“Tools that once were the common stuff of everyday life are tools of a different sort to us. They no longer are the implements we use routinely to sustain ourselves; instead, they are tools we can use to understand the past.”
Gaynor, James M. And Nancy L. Hagedorn. Tools: Working Wood in Eighteenth-Century America (Williamsburg, Virginia: Colonial Williamsburg, 1993) xii.
I often think of this quote when I am looking at old tools for sale. It is hard to shake the idea that a tool should be restored to the point it can be used or functions, and a common practice among dealers is to restore a tool to the (imaginary) point it left a craftsman’s hand.
But books are tools. A fairly broad definition of a tool: a device held in the hand to perform a specific task. Which sense of a tool that Gaynor mentions are books?
Questions quickly arise about the reasons for fixing a book. Is it necessary to return function—the original use—to a book if it no longer needs to function in the way it once did? If a book is restored to some point in its history, is its use for understanding the past compromised? How much of its history is erased? How does the physical movement or tactile function of book help us understand the past, if it is no longer used as a tool for reading? Too many questions, but maybe this is a fundamental difference between conservation and restoration: conservation asks a question about an object, restoration gives an answer.