Books and Library Materials

Develop the skills and competences to work towards becoming a professional book conservator. Books and Library Materials is the largest specialism in the material conservation sector, and this programme has a very high success rate with alumni going on to work in Libraries and Archives in the UK and internationally. 

Perhaps you have previously studied English or history but would like to pursue a course with a more applied approach. Our courses offer the chance to gain practical experience on live conservation projects. 

Take a Virtual Tour of the studios and college.

Level 6: Graduate Diploma in Conservation Studies
Allows you to further your interest in conservation and progress to the MA Conservation Studies.

Level 7: MA Conservation Studies
The global industry standard for conservation.

Objects from private collections, museums and from our own unique Collection and Archive are provided for you to work on to acquire and practice both established and developing techniques. In keeping with professional standards, treatments are discussed and agreed with stakeholders, with reference to the current and historical context of the item, its structure and a scientific understanding of its materials.

You will study historic bookbinding techniques and the relationship between structure, mechanical use and deterioration through the observation of original material and model making of book structures. You will also become familiar with ethical considerations when taking decisions about treatments of books and archive material from special collections and private collections. Challenges and strategies in object and collections care are introduced, including considerations of usage, exhibitions, environmental monitoring, enclosures, and protective systems. Reflective practice is continuously developed to integrate practical, theoretical, conceptual and professional skills.

Work undertaken will increase in complexity, enabling you to accumulate a core range of practical skills that can be applied to selecting and executing appropriate treatments.

Seminars, lectures and case studies all add to producing a portfolio of treated objects and demonstrable workplace skills. See examples of student projects in our books conservation blog

After you graduate and career progression

The College’s extensive links with museums, conservators and professional bodies in the heritage sector opens up an impressive range of work placement opportunities. Graduate Diploma students often choose to further their studies on the MA Conservation Studies which includes a six week work placement. Alumni have gone on to work at some of the most significant museums and collections worldwide, including: 

  • Cambridge University Library
  • Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Chester Beatty Library
  • Dundee University Library
  • PZ Conservation
  • Victoria and Albert Museum
  • the British Library
  • Lambeth Palace Library.
Read more in our interviews with alumni
Books Conservation Facilities at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation


Facilities for books students include a purpose-built space for book conservation with two workshops as well as a bindery with individual student work benches and a demonstration bench. The bindery is fully equipped with sewing and forwarding equipment, board chopper, light boxes, finishing room and science lab.

Students all have their own work benches with storage and can access the studio from 8.30am to 9pm*. Facilities shared with other subject specialisms include:

  • Analytical laboratory
  • Photography space
  • IT suite
  • Specialist library

The College Art and Conservation Library has thousands of specialist books and journals and all students have access to specialist databases in the IT suite.

* Coronavirus update: Workshops may need to close outside teaching hours for thorough cleaning. 

Find out more about our facilities

Prior to arriving at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, I studied library science at Pratt Institute and worked as a librarian in New York. I knew that I wanted to continue my studies and learn more about the materiality around books and libraries, and I believed that conservation was the proper avenue for that. I chose to study at West Dean College because I felt that its program was uniquely suited to developing a deep and thorough understanding of bookbinding and conservation due to its reputation for world-class tutors and emphasis on rigorous bench work.

Among the highlights of my time have been a multi-day visit to Cambridge University and their historic libraries and conservation facilities, as well as the many guest lectures from experts in their respective fields—bookbinding history, printing history, woodworking, tool-making…the list goes on.

Garett Sumner, MA Conservation Studies student


Lara Meredith

Subject Tutor, Conservation of Books

Lara Meredith became a Book & Archive Conservator after graduating from Camberwell College of Arts.  Lara has been working as a Freelance Book & Archive Conservator since 1999 including work with The National Trust, The Leather Conservation Centre and private clients.

Maudie Casserly

Subject Tutor, Conservation of Books

Maudie is a book and paper conservator and bookbinder. Having worked a various institutions and companies over the years, including the Victoria & Albert Museum and The National Archives, Maudie now works for herself, taking on commissions from museums, libraries, collections and private individuals. In additional to practical conservation and binding, Maudie also teaches a range of online classes in bookbinding  to students all over the world.

Ian Watson

Subject Tutor – School of Conservation, Books and Library Materials

Having been working with books for many years Ian first joined West Dean College as a student in 2009, gaining an MA (Distinction) in the Conservation of Books and Library Materials in 2011. Ian is an accredited member of the Institute of Conservation and a member of the IIC. and returned to West Dean College as Subject Tutor in 2021.


  • Graduate Diploma Conservation Studies

    The Graduate Diploma provides the theoretical and practical knowledge and experience necessary to start your career as a conservator and to begin to develop an area of specialisation. The programme is designed to be accessible from both the humanities and science study backgrounds. 

  • MA Conservation Studies

    The MA Conservation Studies equips you with the high level specialist skills sought by the conservation sector. This rigorous and highly respected programme draws on an extensive sector network, nationally and internationally, including industry bodies such as Icon.