The Conservation of the Daubeny Library

e ongoing project to conserve the volumes within the Daubeny Library by conservators from the Oxford Conservation Consortium (OCC) began in 2009. The project was part of Victoria Steven’s professional accreditation in 2011 and she has continued to work on the collection, teaching conservation interns the technique, and managing the project. Since that time 96 volumes have been treated and the project has provided a good opportunity to work on the more modern material in the library. It has also been an excellent vehicle for the Consortium to develop its procedures with a board attachment technique called boardslotting and to explore textile dyeing procedures and applications, the results of which have implications for many other areas of our practice. OCC’s work to develop its boardslotting programme has been a collaborative process with conservation colleagues both within Oxford and beyond.

The Daubeny laboratory, in Daubeny's time

The Daubeny Library is a collection of approximately 500 books from the personal library of Dr. Charles Daubeny (1795-1867) and his acolytes, and the project to conserve the collection was initially funded through a generous donation from James Pragnell in memory of his brother, Dr John Pragnell (1970-73). Charles Daubeny, an undergraduate from 1810-1815, and Fellow from 1815-1867, is arguably the first Fellow of Magdalen who could be described as a scientist in the modern sense of the word. His collection is still housed in his original laboratory space in the Daubeny building, adjacent to the Botanical Gardens. The building was refurbished in 2006, at which time the collection was also catalogued. During cataloguing it was noted that many of the books were extensively damaged and, in anticipation of increased demand, the repair of the collection by the Consortium was prioritised in consultation with the Fellow Librarian.

The collection is predominantly mid-nineteenth-century half or quarter hollow-backed and case bindings, most of which belong to individual series’ of periodicals. It is likely they were bound in a similar style for Daubeny and his circle. The collection has deteriorated due to the intrinsic poor quality of the original binding materials combined with use and natural ageing. As a result, many volumes are in a damaged state with boards and spines detached, and the original leather covering weakened and degraded.

Boardslotting machine

The nature of the conservation problems within this collection, being largely identical volumes displaying similar types of damage, make it particularly suitable for boardslotting. This treatment for board reattachment was initially developed at the Bodleian Library by book conservator Christopher Clarkson in the 1990s, and consists of milling an angled, narrow channel into the spine edge of the board and inserting new dyed material into the slot to form a hinge for the board. This gives a very strong and unobtrusive board reattachment with the minimum of disturbance to the fragile surface of the original covering leather on the boards and spine.

Dyeing the fabric

The new hinging material is aerocotton, batch dyed with reactive dyes in shades which are easily reproduced. The Daubeny Library presented a familiar preservation challenge: achieving an environment in a historic space that works with the building structure, and suits readers as well as library material. Daubeny’s laboratory had excellent light for the work he undertook from the large and elegant windows facing the High Street, and, following the refurbishment, the room is now used as an attractive lecture space The problems of light exposure and heat gain have been mitigated by simple measures such as ensuring the blinds are drawn when the room is not in use and removing free-standing radiators.

Daubeny books before and after conservation

The Daubeny Boardslotting Project’s success lies in the ability to provide strong, lasting but unobtrusive repairs to a highly visible collection which is still used for research. It is hoped that Daubeny, with his thirst for knowledge in the wide field of science, would have approved of using new techniques to preserve his library for future Magdalen members and scholars from around the world.

More information on boardslotting can be found at

A boardslotting demo