And you, what is your favourite treasure from the Cultural Heritage Group? I’ve asked this question to Lars Björdal, senior conservator at the department. I’ve always thought that he might work as a fashion expert at Vogue in another life. If you want to learn how to deal with moths or pests, Lars is the one you need to meet. It is a very serious matter for a conservator who is also a member of a board dedicated to these subjects.
Lars used to be a student at Uppsala University -of course- and then in Copenhagen, in the School of Conservation, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Before his current position, he worked in various places such as the National Archives in Stockholm. He also spent a lot of time teaching, from being an extern professor at the School of Conservation of Gothenburg to giving lectures in different local museums about how to treat collections in a proper and good way.
“It is never easy to sum up in few lines what you are doing”. Lars is in charge to keep the collections in good conditions, “I’m also monitoring the stacks problems due to the climate, or the light. But you are always working in a team”.
Concerning the Cultural Heritage Collections “our work is mainly based on projects. For instance, we made protective boxes for Incunabula (books printed before the year 1501) because researchers often request them. But we cannot have an “open door” otherwise it would be an open stack here with so many things to fix. Moreover, we don’t go very deeply into conservation and restoration. When I was educated, we were, for example, using lots of heavy treatments. Nowadays we try to be very careful and not to over-restore. Thanks to historians, we know that bookbinders have made lots of mistakes and destroyed lots of books by replacing covers for instance. We really try to maintain the object and not to change it”.
Material is sometimes lent out for exhibitions. But you cannot let a 13th century medieval manuscript take a plane on its own. Thus, at the beginning of the month, Lars was in Corsica to escort an item to be shown in a French museum. This kind of loan requires a lot of preparation. Besides, Lars is also member of the team who is in charge of organizing exhibitions, here, at Carolina.
We also alluded to the central question of digitalization, the current passion in every single library. A good way to preserve old books and manuscripts indeed since it’s supposed to protect them by not being directly handled. But what is the essence of a book if it’s not to be used but to be kept in cold and deserted stacks forever? But let’s switch to the crucial question, Lars’ top three favourite rare pearls from the library:
“I have to start with the Silver Bible because…it’s amazing, written in gothic and so very old! And its story is very good too!” And Lars surely knows what he is talking about. He is in the team who is in charge of the conservation of the manuscript and is one of the few who had the chance to touch it : “But you know it’s so complicated to handle the pages. I’m so glad it’s now digitalized”.
“Then? I’ve always been fond of a small drawing from the early 15th century realized with a silver point. I like it because of the technique. I like it because it’s just so beautiful!”
“The third one? It’s hard to select. There is this series in the scriptorium… » Let’s have a look. I was glad to discover that I have also noticed these three lovely books, among the thousands of others, during one of my wanderings. “It’s a very nice paper, so clean, so well preserved. I also like the typefaces. These books written in Italian are from the 18th century. I like the simple beauty of their covers.”
I will just conclude this article by quoting Lars’ words: “It’s amazing what we can learn from the past from old books and manuscripts. And I’m not just talking about the object itself but also its provenance, the annotations you can find in it, I have a very nice job you know”.
The Silver Bible and the metal point drawing are on display in our permanent exhibition.