Challenges of Being a Book Conservator in Portugal

Today iBookBinding continues to publish replies to the recent posts Bookbinders and Money: Inner Conflict and “Basic Binding” and “Basic Book Repair” Prices by bookbinders from all over the world. Below you can find a reply from Diana Avelar Pires, book and paper conservator from Lisbon, Portugal.

I have been reading the past discussion on Bookbinders and Money including the recent opinion by my friend António Campos Soares. He told me I should also share my experience with you, so here I am.

I am a book and paper conservator based in Lisbon and I have been lucky enough to work almost continuously for the past 2 years. Before that, I had a contract with the National Archives in London and did a couple of international internships since 2012. Because I collaborate with the National Archives Torre do Tombo in independently funded projects, my experience with private clients is little. But still, not very successful. As a contract conservator in these kinds of projects, that go on from 3 to 6 months, I have been paid from 850 to 1200€ per month.

London and Back to Lisbon

Coming back from London I understand that a freelance Book and Paper Conservator would never do any work for less than 25£ per hour. So, I figured I shouldn’t do less than 15€ per hour here in Lisbon. Although these numbers are not equivalent, I thought it would be a fair price for my trained skills and experience adjusted for the cost of living in this country. Nonetheless it was very hard to charge more than 80€ (sometimes no more than 50€) for a basic book repair or rebinding. That is for treatments that could take 4 to 5 days to conclude. I feel like book owners don’t understand the value and how much time consuming this work is, as any of the traditional binding studios can make new gilded bindings for as little as 45€. That said, it has not been viable to work for private clients and I only do so if I have some spare time or find some very exciting and outstanding thing to do.

Of course, I don’t have a studio or a running activity, but it is something I look for in the future. However, unless I can win some big projects co-financed by the state or private institutions, it will be very hard to keep it running purely with conservation work. Perhaps making blank books to sell on markets or in shops could be a source of income but I don’t have this experience.


I run workshops sometimes, mainly basic bookbinding for general public. I also gave one workshop about book conservation for conservators and another one about box making for museum or archive staff, conservators, students. These have been quite successful with 10 to 12 participants each, and it is possible to charge from 40 to 80€ per person depending on the complexity of the workshop. At the moment, I am trying to develop a series of bookbinding related workshops including paper decoration techniques, sewing techniques, endbands, artists books, etc., and develop a yearly program.

Bookbinding and Book Conservation Study Opportunities in Portugal

I have studied conservation in Portugal. However, all my training in bookbinding and book conservation happened during international internships and I don’t know of a place in Portugal where recent graduates can train in these fields in the way I did (while getting paid).

I have started with doing basic sewing structures and historical models and continued to repairing corners and spines in original books. Only after a few months had I the opportunity of restoring real books and developing consistent treatment proposals. This training was extremely important for my understanding of the book as a tridimensional and moving object and I believe it is necessary for everyone before getting your hands on real objects of importance.

Since bookbinding is more in vogue now I think, there has been a few more opportunities to train and develop specific knowledge in Portugal. Last year, Arsenio Sánchez from BNE spent a week in Lisbon to teach a course on medieval structures and the Ligatus Summer School took place last September also in Lisbon. Which is great!

Internships in Other Countires

Just as a briefing note, here is some information about where I’ve been studying.

I did an Erasmus training course after my master’s (between October 2011 and April 2012). You can still join that program at Erasmus if you are a student. Or a training course if you just have finished your degree. This was at the Faculty of Restoration in the University of Pardubice (Litomysl, Czech Republic). Here they have a bookbinding and book conservation studio and another one just for art on paper conservation.

Then, in 2013, I did a six-month internship in a program that is no longer available, I believe. It was called Ohrenschall Book and Paper Conservation Internship, at the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, USA).

I use the Conservation DistList to get to know most of the training and work opportunities in Europe and America.

Social Media

Ah, something else I’ve just remembered. I am one of the few book conservators in Portugal to have a website that works as a portfolio to show my work, as long as a Facebook page. I have also started an Instagram account called “book conservation” and I have a lot of feedback mostly from North America. But it seems as if this way of somehow promoting our work isn’t still embeded in our society. I have a lot more feedback on Instagram than on my Facebook page for example.

You can find Diana on Facebook, and here is her personal web site:
Her beautiful Instagram account is bookconservation (we highly recommend you following it).

If you want to share your story, please write a comment below or send us an email.

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