MA Conservation Studies, Specialising in Books and Library Materials 2017 - 2019

Maria Borg

Conservator

What do you consider your biggest achievement to date?

I truly appreciate the network of professionals and colleagues that I have had the pleasure of working with throughout my studies until the present day. Having the possibility of discussion with and advice from professionals and colleagues from various fields of study, specialisations, cultures, and professions has contributed to my professional development and shaped my views on conservation and my work, especially my work ethic. It is something that I am very grateful for.

Talk us through your career path since graduating.

After completing my studies at the College in 2019, I returned to Malta and worked as a Freelance Conservator with the Notarial Archives Foundation, under the supervision of Dr Theresa Zammit Lupi, for some months. My connection with the Notarial Archives started in 2013 as a student volunteer and my experience there continued to encourage and inspire my interest in book and paper conservation. Having the opportunity to work on the collection as a qualified conservator was therefore a very rewarding experience, and in June 2020 I took up the role of Archives Conservator at the Notarial Archives of Malta.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a variety of manuscripts from the Notarial Archives collection, which span from the fifteenth century until the early twenty-first century. The manuscripts contain notarial deeds and are an important source of information about the social and economic history of Malta. These manuscripts are also a wonderful source of codicological information, which is truly fascinating for me to work with as a conservator.

Apart from this, I am also currently working on the Islamic Manuscript Collection at the Franciscan Provincial Archives in Malta, together with my colleagues Chanelle Briffa and David Plummer. The collection includes thirty-one manuscripts dating from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. The project is generously funded by the Barakat Trust and supported by Friar Noel Muscat, the Head Archivist of the Franciscan Provincial Archives.

Do you have any tips for recent graduates’ future? 

I would encourage recent graduates to remain up to date with current research and conservation practices as our profession is dynamic, and as conservators we must continue to learn and develop our skills. I would also encourage them to visit different archives, museums, and institutions so that they are exposed to new collections. It is also important to increase our hands-on experience as we learn from other colleagues and professionals.

How do you think studying at West Dean College prepared you for what you do now?

My time at the College has really helped me improve my decision-making and time management. It also continued to hone my critical thinking abilities as I was able to learn about a variety of materials, binding types, and treatment methods. These have all contributed to my development as a professional and continued to build on the foundation that I had learned as a student volunteer in Malta.

What is your favourite memory from your time at the College?

I used to love walking around the beautiful gardens and relax during break time with a cup of tea in hand. I am also grateful for the wonderful friends I made at the College. Meeting different people from a variety of backgrounds, nationalities and cultures was truly an enriching experience. They all have a special place in my heart, and we have remained great friends to this day.

Did you receive any form of funding to study at West Dean?

Yes, I was awarded a scholarship by the Office of the Notary to Government to complete my studies at West Dean. I was also awarded an Edward James Foundation bursary towards tuition fees during my first year.

Did you have a different career before coming to West Dean? If so, why did you change career paths?

No, I had been interested in conservation (specifically book and paper) from a young age. My time as a student at the Notarial Archives continued to encourage and inspire me to pursue a career in conservation and after graduating in History of Art from the University of Malta, this was the next step to take towards my career.

Can you tell us about the video and explain the process you are undertaking here?

A large number of manuscripts in the collection at the Notarial Archives collection and other collections in Malta are written in iron gall ink, which increases in acidity over time and tends to damage the paper. The video, taken at the National Archives of Malta, shows the process of consolidation whereby areas of text damaged by iron gall ink are repaired and stabilised using very fine Japanese tissue paper and a non-aqueous adhesive. This treatment requires great patience and gentle application due to the fragile nature of the paper.

The manuscript shown in the video is a nineteenth century manuscript containing notarial deeds. The manuscript was in good condition,but required large areas of text to be consolidated due to the acidity of the ink used. The consolidation treatment took months to complete, but the manuscript is now ready for display and can be handled safely by researchers.

Maria working at the Books and Library Material studio. West Dean College of Arts and Conservation (Image: Christopher Ison)
Maria working at the Books and Library Material studio. West Dean College of Arts and Conservation (Image: Christopher Ison)
Detail of manuscript showing ink acidity before treatment (R411/12, Notarial Archives Malta).
Detail of manuscript showing ink acidity before treatment (R411/12, Notarial Archives Malta).
Detail of manuscript after treatment. Text is now layered with a thin Japanese tissue to stabilise the paper substrate (R411/12, Notarial Archives Malta).
Detail of manuscript after treatment. Text is now layered with a thin Japanese tissue to stabilise the paper substrate (R411/12, Notarial Archives Malta).
Detail of Syriac manuscript from the Islamic Manuscript Collection at the Franciscan Provincial Archives in Malta (MS A. 1. Franciscan Provincial Archives).
Detail of Syriac manuscript from the Islamic Manuscript Collection at the Franciscan Provincial Archives in Malta (MS A. 1. Franciscan Provincial Archives).
Maria inspecting goat skin leather for the Islamic conservation bindings. Heartfelt thanks to Dr Theresa Zammit Lupi for the opportunity to carry out the work on the Islamic Manuscript Collection in her private studio.
Maria inspecting goat skin leather for the Islamic conservation bindings. Heartfelt thanks to Dr Theresa Zammit Lupi for the opportunity to carry out the work on the Islamic Manuscript Collection in her private studio.