Guest blog by Tony Pilmer, Librarian at the National Aerospace Library, Royal Aeronautical Society, London
One of the National Aerospace Library’s goldmines is our pamphlet collection. It contains marketing and technical material from around the world. Much of the material was issued by the great names in aircraft manufacturing such as Junkers, Handley Page, Hawker Siddeley and De Havilland. We also have reports from the Air Ministry, Ministry of Munitions and Ministry of Aircraft Production, early airline timetables, aeronautical research papers and much, much more. As with all of us, as they have got older, they have acquired some aches and pains – a snagged cover here, a rusty staple there, etc. So late last year we started a project to help stabilise our delicate material so it would be around for future generations of researchers.
In the depths of December, a group of intrepid volunteers from the RAeS Farnborough Branch turned up for a day’s training course at the National Aerospace Library. Thanks to some help from the RAeS Foundation we had all the equipment that the group required and the National Trust’s Adviser on Libraries Conservation, Caroline Bendix, as our trainer, to give us all the key skills we needed. What became apparent was that this was not an ordinary assignment for Caroline. Normally faced with the cream of National Trust volunteers, she was not used to a group of retired aeronautical engineers, model makers and aero enthusiasts asking questions relating to feathering techniques and the strengths of differing materials – these were not the typical questions raised at Blickling Hall or Cragside!
Despite this our volunteers’ skills and experiences have really enhanced the project whether by using magnets to identify stainless steel staples that will not rust and do not need replacing or using a drill to make cleaner, smaller and more accurate holes in paper that a needle could ever do. As Caroline said, drills are not normal conservation equipment but they have worked really well for us!
So what is our band of volunteers doing? A typical donation to the NAL was a 1913 Aerial Derby programme. Packed with photographs, maps and biographical snapshots of competitors and manufactures, it paints an amazing picture of the intrepid days of early aviation. However, rusting staples had started to eat away at the paper and the covers had become torn and scuffed.
So our volunteers removed the rusty staples, cleaned the pages, repaired the tears and holes and then re-sewed the pamphlet. Once placed in an acid-buffered envelope and a box, it should be available for researchers and enthusiasts for many decades to come.
However, some of the material we have found is beyond our volunteers’ training. We have found a large number of books that require professional work and so we have put many of these items into our Adopt a Book appeal. The RAeS Foundation grant also enabled us to buy some box board and inert polyester which allows our librarians to make boxes and covers to help protect some of our other delicate material.
As well as a steady supply of coffee, our volunteers have enjoyed working with a steady stream of amazing and sometimes weird material. A technical report that described experiments using circular runways caused a lot of discussion and so did experiments showing that supersonic aircraft did not seriously harm the built environment. Recently we discovered a plan of a D shaped aeroplane which someone pointed out would have saved Armstrong-Whitworth a large amount of money when they were sued by an American company after the Second World War for “copying” their D shaped aircraft designs – our plan dates from 1932. We’ve also enjoyed repairing some beautifully designed marketing material from Rolls-Royce, though the US Government Printing Office’s use of large industrial staples has not won many friends in the Farnborough area. However, the big danger is getting too caught reading some of the amazing material rather than repairing it. Perhaps the toughest assignment was attending our Volunteer Garden Party. It was a tough job celebrating our work whilst job sitting in the sunshine, drinking tea, eating home-made cake and watching the aircraft taking off and landing at Farnbrough Tag Airport – but somebody had to do it.
Update: After two years the project is still going strong. A crack team of our finest volunteers have started to look at some of the rarer material held in our collection and one of our volunteers has also received training to repair bindings, so work will soon start repairing some of our hardbacks. So far we have filled over 250 pamphlet boxes and reviewed around 30% of our reserve collection……… just don’t tell them that we have over 40,000 technical reports to look at too!
Originally published on the CILIP Local Studies Group in October 2015.