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Caring for our collections

State Library cares for our physical and digital collections to ensure our rich and extensive collections are available for people to access now and in the future.

Conservation treatment

Conservation treatments are carried out to maximise the longevity of State Library’s diverse and extensive collections. Collection material is assessed and prioritised for in-depth treatment or for quick, stabilising repairs that allow items to continue to be used without further damage.

State Library staff member working in a laboratory gently brushing an old photograph.
Woman looking at old illustrated book behind a glass cabinet.

Exhibitions and loans

The conservation team also care for collection items on loan to State Library for use in exhibitions. The aim is to borrow, display and return artwork in the condition in which it was lent. The conservation team work across all media types and use preventive conservation techniques devising non-permanent and non-invasive display methods.


Digitising is another way of caring for State Library’s collections as it provides access without the need for handling the original item which is often fragile.
Instead of having to go to the library to look at a printed photographic collection or an old manuscript, the public can view digitised copies in the catalogue and duplicates can be ordered and purchased.

State Library also digitises music scores, artists’ books, manuscripts and other documents that are not under copyright.

State Library staff member sitting at a desk and feeding old film into a reel.
Woman wearing a face mask, white coat and gloves arranging damaged photos on a table in a laboratory.

Disaster planning

State Library has the major responsibility of collecting, arranging, preserving and making accessible Queensland’s unique documentary heritage.

One of the key strategies for the preservation of this material is contained in our Counter Disaster Plan. It has an emphasis on preventing damage from catastrophe while ensuring comprehensive preparedness should disaster strike and risk mitigations are unsuccessful.

Collection preservation at State Library

Caring for your collections

Caring for your collections is easy when you know how. These short videos will help you learn how to preserve your collections for future generations to enjoy.


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Old photographs in wooden box.

From the blog

Cultural materials conservation: tools of the trade
When it comes to treating objects, choosing the right tools can determine how successfully a conservation treatment is executed. Here in Preservation Services, at the State Library of Queensland, our lab is filled with weird and wonderful tools that assist in the conservation treatment of some of Queensland’s precious objects.Conservation tools range from the humble eraser to surgical grade instruments and many things in-between! Since starting work at SLQ two years ago as an Assistant Conservator, I’ve found it very satisfying to collect and learn about different types of tools. For this blog post, I’d like to highlight some of my favourite tools and explain how they help me carry out conservation treatments here at SLQ. Repairing a tear using some of my favourite tools: a variety of paintbrushes, fine scissors, septum elevator, tweezers and an awlA brush for every occasion - tiny, fine paint brushes used for in-painting losses in photographs, paintings and paper objects. Soft, goat hair brushes for lining fragile paper objects with handmade Japanese tissue paper and coarse, bristled brushes used for applying adhesives when repairing old books. Precision tweezers – pointy, not so pointy, flat tipped, fine tipped, straight or bent… we have it all here in the conservation lab. My personal favourite is the second from the right (in the image above). Light to handle, fine tipped and with an excellent grip, these tweezers do not leave my side.Spatulas made from stainless-steel, bamboo and plastic. The third tool from the right is called a septum elevator. Traditionally used in nose surgeries the septum elevator has become the paper conservator’s best friend and third hand. This multipurpose tool is used from anything to lifting and manoeuvring delicate object pieces to pressing down and securing recently applied tear repairs.The bone folder. This tool is used to burnish, fold and crease materials like paper and corrugated board for box making. Commonly made from animal bone or horn, now many varieties exist made from Teflon, plastic and bamboo. Although I have choices galore when picking a bone folder to use, I only have eyes for one… the second to the right is my favourite. Blades of glory – with every shape or size of blade one could wish for. The large blue utility knife on the left is my go to for cutting through thick corrugated board, however for finer more precise work the third from the right has a fine tip scalpel blade which is perfect for trimming tear repairs.Conservators are constantly cutting things from fabrics to plastic and paper. A good pair of scissors goes a long way and can make work that little bit easier. The surprising favourites are the nail scissors. With either a curved or straight blade these fine scissors are ideal for trimming delicate areas and getting into small spaces where a standard pair wouldn’t even dare. The above assortment of erasers are used for surface cleaning paper objects. Surface cleaning reduces the surface dirt on objects and is one of the first steps in the treatment of paper objects such as architectural plans, letters and prints. When cleaning a very delicate object grated eraser is used – and yes, we do grate the erasers by hand with a fine cheese grater! The fine pieces of eraser can be gently moved across the surface of an object for surface cleaning. I have saved my favourite tool for last – the unassuming awl. This fine and pointy tool is very versatile and often I surprise myself with different ways of using it. My favourite awl is the first on the left. It was made just by sticking a needle into a piece of wood and it sits perfectly in my palm. One of the many functions of an awl is to precisely create infills for losses in paper objects. This is done by finely perforating the outline of the infill with the needle point.So there you have it, my favourite conservation tools! These tools have been become my reliable companions. They have been by my side and a third arm while treating some of Queensland’s precious objects at the State Library of Queensland.-Laura Daenke, Conservation Technician, Preservation Services-
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Conserving Richard Daintree’s hand-coloured photographs
As a university student, learning about the conservation of artefacts, I remember one of my professors talking about treatment ethics, citing a phrase often referenced in the medical field, “First, do no harm”1,2. My university professor had another interesting guiding principle, “So what?”, but that’s a topic for another time… Now working as a qualified conservator at the State Library of Queensland, this phrase is at the forefront of my mind as we work to ensure the longevity of State Library’s treasured collections. This year, in the State Library conservation lab, we are excited and privileged to have been tasked with the job of investigating the conservation of seven hand-coloured photographs by Richard Daintree (1832-1878)3 (see Image 1). Due to the condition of these works, their historic significance, and the complexity of their conservation, they have waited a number of years to be given the kind of conservation treatment they deserve. For well over a decade, they have been lying in flat file drawers (away from their natural enemies of light, dust, and humidity), waiting until the time was right for a full and considered conservation treatment (see Image 2). It has taken this length of time, and more than one senior conservator, to successfully articulate the unique requirements for the conservation of these works of art, and to secure the necessary time and resources to carry out the work. Richard Daintree Acc. 3966, State Library of QueenslandRichard Daintree Acc. 3966 awaiting conservation attention.Last year, Rachel Spano, Senior Conservator at State Library, presented a winning pitch to secure seed funding to research, analyse, and formulate an ethical treatment plan for these seven hand-coloured photographs. The Queensland Library Foundation was instrumental in making this happen, and we thank State Library’s generous donors for helping us make this important work a reality4 .These works tell a unique Queensland story, and part of that story is revealed through their material composition and condition (see image 3). Over the coming months we will be preparing detailed condition reports for each of the seven works, researching the materials and techniques used to create them, and undertaking technical analysis and testing to come up with a plan for their treatment. Raking light image, highlighting damage to the workConservation can be a tricky business. It is time consuming, and the details matter. The State Library of Queensland cares about the unique character of each work and as conservators, we are governed by the highest respect for the integrity of the object; taking into consideration such things as the creation of the work, its physical properties, significance, and aesthetics5. We wantthese works to maintain their historic integrity, to survive and be safely available for the general public to view now, and into the future. Please follow this interesting process in upcoming blog posts as our project progresses, and witness how we ensure that the treatment of our cultural heritage collections is of the highest order, where we, ‘First, do no harm’. Kelly Leahey - Conservator, State Library of QueenslandReferencesThank you, Dr Marcelle Scott, your words arealways with me while I workThis is not the first time a conservator haswritten about ‘First, do no harm’. See also Daintree Acc. 3966 read about Crowd Giving 2019, see learn more about the Code of Ethics and Codeof Practice for the Australian Institute for Conservation of Cultural Material,see
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Behind the scenes: Collection Preservation
At State Library of Queensland we are often asked for advice on how to preserve books, images and other items. Our expert Collection Preservation team runs free bimonthly conservation clinics offering useful tips and advice on how to preserve and care for your collections at home. They also provide handy online “how to” guides, webcasts and FAQs, and can refer clients to expert conservators.Of course the main task for our Collection Preservation team is to manage, treat and care for items currently in SLQ’s collections, items that have been newly acquired by SLQ, and material that is required for exhibitions here or in other locations.I recently spent time with Rachel Spano, SLQ Senior Conservator, who explained the type of work undertaken in the Collection Preservation area, and showed me some fascinating examples of items being treated, as well as the specialist equipment needed for particular tasks.The Collection Preservation team comprises 12 people, all specialists in fields such as exhibitions, paper conservation or bookbinding. They are responsible for implementing preservation activities to minimise damage to, or deterioration of, our collections. SLQ’s food and drink policy, temperature and humidity control, and pest management systems are crucial to maintain an optimum environment for precious items.Fading, caused by excessive light (lux and UV) levels in artificial lighting, is also minimised by keeping material covered, or by limiting the length of time it is on open display. Custom made boxes house many items to provide protection from fading, handling, dust and to preserve them in storage.Our information collection, much of which is now available for lending to patrons, needs to be monitored and mended when necessary. As these items can be borrowed, and are used more frequently, repairs need to be robust and may, for example, require whole bindings to be replaced.On the other hand, heritage items, which remain at the library, are conserved in a condition that is as close to their original state as possible, so any repairs will be carried out while trying to maintain original bindings and other features. Paper conservation in progress. Image by SLQ staff.The Collection Preservation staff prepare material for SLQ exhibitions, such as the current Distant Lines exhibition, preparing items and advising on display conditions and lighting. Where items are going offsite for Exhibition Loan, SLQ staff provide support to appropriate organisations to ensure the well-being of Queensland's heritage material. Making wheat paste for paper conservation. Image by SLQ staff.Touring the laboratory, I saw wheat starch paste being made for use in paper conservation. In this lab, staff carry out pH testing, use various adhesives for different purposes and chemical solvents to remove residue, such as old sticky tape, from items. The newly acquired “suction table” is an impressive piece of equipment, which is used for tasks such as solubilising and pulling out adhesive and heavy staining. With a large surface covered in small holes, the table sucks air through the holes, drawing liquid or solvent away from the item on the table onto blotting paper below, enabling evaporation of excess liquid. A large domed lid can be used to humidify items, such as brittle paper, so that it can be unfolded or unrolled without cracking. The suction table. Image by SLQ staff.New acquisitions and donations arriving at SLQ are assessed and taken to our quarantine area on Level 0. How material is managed there depends on where it has come from and its condition. Large chest freezers are used to eradicate pest infestations – items will stay frozen for about two weeks to kill any live insects and their eggs. Other items may be fumigated chemical free with nitrogen in a special sealed area. The quarantine area also houses masks, protective clothing and vacuum cleaners with HEP filters, used to clean articles. Vacuum equipment and freezers in the quarantine area. Image by SLQ staff.When items are deemed safe, they are taken upstairs, where a full listing and description is made of the item and any parts. Staff determine if any conservation work is necessary, and what the housing requirements are. Material is then processed, catalogued and taken to the repositories for storage.A huge ongoing task, shared by the Collection Preservation team and other staff, is prioritising conservation and restoration work. Priority is given to new acquisitions, which need a stable environment and suitable housing, for which prefabricated boxes or mylar sleeves may be used or custom made. The next priority goes to items that need to be digitised. Other items are then treated as necessary, depending on exhibitions, usage levels and the need to stabilise material for storage.Seeing what goes on behind the scenes in our Collection Preservation area made me appreciate not just the specialist skills of this expert group, but their abilities to efficiently coordinate with other staff to prioritise and accommodate a never-ending, enormous and constantly changing workload.To find out more about collection preservation, including how-to guides, or to book for one of our regular conservation clinics, visit our webpage at
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Order a copy
You can order copies of material in our collections and from the collections of other libraries.
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