Lucy Cokes - Book Conservator


What is your greatest achievement?

I am very aware that a lot of young people often feel lost, especially in a world where it feels like anything we do won’t make an impact on the world. I am very proud and lucky to have found a profession I love and also a passion for sharing those skills – I have found my own way to change the world, by preserving one book at a time.

What motivates you to do what you do?

I have always loved telling stories. As a book conservator, I can help to uncover stories, whether it’s finding an unusual annotation in a 16th-Century book or a ticket stub used as a bookmark. Books can tell stories beyond the words that are written in them, and I find that really exciting – it is my job to preserve books for people in the future to use and read, and that is a huge motivating factor. As I enable people to interact with heritage, I let them interact with their own histories and culture, from which they can be inspired.

 What do you owe your mother? 

I used to get embarrassed if someone told me ‘you’re just like your mum’ but now I can see it’s the highest compliment: she taught me compassion and kindness, and she encouraged my passion for working with my hands and telling stories. I also owe her all the people I’ve won over with her amazing shortbread recipe!

Which women inspire you and why?

I recently have found a great friend in Sineke, who turned 81 this year. She came over from Europe to work here as a nurse. She fell in love with bookbinding and her late husband, Peter, and although circumstances meant she couldn’t follow her dreams, I am in awe of her tenacity and enquiring mind, humbled by her generosity and so happy to share her excitement for her new dreams.

I also dance with an amazing group of women, some who have fought hardships, at Penzance Ballet School at the Thursday Adult ballet class. I am dancing with about 20 years of experience, but watching these women develop and improve in the 18 months I have lived here has truly been inspiring. 81-year-old ex-dancer Olga is a remarkable dancer, comfortable and quietly confident in her abilities, and the smile she wears for her love of dance is completely infectious.

What are you reading?

As well as old books, one of my other passions is fantasy – I adore books about dragons and magic, and one of my dreams is to be a fantasy author. Fantasy offers an escape from the real world and highlights its beauty while providing a strong sense of hope, even when everything seems dark. I am currently finding a kindred spirit in Seraphina by Rachel Hartmann, as she navigates her world of discrimination and mystery, and her own guilt and fear of being half-dragon, half-human.  

What gender barriers have you had to hurdle?

I am extremely privileged to not have faced gender-based barriers in my life, and I am forever grateful for that. Conservation is a female-dominated profession, and I am lucky to work with and be inspired by the women I work with every day.

How can the world be a better place for women?

I think acceptance and kindness is the key for equality, and we can only achieve that through communication. Those of us in positions where we can use our voice to speak up absolutely should – and other people need to encourage and lift up the quieter voices.

Describe your perfect day

A rainy day in a cosy house, with hours of uninterrupted reading or writing, and a cat to sit on my lap.

We've noticed there really aren't many (if any) statues of women around Cornwall – who would you see remembered?

Women who have made a legacy – we owe them our remembrance, and they deserve to have their stories told. 

Give us a tip?

Never, ever use sticky-tape when repairing important paper objects – if you have to, use a paper patch with a washable glue stick. Future conservators will thank you!

About Lucy Lucy Cokes is a book conservator and native of the Isle of Wight. She began making and writing books when she was seven years old with her mum, and followed her love of books to Bath Spa University to study English Literature with Creative Writing, with a significant interest in book history. In Bath, she fell in love with a city, a profession and a boy, and wrote her dissertation on the books at the Holburne Museum. After being a secondary school librarian for a couple of years, Lucy studied Book Conservation at West Dean College, where she developed a passion for telling other people about conservation. West Dean has led her to experiences at the Museum of the Order of St. John and the Bodleian Library, and, since graduating, she has worked at Canterbury Cathedral, repairing books from as early as 1250. Lucy moved to Penzance in 2017 and is currently working alongside Lizzie Neville at P.Z. Conservation, and her favourite objects to conserve are 20th Century ephemeral materials. Lucy is proud to work with local communities, teaching Cornwall how to look after their most precious objects.