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Why the National Trust spring cleans their book collections every year

The National Trust is a charity of which Britain should be proud. Founded in 1895, the organisation aims to preserve buildings and places of historic interest. The National Trust has since purchased many country houses and vast estates of greenland. While the properties require a charge to visit, the green spaces are generally free for all. 

The size of the National Trust and their historic importance cannot be underestimated. Owning over 610,000 acres of land and 780 miles of cost, the charity has an extreme amount of influence on public life. Its idealistic aims of increasing public exploration and an appreciation for the land around each of us is admirable. 

If you’ve explored inside a National Trust property like I have, you will have probably been taken around the libraries with numerous hardback books from centuries gone by

However, the green and pleasant features outside the properties are not the only important factors. The properties, and what is inside them, are also incredibly important. Think about the books. If you’ve explored inside a National Trust property like I have, you will have probably been taken around the libraries with numerous hardback books from centuries gone by. 

They look like they haven’t been touched for years. In a sense, they are a painting. A painting is left untouched and preserved for decades. Its owners make sure it is exposed to only certain parts of the light to ensure the shades of paint reflect their original light and shade. The same is true with books. If they are touched too much, a degree of damage seems inevitable. 

The important irony is that if a large number of people are going to visit the properties, the only way in which they can be preserved is by shutting off their access to others

That hasn’t stopped a team at the Florence Court National Trust property in Northern Ireland. As spring approaches and the days feel longer, they are using the extra time to spring clean the entire historic book collection. According to the Belfast Telegraph, every member of staff has to examine the books for mould, bugs and woodworm. Over time, these books individually take 20 minutes to clean. It is remarkable that books of such value would still take such a huge amount of time to clean. 

The 1,400 books are mainly made up of natural history, flowering and gardening books that include numerous special items looking at births, marriages and deaths. What is remarkable is how the spring clean is such an annual occasion, using a range of brushes to ensure all the books are treasured. Ideally, these books will still come to be appreciated by different individuals in hundreds of years time, demonstrating how history has developed and our appreciation for words has altered. 

Next to this, it is important to represent and remember the previous historical elitism that existed within the National Trust. Properties owned formerly by the aristocracy can hardly be called open to all. That is precisely what the charity has tried to correct, by opening up their resources more broadly to different people and celebrating the variety of buildings people can visit. 

It is also important to recognise the large amount of resources that take up the space and time of workers. The books will ultimately be cleaned and look set to be maintained for a while. But they won’t ever properly be presented to the public. Individuals will most likely only see the spine of the books along with the title. The most they might have the opportunity to enjoy is a casket with some pages of the writings on display. This however does reflect the important irony that if a large number of people are going to visit the properties, the only way in which they can be preserved is by shutting off their access to others. 

The aim of both the National Trust and society overall should be to encourage more access, reading and celebration of words and ideas. Although the presentation of books in a stately home recognises that this has been a part of history for centuries, it alone doesn’t cultivate an appreciation for reading in the long term. Books cannot be seen only as objects but must be appreciated for the words within them that guarantee a love of reading is maintained over years. The staff are definitely not wasting their time spending an occasion in the spring looking after the books. It’s what they do throughout the rest of the year to ensure a love of reading that really matters. 

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