A Sordid Tale Involving a Book Conservator and an ebook Reader

“The ebook reader is devil spawn, the product of an unholy union between book and machine.”

Jeff Peachey–July, 2009

Last week, in a stark reversal of previously held convictions, I purchased a kindle 2 ebook reader.

Initially inspired by a number of upcoming talks I will be giving concerning the future of books and conservation, I have been reading and thinking about ebook readers for a while, especially in terms of how they might augment, change or supplant paper books.  This machine is emblematic of the societal changes regarding the distribution, consumption and value of books.  It can also evoke ire in those who are firmly enamored with paper books.

So I am slightly ashamed, after wrestling with the dilemma to purchase one or not for a few months, that  I realized, with an intensity almost religious in its conviction, that I wanted one– immediately.  Purely in the interests of research, I told myself.  Last Monday, at 9:17 am I logged on to Amazon and purchased one.  I’m even more embarrassed to admit I succumbed to the same day delivery option for Manhattan.  Who in their right mind would wait 5-9 days for free delivery, I reasoned.  I wanted this machine now.  During the day, I was embarrassed yet again, by how excited and eager I was to get my kindle. At 2:26 that afternoon the machine arrived.

After charging the battery, my first thought was to make some sort of case to  hide protect it.  This proved more challenging than initially envisioned.  A number of designers and computer case makers have fabricated various holders, hinged book-like portfolios and envelopes, but none of these seemed satisfactory, since I found the machine very comfortable when held naked.  I ended up making a slipcase  lined with Volara, which works for now.

The next step was to inform some of my friends and colleagues that I had bought this reading machine.   Not surprisingly, I received a variety of responses, ranging from “WHAT!”  to “WHAT THE…!” to “ARE YOU CRAZY?!!” to “OH_MY_GOD!”  After downloading a number of free books, I settled on my first purchase; “Erewhon”, by Samuel Butler.  It is a novel describing  a future civilization that only has knowledge of machines through reading about them in books.

I must confess that I like the kindle, but have only used it for a week.

THE BAD

*It is another expensive portable electronic device that I have to remember to recharge.

*I keep wanting to scroll, but the machine can only turn pages.

*The page turns are much faster than earlier versions, but still pretty slow, and still accompanied by a split second seizure inducing reversal of text and background.

*ebooks themselves seem overpriced to me- around $10. Since there is no production, distribution and minimal storage costs, $5-$7 would seem more in line with the profit margin on paper books.

*There is no secondary marketplace for ebooks.

*Rapidly “flipping” through to find specific pages is difficult.

*It is strange to read everything in the same font- Caelicia.

*It is strange to read everything on the same “page”.

*The formatting and kerning are quite variable and often very bad.

*The footnotes on the books I have are not in hypertext, so it is awkward to first go back to the table of contents, then to the notes, then page through each to find it.

*The 6 inch screen seems small in relation to the size of the machine. Not that many words-per-page even with a small font size.

*I still find the machine itself a little distracting to the reading process.  Maybe it is just a matter of me getting used to it. It invites me to fiddle with buttons and check the web.

*Occasionally the screen glares in a strong light source.

*The “text to speech” voice is annoying and virtually unlistenable.

*I wish the background of the screen were a little whiter.

*Many books and  journals are not available.

*I don’t like the idea of an ebook readers.

THE GOOD

*It seems well made, the buttons have a nice inward click.  Easy to hold with one or two hands.  Good ergonomics.

*Lighter than an average book of the same size. And obviously, much lighter than 1,500 books.

*Purchased books are backed up by Amazon, and can be shared on other formats, like the iphone or computer.  Even bookmarks and notes are shared.

*It is very convenient not have to think about what book to take when I go out.

*The choice of five font sizes is invaluable for the over 40 crowd.

*It is fantastic to use while eating, lying flat, taking up half the table space of a paper book.

*The eink is clear and easy to look at for long periods of time. Better “print” quality than many common mass market paperbacks.

*There are thousands of free, public domain books available.

*It it a wonderful size for reading in the car or on the subway.  It is very easy to turn the pages on a packed train while standing.

*The battery life is great. I’ve used it constantly for a week, and haven’t turned it off, only recharging it once.

*The free 3G web browser works reasonably well for mobile optimized websites.

*It will help clear up scarce bookshelf space.

*An average book downloads in less than a minute.

*I imagine it will be perfect when traveling- no worries about running out of books, and a lot less weight.

I will avoid the already somewhat tiresome “is the kindle better than a book” debate for now, at least until I’ve had a couple of months to use it.  Suffice to say, there are many issues.  But the ebook reader itself may already be heading towards obsolescence.   A couple of ebook blogers are nervous that the tablet computer, which Apple will possibly introduce later this week, may replace their traditional ebook reader, and are growing anxious and defensive about it. Technology races onward.


American Book Bindery Building, Part 2

industrial conveying

I posted some photos I took of the exterior of the American Book Bindery Building a while ago. When looking through some of the trade catalogues I’ve collected over the years, I was pleased to find this image from the Lamson Company, which specialized in Industrial Conveying. The catalog is not dated, but looks like it is from the 1920’s. The text states the signatures are moving from the folding machine to the gluing benches without first being sewn, which presumably is a mistake.  Now there is a little information about what the bindery looked like on the inside.

Coincidences like these make the world seem a much smaller place.

.

A Drop Spine Cradle Box

Peter Waters, in the introduction to “Boxes for the Protection of Rare Books: Their Design and Construction” established seven basic precepts for designing a protective enclosure in 1982.  It is an excellent analysis of what a good book box should be, and is worth quoting in entirety:

“1. A good box should place the closed volume under light pressure so that is is unlikely to expand, become distorted, or shift position if the box is shaken or dropped.

2. The box should be strongly constructed so that if it sustains a blow any damage to the volume within will be minimized. (Shipping boxes need to be stronger and are not considered here.)

3. Materials used for making boxes should be of the highest permanence and durability, with appearance playing a lesser role than it would in the design of “presentation” boxes.

4. As far as possible, a book box, when assembled and covered, should be a single unit.  Telescopic designs, for example, or boxes with inner sleeves and separate covers can confuse a user who must return each of several visually identical volumes to its own box.

5. The design and location of the label on a closed box should indicate clearly whether it should be shelved vertically or horizontally and how it should be opened. The method of opening and closing a box should always be simple and obvious.  Inadequate directions for opening are potential sources of damage to the book.

6. When possible, a book box should be designed so that the user must remove it from the shelf and place it on a table to open it and must remove the volume with both hands.  A slip case or telescopic case tempts a user to hold it with one hand while removing or replacing the volume with the other hand, which is potentially harmful to the book.

7. With few exceptions, a box design should restrain a user from opening the volume within the box.”

I would add two additional guidelines:

8.  It should be cost effective and simple to construct.

9. Ideally, there should be no abrasion when removing or replacing the book  in the box.  Practically, this is often impossible.

cradle1

Fig 1: A drop spine box with an integral cradle.

With these precepts in mind, I designed a box with an integral cradle. For collectors who read their books (not unheard of!), it is often ideal; most don’t want the hassle of storing or locating rare book room style wedges, and some open their books inside drop spine boxes anyway.  This cradle could also be useful for book artists that want some control over how their books are displayed in an exhibition. In certain circumstances, it might even be useful in an institutional setting.  Dedicated cradles with variable degrees of opening are optimum for consultation and display, but sometimes this is not possible.

I based this box/cradle on one  I saw in  Montefiascone, Italy, this past summer and it was made by Nicholas Hadgraft. His version used velcro to attach the left wedge into the outer tray, but after some experimentation I changed this.  The basic idea, of hinging the cradle platform near the spine was his, I think.  I’ve also heard about a version that automatically raises the cradle, but haven’t seen one yet– I’d be happy to add an image or diagram to this post if anyone has one to share. After thinking, experimenting and making various models, I reached the point where further simplifications created more complications.  I’m sure there are many variations and hope there are potential improvements.

diagram1

Fig 2: Diagram of the layout for a wedge.

The construction is easy and straightforward.  Basically, the two wedges are made, attached together,  then measured with the book to determine the dimensions of the inner tray. After that, the box is constructed as usual.  The construction of drop spine boxes is well documented, so there is no reason to repeat it here.

First, determine the angle of the desired opening for the book.  Then cut the three pieces of board- a spacer, the cradle platform and the upright.  The width of the upright will determine the angle of the cradle. A hinge spacing of four board thicknesses worked well with Iris cloth, but a thicker cloth might need additional space.  When measuring the book, I feel a somewhat “loose” box prevents abrasion of the book edges, when inserting and removing the book, which I feel causes more damage than if the book moves a few mm inside the box. About  one centimeter is a reasonable gap between the spacer and the upright when it is folded flat– it allows for some flexibility in construction, yet adequately supports the book when it is stored.  Then the three pieces are covered like a case binding, and lined.

diagram3

Fig. 3: End view of the book and two wedges, ready to be measured for the tray.

Another important consideration is to add about one spine thickness to the height of the upright in the outer tray, in order to keep the overall angle of each wedge roughly similar to each other. Since the book could eventually be used in a wide variety of page openings, it seemed reasonable to keep the angle of the uprights roughly even.

The wedges were attached to each other by a double layer of book cloth, glued back to back. A variety of materials seem to work for  lining the platform depending on the fragility of the book covering material– I’ve used paper, cloth, volara and polyester felt.  The trays need to be lined before they are measured with the book. It is possible to construct the wedges and spine piece from one piece of cloth, but measuring for a proper fit is fairly difficult and more time consuming, and then the spacers need to be made from separate pieces of cloth.

Note that on the right side wedge, the spacer is glued to the bottom on the inner tray.  This allows the wedge to open, and his prevents the cradle from shifting and collapsing when it is open.  The spacer on the left wedge is glued to the bottom of the cradle platform. This allows it to open independently from the drop spine box, consequently the spine width is closer to the ideal than if the wedges are hinged to the trays.

cradle-in box

Fig. 4: View of the cradle when opening the box.

I try to make the cradle platform fit fairly tight in the inner tray, so that its friction can be used to create slight compression on the book.

One potential drawback is that it effectively doubles the thickness of a standard drop spine box, adding an additional 4 board thicknesses, plus lining materials, but presumably this is more of a concern for institutional, verses private collections.

cradle-first flap

Fig. 5: The box and cradle open, but the uprights not yet raised.

The location of the pull ribbon is quite important, and unfortunately there is no ideal solution.  If it is placed about halfway up in the height, it makes it easy to pull it to 0pen the upright.  But in this position, it can slip under the platform when closed.  If the ribbon slips under the right wedge, it can be very difficult to retrieve (DAMHIKT). For now, locating this closer to the top, or to keep it from slipping by sewing through the hinge, as illustrated here,  seem the best solution.

I trust that Peter Waters would have considered this box as an “exception” to his rule #7, otherwise I plead guilty as charged.

cradle

Fig 6: Competed box with integral cradle in position.

%d bloggers like this: