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.
As a Paper Conservator, most of my time at work is spent on performing conservation treatments on the vast and varied collections within Indiana University Libraries. When not actively treating items, I coordinate with collection managers, curators, librarians and archivists to generate incoming work and establish priorities for the future. In the lab we also have responsibilities towards supervision of staff, disaster recovery across campus, establishing access protocols, environmental monitoring, and other minor roles that crop up here and there.
However, one task that brings me a great deal of satisfaction, though not strictly a job responsibility, is teaching. Each academic term I guest-lecture for a number of courses within our Department of Information and Library Science and the Department of Art History. These sessions provide me with a welcome break from the Lab and hopefully give the students a new perspective on topics being covered in classrooms. The greatest pleasure I get from being employed within a university is the exchange of knowledge across disciplines- and the fact that I’m able to add to that is a reward. To be a Conservator often means having knowledge in a number of associated fields beyond our strict job skills; knowledge that can supplement teaching in a way that may be difficult for an instructor to cover by themselves. Some classes are more theoretical: I teach library students preservation theory, the role of the conservator in special collection libraries and treatments conservators perform on library collections. Some provide supplemental knowledge to future catalogers: print and photograph identification, paper and parchment terminology. Others are more hands-on: materials and techniques classes or instruction in minor repair of paper-based collections. On top of this, we conservators get requests for a number of adult-education/public library sorts of lectures on preserving home collections, scrapbooking, etc. to which we’re always happy to consent.
Preaching to the choir is one thing, but I think a greater reward comes from sharing our enthusiasm with others. Establishing a positive image of the conservation profession early in a student’s career training goes a long way towards developing effective preservation efforts into the future.
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 xkcd.com had also been thinking about peoples’ relations to more modern inanimate objects:
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.
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,
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
the lives of their thoughts
in that old book…
informal – make one’s own cigarettes from loose tobacco
noun – a cigarette that one has rolled oneself
And the Urban Dictionary provides this usage –
“A situation where someone needs to perform a task but the method to complete the task doesn’t exist so she has to create the solution herself. It derives from “rolling your own” cigarettes versus buying pre-made cigarettes.
Computer programmer #1: Is there a built-in function to filter the database?
Computer programmer #2: Sorry, man, you’re going to have to roll your own.”
How is this relevant to our work in Preservation?
We decided to take a do-it-yourself approach recently when an issue of the luxury art and fashion journal, Visionaire, presented us with something of a challenge.
This journal issue was too large to be stored flat. And although rolling is not ideal, as it may introduce a permanent curl, an object can be rolled onto the outside of a large-diameter tube to minimize this problem. This also avoids the damage that can occur when the object is put inside the tube. So we decided we would buy a 10” diameter tube, roll the journal issue (consisting of just a few pages) around the tube, and make a box to put the tube in. Easy. Oh, just one problem – one tube costs $100!
Being thrifty, and not shying away from a challenge, we decided to try to make our own darn tube. We were not sure it would work! But we took a large sheet of 40-point acid-free board, rolled it up so it was about 8 inches in diameter, and held it together with many rubber bands. Then we just let it sit there like that for few months.
Every so often, we do a group project on a Friday. We like to call these “Fun Fridays.” Sometimes we tackle a project that needs many hands; other times we learn and practice a new technique. Previous Fun Fridays have included making pre-coated repair tissues and forming an assembly line to construct a large batch of Kasemake boxes for delaminating lacquer disk recordings.
So, after a few months passed, we decided to set the roll free one Friday. We took off the restraints. It looked good!
We got the ends of the roll aligned and positioned so it was 10 inches in diameter. We debated how best to affix the inner and outer long edges of the board, both to maintain the diameter and keep the outer end of the board from forming a ridge. After considering PVA, packaging tape, sewing, and 3M 415 double-sided tape, we decided on the double-sided tape. Some of us were more confident about the efficacy of this choice than others, which created some suspense! We applied it to both the inner and outer edges of the board. It took three pairs of hands, but it held!
Then we cut a sheet of Volara, an inert foam, to cover the roll, so the two long edges would meet exactly. We stuck that on with double-sided tape too.
Then we cut a piece of Hollytex the length of the tube, and about 8 inches wider than the object. We laid the object on top of the Hollytex and rolled the two onto the tube together, so that the extra 8-inch tail of Hollytex fully covered the object. We tied it with woven cloth ties.
Finally, we made a box with a lid out of acid-free corrugated board on our Kasemake machine. The 40 x 60-inch board stock was not long enough to make the bottom out of one piece, so we cut separate rectangles with 3 flaps to cover each end and glued them in place.
So, no, we didn’t have to “roll our own” , we could have just bought the $100 tube. But we learned it was possible to make one using materials already on hand in our lab, and had a great Fun Friday working together to solve a problem.
Hi all! I am Chelsea Liddell, the new Binding and Preservation Review Coordinator here at the Preservation Lab.
Erin McAvoy has moved onwards and upwards, and though we miss her dearly here at the Lab, we are so happy for her and excited for all the new opportunities she will have! I worked for Erin as a student employee for two years before taking this position, and you may have seen me around here a few times before. Today I wanted to talk about what exactly those of us working with commercial binderies do these days and how the position is growing and evolving.
As we are no doubt all aware, more and more information is becoming available exclusively in electronic form. This is a positive thing for many reasons, more convenient and accessible for users, less to store and maintain for universities, but it presents a problem for those of us who are in the business of binding. So what’s a girl in charge of a commercial binding unit to do when there are fewer and fewer serials to be bound? Well, that’s the question that we have been endeavoring to answer here at the Preservation Lab and we feel that we’ve come up with some great solutions.
The key to innovation in libraries is to expand our definition of them. They aren’t (and never were) simple book repositories, but rather community centers, technological trendsetters, purveyors of global knowledge, and protectors of history. In the future, we will no doubt find even more hats to wear! To move forward, it is important to understand how all these roles interconnect and what new roles it makes sense for us to take on. This is the key to redefining the role of commercial binding in libraries.
If we expand our definition of binding, then all of a sudden a lot more opportunities open up. The other wonderful staff here at the Lab have been teaching me how to bind items by hand, which helps me understand to a much greater degree exactly what is being done to our books at the commercial bindery. After all, commercial binding is just a mechanized version of many of these hand-binding techniques.
Another area that we have been able to expand my role to encompass is evaluation and boxing of items moving to the ALF (Auxiliary Library Facility). We recently began moving materials out to the ALF at the rate of 10,000 per week in preparation for our Fine Arts Library’s move to the Wells Library. The materials being moved are low use, and there is a high rate of brittle paper and damaged bindings. My role in this project is to evaluate the damaged items and determine what type of enclosure would suit them best, so that they can be placed in the ALF without undergoing further injury. The emphasis is on choosing the most efficient, cost-effective solution that will do the job, including tying with cotton tie, sandwiching items between boards in a Tyvek envelope, and Kasemake boxes. This sort of work is a natural extension of a binder’s job; evaluating what type of enclosure would preserve the item best, while ensuring that no undue damage is caused.
By taking part in the everyday workflow of the Preservation Lab, while also taking on new projects, I am able to help out my colleagues, learn new things, and ensure that I am always busy! Although I have only been in this position for a short time, I have already expanded my skill set so much and learned so many wonderful new things. It is my hope that I can continue to find new arenas to expand into and that the commercial binding unit will continue to become more integrated into the rest of the work done here at the lab.
For this month’s Preservation Lab Blog post, as her supervisor, let me introduce our newest full-time employee, Hannah Helton.
-Doug Sanders, Paper Conservator
Nearly four months ago I was hired as the Paper Conservation Technician for the paper lab. I was a student employee here before, so I expected to settle quickly into the lab’s daily rhythm, but the transition held a few surprises. On my third day as a full-time employee I set off the security alarm, met an IU police officer, handled a Spencer repeating rifle, read the world’s largest newspaper, and cut the tip off my left thumb.
I’m still learning something every day, whether it’s related to conservation methods or the cogs and gears of the IU libraries. I’m also meeting new people all the time, making acquaintances in departments across campus, and building stronger relationships with the people I met as a student employee.
After coming back to the lab, I was very excited to finally see the inside of the ALF vault. I never got a chance to enter it as a student employee, so it held a certain mystery for me. I’ve been there dozens of times now, but the feeling remains. There are a lot of dark aisles in the vault and little shadowed passageways between them, guarded by hundreds of thousands of books resting on shelving units three stories tall, and my imagination likes to run rampant within it.
I also discovered that my background in metalsmithing is very helpful to me here. I’m no longer fixing a solder joint, I’m mending paper. Instead of making vessels out of copper, I’m using corrugate. Even my jeweler’s saw has a place at work; it’s invaluable for cutting curves out of board and Foamcore. On my desk is a metal sculpture I made as a student at IU. Next to it is a cloth-covered box I made out of mat board to hold templates. Both items required very similar techniques to create very different outcomes.
I think that initial week was a personal record in odd accomplishments. I haven’t approached any coworkers with a bloodied hand since day three, but I have handled even more extraordinary objects and mastered my utility knife, so I’d say things are going pretty well for this IU Library employee.
We recently had two documents in the lab exhibiting a noteworthy effect. They were contracts for a violinist’s performance in Lyon dating from the time of the French Revolution, from a Lilly Library collection. Interesting enough, but what really caught my eye was how the ink in selected areas sparkled when turned in the light. Low-power microscopy suggests some type of micaceous material. For me, the question is, was this used as a drying pounce with the bonus of adding some ‘bling’ to one’s signature? Or was the effect alone the chief reason for use? In working with manuscripts for many years, the two other times I’ve seen this were also in French Revolution-era documents. Incidentally, this effect should not be confused with the well-documented and studied crystalline growth one can sometimes see on iron gall ink (whitish or yellowish crystals).
I tried to capture the effect as best as I could by taking multiple exposures with the angle of incident light varying, and then stitching them all together in Photoshop for a rough .gif animation. The effect is restricted to the area associated with the word ‘Bowes’ and the passage of text at the bottom of the view ending with the name “Carpentier”.
There’s a date visible too- 14th of Fructidor, year 13. This references the French Republican Calendar which is itself a fascinating topic. I found a calendar converter online and it looks like this is August 31, 1806, for us Gregorian-minded folks.
p.s. if you want to see a higher resolution animation leave a comment with your email and I’ll send you a file.
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:
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.
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
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.)
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:
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.
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.
It 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.
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.
Every spring, libraries across the country participate in Preservation Week to raise awareness of the importance of preserving our collective cultural heritage. Talks, workshops, webinars, and exhibits are presented across the country on everything from caring for family treasures to disaster preparedness to personal digital archiving.
The idea for Preservation Week grew out of a study that assessed the state of preservation efforts in cultural institutions across the country. The study found that a majority of collection-holding institutions do not have any preservation staff and lack the capacity to care for their collections.
Fortunately, that is not the case in the Indiana University Bloomington Libraries! On the contrary, IU’s distinguished collections are well cared for by specialists in many formats, including books, paper, digital information, and time-based media.
In honor of Preservation Week, IUB Libraries’ preservation specialists have two public offerings: a set of talks on April 29th, and an exhibit on view from April 1st through 30th.
Content and Context in Preservation: Lightning Talks on Book, Paper, Film, and Digital Preservation
April 29th, 2016
12:00 to 1:30 pm
Hazelbaker Hall, Wells Library
Brief talks by IUB Libraries’ preservation specialists in books, paper, moving image, digital conversion, and digital preservation will focus on the theme of decision-making in preservation. Through case studies, each will address how the relative significance of content and context affect their treatment decisions.
Carla Arton, Film Digitization Specialist, Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive
Elise Calvi, Head, General Collections Conservation, E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab
Jim Canary, Conservator, Lilly Library
Kara Alexander, Head, Digital Collections Services
Heidi Dowding, Digital Preservation Librarian, Library Technologies
Doug Sanders, Paper Conservator, E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab
April 1-30, 2016
Exhibition in Wells Library, West Lobby
This exhibit is a graphical presentation of the dizzying array of media on which information has been recorded over time, and also provides information about staff and departments in the IUB Libraries who are responsible for preserving all these media formats.
About Preservation Week
Sponsored by the American Library Association’s Association for Library Collections and Technical Services and partner organizations, Preservation Week inspires actions to preserve personal, family, and community collections in addition to library, museum, and archive collections. It also raises awareness of the role libraries and other cultural institutions play in providing ongoing preservation education and information.
Addendum: 5/3/16 A recording of the talks is now available here