Spanish is not my native language. Luckily, I can read it well enough to appreciate this compelling and solemn work by the Columbian poet Francia Elena Goenaga. The cover image does not reveal much about the nature of the book. However, the title reads “Babiuscas Para Niños Muertos Que No Pueden Dormir”, which translates to “Lullabies For Dead Children That Can’t Sleep”.
The title sets a tone that is quite somber. This is further highlighted by the subheading on the title page, which reads “Para los niños Colombianos que han sufrido violencia y sus madres”. This translates to “For the Colombian children who have suffered from violence and their mothers”. As dedications go, this is a specific and sentimental one. It inspires one to be pensive as they delve deeper into the book and read the poetry within.
Accompanying said poetry are a set of 14 illustrations that create an intriguing juxtaposition with the text.
Colorful studies of various dead birds appear throughout the book in striking detail. There is something to be said about comparing the visual of something dead to something sleeping. And since this is a book of “lullabies” in the form of poems, I find the choice to combine them with these illustrations remarkably provoking.
When a book this delicate and artistic come across my bench, I want to treat it delicately as well. As you may have noticed, this book was not originally bound.
It is too risky to send a book like this to the stacks since pages could be lost. The best solution for a book like this is to sew it into a pamphlet binder. Now our patrons can request this book and enjoy its artistry safely.
Here at Duke University Libraries, we’re fortunate to have a stunning collection of artist books from all over the world. Just like a regular book, artist books can come in a range of shapes and sizes. Some, however, come in more unusual shapes than most, which in turn can pose some interesting conservation questions.
As you’ve probably noticed, this is not simply a book. “Oubey: Mindkiss” is made up of a sculptural slipcase containing five separate books.
Each book is devoted to the work of t late artist Oubey and is organized by the medium of the work or the time period the work was made.
The piece is clearly a work of art in itself. This is all the more evident by the fact that it has won multiple awards for its design. However, there are features of this item that have to be addressed from the view of a conservator, rather than one of an artist.
For one, the sculptural top of the slipcase consists of shapes and edges that are noticeably sharp. Pair that with the hard plastic material it’s made of, and you have an item that is bound to do some damage.
I am mostly referring to the damage the slipcase would do to any object placed beside it, but honestly this slipcase could probably hurt your hands as well if not handled carefully.
If this item were to sit as is on a shelf next to other items as normal, there is no way the stiff plastic edges wouldn’t eventually catch, snag, or tear the item beside it.
Another common problem with slipcases is how easily the books within them can fall out. These books are no exception due to the slippery, metallic material they are covered with. That combined with the equally slippery plastic case means the books have an especially high risk of sliding around.
Additionally, the plastic of the slipcase might be doing damage to the books inside of it over time. Although the books are still reflective and metallic (I provided proof in the following photo), if you look at the covers more closely you can see many horizontal scratch marks across the surface of each cover.
This observation is more of an assumption than a proven fact, but my guess is that these scratch marks are the result of the repetitive in and out motion of the books when they are removed or inserted in to the slipcase. The books fit rather snugly into the case, so they could be rubbing up against the inside whenever they move.
So, what can a conservation specialist do?
Unfortunately, I can’t fix the issue regarding the covers of the books. Even if I knew how of a way treat metallic coatings (which I certainly don’t), something would still have to be done about the material of the slipcase rubbing up against the covers in the first place. An extreme solution would be to refrain from taking the books out of the slipcase at all, but then future readers would lose access to a significant portion of the information this item has to offer.
On a more positive note, something can be done about the nature of the slipcase. Luckily that solution is simple. We just make a box for it.
Does it feel a bit like hiding away a piece of art? Sure. However, as a library, one of our priorities is maintaining our collections while providing access to them. Making a box will protect our collections while also insuring that “Oubey: Mindkiss” is safer to handle for future patrons. And that’s a win for everyone.
After my recent dabbling in miniature book work, I felt it was only appropriate to switch things up and work on something large.
These two sizeable sets of East Asian books were exactly what I was looking for. Occasionally a set like this would be broken down into its individual books. However, since each set came with a unique cloth enclosure, they were cataloged as one whole item.
Therefore, I will treat each set as a single unit.
So, What is the Treatment?
I am glad that we are keeping the original enclosures, however it makes my job trickier. The current case doesn’t provide enough protection as it is. Even just a gentle push is enough to slide the books out of the enclosure, which could cause unwanted damage to the books in the set.
The best treatment option is to make each set a new box. That way the entire unit will be safer whenever it is transported or handled.
Normally this wouldn’t be anything new, but boxing something this tall is a first for me. The thickest books I’ve worked with were typically four or five inches thick as most. On the other hand, these two sets are a whopping nine and eleven inches tall.
Due to their size, a normal clamshell box is no longer an option. If I applied their dimensions to our usual clamshell design, the box would not fit on the sheets of E-Flute board that we have in the lab. The best solution to this problem is to make a telescoping box instead, which is made of two parts (an interior piece and a lid) instead of one.
How Do You Make Such a Large Box?
Even with this alternative design I had to make some adjustments. The book sets were large enough that they still didn’t quite fit on the boards. This meant I had to change how I transferred the design onto the board.
To make the majority of the box fit, I made all my measurements from the center line of the board edge. This method allows me to fit all the critical parts of the box on the board.
With all the important marks made I can now crease the board, make the necessary cuts, and assemble the interior piece of the box.
The lack of board is more apparent once the box is put together.
Luckily the solution is a simple one. All I need is a piece of scrap E-Flute (which we have plenty of) to fill the gap in the side wall.
Once that is complete, I made the lid of the box. I measured this piece the same way I did before in order to be as economical as possible with the board.
After that I just had to repeat the process for the second set of volumes.
Now these massive sets are ready to go! Too bad they’re still just as heavy though.
Over the past year, I’ve been working on an exhibit revolving around the work I do in Conservation Services and the Collection Services Division as a whole. As luck would have it, Beth has this wonderful miniature book press that fit perfectly into the display case I was in charge of designing.
But what is a book press without a book to press? With that in mind, I took this opportunity to make my first miniature book.
First, I made a tiny book block.
I left the paper longer than it needed to be so that I could weigh the pages down while I sewed it all together. Once that was done, I decided it would be nice to try and round the spine. This proved to be a bit difficult with the normal tools we use for rounding.
I felt I was more likely to just crush the entire spine with the hammer than actually round it. A Teflon folder made for a safer option for this tiny spine.
Next, I needed to trim the book block to a more appropriate size. I started to cut it with just a scalpel and a ruler, but as you can see that wasn’t really going well or looking particularly nice.
I decided instead to try to trim the book in a more traditional method. This meant placing the book block into a press and using a sharp, flat blade to cut across the pages evenly.
This was much more successful and I ended up with a nice and neat book block.
After that, I covered the spine with a Japanese tissue for strength. Then I added a textile spine lining as well as a paper lining for additional support.
Now I could make the covers, which ended up being the easiest part of this whole process.
The hardest part came next, which was casing the book block into the covers. Because the book is so tiny, it was difficult to make sure the book didn’t move out of place as I glued up the paper that would connect the book block to the covers.
I eventually managed to figure it out and put the book in a press to dry flat.
I have to say it looks a bit silly in the full-sized press.
But once it was dry, the book was done!
It certainly fits in much better with a press its own size.
There’s something special about a book made with handmade paper. You don’t come across it too often in general collections, but, when you do, you want to take extra good care of it. This week a beautiful example of this arrived at the lab in the form of The Poems of Sappho, printed in 1910. As you can see in the images below, the book was in rather rough shape. I could tell it would be the perfect candidate for a new case. This means I would need to make new covers for this book.
Upon opening it, I immediately noticed the lovely deckled edges of the paper and what appeared to be a watermark.
A watermark is an image or design that is impressed into the paper during the papermaking process. This is easier to see when you hold the paper up to a light like so.
The main purpose of a watermark is to identify the papermaker; however, this watermark goes even further and tells us where the paper was made as well. In this case, the paper was handmade in Italy by a group called “The PM co”, which could possibly refer to The Paper Mills Company.
Saving this paper and the vital information on it is going to be my priority as I treat this book. This should be relatively straightforward, but what happens when two of these pages have been glued to the covers?
Preserving the Paper
When the book was bound, the pastedowns were made with the first and last sheet of the textblock of the book rather than using a separate decorative paper.
In order to make a new case for a book, I have to remove the old covers. I must lift the original handmade paper from the front and back boards to retain it. This can be done by taking an exceptionally thin metal spatula and running it back and forth under the paper to loosen and separate the paper from the covers.
This can be a tricky and time-consuming process if the paper is old and brittle, or if the paper is well adhered to the covers and doesn’t want to come off. Luckily,both pages cooperated with me and I managed to remove the covers without damaging the paper.
A lot of the original board material had to be lifted along with the paper, so the next step is to remove that material from the pages. Leaving it on would make it nearly impossible to neatly reattach the pastedowns when I made a new case for this book. So, I removed as much as I could mechanically before moving onto the rest of the treatment.
With the brand-new case complete, the book and it’s handmade paper are better protected and ready to be handled.
As someone who repairs books for a living, the idiom “don’t judge a book by its cover” can have a much more literal meaning than expected. I’m regularly encountering books that seem to need only one kind treatment from the outside, but then have more problems than I realized on the inside. This can be a bit frustrating when you’ve mentally prepared yourself for one kind of project and instead find yourself tackling more than you had planned for. Even so, it is especially satisfying to finish a treatment on a book that you felt was going to be complicated. In today’s blog, I’ll be sharing my most recent encounter with a book that I misjudged.
The Perkins Library has a great number of collections of Arabic books like the ones you see below.
These books are especially striking due to the eye-catching uniformity of their spines. Outside of how aesthetically pleasing they are, there is an added benefit to the fact that all the books are identical in design. Take a look at this collection of books below. Do any of them look different than the rest?
If you happened to notice the fourth book from the left in particular, then you can see what I meant earlier by “an added benefit”. Thanks to the collections precise design, it’s all the more obvious when something isn’t quite right.
In this case, this poor book seems to have been crushed under something as well as torn along the spine. We certainly can’t leave the book to be handled by patrons in this state, so back to the lab it goes.
At this point, I had assumed the only problem I was dealing with was the crushed spine of the covers/textblock. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t realize that this book had been through more than just some extreme pressure. Right as you open the book to its title page, you’re greeted by discolored paper and some significant black speckling. The spotting continues a good 20 or so pages.
These are the tell-tale signs that not only did the book get wet at some point, but mold had made itself at home here as well.
Now, luckily this isn’t a terrible amount of mold to be dealing with. However, it does mean I have to add several more steps to my treatment before I can tackle the original issue of the crushed spine.
Let’s say there hadn’t been any mold in this book. What would my treatment have looked like?
First, I would remove the covers so I could assess the damage done to the spine of the textblock. Once I had addressed that, I would prepare the textblock as I normally would for a recase. Finally, I would repair the covers by making a new spine piece to replace the damaged one, and reattached the textblock to the case.
Now, I will have to remove all of the mold first before I can start anything else.
Based on the dry and powdery consistency of the mold, I can tell that it is no longer active and can be safely cleaned by hand. To do so, I used a soot sponge to manually clean the mold and debris off of every page.
You can see the immediate difference before and after using the sponge on the old mold, both on the pages and the sponge itself.
The soot sponge is mostly likely also picking up dirt and dust on the pages as well, but regardless it’s clear the book needed a good cleaning.
Now that the textblock is free of the residual mold, I can finally get to the treatment I had planned at the start. This book will be back on the shelves and ready for patrons in no time!
Stamp collecting, often associated with philately (or the study of stamps), is a hobby that has been around since the first postage stamp was issued by Britain in May of 1840. Since then, stamp collecting has been one of the world’s most popular hobbies, resulting in the production of over 400,000 different types of stamp by the year 2000.
Many of the stamps produced are from smaller countries seeking to bring in much needed revenue, which they achieve through the printing of limited run stamps specifically for stamp collectors. One such country happens to be North Korea. This fact came to my attention when a collection of North Korean stamp albums arrived at our lab.
The collection consists of five stapled pamphlets and two bound books, all full of loose stamps in need of securing.
I will mention that it is unclear whether these are actually functional stamps or just coated paper made to look like stamps. There is no noticeable adhesive on the backs of them, and even a UV light analysis and our ordering specialist couldn’t get us any closer to a conclusive answer.
Regardless, we couldn’t risk all of these stamps being lost or stolen. I had to find a way to contain them all so that patrons could access these albums without leaving the fate of these stamps to chance.
How do we treat these items?
Each of these albums is made up of pages containing several small slips of mylar with the bottom edge adhered to the actual page.
Within each of these slips sits either a single stamp or multiple stamps, which varies from page to page.
Although the stamps don’t necessarily fly about or out of the slips as you flip through the pages, it’s obvious that they aren’t exactly going to just stay in place over time.
So, what is the solution here?
Since these mylar slips were already at my disposal, it made the most sense to use them to my advantage. After applying a thin bead of wheat starch paste to the top of each stamp, I tipped each stamp into the mylar and made sure the bottom of the stamp was placed as far down into the slip as possible.
This way the stamp is secured in place without having to glue up the entire back of the item, and the mylar acts as a catch for the bottom of the stamp so that they can’t be pulled out as easily. With the stamps now safely secured, these albums are ready for a closer look at their contents.
How do we interpret these items?
These albums seem to be geared towards foreigners and tourists. Of the seven albums here, three contain text in Korean, Chinese, and English, one contains text in just Korean and English, and the other three contain text in just Korean and Chinese. Seeing as none of these are written only in Korean, it can be assumed that these albums were not intended solely for Korean audiences.
As you have also probably noticed, these stamps cover a wide variety of subjects as well. It seems as though you can find a stamp on just about anything if you really wanted to. This is probably for the benefit of appealing to as many collectors as possible who might only collect certain kinds of stamps.
The world of stamps is quite intriguing, especially considering how they can become vehicles for propaganda. Are you a stamp collector or a philatelist (someone who studies stamps)? Leave a comment with your thoughts on this collection if you are, and leave a comment even if you aren’t! We’d love to hear what you think about our new addition to the Perkins Library. If you’d like to find these items in our catalog, youcanclickanyoftheselinks.
When you look at how books are generally made, you’ll find that a majority of them are either sewn with thread, glued together as individual sheets, or occasionally bound with a combination of sewing and commercial glue.
On rarer occasions, a book will be stapled together. As luck would have it, one of these books recently came across my bench in need of a new cover. At first glance, you can’t immediately tell the difference between a stapled book and a sewn book.
It’s not until you open the book up and look at the gutter of one of the signatures that you might be able to see whether the book is stapled or not.
It’s even easier once you’ve taken the cover off and can look directly at the spine of the textblock. As you can see in the images below, there are staples running through a significant portion of the signatures of this book.
Now, in a perfect world where I have all the time and patience I could want, I might remove the staples, mend any damage to the signatures in the process, sew the book back together, and then make a new cover. In this case, such an approach would be too labor intensive and time consuming. As the only senior conservation technician charged with maintaining the general collections, I cannot devote that much time to one book when I might have as many as 25 other books also waiting to be treated.
With binding structures like this, the treatment decisions tend to boil down to preserving the provenance of the object vs choosing to rebind the book for greater longevity. In this blog post by Peter D. Verheyen in 2011, it’s evident that these wire bindings are a curious part of the history of bookbinding. Since they’re unusual, and since our goal is to conserve as much of the original item as possible, one might think that saving the original binding would be the obvious choice.
But how do technicians in general collections conservation (such as myself) reconcile keeping as much of the original object intact when we also have to prioritize making sure that the book can withstand regular use from patrons? If the staples in the binding had been so rusted that they were breaking whenever I opened the book, I would most likely take a more involved approach to the treatment of this book. An example of such a treatment would be adhering a cotton cambric to the spine and sewing through it along with the textblock, which you can see an example of in this paper by our very own Beth Doyle.
Luckily, in this case, both the paper and the staples were in good enough condition that a secondary treatment wasn’t necessary. However, it could be argued that perhaps I should have gone ahead with the more complex treatment just in case the staples failed in the future. In the end, these are the dilemmas we face in general collections conservation.
I decided that the best course of action would be to clean the spine of its original lining and glue and replace it with a strong Japanese tissue adhered with wheat starch paste. By doing so, the spine is stabilized and strengthened while the staples are also given additional support. This reduces the potential damage that could occur from future use and repeated opening and closing of the book.
With the textblock now in a stable state, I could prepare a new case for the book. The original case had already failed and since the original materials were too fragile to keep using, it didn’t make sense to try and reuse the case. Instead, I made an inset on the front board in order to preserve the original cover material. If you’d like to learn more about the book, you can find the catalog record here.