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

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