Collection Care & Digitisation at SOAS Library 

By Special Collections|21st February 2023|Behind the scenes|0 comments

As SOAS Library formally opens its new Collection Care & Digitisation facilities, we look behind-the-scenes at the work that will now be supported thanks to generous funding from donors including the Foyle Foundation, the Garfield Weston Foundation and the Wolfson Foundation.  

Collection Care & Digitisation (CCD), part of our Library Services Directorate, is home to our small digitisation team and a recently appointed Conservator (a first for SOAS) who is tasked with overseeing the care of our unique and internationally important library collections – SOAS Library is one of only 5 National Research Libraries in the UK. 

The new CCD suite will build capacity around the physical care of our collections. It will help to revive binding and book repair programmes and enable us to develop environmental monitoring, integrated pest management, and disaster preparedness to help preserve collections – extending the life of the resources SOAS Library has collected, which are used by teachers, students, and researchers at SOAS and around the world.  

It will also enable the library to promote the collections, to establish the library’s brand, to forge partnerships to make the most of that capacity. Strategic partnerships have already been built around digitised resources in Malaysia, the Netherlands, and the Philippines, which have helped us to increase productivity through shared effort. We have also been able to begin the digitisation of archival materials through funding from key depositors, including the Council for World Mission, and thus increase access to these resources by audiences outside the institution and the UK. 

Digitisation transfigures our collections for 21st Century use. We currently hold 1.1 million digitised units including books, archives, journals, newspapers, photographs, works of art, maps, audio and video. To date this represents 73,333 units per year on average generated through our digitisation team working with library collection managers – 2021 produced around 100,000 units with 1 digitiser; 2022 produced 300,000 units with grant funding & 3 digitisers.

In addition to building dedicated facilities, funding has enabled us to fully equip these spaces for work. For conservation work, this has included workbenches; cameras to document conditions before, during and after treatments; refrigerators to store specialist rice pastes and formulations; a book press and book binding equipment; a fume hood used to perform treatments using chemicals; a sink and filtration unit used to wash and clean archival papers; an encapsulator to make enclosures used to protect maps and fragile archival papers; specialist tools including a board chopper and guillotine; supplies including boxes, boards, conservation papers, bookcloths, book leathers and pairing tools, book papers including marbled papers, Japanese papers and tissues, adhesives, brushes, gloves, small tools, cotton ties, binding threads, dyes, etc. 

It is envisaged that in addition to practical conservation work, the conservation workspace will be used for displays and teaching/training events, including for our MA Curating Cultures students and visiting students who are training to be conservators. 

The new digitisation space includes a dark-room with black-out partitions, which professionalises image capture and reduces glare. Partitioning of this space allows the room to be used for multiple purposes, equipped with different types of book scanners, DSLRs (cameras) and equipment for capturing flat archives and larger, more complex images such as maps, newspapers and woodblock prints. The facility will also enable the imaging of glass plate and film slides, very large works of art and the Brunei Gallery’s teaching collection of 3D objects. Specialist software will enable OCR to generate accurate searchable text from digitised texts. Some elements of digitisation work will continue to be sourced out of house where this is more cost-effective. 

With supplemental funding from HEIF, CCD hopes to launch digital skills training for students in conjunction with their education programmes.  

As part of a wider building and refurbishment project on Level F of the Library, additional funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has also enabled a refurbishment of the archive storage areas managed by Special Collections, including the fitting of new HVAC systems, which control the temperature and humidity of the stores, enhanced lighting, fire protection and security systems to meet international standards for the management of archives. 

For queries about the CCD project, please contact the Advancement Team.

Contact the Collection Care & Digitisation Team to find out more about their work.

For on-campus access to SOAS Digital Collections visit

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