Bookworms

Now that we are gearing up to get back into the lab in the next couple of weeks, I can share something I have been thinking about while working from home.

What do you think of when you hear the word “bookworm”?

Is it this?

 

Or this?

 

Or this?

 

Chances are, your answer will vary greatly depending on what part of bookworld you live in. Children’s librarians probably think of something like the first two. Those of us on the preservation and conservation side of things, probably think more about the third.

Just for fun, let’s spend a moment analyzing these images. First, I will need you to do a quick Google search for “bookworm” and let’s just look for a moment at these worms.

Clearly, from these images, there are a number of things which we must understand about bookworms.
• 99% of Bookworms are green
• 95% of bookworms wear glasses
o Corollary: the glasses must have round lenses
o Corollary: the frames must be black or red
• The bookworm really should be depicted holding a book, but occasionally may be depicted in a more realistic burrowing through the book fashion. (we’ll get there)
o Corollary: the book must have a red cover.

If I may have a pedantic moment here, I actually judge most of these “worms” to be caterpillars.  I base this solely on the fact that caterpillars are more likely to have something resembling hands which which to grasp a book.

Worm.

 

Caterpillar

 

Whatever this is.

 

Alternatively, the image search may turn up something like this:

 

This version allows for slightly more variation. However, a few rules do apply:
• Over 80% of human bookworms are female
• Most human bookworms wear glasses
• Corollary: frames must be plastic or horn rims.
• Dang it, those are my glasses.

 

 

THE ENTOMOLOGY

Here’s the basics:

• Bookworms are real things
• They aren’t really worms

Actual book eaters come in a large number of forms and can do a huge amount of damage to collections.

Here is an abbreviated list of the critters in question:

1. Book lice.

 

Not lice in the way we generally consider lice. They are not parasitic, meaning that they do not feed on live hosts. However, they do consume old binding adhesives, paper, wood and leather. They also seem to be attracted to molds which inhabit old books.

As an aside – molds are living organisms, so I guess book lice are parasitic on molds? Is it considered parasitism if the living organism is only part of a varied diet? Also, often old colonies of molds in books are actually dormant (if not totally dead).  This is a thing which we often have to consider when treating moldy items in the lab.

2. Beetles.

Let’s discuss beetles for a moment. There are at least a quarter of a million species of beetles on Earth. Many are beneficial to humans. They act as predators of plant pests (such as aphids), as essential pollinators , and as a human food source. Some species in adult, or more commonly, larval form feed on books. Most prefer old binding adhesives and paper, but some go for leather bindings.

3. Termites.

This is serious people. Not only will termites eat your books, they will also eat your bookshelves.

4. Moths.

In larval form, they will eat your sweater, they will eat the quilt your grandmother made for you. They will also eat cloth book bindings.

 

5. Silverfish.

Just ugh. I’m pretty insect tolerant, but these things creep me out.   We have to consider them, however, because paper is their meal of choice when they live in libraries.  They may also have been an insect that Robert Hooke identified as a bookworm in his early microscope work in the 1600s.

6. Cockroaches.

The less said the better. Sorry cockroachologists.

And let’s take just a moment to celebrate a fierce looking critter which eats books eaters. Friends, I introduce to you, the pseudoscorpion.

It is a tiny arachnid which feeds on book lice, moth and beetle larvae, ants, and other insects. Because of their very small size (about 2 – 8 mm) they are often not noticed by humans, or are taken for small spiders.

 

THE DAMAGE

 

The lacy effect can be pretty and all, and may have predated modern, human book carving techniques, but it’s not so great if you want to retain the information in those pages.

Insect Damage to Chinese documents

 

Incredibly impresssive book carving by artist Brian Dettmer.

 

 

One of the classic treatments of  the insect bookworm is in William Blades’ The Enemies of Books, first published in 1880. Blades was a printer and bibliophile who did research into early British printing, and thought a lot about old books.  His book is readily available online and I highly recommend reading it over. But then, like Blades, I am also a bit of a curmudgeon who thinks that the whole world is out to destroy books. Given my profession, the chapter on the evils of bookbinders does make me squirm. Here is a brief quote from his chapter on bookworms:

“Anathemas have been hurled against this pest in nearly every European language, old and new, and classical scholars of bye-gone centuries have thrown their spondees and dactyls at him…But as a portrait commonly precedes a biography, the curious reader may wish to be told what is this “Bestia audax”, who so greatly ruffles the tempers of our eclectics, is like. Here, at starting, is a serious chameleon-like difficulty, for the bookworm offers to us, if we are guided by their works, as many varieties of size and shape as there are beholders.”

Later in the chapter, he goes on to describe in an astonishing amount of detail, a bookworm “race” through a volume from the 1400s, tracking each worm trail through the thickness of the book until its creator perished. (Or maybe just turned around?)

Just a note: as a profound lover of books as physical objects, I can only imagine that e-readers would have made poor Mister Blades apoplectic.

I’m not going to go into methods of treatment for insect damage to collections, or for pest eradication.  There are many, many far more informed folks out there who have published complete and detailed information. I will shout out Mary Lou Florian, whose book Heritage Eaters is a great resource.  The Northeast Document Conservation Center also has a wealth of information.

Modern libraries often have better climate control than in previous generations, and this would lead to fewer infestations than in the past.  But they are by no means unheard of.  For example, when libraries and museums accept donations of old collections kept in poor storage conditions, the possibility of insect or mold infestations must be considered before materials are accessioned.

THE ETYMOLOGY

Really, all the above is all just so many diversions from what I was originally interested in writing about. I wanted to see if I could track down the moment in history when the bookworm went from being a literal book eater to a metaphor for a human who reads all the time and wears glasses and is socially awkward.

And this is what I found, folks.

First: The shift happened a lot earlier than I expected.

Two: IT WENT THE OTHER DIRECTION!

Yep, I was incredibly surprised to find out that the Oxford English Dictionary (can we please get a round of applause for the generations of fine folks at the OED) indicates that the term “bookworm” was first used in 1580 to describe a person who spent too much time reading. And doing other things which aren’t such a great idea:

1580: E. Spenser & G. Harvey, Three Proper & Wittie Lett.:
“A morning bookeworm, an afternoone maltworm.”

1601:   B. Jonson, Fountaine of Selfe-love:
“Peruerted, and spoyld, by a whoore-sonne Book-worme, a Candle-waster”

And really, right now while I have been spending so very much time at home, being a bookworm, a maltworm and a candle waster seems like a pretty good idea.

Wine, book, and candle

 

It wasn’t until 1654 that someone described a non-human bookworm:

1654   R. Whitlock Ζωοτομία
“Book-worme is of all Creatures the longest lived.”

Sorry, Ming the 500 year old clam.  That 110 day-old book louse has got you beat.

All of these descriptions  of bookworms were pejorative. Worms of all forms were thought to be basically disgusting and harmful. Or maybe they were actually dragons? Early English folklore sometimes uses the words “dragon” and “worm” interchangeably.   The bookish reference to a human worm predates the insectoid version, because “worm” was a common Elizabethan insult. Then later, as we get into the taxonomy of the book eating insects, since the term already exists, it is applied in that context as well.  Plus, sometimes the book eaters are larvae, which look like worms.

So who was the tricksy librarian or teacher that started using the word bookworm in a positive light? Who was this person who decided that children should embrace the term and spend their time devouring books. Metaphorically.

I have no idea.

Language usage changes. Word meanings change. In fact, the word “bookworm” had changed little from its first usages. The definition has remained pretty constant: a person or insect who devours books. We understand by context whether literally or metaphorically.

I was surprised to find in my research that there are still negative connotations. Some folks do still consider bookworm to mean someone who is so wholly devoted to books that they are unable to function in normal society.

For example, this guy:

The march of language change is still working on this definition.  By the time I was hanging out in the children’s department of the public library in the late 1970s, the term seemed positive. I remember there being posters and bookmarks urging children to be book worms.

Ok, it doesn’t say “bookworm”, but it is David Bowie in at letter jacket.

And today, now that nerd culture has been more fully embraced, it seems to me that the term bookworm is more often one of esteem. Bookworms are well read. Bookworms are smart. Bookworms have the most fashionable glasses. Some celebrities identify as bookworms.  I mean, Oprah’s Book Club is a big deal. And I think we can all agree that Harry Potter would not have gotten through even that first year at Hogwarts without the help of renowned bookworm Hermione Granger.

So while we’re all at home for a while, let’s spend some time indulging our bookwormish sides.

Here’s part of my current list:

And keep your books out of the basement to avoid the other kind.

Cartoon from Saturday Review of Literature sometime in the 1930s.

Old School

March 2020

Lately I’ve been spending some quality time in our guest room.

Temporary book repair workspace in my guest room with sonowshoes on the wall.In my quiet refuge, between Zoom meetings, I’ve been continuing work I began in a class I attended in early March on the conservation of leather bindings. In the class, led by the inimitable Jeff Peachey and held at the University of Notre Dame, we practiced the latest thing, called social distancing, as we practiced conservation treatment techniques for leather-bound books.

Jeff Peachey leading a discussion on conservation of leather bindings around a lab table in the Conservation Lab at the University of Notre Dame.

Perhaps you noticed the snowshoes on the wall there in my guest room. Although we use them now to impart a ski lodge ambience, those are real, old-school snowshoes. My father-in-law wore them in the Vermont woods in the 1940s.

Detail view of a 1940-s era snowshoe made by Tubbs of Vermont.

They are made from ash wood and rawhide. The rawhide is intact and unbelievably strong. Rawhide is similar to parchment, in that it is made from animal skins. But rawhide and parchment, unlike leather, are not tanned. Tanning is what makes it leather, but is also more or less where the trouble starts. Acids from tanning, plus atmospheric pollutants, lead to leather deterioration. And leather used for bookbinding is typically pared very thin, especially in the areas of stress, so that exacerbates the problem.

Hence the need to know how to repair leather bindings.

The most common way that leather bindings fail is the attachment of the cover boards to the text. The joints — the place where the covers meet the spine — are flexed every time the book is opened.

A leather-bound book with detached front cover.

So in class we studied and practiced many ways to reattach boards, considering the pros and cons of each method, and what constitutes a good candidate for each.

Boards can be attached mechanically or adhesively with thread, cloth, paper, leather, or parchment. There are many variations and combinations among these methods, just as every book presents unique properties and problems to solve. Factors to weigh in selecting an appropriate attachment method include size; weight; condition of the paper, boards, leather, and other components; original construction; prior repairs; anticipated type and amount of use; the conservator’s skill level; invasiveness of the treatment; importance of the original binding; and time (and therefore cost).

Over the first two days we discussed and practiced minimally invasive reattachment methods, including joint tackets, thread and cord extensions, board splitting, and Japanese paper hinges. These techniques are also less time consuming than traditional, shall we say old school, repairs such as rebacking or complete rebinding.

The spine of a book is also called the back, so rebacking is the replacement of a missing, damaged, or deteriorated spine with new material. Books sometimes have both detached boards and a damaged or missing spine, so they need both board reattachment and rebacking. Also, some reattachment methods involve removal of an attached spine cover to gain access to the spine of the text block.

Traditionally, rebacking was done with new leather, and was a cheaper alternative to full rebinding. Nowadays, however, other materials are often used because of concerns about leather deterioration.

Damaged book, Mackenzie's five thousand receipts in all the useful domestic arts, Philadelphia, 1830, before treatment.
Mackenzie’s five thousand receipts in all the useful domestic arts, Philadelphia, 1830.

Here is a book I repaired a few months ago. Both boards were detached and the spine cover was missing. Instead of leather, I used a laminate of Japanese paper and cloth. The paper and cloth are pasted together, and the paper, which faces outside, is toned to match the leather. The cloth underneath provides additional strength.

Mackenzie's Five Thousand Receipts in all the useful domestic arts, Philadelphia, 1830, after treatment.Here the book has been rebacked with a toned paper-cloth laminate.

But sometimes rebacking with leather is appropriate, so it is an important skill to have. So on the third through fifth days, we worked on rebacking, starting with identifying the pros and cons.

List of pros and cons of leather rebacking written on a large white pad of paper

Oeuvres de Racine, v. 4, Brussels, 1828, before treatment.
Oeuvres de Racine, v. 4, Brussels, 1828.

This is the little book I rebacked in leather. I started it in class, but had to finish it at home, having left a bit early the last day, times being what they are. Both boards were detached, and about half of the spine cover was missing. The thin leather has a smooth glossy surface, with the top layer flaking pretty badly in some areas. The spine covering was adhered over a hollow tube of paper attached to the book, and there are false raised bands under the spine covering.

Front cover showing the beveled cut first made in the leather.Here a beveled cut has been made at a shallow angle along the length of the board edge, leaving a narrow strip of leather on the edge. The leather, which is thinnest at the edge of the beveled cut, is lifted off of the board from the cut line, but the narrow strip is left on. Later the new leather will fit under the lifted area and cover over the narrow strip.

Book with the boards placed in position for reattaching.Here the lifted leather is held up out of the way with a piece of folded mylar. The thread extensions sewn in around the original cords have been unplied (twisted to separate the three strands of the thread) and will be glued under the lifted leather, forming the attachment of the boards to the text.

View of the spine area of the book with a piece of paper glued to it, the first step to forming a holow tube.Now the boards have been attached with the threads and a new hollow tube is being made. The middle section of the paper has been glued to the spine, then the flaps will be glued to each other. Later the new leather spine piece will be pasted out, centered over the tube, and the extended edges will be inserted under the lifted leather on the boards.

We learned how to prepare new leather for use in book repair, including “boarding” to make it soft and pliable so it will shape and adhere well to the book, toning it to blend with the original leather, paring it thin in all the right places.

The piece of leather for the new spine of the book being pared on the back side. A curved French-style lifting knife rests on top of it and a thin piece of leather that was pared off sits to the side.Here the piece of leather that will form the new spine is being pared. The first pass has been made along one long edge with a French-style paring knife.

The book with the finished hollow tube and false bands attached. Next to the book is the piece of new lether and the fragment of the original spine piece.Here is the finished hollow tube with pieces of blotter glued on to create the look of raised bands. Three false bands are visible in the fragment of the original spine cover. The leather for the new spine is under the spine fragment, toned, trimmed, pared, and ready to prepare for attaching.

The new leather is wrapped in a damp cloth for a while, then thick paste is applied to the underside, left to sit, scraped off, pasted again, and scraped off. Then it is pasted again and put on the book. The leather darkens from the moisture, but lightens once dry. The softening helps with adhesion, shaping the leather around the bands, and getting the new leather under the lifted leather to be as flat to the boards as possible. While water is used to prepare the new leather, water on older leather is to be avoided at all costs (old leather can turn black permanently and become brittle) so the lifted areas of original leather are protected with the folded pieces of mylar.

The new leather has beene pasted onto the book and is darkened from all the moisture.Here the new leather has been pasted over the hollow tube and under the lifted leather on the boards.

The book is hanging out of a book press with one cover inside the press.After the new leather spine is nice and dry, the leather that was lifted from the boards is adhered down, and then pressed hard, one board at a time. The new leather compresses because it is soft and malleable, which helps everything come out smooth and flat.

The book after rebacking is completed.Here the fragment from the original spine has been attached over the new spine, after removing  the original hollow tube fragments from the back side.

The spine of the book after rebacking is finished.Once the little book and I are back in the lab, I’ll make a paper label for the title and place it on the spine in the panel below the top band. I hope that will be before I need the snowshoes.

 

Working from Home: Part Two

So it’s been a month. Or longer even. You’ve already finished all the little projects you had lying around and you’ve spent hours watching tutorials, webinars, and baby elephant videos. Now things are starting to get dire. Now we really have to reach deep into our bag of tricks and find some new, unusual, and possibly ridiculous projects to try out. All with the added challenge of not being able to leave the house. Well, luckily for you I tried a couple and I’m here to share my results. Now, these may not be the most practical activities, but they are fun and I imagine we could all use a little bit of that right now.

The first things I tried was paper marbling using shaving cream. This one has been on my list for awhile, because who doesn’t love marbled paper and playing with shaving cream. I think this one would be super fun to do with kids and the clean up is quick and easy.

Basically, you just spray shaving cream in a container, drop in your color, then press some paper into it.

Let the shaving cream sit on the paper for about 5 minutes, then scrape it off with a squeegee or a bit of cardboard or something.

I played around with food coloring, acrylic paint, and glitter. The resulting paper is definitely not archival, but would work well for handmade cards or something like that.

 

Acrylic paint with a little bit of glitter.
Food coloring

Just a note, this paper will smell like your great-uncle Carl forever and ever.

The next project I tried was making my own paper. Now, it might surprise you to learn that in my tiny apartment I possess very few of the materials that one would normally need to make paper; deckles, beaters, vats, dryers…I don’t have any of those things and I imagine most of you don’t either. So we’ll just have to make do. We’ll call it rustic! Artisanal! That makes it quaint and charming instead of a bit sad and pathetic.

The first thing you do is blend up some paper and water to make your pulp. Use whatever you have lying around! Experiment with different colors! Tear the paper up and soak it first though. It will make things a lot easier. You’ll also have to use a lot more water than you think.

Then form the sheets! I used a mesh strainer because it is literally the only screen-like thing I have in my house and I’m just going to pretend I always wanted to make circular paper.

Shake the pulp around a little as it settles, but not too much. You may have to press some of the extra water out with a bit of damp paper towel.

Then, flip your paper out onto a towel to dry. The way I did this was by putting my hand underneath the sheet of paper and giving the strainer a good tap so it fell out into my hand. The paper should be solid enough that it will stay (mostly) in one piece.

Honestly, this isn’t meant to be a strict tutorial and I’m sure this is slightly horrifying to actual, professional papermakers…sorry guys!

The paper will take quite a while to dry; mine took about two days, but I also wasn’t able to hang it, which would speed up the process. I also didn’t bother to press it.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So at the end of it all we’re left with some perfectly serviceable, handmade paper!

Sure, it’s a little wrinkly, but it’s paper! I think it would be quite nice for gift tags or other little decorative objects.

So, there’s two easy and fun projects for everyone out there to try! And both have endless possibilities for improvement (really…just endless…) and experimentation! Good luck out there and stay safe!

Working From Home: Part One

I assume that you, dear reader, have recently found yourself spending far more time than you are used to (or would like to) at home. Well, I’ve got good news for you! The first bit is that you are keeping everyone around you safe by spending more time indoors, and we thank you for that. The second bit, is that I have some tips and suggestions for how to keep the fires of your preservation passion alive while stuck at home.

The first tip is an easy one, one which you’re already doing. Blogs! We have lots of great posts here on this site, why not take a look at our backlog? Then when you’re done with that, check out a few of my own favorites.

Duke University’s preservation blog

A beautiful blog by artist Hannah Brown with lots of embroidered leather bindings

Preservation at the National Archives

Preservation at the Parks Library at Iowa State University

Once you’re properly inspired and energized, take this opportunity to check in on your own collections. Are all of your books and papers stored safely?Are any of them sitting on the floor, in front of a furnace, under an old, leaky AC unit? If so, pick them up! Then have a look at this post or this one to learn more about safe handling and storage. Take steps now to ensure that Grandma’s old copy of The Joys of Jello is available for future generations to enjoy!

A quick and easy way to keep your books in tip-top shape is to make sure you’re using them gently and correctly. I realize it’s unreasonable to think that anyone could refrain entirely from eating while reading, and I will be the first to admit to occasionally finding myself at the end of a book with an inexplicably empty family-size bag of Cheetos next to me, but we can at least take sensible precautions. Make sure your hands are clean when handling books and don’t leave them anywhere where food or drink could be spilled on them.

And while we’re on the subject of food, don’t use it as a bookmark! A few years ago the Guardian had a very interesting article about the wide range of disgusting items found in books, and we can relate! Our very own Elise Calvi once found an entire slice of moldy tomato!

🙁

Why not make some bookmarks instead? They will keep your books in perfect shape and they’re so cute you’ll never forget them and be forced to use produce in a pinch. Here are some of my favorites.

A cute cat!

An adorable koala family!

An elegant crane!

A…dragon? Kind of?

And since you’ve already fallen in to this YouTube rabbit hole, why not make yourself a whole miniature library! There are so many things you can do with tiny books! Make necklaces, earrings, keychains! The world is your oyster!

Perhaps a tiny library for your cats?

I hope this gives you a bit of inspiration for how to spend your days at home.  Stay tuned for more suggestions! Stay safe out there everyone!

Road Trip!

I spent a very enjoyable day last week over at the University of Illinois’ Urbana-Champaign campus presenting a lecture and then conducting a series of hands-on workshops upon the invitation of Jennifer Teper, Velde Professor and Head, Preservation Services. The topic of the day was the “Technology of Writing”. Over the course of an hour I explored the various writing implements and traditions of several cultures- European, Islamic, Far Eastern and Mayan civilizations.

The morning talk was attended by primarily Conservation and Preservation staff, though a few select members of the public were also invited. Afterwards this eager group of fifteen jumped into learning how to cut quill pens and exploring writing with various inks (including the walnut ink we made in-house this past August) and writing instruments (quills, reed pens, writing brushes, steel nibs).

Tools and materials involved in the workshop. Photo courtesy of JP Goguen

 

People cutting quill pens. Photo courtesy of JP Goguen
Cutting a pen. Photo courtesy of JP Goguen

The afternoon event was an open house at their Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The library was currently displaying an exhibit curated by the Conservation Department entitled “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Conservation Treatments and Decision Making Through the Ages”. Cookies, cakes and coffee created a festive atmosphere; adding to this, tools and materials for quill cutting and writing were set up. In no time at all, dozens of students and staff arrived wanting to try their hands at cutting goose feathers to create a writing instrument used from roughly the 6th century up until the mid 19th. By the end of the afternoon, the door count was 132! By all accounts, it was a successful event and I’m proud to have played a part in so many people visiting the library- hopefully there were some new visitors who will keep coming back.

The room set up with writing materials
room full of participants
Moments later!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I had some free time between the day’s events, I was generously hosted and given a tour of the Conservation Department by members of staff. It’s always a pleasure to talk with other conservators- we invariably share methods and learn from each other. The University of Illinois is in the Big Ten Academic Alliance, as we are here at IU. Library collection size and scope and organizational structures are similar; so they encounter similar challenges within their conservation and preservation departments as us. This made for a good heart-to-heart discussion.

The lab is currently developing some in-house papers utilizing agricultural waste in conjunction with Fresh Press. I spoke a bit with staff members Quinn Ferris and Anneka Vetter about the testing- both physical and chemical- of these papers in order to create a product that satisfies archival needs. The topic brought me back to many years ago when I worked in a laboratory ageing and testing for clues to paper deterioration.

Also of interest to me were the innovative enclosure and display solutions the Exhibit Conservator, Marco Valladares Perez, has come up with in order to reduce the amount of material purchased (and often thrown away afterwards).
The day ended with a staff holiday pizza party at RBML with Library Head, Lynne Thomas, and her staff.

Looking back, I’ve always found that these sort of hands-on materials talks and workshops generate a lot of interest and enthusiasm. Though much of what is covered is no longer in widespread use in the 21st century, people are always eager to learn about the past and have a hand at new skills development.

Back to School

On this blog, we often post about new techniques that we are learning in order to take better care of our collections. We are always trying to continue our education and ensure that we are able to take the very best care of the items entrusted to us. But sometimes the new techniques we learn aren’t actually “new” at all, as was the case this past September.

In mid-September, we participated in a three-day workshop on historic bookbinding materials and structures taught by Atlanta-based conservator, bookbinder, and owner of Big River Bindery, Andrew Huot. Andrew taught us nine of the most common European methods of bookbinding in use from the eighth to the nineteenth century, as well as four methods of board attachment, how to make a laced case binding, and even generously included an impromptu headband sewing session! It was a busy few days, for sure! Understanding how books are made helps us “unmake” them, so we can repair them. It is probably unsurprising to hear that the print collections at many libraries are circulating less as focus shifts to electronic subscriptions and online information. Less circulation for the print collection means we spend less time fixing the everyday sort of damage books normally incur. Although we still work on many new items, we are finding that we now have more time to spend assessing the older portions of the collection, so we were very happy to have the opportunity to enrich our knowledge of pre-19th century bookbinding.

Andrew shows us how to sew on raised cords.
Elise at her sewing frame (if you’re resourceful, you can even sew multiple books on the same set of tapes!)
Anitta sawing channels for recessed cords to sit in.
What a laced case looks like from the inside! We used colored Tyvek instead of the traditional vellum; much more affordable! And it looks great!
Our finished product! From left to right: recessed cords, raised single cords, raised double cords, herringbone sewing on alum-tawed thongs, all-along sewing on linen tapes, french stitching on linen tapes, catch stitching on linen tapes, abbreviated (two-up) sewing, and unsupported link stitching.

Think ink!

Bright green husks of black walnuts sitting in paper bag

The Preservation Lab was approached recently by Carey Champion, Director of the Wylie House Museum, to collaborate on an upcoming First Thursday event in October, 2019. She had the idea to present writing materials as they existed in the 19th century for students to try out, along with correspondence (or facsimiles) by members of the Wylie family during this time. We rose to the occasion and said we could make some ink out of Black Walnuts (Juglans nigra). In spite of what one can find online, I don’t know of any reliable historic source or scientific analysis that has definitively attributed walnut ink to historic documents or artwork. If anyone out there can send me a citation to a reliable study, I’m interested! Nevertheless, it was likely used as a quick ‘frontier’ ink and is certainly fun to make.

Here in southern Indiana, the green husks of Black Walnuts are coming into maturity and even falling from a few tree specimens around campus and county.  We gathered about 40, and gathered around the bag with smashing implements in gloved hands to strip the green husks off of the nuts themselves. The hulls sat in a bucket overnight to oxidize a bit. The next day they were beginning to turn quite black. The hulls were about 4 liters in volume and were boiled in several stages with additions at certain points. Although the recipe follows, it’s worth pointing out a couple of things:

-Steel wool (ie. iron) was added in order to darken the ink and create what is called a ferric tannate pigment which is insoluble in water. The ink we created is not too dissimilar from iron gall ink, which those of us who work around historic documents are all too familiar. IG ink was the chief manuscript ink for at least the first half of the 19th century.

-Gum arabic was added not as a binder or gloss agent, but as a suspension aid to keep the very fine precipitate particles of ink floating around in solution.

-A small amount of alcohol was added as a preservative, and cloves were added for the same purpose as well as to improve the smell.

People gathered and removing the husks from walnutslarge beaker filled with husks and water, ready to be boiled to extract color

Please stop by the Arts Plaza the evening of October 3 to say hi and try out our ink!

writing samples using the ink

 

Before the Flood, After the Flood

Hey there! Are you planning to be in the Wells Library sometime between April 3 and June 14? If so, why not stop by our exhibit currently on display in the Scholars Commons?

The exhibit is all about the professionalization of library preservation, and one of the biggest catalysts for this was the Florence Flood of 1966. The exhibit has all kinds of information about this and other pivotal events in preservation history, as well as some super interesting displays of past, present, and (possibly) future preservation tools and techniques! Unfortunately we can’t possibly include all the information we’d like to into one single exhibit, so I’d like to take the opportunity on this blog to expand a little bit on the Florence Flood. Buckle up, this is a long one!

We begin our story in Florence, Italy; heart of the Renaissance, birthplace of Botticelli, Dante, and Leonardo da Vinci. Nestled in the gently rolling hills and famous vineyards of Tuscany, Florence was built straddling the Arno River, so they are used to the occasional deluge. However, in the early morning hours of November 4, 1966, the Arno River quietly slipped the confines of its banks and swept in to the city with a fury never before seen in the modern era. The last time the city had flooded to such a degree was 1557 CE, some 400 years earlier, and even then the waters were only half as high. The city was utterly unprepared for a disaster of this magnitude and could only watch as the waters, carrying mud, oil, debris, and sewage, roared through the streets and alleys. Thirty-five people lost their lives in Florence that day.

As the flood waters receded, the shell-shocked Florentines were faced with a crisis of almost unimaginable magnitude. Not only was the structural damage to the city immense, but the amount of cultural heritage at risk was daunting. Books, carvings, paintings, sculptures, all these things were currently sitting under piles of mud and debris.

A flooded museum, Accademia, in Florence Michelangelo’s David at the rear, 1966. (Photo by David Lees/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Nearly every library in the city was affected; private, public, and personal. In the collections of the Archives of the Opera del Duomo, 6,000 volumes of documents were damaged, along with 55 richly illuminated choral codices, representing the sacred music used in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore for the last six centuries. In the Gabinetto Vieusseux Library, all 250,000 volumes held at the time were damaged. In the Florence State Archives, which contain records dating all the way back to 726 CE, 40% of the holdings suffered damage of some kind.

The most well-known victim was the National Central Library of Florence, which is the largest library in Italy and one of the most important in all Europe. It was founded in 1714, when a scholar named Antonio Magliabechi donated his 33,000 volume collection to the state. In 1743, it was required that a copy of every work published in Tuscany be submitted to the library. Since 1870, the library has collected a copy of every work published in Italy. Approximately 1/3 of all the library’s holdings (about 1,300,000 items) were damaged in the flood, most notably valuable items from the Magliabechi and Palatine collections. This library is where the subsequent conservation efforts would be concentrated.

Then-director of the library, Emanuele Casamassima, rushed there as soon as he could to find books and papers buried in several feet of mud, with pages still stuck to the ceiling from where the flood waters had peaked. It was obvious that the first thing that needed to be done was to dig up as much as possible, as quickly as possible.

View of damaged books inside the Biblioteca Nazionale, photographer unknown.
A fraction of the aftermath of the Florence Flood of 1966 (Image: David Lees, Life Magazine, Fair Use) 

Casamassima issued a call for help, and students from universities all around Florence rushed to respond. They formed long human chains to pull books and manuscripts out of the mud, working tirelessly, paying no attention to the muck and filth they were surrounded by. The grateful Florentines called them“mud angels.” Some of the items were covered in sewage and oil from burst pipes. These were rinsed and disinfected as well as possible. Although their efforts were well-meaning, some of the steps they took resulted in further damage to the items. Sawdust was spread around to soak up moisture, but was difficult to remove later on. Books were placed in tobacco barns, brick furnaces, and textile mills to dry out, which unfortunately resulted in them being singed and cockled. As the rest of the world began to hear about the tragic losses facing Florence, adventurous students from around the world rushed to the city to help.

Gordon Ashbury – from Toscana Firenze 2016 facebook page

It quickly became apparent that there was simply too much work for Italian conservators to tackle on their own, even with the help of the students. With help from the Council of Library Resources and the Imperial College, London, British conservator Peter Waters assembled a team and headed to Florence. He would go onto to spend two years there, overseeing conservation efforts, designing new treatments, and training a new generation of conservators. Help quickly arrived from every corner of the globe, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Ethiopia, Germany, Ghana, Holland, Hungary, Poland, and Britain. 144 workers arrived in the first 6 months. Restoration stations were set up both in the library and in the Santa Maria Novella railway station.

Torah scrolls unrolled to dry in the great synagogue of Rome. (Courtesy of Opera del Tempio)
Books left out to dry in the Great Synagogue of Florence after the flood. (Courtesy Opera del Tempio)

Peter Waters was responsible for the organization of the cleanup effort. He began by devising a nine-step plan. This idea of phased conservation, treating things in stages, would eventually be adopted by many libraries and is now a pivotal principle of our work.

The nine steps were as follows:

  1.  Books were selected, then a card was filled out detailing treatment needed (with so many languages being spoken, the cards used symbols for ease of understanding).
  2. Books were photographed. The photos would travel with the book through the entire restoration process and would be kept and filed at the end of it all.
  3. The text blocks were pulled apart into signature or loose pages. The pages were then collated and verified and the covers were removed. The covers would be reused if at all possible.
    Waters, S. (2016). Waters rising : Letters from Florence. Ann Arbor, Michigan : The Legacy Press. p. 406. Photo: Peter Waters.

    Waters, S. (2016). Waters rising : Letters from Florence. Ann Arbor, Michigan : The Legacy Press. p. 419. Photo: Peter Waters.
  4. If needed, books were washed and disinfected.

    Waters, S. (2016). Waters rising : Letters from Florence. Ann Arbor, Michigan : The Legacy Press. p. 407. Photo: Peter Waters.
  5. If needed, books were deacidified and buffered.
  6. The text-blocks were then pressed to remove the water and flatten the pages.
  7. The books were dried in specially-designed drying cabinets.
  8. The pages were mended and the signatures were resewn.
  9. Lastly, the items were wrapped in anti-microbial paper, then sent to the binding area, where they were bound in as close to their original structure as possible.

Although the flood was undoubtedly a disaster, there was a lot of good that resulted from it. Simply by bringing conservators from all over the world together in one spot, the Florence flood acted as a catalyst for the professionalization of the field of library preservation. As one of the foremost conservators in the U.S., Don Etherington, wrote in Flood in Florence, 1966: A Fifty-Year Retrospective, “before, people who had some certain technique wanted to hide it; nobody wanted to share. In Florence, talking about our individual techniques was like lifting a curtain.” Techniques were shared, modified, and improved upon. Some of the most commonly-used conservation treatments came out of this experience. For example, phased conservation, freeze-drying wet books, using detailed treatment documentation, mass deacidification, non-adhesive bindings, use of Japanese paper, heat-set tissue, vellum tensioning, and encapsulation. There was also a marked change in attitudes surrounding preservation. Those working in the profession began to call themselves conservators, rather than book restorers, and shifted to minimal, non-invasive procedures, preventative measures, and holistic collection care. Libraries developed disaster preparedness plans and trained staff to know how to respond to floods and mold.

Although this is undeniably a success story, it is not actually over. As of November 2016, 50 years after the flood, there were still about 19,000 items from the Magliabechi Collection, 3,500 from the Palatine Collection, and 30,000 miscellaneous items awaiting restoration at the National Central Library. Many items were lost forever, and many of the sculptures and paintings on display in Florence now are actually reproductions, as the originals are either too fragile or too precious to risk again. But there is hope! As the years pass, and new treatments are constantly being innovated and discovered, more things may be restored that were once thought irredeemable. I’ll leave you with a link to a story about a important Renaissance painting, damaged in the floodwaters, that was fully restored only a few years ago using new technologies.

50 Years after the Flood, a Renaissance Painting Restored

New Kid on the Block

 

A headshot of Rebecca Jacobs

Hi all! I’m Rebecca Jacobs, the new Paper Conservation Technician. I have worked in the lab for about a month and have spent my time learning new skills like mending and encapsulation, as well as creating custom boxes and enclosures. While I’m new to this position, I’m not a stranger to the Indiana University community. You may have seen me around a few years ago at the Kinsey Institute where I helped care for and digitize works in the art collection, or more recently over at Kelley School of Business where I worked as the Selection Archivist.

 

In addition to working with collections at IU, I’ve also worked for the Indiana Historical Society as a Metadata Cataloging Assistant and have held internships and worked on collaborative projects with many of the museums in the Indianapolis area. I’ve enjoyed working at the Preservation Lab so far because it has given me a chance to use tools that are new to me and to improve my skills on detailed work like mending, and focus on learning more about paper as a material type.

An archival box with a note written for Rebecca
Archival boxes filled with photographs that I digitized for the Indiana Historical Society

 

 

 

 

 

An object mount and a small coin purse in a custom-made box
A custom box I created for a museum object
Rebecca Jacobs and Christina Cichra clean an ornithology mount.
Colleague Christina Cichra and I cleaning ornithology mounts at Eagle Creek Ornithology Center for a collaborative project with the IUPUI Museum Studies Department

When I’m not working at the Preservation Lab, one of my favorite things to do is experience collections at other cultural institutions as a visitor. Getting to interact with objects in this way reminds me of why I was originally drawn to Collections Care and Preservation and prompts me to reflect on how my work connects to how visitors create their own experiences with collections. I’m excited to carry this intention into 2019 at the Preservation Lab, and hope to share more about projects I’m working on in the coming months.

Rebecca Jacobs appears to touch the sculpture, Eye
Spending free time checking out the sculptures at Laumeier Sculpture Park. Scuplture: “Eye”, Tony Tasset

 

 

Good intentions

Things have been relatively calm in our corner of the blogosphere for several months, so I thought I’d add a post about a treatment I’ve been working on in the Paper Lab. We received five leaves of correspondence from the US History manuscript collection at Lilly Library. The small collection of letters are written in German by Philip Boehm, a Union soldier, to his sister during the Civil War.  All have been laminated in a manner that was new to me: it appears a well-meaning, but ultimately misguided person placed each leaf in a plastic3-ring binder pocket protector and then used a domestic iron to melt and seal it all together. The film is perhaps polypropylene or polyvinyl chloride (I didn’t do the testing to confirm).

Most laminations involve a commercial product: either a heat-set or pressure-sensitive adhesive backed film is applied to both sides of a document. Over time, the films can oxidize, turn yellow, and possibly go brittle. The enclosed paper document becomes exposed to this oxidation and hydrolysis and can also become impregnated with the melted plastic or adhesive from the film. Removal generally follows methods associated with pressure sensitive tape removal- the use of solvents to swell or dissolve the film and/or the adhesive deposit. Heat can also be applied in a variety of ways to effect removal.

In this case, a combination of the two approaches is proving effective. Rather than applying heat from above, with a stream of hot air or getting in-between the materials with a heated spatula, I found that heat from below was the most effective.

Here’s the set-up, and another shot of it being used:

A conventional tacking iron that every conservation lab possesses is set to the lowest heat setting and stabilized in a face up position. Using the surface as a mini hotplate, the document is stabilized on the iron with a Casselli spatula in my left hand while I slowly pull the softened film away with the other. In this manner, strips are removed from recto and verso sides. The process takes around 45 minutes.

After film removal, the paper still appears translucent and darkened due to plastic that saturated the fibers. Testing of solvents reveals that an immersion in acetone for about 15 minutes reduces this effect by swelling remaining laminate substances and leaves the paper in a close to original state.  Mending tears with tissue and wheat starch paste follows. Humidification and pressing completed the work.