Peter Waters (1930-2003)

Peter Waters was born in Surrey England in 1930. He studied bookbinding at the Guilford College of Art and later, the Royal College of Art. During his time at the Royal College of Art, Waters met his teacher and mentor Roger Powell, who is most famous for his restoration work on the Book of Kells. In 1955, Powell retired from his part time teaching position at the Royal Academy and was succeeded by Waters. Waters and Powell formed a professional partnership in 1957, working together at a bindery in Hampshire where they restored the bindings of books such as the Book of Durrow and The Litchfield Gospels. This professional partnership lasted until Waters moved to the United States in 1971, to become the Library of Congress’ first Restoration Officer. [[#_ftn1|[1]](1)

Waters had spent the previous two years commuting to Washington to meet with Frazer Poole as a contracted consultant for the development and staffing of the Library of Congress’ new conservation laboratory. In 1971, Waters and his family moved to the United States when he was offered a job as the library’s Restoration Officer.[[#_ftn2|[2]](2)

Waters and Poole then began the difficult process of developing a professional book and paper conservation staff. Waters advised Poole to hire two more English bookbinders, Donald Etherington and Christopher Clarkson, who had been fellow restoration volunteers during the disastrous Florence flood of 1966. Etherington worked as a training specialist for the Library of Congress while Clarkson headed the Rare Book Conservation Section. Waters and Poole also hired paper conservation specialists Margaret Brown and Marylin Wiedner.[[#_ftn3|[3]](3)

Waters and Poole began to offer internship opportunities to third year conservation students during the 1980s, furthering the formal training and education of a future generation of conservators. These internships gave students valuable experience photographic and phased preservation as well as the more traditional book and paper conservation. Many of the interns who benefited from this program went on to hold prominent positions in conservation businesses and institutions around the world.[[#_ftn4|[4]](4)

Before his retirement in 1995, Waters was named Conservation Officer and Chief of the Library’s Conservation Division. From 1992 to 1994, Waters also served as the Preservation Strategic Planning Officer. During his time at the Library of Congress, Waters implemented a phased preservation and point system to improve collection maintenance policies and decisions as well as introducing photographic conservation to the library’s preservation program. [[#_ftn5|[5]](5)

Waters retired from the Library of Congress in 1995, but he continued to serve the preservation and conservation community by his involvement with the National Archives Preservation Committee, The International Institute for Conservation, and the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic works.[[#_ftn6|[6]](6)

Waters is well known for his involvement in disaster preparedness and the development of recovery plans for librarians and archives across the world. The most commonly known example of this is the Arno River Flood of November 1966. In the years following the flood, Waters traveled to Italy where he became one of the leaders of the restoration effort at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale Firenze. He and James Lewis became co-directors of an effort funded by the Council on Library Resources to investigate the resulting problems of the flood. This multi-phase effort was intended to clean, dry and rebind rare books and manuscripts that had been water damaged. Waters was also responsible for managing and training over 120 “mud angels” or volunteers who traveled to Italy to aid in preservation efforts. These volunteers were later replaced by Italian workers who needed to be trained in restoration techniques. The following year, Waters was recruited as a consultant by the Gulbenkian Foundation Museum Library to help develop a plan to restore materials damaged by a flood in Lisbon.

After acting as consultant and developing a phased preservation program at the Library of the Academy of Arts and Sciences of St. Petersburg following a fire in1988, Waters is credited with inspiring his son Michael to invent computer-assisted box making software that created custom-fitted protective enclosures for books. This program created the boxes at a minimal cost, and made boxed preservation a more efficient process.[[#_ftn7|[7]](7)

Peter Waters passed away on June 26, 2003. [[#_ftn8|[8]](8) As a book binder, conservator, and administrator, he was very influential in the field of conservation and preservation.

For more information, visit the Library of Congress’ Preservation Webpage.


Library of Congress, "Caring for America's Library:Preservation Directorate 1989-Present." 2009. (accessed Dec. 2009).

Martin, Douglas. "Peter Waters is Dead at 73." 2003. Abbey Newsletter. (accessed Dec. 2009)

Metzger, Mauela. “Peter Waters Obituary.” Book Arts. 2003. (accessed Dec. 2009)


[[#_ftnref1|[1]]1 Metzger, Mauela. “Peter Waters Obituary.” Book Arts. 2003. (accessed Dec. 2009)
[[#_ftnref2|[2]]2 Library of Congress, "Caring for America's Library:Preservation Directorate 1989-Present." 2009. (accessed Dec. 2009).
[[#_ftnref3|[3]]3 Ibid
[[#_ftnref4|[4]]4 Ibid
[[#_ftnref5|[5]]5 Metzger, Manuela. (2003) "Peter Waters Obituary."
[[#_ftnref6|[6]]6 Ibid
[[#_ftnref7|[7]]7 Ibid
[[#_ftnref8|[8]]8 Martin, Douglas. "Peter Waters is Dead at 73." 2003. Abbey Newsletter. (accessed Dec. 2009)