MA Conservation Studies, specialising in Books and Library Materials 2010 - 2011

Holly Smith

Book and Paper Conservator

What do you consider your biggest achievement to date?

I was the lead conservator when The National Archives loaned one of the volumes of the Great Domesday Book to Lincoln Castle in 2017. This meant I was responsible for seeing it safely to the venue and into the display case, as well as ensuring the environmental and security conditions were met. 

Talk us through your career path since graduating 

In the winter after completing my MA I took a contract job at The National Archives as a project conservator working on preparing documents for digitisation.

Over the previous summer I had applied for a few internships and after persevering, was chosen for an Icon and HLF internship with Lizzie Neville at her private book conservation studio in Cornwall, where I gained more experience in book conservation, as well as learning about developing outreach programmes for local heritage volunteers and what's involved in running a private studio.

At the end of my internship I re-joined the National Archives and worked in various teams including Collections Care, the Archives and Loans and Exhibitions. 

In 2017 I went part time at The National Archives, as I had moved to Brighton and wanted to diversify my work. Since then I have started working as a freelance conservator for a variety of organisations and studios, including the Tate and the Sussex Conservation Consortium. I also do private work of my own and in the last 18 months I've set up a creative bookbinding business. 

In 2019, on completion of a career progression programme at The National Archives, I have been promoted to Senior Conservator. 

It has been a challenging and varied journey, but I feel that I get a lot from working in a variety of environments and on a variety of different collections. 

What projects are you currently working on?

At the moment I'm planning a large-scale research project studying the limp vellum bindings within The National Archives' collection; we have a huge number of this binding style in the collection spanning six centuries. The project will involve lots of research and collaboration with colleagues in other departments, as well as planning how to share the outcomes of our research with the wider profession and heritage sector. I am currently in the process of planning the project, but I'm excited to get going.

Do you have any tips for recent graduates?

Try to make the most out of every project or job you work on, even if it’s not perfect or ideal - there will always be useful things to learn and help you develop and people respond well to a positive attitude.

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

I think being able to study with students specialising in different types of collections helped give me a very holistic view of conservation and how book and paper conservation fits within the whole, as well as how it overlaps with many other disciplines. I also made a great network of friends who have been useful sounding boards over the years. 

What's your favourite memory from your time at the College?

I miss the big winter fire in the hall, it was wonderful to have a cosy, quiet place with such surreal decoration in which to hang out. 

Find out more about the MA Conservation Studies

Holly Smith, Alumna of West Dean College of Arts and Conservation