For the Bibliothèque de Genève and its various branch sites, the conservation of library, archive and museum contents requires the use of analytical tools and a full understanding of the current practices and state of conservation of the collections within the institution. Inspecting and assessing the collections are a preliminary step before implementing the appropriate conservation protocols. It is vital then for the institution to form a clear picture of the physical state of its holdings. In light of the results, crucial decisions can be made to protect the documents with the fullest knowledge of actual conditions. In 2000, eager to accomplish one of the fundamental missions of the Bibliothèque, Barbara Roth (the curator of the Manuscripts Department) and Jean-Charles Giroud (then the Director of the Bibliothèque) proposed commissioning an external expert to review all aspects of conservation at the library and suggest corrective measures. Alexandre Vanautgaerden followed suit and supported the decisions of his predecessors.
The assignment was entrusted to Andrea Giovannini, the renowned and ICON-SKR-accredited curator and restorer. For almost 10 years (from 2005 to 2014), at a rate of 10 two-day missions per year, Giovannini surveyed every corner of the Bastions area. From 2005 to 2006, accompanied by the librarian Marianne Tsioli, he started by assessing the conservation conditions of the Bastions building and the storage facility at Quai du Seujet. The presence of a member of the institution who knew the library inside out ensured that such an assessment was anchored in the reality of the premises and facilitated contact with every level of the staff. This dual internal/external perspective was crucial to achieving an objective analysis and realistic proposals. Giovannini and Tsioli thoroughly examined the overall architectural structure, furnishings, climate control, lighting, safety measures against fire, flood and theft, biological hazards, the cleanliness and logistics of the storage facilities, and the various manipulations the documents undergo. Some of the suggestions advanced during this first stage could be rapidly implemented. For example, a fruitful relationship was established with the Direction du patrimoine bâti (the Built Heritage Department) and the Service de l’énergie (Energy Service) of the City of Geneva by introducing logistical coordination and overall examination of proposed recommendations; in this way, an initial series of measures was gradually launched. The analysis of the conservation flow chart led to the creation of the Unité Régie (the Building administration unit) and the appointment of a head curator who took over and continued the ongoing initiatives while launching several new ones. At the same time, a contingency plan in case of natural or man-made disasters was laid out and tested.
From 2007 to 2014, the Bibliothèque carried out the overview of the collections and their condition. This health assessment covered the library’s 61 linear kilometers of documents. On such a scale, it would have been impossible to examine each and every one of the two million documents the Bibliothèque de Genève conserves. We therefore opted for a random sampling method, which involved examining part of the collections (the sample), then extrapolating the results of that analysis to the entirety of the library’s documents (the population). Data were collected on site with the help of a specially designed database, a critical tool for a project of this scale. In all, 3,100 objects representing 310,000 documents were assessed. This review provided the Bibliothèque with a consistent overall assessment of all its sites and collections, as well as precious tools for the current and future management of its collections. Thanks to the regular presence of Andrea Giovannini over a long period and the resulting interactions, all of the library staff were made aware of the importance of conservation issues.