the wagon cover

Cut 4 thin strips of brown card (about 0.5 cm wide) and stick the ends to each side of your wagon box so that they stand up in big loops. This makes a support for the wagon cover.

You can stick the ends to either the inside or the outside of the wagon box. If you stick them to the outside, they will be reinforced by the tissue paper in the next step.

2. Frame supports for cover

3. Add a wood effect to the wagon box

Use a glue stick to attach brown tissue paper to the outside of the box to make it look like wood.

3. Tissue paper

Step 4: Add the wagon cover

Cut a piece of white paper to about A5 size, place it over the frame supports and stick it to each side of the wagon box. (If you want to be really authentic, you could use a piece of white cloth instead of paper.)

4. Wagon cover 1

Step 5: Make your wheels

Draw four circles on corrugated card and cut them out. Usually the rear wheels on a wagon were larger than the front wheels, so you can do the same by making two of your wheels bigger than the other two (but make sure your big wheels are the same size as each other, and your small wheels are the same size as each other!).

Cut the wheels out, and mark the centre of each wheel with a pencil. Then take the pointy end of the bamboo skewer and pierce a hole in the centre of each wheel. Watch out for that pointy end, as skewers can be surprisingly sharp!

Then work out where you want the wheels to sit against your wagon, and pierce four holes in your wagon box to match with the centre holes of your four wheels. You want the wheels to sit so that their centres are above the bottom of the wagon, but there is still plenty of wheel to raise your wagon off the table.

5. Make wagon wheels

Step 6: Make axles and attach wheels

Next, work out how long your wagon axles should be. Hold the skewer against the end of your wagon, so that the blunt end of the skewer sticks out slightly wider than the wagon. Make a mark on the skewer with your pencil where you think the axle should end. Tip: The axles need to be slightly wider than the wagon at both ends, so that the wheels have plenty of room. Take a look at our wagon pictures above so you understand what they should look like.

Cut the skewer where you made your mark. This is a job best done by an adult, as it can be difficult to cut through a skewer and you could easily hurt yourself.

Once you have cut one axle, measure it against the remainder of the skewer and cut a second axle to match it. You should be able to get two axles out of a skewer easily. Then discard the pointy end.

7. Measure axle length


Step 8: Attach the axles and wheels

Now push the axles through the holes in the wagon box and attach the wheels. To make sure the wheels stay in place and to prevent any accidents with splinters on the cut ends of the axles, stick a small piece of sticky tape on each axle end.

8. Push axle through wagon box

8. Axles through wagon

Step 9: Make oxen, emigrants and fill your wagon

Now it is time to make your wagon come to life! You can make 2-D oxen and emigrants by either sticking pictures of oxen and people on to card and cutting them out, or even better by drawing them yourself. We used a clip art drawing of an ox we found on the internet.

9. Oxen and people

You could also fill your wagon with the furniture and supplies that your emigrants would need to survive. You can use our Get set for your journey worksheet to help you work out what  might be needed.

Now your wagon is ready to roll!

Wagon ready to roll


Have you found this “how to” post helpful? If so, let us know in the comments section. We’d love to hear from you!

Posted by: Sarah

Pioneer Day

It’s been a while since our last post because it’s been all go here at the Special Collections Centre. We owe you a post about our fantastic summer school so keep your eyes peeled, but for now we need to tell you about last week’s Pioneer Day. This large scale event, on Wednesday 6th August, took place thanks to funding from Aberdeen City Council’s Vibrant Aberdeen Award. We worked with lots of new facilitators to create an action-packed day inspired by the lives of the Scottish pioneers described in our New Found Land exhibition. Despite the weather (the only wet day in Aberdeen last week) families came to the University campus and took part in pioneering activities in The Sir Duncan Rice Library and the Cruickshank Botanic Garden. Here are some snapshots of the day’s highlights…

Fire lighting with Mud Pies 

Shelter building with Aberdeen Rangers Service

Animal tracks and signs and games with Wild Things

Tree climbing demonstrations

testing the ropes for tree climbing ropes ready for tree climbing

Pioneer songs and stories with Grace Banks and Michael Williams

Pioneer craft – making yarn dolls and trying out the tricky “ball and cup” toy

Keep an eye on the blog for more photographs soon, the university photographer is busy editing his batch of images for us. We still have two New Found Land exhibition events to go, our Wagons Roll Family Fun on Wednesday 13th and our music evening on Wednesday 20th August Check out the posters below for details.

Wagons Roll FF poster Music evening poster Posted by: Lynsey

Life Lately

Life lately for the Special Collections Learning Team has been a mixture of doing and planning. On Saturday we had our first Family Fun event based on our exhibition New Found Land: Scottish Emigration to CanadaIn the Land of the Moose Family Fun explored the Canadian animals named in “In the Land of the Moose, the Bear and the Beaver”; a novel on display in the exhibition. Children went animal spotting in the gallery, turned themselves in to moose with antler head bands and made paper bag and finger puppets of the various wild animals. Check out what they produced below as well as our moose selfie – or “Moofie”?

This week has also been very busy, planning for two exciting events over the summer. The first is our annual Summer School. This year we are exploring Ancient Egypt through the eyes of Victorian Egyptologists so we have been busy researching exciting Egyptian facts and meeting with our colleagues in King’s Museum so that our summer school participants can handle real Ancient Egyptian objects. The participants even get to interview an archaeologist who has worked on a dig in the Valley of the Kings! Keep an eye on the blog, Facebook and Twitter for updates from our summer schools.

Ancient Egyptian gods

Our second summer event is Pioneer Day on Wednesday 6th August. This is a day long event for children in The Sir Duncan Rice Library and the Cruickshank Botanic Garden. Participants will go on a pioneer adventure and follow in the footsteps of Scottish emigrants to Canada to discover if they have the skills to survive! In the Cruickshank Botanic Garden there will be shelter building, fire lighting and wilderness activities, and in The Sir Duncan Rice Library participants join in with storytelling, songs and crafts. From 10am-1pm we will be welcoming holiday clubs and out-of-school groups onto campus. Booking is essential for this part of the day so if you wish to book please contact us on From 2-4pm families will be invited to drop-in and take part, no booking required. We hope to see you there!

pioneer day poster

Finally we’d like to say a big thanks to our volunteer, Alice, who has been a big part of SCC life lately as she was here for a two-week work placement. Alice is a familiar face at our Family Fun events but during her placement she was able to work with lots of other sections within SCC. She helped to catalogue archives, de-install an exhibition, make protective dust jackets for books and much more. Here she is working in the Glucksman Conservation Centre.

Alice - melinex dust jacket

Posted by: Lynsey

May Festival 2014

Last week was very busy here at the University as it was time for our annual May Festival again! For a whole week campus is taken over by lots of exciting events, exhibitions and activities for schools, adults and families.

Our new exhibition New Found Land opened just in time to welcome May Festival visitors, but don’t worry if you didn’t get a chance to see it over the weekend, it’s our summer exhibition so you’ll be able to visit until the end of August.

New Found Land poster

School workshops – Storybox: David Cardno
During the week we ran school workshops based on our favourite Peterhead sailor, David Cardno. Davie’s memoirs are filled with exciting stories from his time on whaling ships in the Arctic, and pupils from St Peter’s R.C. Primary and the Aberdeen Waldorf School brought these tales to life with drama activities.

Davie lived alongside the Inuit people on Baffin Island for a number of years and he noted down facts about their culture and customs in his notebooks. This included descriptions of some of the Inuit deities and how the conjurers would please these gods and goddesses to bring their tribe good hunting, weather or cure sickness. Masks were used to disguise the conjurer and please the gods and the pupils designed their own masks inspired by Davie’s notes and sketches.

Family Fun – Under the Sea
On the Saturday of the May Festival we held a Family Fun event inspired by the work of artist Anne Beavan, whose exhibition Things Unseen is currently on display in the library’s Events Space. Anne’s work is inspired by science and sea life and features amazing images of tiny sea creatures. Participants were inspired by Anne’s art as well as zoological teaching aids of sea creatures from the Special Collections to make their own aquatic art. By the end of the session there were lots of floaty jellyfish and fierce angler fishes swimming across the University campus.

Bookbinding workshop and talk
Finally for adults we held a bookbinding workshop and talk on Sunday 11th May. Participants spent the afternoon in the Glucksman Conservation Centre, learning bookbinding skills from our Book Conservator Brannah MacKenzie. The group also learned about some of the amazing bindings in our collection from Rare Books Cataloguer Jane Pirie. Both Brannah and Jane are so enthusiastic and informative that it’s hard not to come away with the bookbinding bug! One of our archive volunteers was able to attend the session and it already planning bookbinding activities to do with his grandchildren!

A busy and fun weekend was had by all and we’ve had just enough time to recover before Night at the Museums on Saturday. We just need to make our sea monster, ready to go into his lair and menace all the pirates! Visit the Night at the Museums website to find out more. We hope to see you there.

Posted by: Lynsey