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.

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. 

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

Facilities

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 10pm. 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.

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

Tutors

Mariluz Beltran de Guevara ACR

Subject Leader, Conservation of Books

Mariluz Beltran de Guevara has been an accredited book and paper conservator since 2008, and joined the College in 2017 after many years at the British Library.

Abigail Bainbridge MA ACR

Subject Tutor, Conservation of Books

Abigail Bainbridge co-owns Bainbridge Conservation, specialising in the conservation of books and paper for private clients and institutions. She has worked as a conservator as well as actively teaching workshops in bookbinding and book conservation internationally.

Courses

  • 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.