Category Archives: conservation issues

Sobering Statistics Concerning Book Conservation

There are some sobering statistics in The FY2014 Preservation Statistics Report, by Annie Peterson, Holly Robertson, and Nick Szydlowski.  Eighty-seven cultural institutions responded; primarily academic libraries. Although the authors caution about extrapolating the data since the respondents were self-selecting, I find it difficult not to view the results as roughly indicative of general trends in libraries. The most striking finding is the steady decline in the money spent for bound volumes.

The treatments reported tend to be quite utilitarian, more aimed at circulating rather than special collections. For example, a Level 1 treatment takes less than 15 minutes, a Level 2 between 15 and 120 minutes, a level 3 more than 120 minutes. Most conservation treatments for special collections materials take much longer than 120 minutes.

The authors report that “from 2000 to 2014, total conservation treatment of bound volumes declined faster than commercial binding; treatment declined by 77% in that period, while commercial binding declined by only 69%.”  This survey includes in-house and outsourced conservation activities: 92% of respondents had at least some type of in house conservation program, and 70% outsourced at least some treatments. In all, the survey encompasses the treatment of 1.6 million items.  The only growth area is a slight—though not dramatic— increase in spending for digitizing and in reformatting of audiovisual materials.

No, the sky is not falling, but as a book conservator, it is worrisome to see these trends. Frankly, I don’t see the situation changing significantly in the coming decades, until we reach the point where the book and the text have become totally individuated. Then, hopefully, the book will experience a reappraisal.

It is well worth reading the full report:  The FY2014 Preservation Statistics Report.

A Book Conservator Goes to Hollywood: or, Pretending to be an Actor Playing a Bookbinder

It is pretty unusual—once in a lifetime?— for any craftsman to appear in a Hollywood commercial. I had my chance last week. In many ways it was almost the stereotypical experience: a phone call out of the blue, sending a production company a couple of images of me and my work, a bunch of phone meetings, sending more pictures, then all of the sudden a limo was picking me up at 5:00 am to fly to Los Angles.

The first day was spent meeting the director, producers and wardrobe fitting.  My “costume” was chosen, which was surprisingly similar to the kind of clothes I usually wear.  Loose linen shirt and blue pants, though they did make me wear a kind of silly looking heavy duty leather apron.  Wardrobe went to do a few alterations and I was driven to look at the set.

The set really looked like a bindery, even though much of it was from other trades.  All the small details were wrong, but the overall feel was right.  The director of photography was there with a top of the line DSLR, so I left thinking this was going to be a small, intimate shoot.

The next day my driver picked me up and the scene had changed dramatically. The crew parking lot was filled with over 70 cars.  The caterer had 4 tents set up.  All of these people would be filming me for the next couple days, and I’d never acted before.  I was playing with the big boys.

As my make-up was being applied and my hair cut, I kept thinking that my experience in teaching should help me out, since I’m used to having people watch me work.  Or maybe I should think of this as extreme method acting: I’d practiced bookbinding for 23 years, and now was my chance to perform in front of the camera?

I saw the real camera for the first time; one of those monsters used for film shoots that three people ride on. We shot the various stages of book binding at different times.  Often I had to repeat an action three times, for a wide, medium and tight shot. The raw footage I saw looked amazing; the most professional, seductive looking images of bookbinding I’ve ever seen.

Seductive images of craft are great PR.  I still remember how appealing Bernard Middleton’s hands were on the cover of The Restoration of Leather Bindings.  Quite likely it was a reason I got into bookbinding in the first place. Could the less scientific, and more romantic side of conservation be emphasized a bit more for public appeal and possibly funding? Or does it land us back in the murky world of craft and restoration which conservation strives to differentiate itself from?

Film shoots are pure chaos.  As one crew member recommended “embrace the chaos”.  But the crews were remarkable in the way they worked together, thought creatively and spontaneously, and in the end got the job done.  It was great to get a glimpse at this world.

If you happen to find yourself being filmed using a sewing frame, which is a de-rigor shot, use pre-pierced the inner folios but not the outer one.  This way you can feel the hole on the inside with the tip of the needle, and burst out through an unpierced outer folio with frightening precision, without having to look inside the book. Smooth.

The most difficult thing for me was doing a familiar action differently or at a different speed—either to show it better on camera or because the director wanted it. I spend most of my time thinking about pragmatic realities—reattaching a board to fit the textblock exactly, mending paper fibers to realign or grinding a knife to exactly 13 degrees— so it was a bit difficult for me to get my head around the “prop” mentality, and how much the camera would see, and concentrate on the action, not the object. It was hard work to repeat an action over, and over, and over. “Show the leather more love when you touch it!” In the end I was left with much more respect for “real” actors; it is hard, skilled work.

And how quickly I become accustomed to being treated like a star!  By the end of the second day, it seemed natural to have a driver, someone yelling “talent on the set” and “talent stepping down” when I moved on the set, a hairstylist preening me every 30 minutes of so, food and water brought constantly the minute I sat.

I signed a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) so can’t go into any details until December.  Once the commercial is live, I will post links to it on this blog.

Now, back to reality. Finish sewing an endband, then edge paring, spokeshaving, and covering an appealing well used edition of Luther’s Commentarie on the Epistle of Saint Paul, London, 1616. I keep telling myself I’m glad to be back in the real world. But….

Family Bibles

Mentioning Family Bibles to a group of bookbinders will provoke a variety of responses somewhat similar to the Kubler-Ross model of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. In the end, most of us accept the fact we will work on them—many, many, of them. Anecdotally, there seems to be less of a demand to work on these in New York City than some of my country based colleagues report; perhaps NYC is just not a Bible keeping/reading kind of town. Family Bibles (along with family cookbooks filled with recipes, notes, butter stains, etc..) are often the only books of valued enough by the general public to consider preserving, a trend that is likely continue and increase.  The large size and poor quality materials of these Bibles make them difficult to work on. Claire Manias is familiar with these challenges and wrote this brief essay about Family Bibles for an exhibition at the Museum of Biblical Art.

Clare is the Conservator of Rare Books at the Museum of Biblical Art, and has twelve years of experience in conservation. She has worked in major institutions around New York City including the New York Academy of Medicine, The New York Botanical Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Union Theological Seminary, as well as in private practice.  She is a former co-chair of the NY Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers, 2006-2010.

A Note on the Conservation of Family Bibles

Clare Manias

Family Bibles like the ones displayed in The Book of Life: The Family Bible in America were purchased to begin and maintain important record-keeping traditions for families. Major life events, emotional trials, and joyful expressions were recorded by family members and passed down through generations.

These Bibles were read, shared, displayed, stored, passed around, neglected, and found. All of this activity rendered itself not only on the pages of the book, but also on its binding. Hands left worn spots, paper was torn while reading, and the binding was strained by articles pressed between the pages. These changes occurring over time are as important to the history of the book as is what is printed on the pages.

Fig 1. These Family Bibles were designed to appeal to the purchaser’s idea of what an important book looks like. Photograph by Gina Fuentes Walker for MOBIA.

The design of Family Bible bindings was meant to invoke a sense of tradition. The Bible with Apocrypha, printed in Syracuse, New York at the Bible Publishing House in 1882 (Figure 1) is an fanciful example of what a great book is supposed to look like. The binding’s style evokes medieval books which had thick wooden boards, large raised bands, metalwork, and elaborate tooling on the covers. Family Bible bindings also emulate the style of fine binding of the seventeenth century with tooled board edges, elaborately gilt spines, and shiny text paper edges.

New technologies like color lithographic printing, wood engraving, machine paper making, and industrial leather production helped make it possible to bring these luxurious books to their respective families quickly and less expensively. The advancements in paper making and leather tanning, however, would prove to be unfavorable for the preservation of these books. Rushed tanned sheepskin rapidly breaks down and is very acidic. Early machine-made paper had not yet had time to turn brown and brittle from age, so the effects of time on poorly refined wood pulp paper were yet to be discovered.

It is also possible that items placed in the Bible for safekeeping have distorted its binding or stained its pages. Thick cardboard items or locks of hair can strain the sewing and cause the spine to split. Newspaper clippings and pressed leaves release acids as they age that cause them to “print” their silhouette on the pages between which they are interspersed.

Fig. 2. The best way to preserve your family’s historical objects and documents is to store them in protective housing in a stable environment. Photograph by Gina Fuentes Walker for MOBIA.

Poor materials combined with heavy use make a conservator’s job much more challenging. Consider the Complete Domestic Bible, published in Syracuse, New York by Watson Gill in 1873 which has brittle paper that is almost impossible to repair and “red-rotted” sheepskin leather that is very difficult to retain (Figure 2). These fragile materials hold the marks of the Bible’s owners but require extensive conservation treatments to return them to readable condition. This is not feasible because so many of these Bibles were sold and so many copies survive, thus making the Bible relatively inexpensive even today. Though the book itself is not rare, the markings and changes brought upon it by the family that owned the book make it unique, and therefore a candidate for careful preservation. The binding should be preserved to retain the evidence of its history, even if that means stabilizing the Bible in a state of disrepair.

The best way to preserve unique family records is by careful storage. Libraries and museums maintain clean, temperature- and humidity-regulated storage environments as the most effective way to preserve their holdings. Keeping storage temperatures at 70 degrees and maintaining a humidity of 50% is the best way to keep brittle papers from yellowing further or already dry leather from breaking off and crumbling. Books and family records can also be kept in custom-made, archival storage boxes that support the book on the shelf and protect fragile paper from damage and soiling incurred from handling and long-term storage.

In preparation for The Book of Life, only minimal conservation treatment was implemented to ensure that the books shown are as close to their current state as possible, without trying to make them look brand new. This ensures they will retain the evidence of the family records they contain and invoke this historical period for viewers now and in the future.

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Reproduced with permission from the exhibition catalog, The Book of Life: Family Bibles in America, New York: Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA), 2011.

Conservation of the Journal of the American Institute for Conservation: Results of a Survey and Treatments

A paper copy of Setbacks, Vol. 3., No. 1., 1990. Oddly, this paper volume is easily accessible in my library, while the more recent, online digital only version is difficult, if not impossible to find.  All three early volumes are indispensable.

I originally published the article linked to below in “Recent Setbacks in Conservation Online” in 2004.  In the intervening years, many of the problems discussed are, regrettably, as yet unresolved. Sadly, Setbacks Online seems inactive and inaccessible. Please be aware that the conservation techniques mentioned in this article are possibly somewhat dated, and are presented for historical and informational purposes only, and the author takes no responsibility for their efficacy or lack thereof. Caveat Conservator!

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Challenges To The Online Access of Conservation Literature

Please welcome Guest Blogger Peter D. Verheyen.  There was recently a lively  thread on the CIPP (Conservators in Private Practice) listserve, which is a specialty group of AIC (American Institute of Conservation), and Peter agreed to expand on some of his views into the post below.  He ends this post with a challenge to all of us to become more proactive in securing open access for our professional publications.

Challenges to the online access of conservation literature

By Peter D. Verheyen

BIO

Peter D. Verheyen is a book conservator by training and currently Head of Preservation at Syracuse University Library where he also is part of efforts to use digitization as a preservation tool in addition to working to preserve the digital. He has published, is publisher of an “open access” e-journal, retains the rights to his work, and shares it freely on general principle. < http://www.philobiblon.com > & < http://library.syr.edu/about/people/staffbio/Verheyen_Peter.php >.

The past week or so has seen lively discussion on the Conservators in Private Practice (CIPP, a part of AIC) listserv, about how the research needs of conservators, especially those in private practice can be met. This is an area of concern becauseit is critical to keep abreast of trends and new developments, as is understanding the history of an object. While we can gain access to some of the literature as members of scholarly societies, one cannot be a member of all, nor be completely aware where research is being published. There are just too many diverse sources. The digital age has made finding things much easier, and more frustrating in the sense that we are now coming across articles but not able to gain access.

 

Given that one cannot reasonably afford or be expected to have access to all sources of professional and related information, libraries (and the resources they provide) are critical. Depending on the scope of the library, they may have the resources available on the shelf in print, as electronic, or be able to provide access via inter-library loan. While it is nice to think that all, regardless of location can have access at no expense, this does not reflect the realities. Jstor < http://www.jstor.org/ >, Artstor < http://www.artstor.org >, and dissertations [available through Proquest < http://www.proquest.com/en-US/products/dissertations/ >]… were all mentioned as being essential resources in the CIPP discussion. These kinds of resources are VERY expensive to provide, and as a result of declining budgets and increased costs, libraries have been forced to cut back. I write this as a librarian working in an academic research library that subscribes to Jstor $35,000 and Proquest dissertations/theses at $27,851. Our total budget for e-resources is over $1,000,000… and this does not keep pace with increases in costs. The costs of these resources, especially serials, is something that has been oft discussed in the library literature with articles such as < http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6651248.html >, < http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-science-journal-crisis >, and < http://www.arl.org/sc/marketplace/journals/ >.

 

One of the issues with many of the journals in Jstor and Artstor is that they often bundled with lots of other journal titles saving costs, but making it difficult to pick and choose titles. Subscribing to packages via Elsevier, Springer, … is even more expensive. Publishers heavily restrict who can access the packages, often limiting concurrent users to the packages. In real terms this means that only affiliated users logging in from campus or at the library may have online access. Even then access to particular titles may not be available. This can be because the title is too recent (Jstor has a “moving wall” of on average 5 years before a title is available online to protect publishers), or that title in not available as part of the package. Even AIC has a 5-year moving wall on its website, even for members. In other cases, titles for some journals published by scholarly societies might not be available other than in print. This is especially true for the humanities.

 

While working in a research library has its advantages, it does not solve all challenges of access. There may be options, evenif not affiliated with a research library. Joining a “friends” group can give one borrowing privileges and perhaps access to selected databases and inter-library loan (ILL). Likewise some libraries may also allow one to purchase access to other resources beyond that. While it is worth asking AIC to pursue providing access to titles, I fear that trying to corral and pay for the breadth of resources desired would be very costly and complex. Calls for assistance with research would effectively require at least one full-time research librarian position with access to the collections AND the ability to share that research. Even with grant support, it would invariably need to be fee-for-service to be sustainable.

 

When Jeff asked me to expand on my posting to the CIPP list I used an article he recently posted in ICON’s Journal of the Institute of Conservation, Vol. 33, No. 1, 2010 as an example. Jeff has the abstract of the article at < http://jeffpeachey.wordpress.com/2010/05/12/the-use-of-parchment-to-reinforce-split-wooden-bookboards/ >. Logging into the publisher’s (Francis and Taylor offers it electronically for ICON) website it showed that Syracuse provided access to some of the titles they offer, just not this one. The option to buy an e-version directly was not available… Ordering a print copy of the issue from the publisher would cost $228. Jeff cannot really share the article himself because of the restrictions incurred when he signed away his rights to the article for it to be published in the journal, a common practice that the AIC Journal also demands.

 

This brings us to the next topic… The “rights” (copyright) issue is a complex one, and authors often give away their copyright to their research and other work in order to get published… Then, their institutions (in most cases) have to buy back the output of that work, often created “on the clock,” at very steep prices through those journal subscriptions… Where one publishes can be dictated by tenure requirements (the more prestigious the journal the better), subject matter, intended audience, and any number of other variables…

 

In the case of Jeff’s article,

 

“It is a condition of publication that authors assign copyright or license the publication rights in their articles, including abstracts, to ICON, The Institute of Conservation. This enables us to ensure full copyright protection and to disseminate the article, and of course the Journal, to the widest possible readership in print and electronic formats as appropriate.  Authors retain many other rights under the Taylor and Francis policies, which can be found at < http://www.informaworld.com/authors_journals_copyright_position >. In addition, authors are themselves responsible for obtaining permission to reproduce copyright materials from other sources.”

 

AIC’s policy is at < http://www.conservation-us.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=page.viewpage&pageid=586 >. In contrast to ICON, AIC provides free access online. Some organizations do, others do not seeing it as benefit of membership. These policies are regardless of whether the publication is print only, a hybrid, or “e” only. They will also dictate how the articles can be shared, whether authors can deposit them in repositories (see below), share via their websites, and much, much more… The fine print is required reading.

 

In effect, institutions are paying twice for the research and scholarly output of their faculty and staff – once as they pay for their salaries and provide resources to do research, and then again to pay for the outcomes of that research through subscriptions to journals without retaining any of the rights.

 

There is a way out of this, but that requires work and a very long, patient view. That way is “open access” (online) publication. E-Conservation at < http://www.e-conservationline.com/ > would be an example in our field that I know of. So is the Distlist/CoOL. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ at < http://www.doaj.org >) has listings of thousands of journals in all disciplines that are “open access.” Open Access does not imply “public domain” with the authors giving away their copyright, but it does mean that the publications can be freely accessed, shared, and the research built upon. Many are peer-reviewed, just like those exclusive print journals or the AIC Journal and the peers are sometimes even the same as for the exclusive print journals. For more information see , < http://www.doaj.org/doaj?func=loadTempl&templ=about > or Peter Suber’s overview at < http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/overview.htm >.

 

If we as authors don’t want to start our own “open access” publications – doesn’t always cost money, just tons of sweat equity, but also very rewarding from my own experience with The Bonefolder < http://www.philobiblon.com/bonefolder > – we can choose to publish or work via our own websites or “institutional repositories” (IRs) to those working in academia. Here at Syracuse where I work, we recently launched our IR < http://surface.syr.edu/>. I plan to use it for departmental (Department of Preservation and Conservation, Library) manuals, project descriptions, proposals, presentations. This is in addition to using it for my own articles. Individuals can also set up free accounts via SelectedWorks, also hosted by the Berkeley Electronic Press (BePress), with my output at < http://works.bepress.com/peter_verheyen/ >. The advantage of these over sites like Google Docs or one’s own domain is that they work to create and maintain a digital preservation environment in which the documents are more likely to persist over time, important for citations. They also make sure the content is well indexed and rises to the top of Google searches.

 

There are benefits and drawbacks to all publication methodologies. For professionals, the most important is acknowledging that peer-review is essential for vetting research, treatment reports and the like. It can also be critical for professional advancement, especially for those working in “faculty-like” environments. However, as authors we need to be more assertive in retaining our intellectual property rights to our research so as to allow their work to be shared more widely. For example, this could include agreeing to a 6 month “embargo” period during which the publishers have exclusive rights to share the work, but after which authors are allowed to work with the material as they feel appropriate, including republication. The language of agreements is also important because most often restricted is the final published version of an article, with the author able to share the preprint version. Reading the fine print is critical.

 

We can lament the lack of accessibility to professional research, but in doing so must acknowledge our collective role, beginning with signing away our rights, in perpetuating the publication models that can severely limit that access to our peers. What needs to develop is a balanced approach that acknowledges the role scholarly societies play in facilitating research with the rights of the authors and the need for that research to be available. The US National Institutes of Health as taken a lead in that by mandating that any research receiving funding be available “open access” and posts it’s policy online at < http://publicaccess.nih.gov/ >. While not conservation related, it is serving as a model for other disciplines and repositories, especially moving forward because it will be difficult, if not impossible to open up those materials now “owned” by the scholarly societies and publishers unless they themselves agree. Libraries will follow their leads and restrictions, and cannot break their contractual obligations. They can however facilitate the creation of institutional or discipline specific repositories.

What I have attempted to do is outline some of the issues related to being able to access “the literature,” something that is only becoming more complex as society’s and publisher’s business models change, the technology of publishing changes, and user’s expectations rise. In pursuing elusive references we will need to become increasing nimble and self-reliant in that we build the costs of access into our business models or budget for them with our institutions should we not have access already.

 

Email: verheyen(at)philobiblon(dot)com

The Use of Parchment to Reinforce Split Wooden Bookboards

I was quite pleased to receive the new Journal of the Institute of Conservation, Vol. 33, No. 1, 2010, since Alexis Hagadorn and I have an article included in it titled “The use of parchment to reinforce split wooden bookboards, with preliminary observations into the effects of RH cycling on these repairs”

Here is the abstract:

Split wooden boards are a common problem in early book bindings, and treatment can be complicated by the need to disturb original components as little as possible. A technique used to reinforce or rejoin fully or partially split wooden boards using parchment has been evaluated. A reinforcing parchment strip has sometimes been employed to treat cracks in wooden musical instruments and examples of reinforcing strip repairs to wooden bookboards have also been observed. The books considered in this article presented an opportunity to use this technique and make observations about its merits. With favourable results but some questions, the authors undertook a systematic study of this method, considering and comparing several options for re-joining split wooden boards. Samples of some common repair techniques were made and subjected to relative humidity cycling to compare how each method might withstand extreme RH fluctuations at a constant temperature. The response of reinforcing strip repairs to RH changes showed a negative impact on join adhesion within the sample group, which may indicate that modifications are necessary to improve this technique. When re-examined after three years, the treated boards were intact and stable.”

It took over four years from the start of the project until the revised manuscript was accepted for publication, but it is gratifying to see the results of our research, and images of a couple of my treatments in a peer reviewed journal.  Unfortunately, the journal is not available online yet, although I have heard it is in the works.  And if you are not a member of ICON, this single issue costs, gulp, $228.oo!


Outside Of The Text: My Work In Book Conservation

(The complete version of this article is at.  Center for Mennonite Writing, CMW Journal Vol. 2, No. 2. Don’t miss the new translation of a short lyric below Jan Luyken’s “The Bookbinder”, from his 1694 Book of Trades in the introduction to the Journal. My article details what book conservation is, how it differs from book restoration and bookbinding, then traces some ethical decisions during the course of a treatment. Below is the beginning.)

A book conservator often enters into public perception heavily colored by, and often confused with, romantic notions of a “Master Craftsman,” “Master Bookbinder,” or “Master Restorer.” In a world where many use their hands only to tap at a keyboard or lift a cup of coffee, the idea of a craftsman seems refreshingly simple, a bit anachronistic, very poetic and entirely appealing. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately!) these romantic ideas of a bookbinder bear little resemblance to what I do.

Although the terminology is somewhat debatable, in North America a bookbinder is usually someone who makes new fine bindings, or binds small editions, or repairs old books, often by putting new bindings on them. A book restorer, often working for the antiquarian or rare book trade, restores a book to an imagined, often pristine state, previous to damage, use or age. Many also make period bindings. (1) A book conservator attempts to preserve all the information that a book embodies, and ideally tries not to alter or change any existing element. Although conservators employ a full arsenal of craft skills, they also must know the history of book structure, be familiar with a wide variety of materials, have knowledge of preventative conservation and also understand methods of documentation. (2) The process is decidedly prosaic and cautious, and tends to adopt a scientific methodology.(3)

Figure 1

Fig 1. This romantic view is nothing new. Above is a 19th century plate of a bookbinder at work. Note the cherubic children who appear to be joyfully playing rather than working. Does the engraver imply that a bookbinder’s work was so simple a child could do it?

In contrast, bookbinding, or crafting an object, involves creating something, usually from raw or partially prepared materials. Craft often implies, at least today, a personal relationship to the work. Craft often involves handwork….

(READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE)

Or it is also located here:

http://www.mennonitewriting.org/journal/2/2/outside-text-my-work-book-conservation/