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.





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.




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 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.


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.


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.

All the Naked Ladies

I have recently discovered a sure-fire way to keep things interesting in my job: endeavor to repair books about photography. As a result of the recent closure of the Fine Arts Library, we have seen a high volume of materials from that collection. We wanted to see these things. The move of the collection presents an opportunity for us to sweep in and gather up materials that need attention. Add to that the fact that we spent a good deal of the summer working on a project to give some love to the Science collections. Where do Science and Art collide?  Well, a heck of a lot of places, actually.  For example:

Arts At CERN

Dance your PhD

Exquisite Corpse Stained Glass by Helmick Sculpture

Another way in which Art and Science come together is in books about photography.  And what does any self-respecting photography book include?  Pictures of naked ladies.  Actually, it often doesn’t include pictures of naked ladies any longer, because they have all been stolen.   It’s like an epidemic.  Except that the illness occurred decades ago and we are only now discovering the casualties.

It’s almost exclusively naked ladies.  Either people don’t want to steal photos of naked men, or the photos of naked men weren’t there in the first place, or the books with photos of naked men have been more closely guarded over the decades.  There is probably a whole course in gender studies waiting to be taught on just this topic.  (Photos of Michelangelo’s David don’t count. And they don’t go missing.)

Also, I’m not going to be including pictures of any naked humans in this blogpost, so don’t get all excited.

I recently took over the lab task of tracking down missing pages.  Pages go missing from books for a whole host of reasons.  Here are just a few, off the top of my head:

  • Someone really needed that article for their research paper and the book could not be checked out.
  • Someone really disagreed with that article and didn’t want anyone else in the world to read it.
  • The book is old. The adhesive on the spine dried up.  Some pages just fell out.
  • Pet chinchilla ate the pages.
  • Someone forgot to bring money for the photocopier.
  • Photocopiers hadn’t been invented yet.
  • Someone had a really bad cold and forgot their pocket handkerchief.
  • That chart/map/table is just very useful to have on hand.
  • That picture is really pretty and someone wanted to put it on the wall in their dorm room.
  • That picture is of a naked lady .

Ok – let’s be clear here.  Some of these things still happen, but many of these problems occurred in the past and are just coming to light now.  When you have the font of all human knowledge AND a camera on the device in your pocket, you don’t really need to steal knowledge or images from the library any more.  But sometimes pets do get out of hand.  Books are continuing to age.  Pages still legitimately fall out and get lost.  Sometimes.  But thefts perpetrated in decades past seem to be the most common reason for missing pages.

Tracking down missing pages is a bit like traveling into the past.  You start to question the motivations of the person who took the pages.  In most cases, you feel that someone just thought a picture was so lovely that they wanted to frame it and hang it on a wall.  So they got a pair of scissors and hacked that sucker right out of the book and went on their merry way.  I expect this does still happen occasionally.  But it is now more likely that you would just Google image search that thing and then print your own copy.  Or make it the wallpaper on your phone.  We won’t even go into how weird if feels for me to talk about phones having wallpaper.

Illustration by Hannah Helton

Let us take just a moment to think of the images that are on the other side of the picture of the naked lady.  These baby goats, for example.

Page from The American Annual of Photography, 1945

Think about all of the people who have been unable to appreciate this cuteness because someone just had to have the naked lady on the other side of the page.

Or, possibly, there is actually important text on the reverse and someone might now be missing a critical piece of information.


In some cases, the loss is too devastating for us to do anything about it.  If the book is still in print, or readily available digitally, we might suggest to the subject librarian that the whole book be replaced.  Sometimes, it simply isn’t worth our time to replace pages.  But in many cases, the books are not so easy to come by, or would be perfectly all right if that one missing page were replaced.  In these cases, I will go page hunting.

Illustration by Sidney Paget from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Here is a quick overview of the steps that might go into tracking down missing pages:

STEP 1: Figure out that there are pages missing from a book.  This can happen when we do our first review of an item as it comes into the lab.  Often, library staff or patrons discover that pages are missing and send the book on to us. This is most often noticed when someone sees sad stubs of pages that have been torn out.

Technically, people don’t discover the missing pages.  They are missing, thus undiscoverable.  What is discovered is the empty space:

A book on fashion with a missing image

STEP 2: Go through the rest of the volume to make sure that there are no other, previously unnoticed empty spaces.  There very often are.  Especially in books of photography.  Extra especially in books of photography that include photographs of naked ladies.


STEP 3: Once you know exactly what is missing, look the book up on IUCAT to see if IU owns other copies of the book.

Nope, not that IU Cat.

This one:

If you are very lucky, then the book is out of copyright and available on Hathi Trust.

If you are very unlucky, the book is a bound copy of a popular periodical (Life magazine for example) with poor page numbering and no clear article breaks. It is difficult to place an interlibrary loan request (see Step 4) when you can’t specify which pages you need.  Sadly, people love to take old magazine advertisements.  I get it.  Sometimes they are hilarious. And don’t have numbered pages.

Advertisement in 1950s era Ladies Home Journal

STEP 4: Based on the availability of other copies of the book, make a determination of the best way to get a hold of another copy of the same edition of the book, and request that a copy be sent to you.

This is my chance to point out that I am not the only staff member involved in this endeavor.  I have to work very closely with the staff in Document Delivery Services to solve these problems.

Below is a list of the most likely missing page situations and a quick description of how to proceed in each case:

Another copy is owned by a library at IU Bloomington
-Either go to the library to find the book on the shelf, or request delivery through campus mail.

A copy is owned by a library at another IU campus.
-Put in a delivery request through IUCAT to have the book sent through inter-campus mail.

A copy is owned by another library somewhere else in the world
-Put in an interlibrary loan request through Document Delivery Services.

There is a scanned copy available online in Hathi Trust
-Hope very hard that the pages you need are not also missing from the online copy.  If they are there, celebrate,  and download the relevant pages.  Skip to Step 8.

The book is a periodical.
-Document Delivery Services to the rescue again.  In many cases, one can request electronic copies of specific pages.  This is a lifesaver when it works.   It is heartbreaking when the library at the other end sends the wrong thing and you have to bother the DDS people again.

There are no other copies available anywhere.
-You are out of luck and there are no options left, because drawing your own replacement pictures or writing your own replacement text is not an appropriate option.


STEP 5:  WAIT.  The folks at Document Delivery Services will work all of the magic that they can to get you what you need.  They are amazing and fabulous and friendly and helpful and deserve all of the superlatives.


STEP 6:  Receive the other copy of the book you need.  Compare the copies to make sure that the editions are the same, and to see if the pages you need are in this copy.  Understand that if you are looking for missing naked lady pictures, 80% of the time the same pages will be missing from the copy from the lending library.  If this is the case, contact the DDS folks and start the whole request process over again.  Repeat as necessary.  Sometimes this can go on for long time, getting one page from the University of Michigan copy and another page from the Purdue copy, etc.


STEP 7:  If the pages you need are in the other library’s copy, then you may rejoice.  Scan the pages from the replacement copy.   Due to fabulous advances in technology over the last 20 – 30 years, we have a high- resolution flatbed scanner, which is an important piece of lab equipment. (Nominations are being accepted for the name-the-scanner contest.  The winner will receive absolutely nothing except the satisfaction of knowing that they are very clever.)

STEP 8:  Clean up the scanned pages in Photoshop and print out nice clean copies of the pages on acid free paper

STEP 9:  Attach the copies into the original book.  Additional repairs will often be needed at this point, so  take care of those as well.

STEP 10:  Send the book back out into the world with beautiful new pages and hope to goodness that they don’t just get ripped back out again.

Ready to be sent home!

Ok – After laying that all out, I guess my point is that this process is not quick. As with all of the other books that we handle, books with missing pages present a unique set of problems, and must be evaluated and dealt with individually.  Books with missing pages take a lot more thought and care and work than many other books that we care for.

We love all of our books and will do our best for each of them.  But for goodness sake, if you really, really need that picture, take a trip over to the digitization lab and scan yourself a copy.  Or just take a photo of it with your phone.  The folks at Document Delivery Services will thank you.  And so will I.  I’m tired of looking at naked ladies.

Fires and Poetry

Recently, I was repairing this book:



I have a fondness for old textbooks, so it was nice to have a chance to help this one out. It was a pretty straightforward repair. Some hinging of pages and a reback with a Japanese tissue/linen laminate. But here’s the thing that really grabbed me about the book. It smelled of wood smoke. Not that familiar, musty, foxed, sat-in-the-stacks for 100 years smell. Fireplace smell.
I realize that the smell is probably because this little book survived the IU Library fires in 1969. You can read a nice history of those two fires, as well as other significant IU campus fires in a recent blog post from the IU archive. At the lab, we often see books with their top page edges blackened, and we generally assume that they are survivors from the 1969 fires. But this nicely smelling book didn’t make me think of destruction and student unrest. I grew up in a house that was heated with a wood stove. It smelled like home. Or like the house of a friend where sometimes we sit by the fireplace and read poetry. And I imagined young people in the late 1800s sitting at a table by the fireplace working studiously on their arithmetic lessons.
There are so many ways that books connect and transport us. Mostly, we think of being transported by the stories they tell. But with a bit of imagination, books can also bring us into contact with the craftspeople who made them, the people who owned and handled them, and sometimes, the rodents who chewed them up.



Sigh.  I probably still have mouse DNA on my hands from that one….

In the General Collections Conservation unit, we don’t come across many very old books, but every now and then one will stumble into the lab.  In the last months, we’ve had a couple of these that were just hanging out in the stacks waiting for someone to care about them.  One is dated 1592.  The other is from 1638.


I’m a Bloomington native, so every now and then someone in my family will stop by the lab to drop off homemade bread or pick up a bag of potholders or something.  Elise is always happy to show off the amazing things she is working on and my Mom happened to come by on the day she was working on the book shown above.  My mother was duly and volubly impressed and that evening I got a call from my Dad.  Might he please come in and see the very old book as well?  Of course!  We love to share the coolness.

Dad showed up the next day.  He took a lot of pictures and asked a lot of questions. We even let him hold the book, although like many lab guests, he was a little afraid to do so.    I felt like I could see right through his skull into his brain where all of the tumblers and gears were whirring and clicking along.   We went out to lunch and talked about how old items connect us to the past.  What can we learn about artists and craftspeople by holding their work in our hands?  Someone spent hours upon hours of time setting the elaborate type for the book.  And who was it that stitched it together?  Treated the leather for the cover?  How many young people sat at a table by the fireplace studying it?  How many fires has it survived?

At about the same time that my father and I were thinking about peoples’ relations to very old books, it seems that my favorite web cartoonist, Randall Munroe, creator of had also been thinking about peoples’ relations to more modern inanimate objects:

xkcd 1741: Work 1741: Work

How often do we really think about the design of our water glass?  How often did the child studying that arithmetic book think about its binding?  Probably, not often at all.  Perhaps never.  Yet, now, we here in the Preservation Lab are fascinated with the old arithmetic book, and of course the older, and therefore more precious books as well.  In 172 years, someone will probably be fascinated with our water glasses.  And our e-readers.

I was pretty certain that my poet father was going to end up writing something about very old books.  And he is far more eloquent than I am, so I waited to see what would come of my dad meeting that book and by extension all of the people who, step by step, brought it to us here.

Old Book

Libri XIII
Londini . 1638

Wood and leather cover
brown and brittle,
the scrolled details
faded and blurred,
burnished by the years.
Stiff, when I opened it.

Though I could not read
the Latin text,
pressed with movable type
nearly 400 years before,
the words
are clear and elegant,
speaking of a god
of another time.
A palpable spirit emanates
from its enduring lines–

thoughts and beliefs
from ambitious minds,
the faith of someone
who reached me
with ethereal touch
from the small book
that rested on my hand.

Remnants of those ancient lives,
but neglected on a secluded shelf,
travelled slowly, unsteady…
still waiting to be found
by some curious stranger
who can read
the relic words.

Though the bodies of the writers
are gone,
the lives of their thoughts
live on,
in that old book…

Poem copyright Thomas Tokarski,  July 2016


These books are giving me a headache

I have four volumes of Shakespeare’s plays on my desk. They have been there for months. It feels like years. I want to send them on, but there are little problems with them that I created. Fairly simple problems, really. I could have them send on their way by the end of the week. And still there they sit. If they were beagle puppies they would look at me something like this:

Stop staring at me, melancholic puppy!
Stop staring at me, melancholic puppy!

Part of my hang up is that I used to be in a Shakespearean improv troupe. We were called the World’s Greatest Shakespeare Company. No kidding. The whole thing was beautiful and dark and deeply important to me. It dissolved by slow degrees a couple of years after I left to learn how to save books. I never really got over it. So I always try to grab the Shakespeare books when they come through for repair. It’s like I owe Shakespeare something.

The World’s Greatest Shakespeare Company, circa 2004, Prescott Arizona
The World’s Greatest Shakespeare Company, circa 2004, Prescott Arizona

But added to that compulsion, was the death of one of my fellow cast members. David was the handsome, brooding, Byronic hero type in the foreground of the above photo. He was the heart of our group. I did what you do in these cases. I flew to Arizona to sit stunned in a bar while the rest of the cast told funny stories. And then I flew home and didn’t feel very much better about it.

And shortly after that these books came across my desk:


I grabbed them and hung on for dear life. The books themselves aren’t so terribly special or rare. But I have this thing about Shakespeare. So I decided that I needed to pour everything into them. It would make me feel better. Work and therapy in one neat (well, actually pretty messy) package.

And at the same time I fell down a very different Shakespeare rabbit-hole. The friend I stayed with in Arizona had recently been reading Sweet Swan of Avon by Robin Williams (not that Robin Williams) and was pretty excited about it. My friend is a scientist and a basically rational person so I give her opinion a lot of weight. This book posits that this guy

Shakepeare engraving

Isn’t the one who wrote the plays and sonnets. It says that the most likely candidate is actually Mary Sidney. (Who is a very impressive woman in her own right, regardless of whether or not she wrote Shakespeare’s stuff. I encourage everyone to look her up.)

Mary Sidney

The book is well written and convincing, so I had spent some time reading up on other aspects of the Shakespearean authorship question. And was left wondering who really wrote these books that I was working on. My brain got sort of tangled up.

So there I am listening to Shakespearean Authorship Question podcasts and fussing over how best to repair these poor books. I don’t like to get too heavily into metaphor. That’s why I couldn’t bear to be an English major. But regardless who wrote them, I had certainly given these books more weight in my life than I would have if they had showed up a couple of months earlier.

This is what I did for them:

The text blocks were in very good shape, but the spines were badly deteriorated. So rebacking and spine repair seemed the way to go. The rebacking went smoothly, and I was able to get a good color match on the linen and Japanese tissue laminate. So far, so good.

Often, when book spines are pretty but deteriorated, I will scan them, clean up and repair the image in Photoshop and then just mount a printout of the repaired image in place of the original spine.
Here’s a simple example:

Cantares spine label beforeCantares spine label after In the case of the Shakespeare books, though, I was determined to save as much of the original spines as I could. The cloth was workable, but the problem was that chunks of title were missing. So I decided to try to recreate just those parts to fill in the empty spaces.

Shakespeare book spines

First, I temporarily taped the worst bits together and scanned them on our flatbed scanner. My idea was that I could cut and paste bits from the more complete spines onto missing parts. I would print patches onto Japanese tissue and then paste them on to the missing areas. I had never tried printing on Japanese tissue before, and wasn’t sure how it would work. Plus, I figured it was going to test the limits of my Photoshop skills. New technique! Challenge! Therapy!
And stage one worked pretty well. I was able to get a nice clean scan of all four spine pieces. At this point I started the fiddly process of recreating the missing bits of text. If the letter appeared elsewhere, I tried to copy it and paste the image of the letter into the missing area. Sometimes there wasn’t an exact correlation and so I would just try to find a letter that was close and modify it by hand. For example, an “O” can become a “C” just by editing out a few pixels. There wasn’t a lot of this that needed to be done, and I was able to recreate the lists of play titles without too much trouble.

Spine scanning screenshotSpine fragment after Photoshop 2It took some more fiddling to get the printed color to match the book covers and some very stern conversations with the printer to convince it that a medium-weight Japanese tissue could be printed on without jamming. Eventually, the printer and I got it right.
I was able to mend the broken pieces of spine from the back using a lightweight tissue and fairly thick wheat starch paste. Too much water would have bled through and caused the color to run or smear off.
Then, again from the back, I pasted the printed Japanese tissue into place to fill out the missing information or design elements. Once that was dry, I mounted the spines back onto the books.
And then I made a mistake. They dried beautifully, but I thought it might be a good idea to brush a little paste over the front of the printed areas to make sure they were really sticking nicely. And that completely clouded over the images. But since the spines were already attached to the books, there wasn’t a lot to do about it. Lesson learned. If it looks good – leave it alone.
In spite of my improper use of paste, I was basically happy with the result and ready to give the books a big (but sort of sad) hug and send them on their way. And then I saw my other mistake.
Back when the books were accessioned (1948, if the notation on the title pages is correct) someone had carefully hand lettered the call numbers onto the spines in white ink. I was really quite proud of my recreation of the call number on Volume 8. Except that I put on the wrong call number. The last two figures should be D9, followed by v.8. Well crap.

almost completed Shakespeare books

I can’t lift the spine back off to replace the printed piece. If I do, I’m afraid the original pieces of the spine will come to pieces. And I’m really not sure what to do about it. I’m trying very hard not to listen to the treacherous voice in my head saying “Just make an enclosure with the correct spine label and no one will ever notice.”
But I need to make it right. I’ve been hoarding these books for far too long to send them back out into the world with a mistake like that. Not to mention best practices and so on.  So I think I will try to make a new Japanese tissue patch with the correct call number and paste it over my mistake. And maybe a bit of paint over those cloudy areas. My mother is fond of saying “The perfect is the enemy of the good. And the done.” But these books have been with me for such a long time now, and I have given them so much weight of meaning that it will be hard so send them on.

A quote from one of my favorite novels seems relevant:

“I can see rereading The Lord of the Rings instead of studying for finals, but why clean your closet?”
                                                                    – Pamela Dean, Tam Lin

I have spent quite a bit of time this week cleaning my workbench.  And last Saturday (April 23, 2016) has been widely celebrated as the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.  So I guess now it’s time to get to work.


People write in books. Sometimes this is infuriating. Sometimes it is beautiful. Or hilarious. I have particularly enjoyed the deeply opinionated notations made by music students in instructional texts. Recently, I found someone had seemingly written all of her class notes on the end sheets of Henry the Fourth Part I. I love it when bored students have doodled in the margins of their textbooks.

But by far the most adorable thing I have found yet is this:

Endsheets of Americans Abroad with cow list

It’s a list of someone’s cows.

It was written on the back end sheets of a 1930’s collection of essays titled Americans Abroad. The book needed to be rebound to be useable, and the end sheets were so acidic and brittle, that in the end we made a scanned copy and tipped that into the new binding, just for the sake of interest.

I was so charmed by the whole thing that I sent copies of the scan to several friends. The best response was from my friend and former boss Professor Bob Eno:

“ I gather that your restoration project includes the first work by Henry Miller published between hard covers. I can’t help but wonder what he would have made of these cows, or what Mrs. Jenks would have made of him. I’m confident a cow so dignified would never have approved being listed alongside him in this way. I’d like to know what sort of beauty Miss Dorothy grew to be, and I can’t help but feel that it was unwise to saddle Nasty with such a name – her poor progeny probably died of shame. Really, I’m not sure a vanity book about expatriate Americans could possibly have the literary promise of these endpapers: Heifers and Cows of 1942: These Are Their Stories.”

Which made me think. Who are the cows in literature? I can really think of only a couple.
First, my dear childhood friend Ferdinand the Bull, from Munro Leaf’s The Story of Ferdinand, who gave me my first exposure to the idea of nonviolent resistance and the great importance of just sitting and smelling the flowers.

Ferdinand the Bull
Illustration from The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. Illustrations by Robert Lawson


If the number of Ferdinand tattoos out there is any indication, lots and lots of other folks really love Ferdinand. Seriously. Do a quick Google image search of “Ferdinand tattoos”. I had no idea.

Personally, my very favorite fictional cow is the sweet-tempered unnamed cow in one of my very favorite books of all time – BJ Chute’s 1956 novel Greenwillow. This cow is made delightful by the enthusiasm that the other characters show for her. As when she is first brought home by the numerous and boisterous Briggs family:

They let the cow set her own pace, going home, and it was a slow journey but very eventful with Micah and Obadiah and Shadrach running in circles about her, Jabez discovering from the rear that a cow’s tail is not to be hung upon, and Sheby walking gravely by Gideon’s side and weaving a wreath of asters. It kept falling apart in her hands but, for such a cow, even Sheby could be patient.

And once they get her home:

There were five shouts from outside, chiming like bells. Someone cried, “Dorrie! Come quick, cow’s bedded,” and Dorrie ran to the door.

Micah was first and caught her hand, and flew her to she shed. “She’ll get up,” he panted, “if we don’t hurry,” and then they were all at the shed and he thrust her through the doorway ahead of him, and sure enough, cow was bedded.

The cow seemed very surprised about it and well she might, for it had taken the strength of all the Briggses to make her lie down and appreciate her new comfort. She was a passive cow but she was also used to keeping her own hours, and this daylight bedding was new to her. Still, the hands were gentle, and the hay smelled of clover and one place was very like another.

Greenwillow does not contain an illustration of this cow, but I have always imagined her looking a lot like this:

Jersey cow

Ok – that’s only two cows. And I couldn’t think of any more.

So – off to Google. And it turns out that cows are shockingly underrepresented in literature.

Other than a handful of comic books and cartoons, there just aren’t many fictional cows outside of the realm of  mythology and religion.  There are deeply significant cows in  Greek and Egyptian mythology and of course, Hinduism.  I’m not a religious studies or art history expert, but the images are amazing.  I’m not even going to try to select any to post here.  I just recommend spending some time with the linked pictures.

Cows are of course, very well represented in dairy advertising:

Elsie the Cow
Elsie the Cow. Mascot of the Borden Dairy Company
Milka Cow
The Milka Cow. Mascot of Milka Chocolate.

But I digress. I sort of intended to write about marginalia. There is of course a whole lot of debate about whether writing in books is blasphemous (How dare you insult the inherent  dignity of all books?!) or practical and historically significant. (How else do you keep track of your thoughts and the thoughts of others that read the book before you?)

Like most others of my generation, I was taught never, never to write in books. As a teenager I was furious when my little brother went through my copy of Winnie the Pooh and colored in all of the pictures of Piglet with orange marker and blue ballpoint. And long before my job was in preservation I thought it would be a good idea to remove the ink with bleach. I know better now.

And now I love it when a written-in book comes across my workbench. It makes me feel closer to the book to know that someone thought enough of it to comment on it. Or keep their list of cows on the back end sheets.

Often when I tell someone what I do for a living, they sheepishly admit that they write in their books and assume that I must hate them for it. Nope. No judgement. Write on! Well, maybe not in the library books. I didn’t  tell you to do that.  But I won’t be the one to erase it.

And I should mention the Book Traces project, which celebrates library books that are written in, or have odd bits and pieces left in them.

Anyway, I’m sure I missed some important fictional cows. What can anyone out there recommend in the way of cow-related reading? Winter is coming and I want to curl up in a chair with a cup of tea and a book and maybe spend some time contemplating my cow neighbors.


And I will smugly point out to my urban Texan relations, that I may live in Indiana, but I am the only one in the family with Longhorns right next door.


Neuroscience is a very big deal right now. And I spend a lot of my workday plugged into podcasts like Radiolab and Stuff to Blow Your Mind. So although I really know nothing substantive about why my brain works the way it does, when I see faces in random objects, I understand enough to know that it isn’t magic. It’s just my brain.  All of our brains. This tricky phenomenon is called pareidolia. Basically, it means that our brains try to create familiar patterns in random or vague stimuli.  For humans, faces are one of the most common patterns out there, so we see faces in just about everything.

There are all manner of articles on this and no end of cute photos available on the internet.  This July 2014 BBC article  is informative and also contains some amusing pictures.

So, although your food may become menacing

photo of green peppers with screaming faces

…I also have this puppy encouraging me during my T’ai Chi class.

photo of knots in wood that look like a face

The folks in the paper lab have this friend in the photography room:

camera stand set up which looks like a face

And, like many folks, this alarmed looking individual has been looking after me since childhood.

Electrical outlet which looks like a face


Anyway, this is all  just an excuse to share some faces that have been showing up in my work at the lab. It seems like stapled text blocks tend to spawn these creatures.  They show up where old staples have torn the paper in the center of a signature.

I have been documenting these folks as I come across them and here are a few of the best:

Torn paper in the shape of a confused face.
What am I doing here?
paper tear that looks like someone speaking
Good morning! What’s the plan for the day?
Torn paper which looks like a yelling face.
No! Don’t use PVA on that mend!
Torn paper which looks like a smirking face.
Torn paper which looks like a happy face.
Hooray! Another beautiful day in the Preservation Lab!
torn paper which looks like the face of a bear.
Claude the Preservation Bear.

Does anyone else have any such friends to share?