While working on this very damaged book, some words of advice from long ago kept ringing in my ears –
“DON’T PULL, JUST CUT!”
Some of our work is repetitive, tedious, perhaps meditative. For the hour I spent taking this book apart, stitch by stitch, I remembered this advice from long ago. That was way before I became a librarian, or even gave a thought to the idea that you could repair books.
I had a job working in the vast, dark, back room of a downtown retail furrier shop. My job was to repair all the coats brought in for cold storage and cleaning in the summer — all the holes in the fur’s skin, loose linings, fallen-off buttons, snaps, and hooks.
I worked with Bogdan, the furrier, who made new coats, and Stephania, who did alterations. The very first thing Stephania taught me was what to do if I saw a loose thread sticking out of the coat.
“Don’t pull, just cut. If you pull, you could pull apart whole coat!”
Said in the wonderful Polish accent with which she also told about her childhood experiences in a forced labor camp during WWII, and traditional recipes she liked to make, such as plum tarts and brains. I only tried the plum tarts.
The book, Welcome to Cincinnati, was brittle and oversewn. Many pages were broken off, leaving some text on the stubs still attached to the binding with gobs of thread and stitches, otherwise known as oversewing. The result of oversewing is much the same as when you rip pages out of a spiral-bound notebook.
Oversewing is a method of binding a text block that consists of individual sheets of paper, rather sections of folded pages. It is very strong, but also very difficult to repair. Oversewing has been replaced, for the most part, with double-fan adhesive binding — a durable, yet more easily reversible binding.
Oversewing combined with brittle paper is a recipe for disaster. Pulling on the thread would result in more damage and I didn’t want to make even more jigsaw puzzle pieces that I would have to put back together.
So, with tweezers, fine scissors, and a microspatula, I snipped and snipped and snipped until each each stub was free of the snarl of stitches. Then I rejoined the remnants of each page so they could be scanned. There are only a few copies of this book in libraries across the US, and our copy has circulated sort of a lot, which seems natural since it is about one of the big cities in a neighboring state.
I like to believe that no experience, however humble, is a waste of time. Little do we know how things we learn along the way may turn out to be valuable later on.