Books and Library Materials

Develop the skills and competences to work towards becoming a professional book conservator. Books and Library Materials is the largest specialism in the material conservation sector, and this programme has a very high success rate with alumni going on to work in Libraries and Archives in the UK and internationally. 

Perhaps you have previously studied English or history but would like to pursue a course with a more applied approach. Our courses offer the chance to gain practical experience on live conservation projects. 

Take a Virtual Tour of the studios and college.

Watch the video below to hear what our books tutors and students have to say.

Levels 4 & 5: Foundation Degree (FdA) specialising in books and binding
The Foundation Degree in Arts, specialising in books and binding, is designed to give you well-rounded theory and craft skills in using papers, cloths and leathers to bind books so you can set up as a maker and craftsperson, continue your studies in higher education in crafts or conservation, or find employment in the creative industry sector.

Level 6: BA (Hons) Craft Practices
The BA (Hons) Craft Practices course is a one-year programme designed to provide a route into professional practice in your chosen field or for progression onto postgraduate study.

Level 6: Graduate Diploma in Conservation Studies
Allows you to further your interest in conservation and progress to the MA Conservation Studies.

Level 7: MA Conservation Studies
The global industry standard for conservation.

Objects from private collections, museums and from our own unique Collection and Archive are provided for you to work on to acquire and practice both established and developing techniques. In keeping with professional standards, treatments are discussed and agreed with stakeholders, with reference to the current and historical context of the item, its structure and a scientific understanding of its materials.

You will study historic bookbinding techniques and the relationship between structure, mechanical use and deterioration through the observation of original material and model making of book structures. You will also become familiar with ethical considerations when taking decisions about treatments of books and archive material from special collections and private collections. Challenges and strategies in object and collections care are introduced, including considerations of usage, exhibitions, environmental monitoring, enclosures, and protective systems. Reflective practice is continuously developed to integrate practical, theoretical, conceptual and professional skills.

Work undertaken will increase in complexity, enabling you to accumulate a core range of practical skills that can be applied to selecting and executing appropriate treatments.

Seminars, lectures and case studies all add to producing a portfolio of treated objects and demonstrable workplace skills. See examples of student projects in our books conservation blog

Level 7: MFA Craft Practices
A two-year full-time masters course designed to support you to further advance your practical, theoretical and professional skills, through an emphasis on specialist studio practice. 

After you graduate and career progression

The College’s extensive links with museums, conservators and professional bodies in the heritage sector opens up an impressive range of work placement opportunities.

Foundation degree graduates go on to work in the trade as professional makers, designers or repairers, or pursue further education. Placement opportunities in year two, allow students to experience a real workshop environment.

Graduate Diploma students often choose to further their studies on the MA Conservation Studies which includes a six week work placement. Alumni have gone on to work at some of the most significant museums and collections worldwide, including: 

  • University of Glasgow
  • South West Heritage Trust
  • The National Archives
  • Cambridge Conservation Consortium
  • Cambridge University Library
  • Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Chester Beatty Library
  • Dundee University Library
  • Victoria and Albert Museum
  • The British Library
  • Lambeth Palace Library.
Read more in our interviews with alumni
Books Conservation Facilities at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation


Facilities for books students include a purpose-built space for book conservation with two workshops as well as a bindery with individual student work benches and a demonstration bench. The bindery is fully equipped with sewing and forwarding equipment, board chopper, light boxes, finishing room and science lab.

Students all have their own work benches with storage and can access the studio from 8.30am to 9pm*. Facilities shared with other subject specialisms include:

  • Analytical laboratory
  • Photography space
  • IT suite
  • Specialist library

The College Art and Conservation Library has thousands of specialist books and journals and all students have access to specialist databases in the IT suite.

Find out more about our facilities


Karen Vidler FIIC

Subject Leader Books and Library Materials

Karen Vidler FIIC is a book and paper conservator and bookbinder with over 25 years’ experience working as a conservator and bookbinder in the United Kingdom and Australia. She has worked at The National Archives, V&A Museum and the Leather Conservation Centre.

Maudie Casserly

Maudie Casserly MA

Subject Tutor, Books and Library materials

Maudie is a book and paper conservator and bookbinder. Having worked a various institutions and companies over the years, including the Victoria & Albert Museum and The National Archives, Maudie now works for herself, taking on commissions from museums, libraries, collections and private individuals. In additional to practical conservation and binding, Maudie also teaches a range of online classes in bookbinding  to students all over the world.

David Dorning Subject Tutor at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation

David Dorning MA ACR FIIC

Subject Tutor, Conservation Science

David is a book and paper conservation specialist who has tutored more than a generation of book conservators since he began as a tutor in book conservation at West Dean College in 1988. He has taught science for conservators in the UK, USA and Europe, established the analytical laboratory at West Dean College in 2007 and has been the college's science tutor for 25 years.

Jonathan Farley, books tutor at West Dean College

Jonathan Farley MA ACR

Subject Tutor, Books and Library Materials

Jonathan is a Library and Archives Conservator with over 40 years experience. Jonathan has worked for various institutions such as the National Archive, Hampshire Record Office and The University of Hull. Jonathan is an accredited member of ICON (the Institute for Conservation).

Anna Guy in the Science Lab at West Dean College

Anna Guy

Conservation Science Laboratory Tutor

Anna studied organic chemistry in Italy and her interest in academic research brought her to the UK. Her passion for research and art brought her to West Dean College, a very special and unique place where applied science meets cultural heritage.

Lizzie Neville MA ACR

Head of School of Conservation

Elizabeth Neville has over thirty years' experience as a book conservator, interspersed with teaching and supervising on the Graduate Diploma in Books and Library Materials and MA Conservation Studies courses at West Dean.


  • BA (Hons) Craft Practices

    The BA (Hons) Craft Practices: Clocks, Furniture, Metals, Musical Instruments and Books and Bindings course is a one-year programme designed to provide a route into professional practice in your chosen field or for progression onto postgraduate study.
    The course constitutes the final year of a BA (Hons) degree and is suitable for students who have undertaken a foundation degree, HND or the first two years of a degree programme in a related field or who have considerable professional experience.

  • Graduate Diploma Conservation Studies

    The Graduate Diploma provides the theoretical and practical knowledge and experience necessary to start your career as a conservator and to begin to develop an area of specialisation. The programme is designed to be accessible from both the humanities and science study backgrounds. 

  • MA Conservation Studies

    The MA Conservation Studies equips you with the high level specialist skills sought by the conservation sector. This rigorous and highly respected programme draws on an extensive sector network, nationally and internationally, including industry bodies such as Icon.