500th Blog Post. A Look Back at the First One: Philosophy of Conservation

Eleven years ago when I started this blog. I didn’t have a clear idea of what it would become, I just wanted some kind of presence on the web. Over time it has become a place to investigate book history, advertise my book conservation business, examine some of my tool collection, promote my workshops, dip my toes into the philosophy of craft, and announce new bookbinding tools.

Two years ago, the tools moved to  Peachey Tools.  I use instagram for more image based sharing. The board slotting machine has a following among book conservators, my book conservation and tool businesses keep chugging along, and I do a fair amount of teaching.

Looking over my posts, they keep returning to four main topics: tools, books, craft, and conservation.

An unintended benefit of sustained blogging is how it feeds longer term writing projects: sometimes by immediate gratification, sometimes by regular practice, and sometimes by feedback from readers. Tom Conroy in particular deserves a thank you for his 52 comments, many of which contain new information, and several which exceed the word count of the original post!

Below is my first blog post — a mini-manifesto, really — my philosophy of conservation. Those who know me may be surprised I’m not as pessimistic concerning the future of book conservation as I was in 2008. The quality and sensitivity of book conservation has increased in the past 11 years, at least from what I see of it, and  book conservation education continues to evolve with change as society and the uses and values of books change. But there is still much work to do. Onward!

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Philosophy of Conservation (originally published  17 April 2008)

It was almost 100 years ago that Douglas Cockerell wrote, “Generally speaking, it is desirable that the characteristics of an old book should be preserved… It is far more pleasant to see an old book in a patched contemporary binding, than smug and tidy in the most immaculate modern cover.”   Today, I am disheartened to find what little has changed; rows and rows of rebound or insensitively rebacked volumes, giving no hint of their original nature.  All to often, books and the information they contain are needlessly  destroyed by inappropriate or outdated techniques.

As microfilming, photocopying, and digital methods of storing and transmitting conceptual information become more and more prevalent, I feel the intrinsic aspects of books and paper artifacts: their physical construction, material content, aesthetics, and tactile qualities, are irreplaceable and will prove to be the most valuable.  These are the aspects I preserve for future generations.

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Bookbinding and the Care of Books Lyons and Burford,  p. 306

One Year Anniversary

Today is the one year anniversary of this blog. I’ve noticed a number of people celebrate the anniversary of their blog.  Besides birthdays and my wedding anniversary (which both my wife and I often forget!) I can’t think of any other anniversaries I celebrate. Why do I feel like doing one for this blog?  I’ve noticed other bloggers have similar feelings.

I’ve really enjoyed the discipline of writing a post roughly once a week, it has given me a chance to investigate and think about things that are slightly outside the usual scope of conservation discourse.  And it has helped improve, I think, both the speed and quality of my writing, which I hope will become manifest in some other projects.  Tags are a useful tool to organize and build on previous posts–hopefully they will lead to a larger, more coherent whole down the road.  A special thanks to all readers who have submitted comments; there are some valuable, original ideas expressed.

But there are some downsides to blogging.  I really dislike the quantification and statistical nature of the “dashboard”, but it is hard to ignore.  (FYI: This blog has had 19,761 visits, 60 posts, 118 comments and 7,840 rejected spam comments. The most popular post is the tool catalog, with 1,507 visits.)  It can easily become creating popularity for its own sake, as Lee Siegel points out in his book.  Even more distressing is Siegel’s observation that the web 2.0 is in some regards the apotheoses of capitalism– we have become the producers as well as the consumers.  And the plethora of information leads to powerlessness, not empowerment.  Since Communism has collapsed, and Capitalism is on the brink, Marx is becoming more and more appealing.  A great introduction are 13 video lectures by David Harvey,  distinguished professor at the City University of New York, which can be downloaded as video or audio podcasts, or streamed online.  Harvey  has taught Marx’s Capital Volume I for over 40 years– the breadth of his knowledge is amazing and the class is uncannily relevant to our current situation.  

 

NOTES

Siegel, Lee.  Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob.  New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2008.