The work of the Preservation and Conservation Laboratory ranges from bookbinding and treatment to environmental control and monitoring to outreach and education. Whether big or small, specialised devices and equipment are needed for many of our jobs or tasks. The right tools are the backbone of completing our mission of preserving and conserving our nation's history.

This series begins with a behind-the-scenes look at the tools used in the Preservation and Conservation Laboratory.

Documenting and Examination


Before collection items undergo repairs or remedial treatment they must be documented and carefully examined. The process of documenting and examining heritage collections must follow strict rules of consistency and accuracy, therefore standardized techniques are used. When we document collection items we provide as much information as possible for future conservators, custodians and users. Documentation tells the complete story of an object. PAC Staff record the examination, sampling, scientific investigation and treatment of objects. Most often these records would include visible light photographs taken before, during and after treatment; results of testing and sampling; as well any treatment reports detailing the examination and treatment decisions related to the collection items. 


Photo-documentation Studio


















The PAC Lab is equipped with a selection of photographic tools, digital cameras and light sources. The combination of these elements is of great importance for producing precise images. Our copy stand and tripods can be very handy for taking steady photos while we execute conservation treatments. Blank boards are used to create neutral backgrounds around the collection item. Colour checkers or colour bars are also included to show the size of the object and to ensure colours are properly displayed in the photograph captured. Some of the tools assembled in our mini photo-documentation studio in the Work Room of the PAC Lab include:

  • A digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera with regular and macro lenses
  • A copy stand with lighting attached
  • A camera tripod
  • Scale/colour bars

















Secrets Revealed: Magnifiers, Light Table and UV Lamps

Examination of collection items is usually visual but in some cases further testing for scientific analysis is necessary to uncover hidden details. These characteristics can help us get a better chemical understanding of the makeup of the collection items in question, the properties of the materials to be applied, and the reactions which are expected to occur during treatment and as the items naturally age. The key tools to reveal these attributes include magnifiers, light tables and UV lamps. 



















In the PAC Lab different powers of magnification help us gain detailed observations of the collection item. These magnifiers and loupes allow us to see the fine characteristics of the surface of an object. We can observe textures, surface damages, watermarks, etc. Quality magnification is critical when dealing with small complex objects which have to be cleaned or repaired.


Another useful tool that helps unveil additional clues about our paper documents is the light table. We tend to examine collection items using daylight and fluorescent light sources either overhead or at an angle. However, when the light table is used, it transmits bright white light right through the object exposing watermarks and any other unique characteristics within the paper itself.


















With the use of protective goggles PAC Staff can operate the UV lamp to reveal characteristics of the collection item that are not visible to the naked eye. This often includes certain types of deterioration, adhesive residues, inks, paints and paper fibres, which fluoresce or glow when exposed to UV light.  


















In part 2 of this behind-the-scenes series we will showcase the tools used for testing and cleaning collection items.


To discover more, follow the Heritage Library Division on Facebook @NALISHLDTT (insert link to Facebook: or email


American Institute for Conservation (AIC). (1994). Code of Conduct. Retrieved from

American Institute for Conservation (AIC). (2020, August 30). PMG Examination and Documentation. Retrieved from

Canada Conservation Institute (CCI). (2021). Lighting Techniques for Photographing Heritage Objects. Retrieved from YouTube : 

ColorChecker Classic. (2021). Retrieved from Xrite Pantone :

Moore, M. (2001). Conservation Documentation and the Implications of Digistation. Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies, 6-10. doi:

University of Cincinnati. (2021). Preservation Lab Treatment Documentation - Digital Collections & Repositories. Retrieved from 


Authors:  Heritage Library Division, Preservation and Conservation Laboratory, Ms. Danielle Fraser (Library Conservator) and Mrs. Yuklin Rosales Youk-See (Library Technical Assistant)

Copyright of photographs held by NALIS, reproduction and distribution without written permission is prohibited


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