Saturday, June 15, 2024

Historical overview

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One of the less known aspects of Koraes’ Central Public Library of Chios is its conservation laboratory and the latter’s important role in preserving the library’s rare and precious books. It should be noted that very few public libraries in Greece have a conservation laboratory. 

In 1994, the Board of Directors contemplated for the first time the possibility of maintaining and preserving the library’s books and archives. Minutes No 78-6, dated September 20, 1994, stated clearly that Dimitris Dimitrakopoulos, the library’s director, proposed “[…] the creation of a conservation laboratory for Chios’ public library since all necessary and fundamental conditions for going ahead with establishing a modern laboratory [were] currently met.”


The rationale behind this proposal lies within that: 

«[…] Koraes’ library of Chios possesses a considerable number of priceless books, archives, maps, drawings, newspapers, paintings, etc. This material is a rare, better yet unique, source for research (especially books, engravings, etc.). This treasure, which is over two hundred years old, has been destroyed overtime as a result of frequent use and poor preservation conditions, which were not up to standards.” (Minutes No 78-6, September 20, 1994)  

The minutes also reveal that the library’s material has never undergone a systematic preservation simply because this task would have to be assigned to a conservation expert and would presume adequate infrastructure, such a properly equipped laboratory.

During this period, the art of conservation was not sufficiently developped in Greece and, consequently, there were very few experts with considerable experience. Additionally, before 1994, Koraes library did not possess an appropriate space to house a laboratory or the necessary funds to run it.   

Under these circumstances, the library’s primary goal was to “conserve as best as possible the existing material by maintaining it at its current state to prevent further deterioration. To achieve this goal, it was important to create more storage shelves, clean and disinfect the building and all storage rooms as well as microfilm some of the library’ books and/or manuscripts, etc.” (op. cit.)

In 1994, conditions were favorable to allow for the creation of a conservation laboratory that would function properly and be equipped with state-of-the-art equipment. According to the library’s minutes, Koraes Library managed to ensure a space that could safely house the laboratory at a nearby building made available by the City of Chios. Most importantly though, the library hired specialists who would work toward putting together a professional conservation laboratory.” (idem)


In his article entitled Educating conservation specialists in preserving library and archive material in Greece and the current state of affairs, Konstantinos Houlis noted that “[…] between 1997 and 2000, the conservation laboratory operated on a purely experimental basis and was manned with students from the Department of Conservation. These students were given the opportunity to do their mandatory 6-month practice as part of their curriculum requirements leading to their final paper […]” (Houlis 2006: 72)

Houlis’ testimony confirms that the laboratory was fulfilling at least one of the primary goals set out in 1994 by the library’s Board of Directors, namely to “provide a training venue for students specializing in the art of conservation in the context of the European Social Fund” (Minutes dated September 20, 1994)

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Houlis’ article also reveals the author’s personal involvement in creating and running the laboratory. According to the library’s minutes No 88-6, dated November 17, 1995, Koraes Library decided to “commission Professor Konstantinos Houlis, book conservation specialist, to prepare a study-plan leading to the creation of a conservation library for Koraes Library” (op. cit) 

Funding was secured through “a special line of credit created ad hoc in the library’s budget for the 1995 fiscal year”. The Board of Directors was particularly concerned with ensuring that this plan would take into consideration “all necessary conditions and processes that could guarantee the appropriate operation of the laboratory, in accordance with internationally recognized standards.” (op. cit.)   

During the experimental period, the laboratory was equipped with a special machine for casting paper. The machine was purchased thanks to generous donations made by The Friends of Koraes Library.

After 2000, that is, by the end of the term of the experimental period, Koraes Library managed to ensure additional funds in order to hire a graduate of the Department of Conservation for a pre-determined period. This arrangement did not come anywhere close to meeting the original goals set out by the Board of Director with regard to the conservation laboratory and its purpose or the hopes of the people who launched this endeavour. The ambitious project soon went out of breath. Consequently, the laboratory ceased to operate due to lack of resources. It remained closed until 2007.

On May 7, 2007, the Board of Directors decided to reopen the laboratory. They contacted Kostas Houlis, thus giving him the go ahead to operate the laboratory anew (Minutes No 202_53, dated March 8, 2007). The Board of Directors also decided that all books that were given for conservation be returned to their original storage place.


The laboratory’s recent history and future prospects

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Nowadays, the main purpose of the laboratory is to fully preserve all the collections of periodicals and archives, as well as the library’s manuscripts, cards, maps and newspapers and make them available to future generations

The conservation laboratory is housed in a separate room, especially modified to provide a contemporary, highly functional working environment. The room has three large windows which allow natural light to enter unhindered. There are also three large working areas (tables) with built-in water tanks for washing a de-acidifing paper. This spacious and ergonomic layout is an ideal working space for three conservators who can work simultaneously. The room is also equipped with a special tank which de-ionizes water, a leaf caster and a machine to dry up and straighten paper. For the bookbinding process, conservators use two special scissors, sewing frames, as well as pressers of various sizes. Finally, the room has plenty of storage room, utensils and consumables, in other words all necessary material a basic conservation laboratory should have. Ideal environmental conditions are created thanks to an autonomous heating and air-conditioning system and monitoring devices to ensure that conditions are always optimal.

In 2007, Koraes Library in collaboration with the Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities, and most specifically with the help of Aristea Kavvadia, Director of the Ephorate, decided to re-open the laboratory once a week and allow conservator Dionysia Glava-Mageirou to undertake several conservation projects.  

Mrs. Glava-Mageirou worked from February 2007 to June 2008. One of the first tasks she undertook was to bring the laboratory to acceptable operational standards by restoring its initial layout. She started by cataloguing all the material that was missing and by identifying the equipment and instruments that were necessary to the laboratory’s operation. During the same period, the librarians evaluated the condition of some of the library’s books. Upon evaluation of the books, Mrs. Glava-Mageirou offered her consulting services as per the steps to follow in order to preserve the books. 

Between June 2008 and March 2009, the laboratory undertook the conservation of various newspapers, especially the ones that were going to be digitalized. The contract for digitalization was awarded to Globo. The conservation of the said newspapers was done by Antonis Petras, a conservator employed part-time by Globo.

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In March 2009, Antonis Petras signed as special agreement with Koraes Library and took over the conservation laboratory where he has been working exclusively since then. Antonis was born in Chios on September 21, 1975 and studied at Derby University where he graduated in 2001. He also did a Masters Degree in Archeological Materials at Nottingham University. Between 2006 and 2008, Antonis worked at the 10th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities at Athos, where he specialized in book conservation. He attended several conferences on book preservation and bookbinding.

Το The first book Antonis worked on since he took over Koraes’ Library Conservation Laboratory was Dimitrios Tagias’ nautical map, published in Venice in 1582. It took Antonis five months to restore the whole book, which was made public during an impressive presentation that took place at the library’s Reading room on March 2, 2009. Many local representatives attended the presentation. The Coastal Services Fund of Chios sponsored the conservation of this book in the context of the programme “Adopt a book in need of conservation”.

Lately, Antonis Petras has been working on one of Herodotus’ of Halicarnassus Histories, published in 1592 by Hernicus Stephanus (2nd Edition). The book was in very poor conditions: the binding was completed destroyed and the pages were slowly eaten away by bugs and other insects. Conservation is moving at an impressive pace and the project will soon be completed 2010.

In addition to Herodotus, Antonis has just completed a preliminary study, a cost estimate and a corresponding timetable for the conservation of one of the library’s priceless books, La Description de l’Égypte. Our library possesses one of the rarest editions of this book worldwide. Mrs Matrona-Xyla Egon is the proud patron of this project.       

Currently, Koraes Library and the Conservation Laboratory are working toward to raising awareness for rare books that are in dire need for conservation. For this reason, they are launching an ambitious conservation programme and make an appeal to the public for their support.