By Bethany Goodman, Graduate Diploma Conservation Studies, Specialising in Books and Library Materials.
Most universities have specialised academic teaching. Some universities have a history. Few universities have a legacy. West Dean College has all three… and sheep.
Having just completed my undergraduate degree, I thought I was quite versed in the ways of uni life - nocturnal living, large lecture halls and a questionable amount of pizza. Safe to say, when I got to West Dean, my first week of 9am classes hit me hard.
However, after a few bleary-eyed starts and a shift to an arguably even larger consumption of cake, I was a convert.
West Dean is not like other universities so it can be difficult to expect the form your life will take when you first arrive. So, here is a taste of what your routine, social life and (what everyone really wants to know) workshop time might look like during your time at West Dean.
Being a residential student, I am lucky enough to call the grounds of West Dean my home. This also means I only have a 4 minute commute to the College building.
Monday, Tuesday and Friday are designated workshop days, although the space is open 8:30am-10pm everyday if you wish to spend more time on your projects.
Workshop days can be a combination of almost endless possibilities. So that this blog doesn’t take you all day to read, I have split the types of work you may do into four categories.
Practical projects: Each student is allocated a case bound and leather bound book in the first term. These are usually donations so don’t get too worried- you won’t have to work with clients from the offset.
Everyone’s projects vary, so I usually spend just as much time nosing around my peers’ desks as I do working at my own. Treatments can include repairing tears in pages, reattaching loose covers, scraping old animal glue off the spine of a text block (just as gross as it sounds) and anything in between. When you’ve finished treating one book it’s on to another - there’s always some goodies in the safe.
An essential part of the day.
Bookbinding: Through several visiting lecturers you’ll learn to make several styles of bindings in classes which are usually the highlight of the term. If the name John Mumford appears on your timetable - get excited. If you’re lucky, you might also learn some finishing methods such as gauffered edges or gold tooling.
These projects teach you so much about the construction of books, which is incredibly useful knowledge to bring into your conservation work.
You also learn to make different protective boxes. These are useful both to make for your assigned conservation projects and to organise the growing pile of random scraps of paper in your draws.
I am a partially self-catered student but have my lunches at the College. It is a good way to catch up with students from other departments and eat a copious amount of cake.
Historical context: To better understand the construction and history of the objects which pass our bench, we also have classes on topics such as paper making, the development of printing and how to make iron gall ink.
Personally, these are some of my favourite days but for those who don’t like the idea of lectures don’t worry, you’ll be holding a bonefolder much more than you will be a pencil.
Documentation: An essential part of any conservation work is keeping a meticulous record of the condition of items as well as any treatments undertaken. This is probably the least favourite aspect of our projects, no one likes paperwork, but… you get to take pictures.
Producing these documents may not be the most exciting part of your day but they are the most important. Also, looking back at them will show you just how much you have learnt, which, if you haven’t guessed by now, is quite a lot.
More biscuits you ask? My reply: yes.
The working day typically ends at five at which point I am usually quite tired and possibly on a slight sugar high, so I usually go for a walk to clear my head.
The grounds itself are huge, you can stroll around the walled gardens or head to the arboretum to pay a visit to Edward James. For those who don’t mind a hill, the trundle gives views down to Chichester and the sea.
If I wanted to, I could even end our day here with a walk to the local pub but, as this blog does count for my grade, let’s go for the option where I go home and do some work.
The College has a computer suite and library, but I prefer to work in my room along with a litre of tea.
In addition to our workshop days, we also have modules in science and contextual studies. So perhaps I might spend this time working on these modules’ assignments or I might do some extra reading on one of the binding styles I learnt earlier in the day.
Contrary to what you might expect from living in the middle of nowhere - you do have one!
Film club gives you the opportunity to watch movies in the Oak Hall. A room which, as the name might suggest, transports you to a time where the moving picture hasn’t even been invented yet.
The College also has its own bar, from which the Student Association holds quizzes, but which is also good for a game of cards. Or you could head over to Dower, the accommodation which decades of student history has designated the ‘party house’, to hang out in what feels like a miniature castle.
Bigger social events are also arranged, such as a Christmas dinner and walking with alpacas. Yes, you read that right, walking with alpacas, I’ve saved the strongest selling point to last.
Then it’s early to bed for me; I’ve got that 9am tomorrow.
You can find out more about the Graduate Diploma Conservation Studies, specialising in Books and Library Materials, on the website, and find out more about life as a student at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation..