The Department of Conservation and Restoration is a world unto itself nestled within the National Library. The department is mainly engaged with the physical side of library items – restoring books, manuscripts on paper and parchment, antique maps, official documents, photographs, film negatives and more. The department provides a comprehensive, professional solution to safeguard the well being of all of the collections in the Library, ensuring that there are optimum conditions for preserving the many different types of materials.
Timna Elper, Director of the Department for the past seven years, stands at the helm of this vital aspect of Library operations. Timna’s professional background is richly diverse: art studies with a specialization in conservation; the study of biblical archaeology and the archaeology of the Middle East; specialization in the conservation of archeological items; and a very long list of training in various areas related to the professions of conservation and preservation.
Timna’s professional life has combined archeology with the world of books and manuscripts with experience both in Israel and abroad. In the past, Timna, a native of Barcelona, Spain, has worked with the Antiquities Authority, at the Hebrew University, and in other academic and private institutions around the world. When faced with a choice between conservation of archeological items and working with books and manuscripts, the die was cast: “There was something compelling about the restoration of a book that I wasn’t able to find with archeological conservation. The book could be revived, brought to life, not just left as a museum piece. A book gives us the opportunity to become immersed in the world that the author has created, to read it and experience it again and again. Moreover, working in the National Library set new challenges, and to this day continues to move me forward."
In the unique realm of the Department of Conservation and Restoration, which to a great extent consists of instruments, specialized raw materials, and tools that one doesn’t see anywhere else in the Library, there is frequent and close contact, physical and emotional, between the conservators and the items that they are handling. Timna describes it thus: “The work is exciting because every old book that comes into our hands opens before us an unfamiliar world. Sometimes you discover friends, local traditions, not to mention that the books are wondrous objects of art. A book, and the condition it is in, can reflect the history of a family, complete or broken, and of a community. The importance of our work cannot be better illustrated than by the example of the Jews expelled from Portugal who struggled to preserve their individual and community Bibles, against all odds and under threat. Our work invites us to make discoveries and surmount unexpected challenges. My desire is to restore books to a condition where they will be once again available to read and explore. Working in the National Library is a privilege for me. Were I to be reborn, I would choose exactly the same professional path.”