Delicate touch to save chapters from history
THE public is being offered a rare glimpse into the preservation of some of Ireland's greatest literary treasures.
For the first time in more than a century, readers, historians and anyone else with an interest in the printed word are invited to watch book conservators in action at the National Library of Ireland.
As of today, members of the public are welcome to come down to Kildare Street in Dublin to witness a team of four specialist book conservators painstakingly preserving a priceless collection of 50,000 rare books, some of which date back to the 1600s.
Included in the collection is the first copy of James Joyce's masterpiece 'Ulysses' to roll off the printing press, signed by the author himself when it was published in 1922, as well as a first-edition copy of his 'Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man'.
A similar first-edition copy of 'Ulysses' that remained unread "except for the racy bits at the end" sold for a record £275,000 (€313,000) at an antiquarian book fair in London in 2009.
Other gems include a first-edition copy of Jonathon Swift's 'Gulliver's Travels', WB Yeats's 1928 collection of poetry 'The Tower' and a beautifully illustrated copy of fairy tales called 'Fairyland -- Pictures from the Elf World' by Richard Doyle, the uncle of Arthur Conan Doyle.
The massive restoration project, called 'The Clean Sweep', is needed to preserve the vast collection from decay or further deterioration.
Unfortunately, many of the works stored at the library over the past 175 years did not receive the care advised by 19th Century book collector William Blades who wrote: "The surest way to preserve your books in health is to treat them as you would your own children, who are sure to sicken if confined in an atmosphere which is too hot, too cold, too damp or too dry."
According to chief conservator Nikki Ralston, some of the books in the collection were stored in less-than-ideal conditions in Kildare Street that were too hot, dry and dusty.
So to counter the effects of age, dust and grubby fingers, the team will begin its first phase of the massive restoration project, estimated to cost about €5 per book.
Conservators will start the cleaning process using handheld vacuums to remove dust from both the covers and pages while cataloguing the details of the books as well as any damage into a database.
They will also use brushes to sweep away the dust and dirt from the pages.
Admission to the library is free while the conservation talks are open to the public from 2pm to 4.30pm from Monday to Friday.