It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, and nowhere is that better embodied than in the ongoing collaboration across borders, despite the restrictions imposed by Covid-19. Read about how an online conservation seminar led Auckland Museum staff to work with a Conservator from the other side of the world to adopt, improve, and then build an open-design tool for handling rare books – the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. 

Within the walls of our Museum lives one of New Zealand’s leading published titles collections – over 80,000 items showcasing diverse histories from across Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa, the Pacific and the world. Our books come in all different shapes, sizes, and conditions, which means we have to constantly adapt our handling to the needs of each volume. 

Rare books are complex, 3-dimensional objects, many of which can only be opened to an acute angle (less than 90°) due to their fragile bindings and delicate paper. This is a real challenge when we look to digitise, treat, or catalogue these volumes. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve our practice - and keep our books safe. 


Image: ACBS prototype design. Icon Book & Paper Group. Conservation: Together at Home Webinar Series, no.11.

Cue Covid. With New Zealand in Level 4 lockdown, the Museum’s Paper Conservator, Erin Walker, found a game-changing tool for rare book handling, while participating in the Conservation: Together at Home webinar series. This tool, called the Adaptable Conservation Book Support (ACBS), was developed by Roger Williams, the Book and Paper Conservator at Northwestern University Libraries.

The ACBS uses the principle of shimbari clamping – a Japanese method of applying accurate and controlled pressure, using flexible rods inside a rigid frame. Using flexible fibreglass rods and adjustable clamps, the ACBS can hold books open at a sweeping range of 15°-180°. The ACBS is also grounded in DIY and open-design philosophy, which emphasises affordability and access. It can be easily put together from pre-made pieces found about the workshop, or your local Bunnings store.


Image: Shimbari clamping uses flexible rods to apply pinpoint pressure. Williams, R.S. Shimbari for book conservation. 

The impact of Covid on our cultural heritage institutions means that more creative, collaborative and resourceful work must become part of our ‘new normal’. With comparable alternatives costing thousands, the Conservation, Display, and Documentary Heritage teams at Auckland Museum took this new work mindset to heart, and came together to make this open-design model a reality.

Image: The ACBS in daily use - on the cataloguer's desk!

Using the resources and expertise within our team, we augmented the original design with 3D-printed components custom designed by display manager Heath King. These files have now been added to the online design portal for the ACBS, which means that institutions around the world will be able to use our designs to 3D-print their own parts. 

Image: Display Manager Heath King used his 3D-printing skills to create custom parts for the ACBS - the first modifications in the world to the original design. ​

We were lucky to work with creator Roger Williams throughout the process, who has since shared our modifications with the American Institute for Conservation. He gave us his thoughts on our project:

"The ACBS is intended to be a democratic and collaborative tool that can be built and improved upon by anyone who works with delicate books. I'm so excited to see that it's already evolving with the input of colleagues on the other side of the globe! 

It is heartening to see it used in the care of the Auckland Museum's unique collections. And the modifications made by your team can now be put to use by library professionals in other corners of the world."


Image: Display Manager Heath King puts the finishing touches on the ACBS, which was constructed in the Museum workshop. 

Auckland Museum’s ACBS is now in everyday use, serving the Collections team as we work to make our rarest books more accessible to the public. It also serves as a reminder that there is room for optimism in these challenging times. Regardless of the obstacles that stand in our way, museums can draw from our rich pools of experience to find new, better ways of achieving best practice - and then share it with the world.

Image: Paper Conservator Erin Walker uses the ACBS to conduct a repair.



American Institute for Conservation. (n.d.) BPG material, equipment, and tools. Retrieved August 20, 2020.

Icon Book & Paper Group. (2020, April 28). 11 Conservation: Together at Home Webinar Series - Roger Williams [Video]. YouTube.

Rivers, S., Bainbridge, T., Thackray, A., Yamashita, Y., & Newman, N. (2015). Goberge, shimbari, go-bars: the use of flexible sticks for clamping. Journal of the American Institute of Conservation, 54, 65-73. 

Williams, R.S. (n.d.) Adaptable Conservation Book Support. Retrieved August 20, 2020

Williams, R.S. (n.d.) Shimbari for book conservation. Retrieved August 20, 2020.