Written by Erin Hammeke, Conservator for Special Collections
I just returned from two fantastic professional development opportunities. First, I attended the Ligatus Summer School class on the History of European Bookbinding 1500-1800, held this year at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, Germany.
Drawing from the instructor Nicholas Pickwoad’s research and using examples from the library’s collection, the class examined how changes in the style and structure of book bindings produced during this period can illustrate the effects of changing pressures and developments in the book trade and in the printing and bookbinding industries at the time.
The class will allow me and my fellow conservators to better contextualize the bindings we comes across during the course of our work as conservators as well as enable us to identify, document, and preserve critical evidence during treatment.
I then went to a workshop taught by Renate Mesmer, Assistant Head of Conservation at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. The workshop Tips & Tricks for Book and Paper Conservation was held in the bookbinding studio at North Bennet Street School in Boston.
It was packed full of practical techniques and handy tricks that Ms. Mesmer has amassed during her 30+ years as a bookbinder, conservator and educator. The tips ranged from pulp-filling paper losses, performing corner and leather repairs, and to creating a new flexible leather binding.
I am really looking forward to sharing these techniques with my colleagues in Conservation and to putting them to good use in my treatments.
Rita Johnston, Digitization Assistant for ROAD 2.0 project has been with the department for one year. She is digitizing outdoor advertising materials described in the Resource of Outdoor Advertising Descriptions database. The bulk of materials being digitized for this project are from the OAAA Archives and OAAA Slide Library collections, but some images from the John Paver Papers and the John E. Brennan Survey Reports are also included.
The project includes about 15,000 photographs and negatives which Rita has digitized, and I have about 12,000 slides which she has sent to a vendor for digitization. She uses different equipment including flatbed scanners and the Zeutschel 14000 A2 scanner for photographs and the Phase One Camera for transparent materials such as negatives. Rita is wrapping up the digitization phase of the project and will begin focusing her attention on normalization and cleanup of the metadata in the ROAD database.
When asked what is the most interesting collection you have worked with, Rita replied:
Since I have mostly been working with materials from the OAAA Archives, the OAAA Archives is the most interesting collection I have worked with. There is a great deal of variety in the content and types of materials in the collection. Much of the subject matter is of billboards, art designs, and other forms of outdoor advertising from the 1910s to the early 1980s.
The subject matter includes food & beverages, local businesses, political propaganda, cars, financial institutions, movies, and of course, beer and cigarettes. It’s really interesting to see how much billboards have changed over time, from the beautiful hand painted signs of the early to mid 20th century to machine printed billboards of later years.
There are even a few interesting examples in the collection of cellulose acetate negatives breaking down. All negatives are prone to deterioration over time, and the process may be sped up if negatives are exposed to high heat and humidity. Some of the negatives smell strongly of vinegar and are warped and cracked where the emulsion is breaking down.
We are all eagerly awaiting Rita’s project to be online. Thanks Rita for all of your hard work!
Mike Adamo, Digital Production Developer, arrived at Duke just over five years ago. Mike graduated with a degree in Photography in 1993 after which he opened and operated a table-top advertising studio for three years in Atlanta Georgia. After that Mike worked in a stock photography studio as a black and white printer for four years. The studio switched from analog to digital photography while he was there so Mike learned about color calibration and color profiles, which was relatively new at the time. He came to Duke after working for four years as a supervisor of a digital imaging unit at a library automation software company in Virginia.
As a Digital Production Developer Mike assess Library collections for digitization, creates images for high end print projects, and designs workflows for digitization projects in the Digital Production Center. He is also responsible for calibrating and maintaining the various cameras and scanners that they use in their daily operations.
When asked about his favorite preservation project, Mike responded:
My favorite project over the years has been building the Digital Production Center. When I started on March 14, 2005, the Digital Production Center was located on Perkins lower level behind the copy room and was often used as a shortcut from the lower level to the RBMSCL. We had one Epson Expression 10000 and a BetterLight scanback fresh out of the box. The camera room had previously been a traditional wet darkroom. The sinks had been removed but some of the plumbing remained jutting out of the walls and though the tiles had been scrubbed clean the chemical stains from years past were still present.
The questions at the time were: What is a digital collection? How do we represent the physical item digitally? What metadata scheme should we use and how do we capture it? While from a distance these questions seem fairly simple and straight forward once we started building digital collections we had to apply the concepts of sustainability and scalability while being as transparent as possible. Easy… right?
Since then, we have moved 3 times and are now in our permanent space (I think). This space was specifically designed with the Digital Production Center in mind. Our air handler is HEPA filtered, the lighting is full spectrum, the monitors are color calibrated, the walls are 18% gray, the floor is cork and we have a large vault that we share with Conservation.
We added another flatbed scanner, a dedicated quality control station, a P65 Phase One R-Cam, a Zeutschel 14000 A2, a SAMMA Solo video encoder a high-end light table (for digitizing negatives on the Phase One), 2 FTE, additional students and a database to track production and collect technical metadata. In addition to all of this a few months ago we added a Scribe book scanner through the Internet Archive. Our production rates have gone from 4000 + digital images the first year to a projected 100,000 digital images this year and that doesn’t include the images created using the Scribe.
We have come a long way in a short time.
You can see some of the work that Mike and the DPC staff on the Digital Collections Blog.
The interesting thing about Islamic bindings is that they haven’t changed much. According to Jane Greenfield in “ABC of Bookbinding,” the format was likely learned from binders in Ethiopia. This structure strongly influenced bookbinding in Europe, traveling through Italy and Spain.
Extant bindings are generally made of highly burnished paper text blocks with a simple chain stitch. The covers were made off the book and included a fore edge flap. The case itself was adhered in a tight-back fashion (the spine of the case is glued to the spine of the text block). The endbands are an interesting combination of sewn and woven techniques as described in “Headbands and How to Work Them
” by Jane Greenfield and Jenny Hille. The leather-covered boards and flap were decorated, but not the spine. More information can be found on the National Library of Medicine’s Islamic Medical Manuscripts
Our models strayed a little from the extant bindings we looked at from our collections. Mostly due to our desire to keep personal costs down, we used Western paper and book cloth to create our samples. They follow the original structure, and we now understand the bindings a little better than we did before. You can see Jamie’s wonderful models
on his Flickr page. Henry’s model is at the top of this post, can see more on Henry’s web site
What struck me is how influential these bindings were on the progression of binding through Europe. The chain stitching, sewn headbands, the case construction…these were lost and seemingly rediscovered sometime later in the 19th Century A.C.E. What happened? how did this structure migrate through Europe, get lost, and come back without being cited as a major influence in the histories of book binding? We need a better understanding of non-European bookbinding history. Anyone have some good resources for that? they seem to be missing from the canon.
The Triangle Research Libraries Network (TRLN) Bookbinders is a group of staff members from the conservation labs of UNC, NC State and Duke University libraries that meet monthly to study historic book bindings and recreate them by making binding models. Membership to the group is by invitation only as our space is limited.
We have been meeting for a little over a year, and I’m far behind on reporting on our projects. I’ll be uploading several posts over the next few weeks for your reading enjoyment.
Our first project was to investigate Ethiopic bindings. We have several extant bindings in our Rare Book, Manuscript and Special Collections Library so we had a lot to look at.
Dating from the 4th Century C.E. the Ethiopic Binding, also sometimes called Coptic Binding, is the first multi-section binding known to exist. It was commonly used until the Middle Ages, but similar bindings are found through the 19th Century C.E. The text blocks were made of papyrus or parchment, however our models are paper. The boards are sewn directly onto the text block. These books were commonly covered with leather and carried in a leather case called a Mahdar. Many of our models were left uncovered so you can see the sewing structures. An in-depth discussion of the history of these bindings can be found in J.A. Szirmai’s “Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding.”
The single book on left is by Jamie Bradway. Finished models by class participants.
More images from our sessions can be found on Flickr.
Oscar Arias has been at Duke University Libraries for eleven years. Six months ago he joined the staff of the Digital Production Center as a Digitization Specialist. The DPC digitizes rare and fragile items to make them available in digital format.
Oscar is usually involved in any of the three main stages of the digitizing process: assessing the collection to develop a digitizing work flow and digitization guide, the actual scanning or digitizing of materials (using a variety of scanners or video digitizing equipment), and the quality control phase.
When asked to describe an interesting project he has worked on, Oscar replied:
One of the most interesting collections I’ve worked with is the collection of papers of Marshall T. Meyer. Dr. Meyer was an American activist Rabbi who worked in Argentina in the 1970’s, during the period of military dictatorship and repression. This period gave way to what came to be known as “La Guerra Sucia,” or the Dirty War, as it came to be known, in which thousands of Argentine citizens were “Desaparecidos,” or disappeared and presumed dead, or incarcerated without trial for suspected opposition to the government.
Rabbi Meyer was an activist and advocate for human rights during this dark period of Argentine history, and he personally advocated for the release of political prisoners. As part of the collection that we had to digitize, there were many original hand-written letters from prisoners and other original documents filled with gut wrenching testimonies of arrests, incarcerations and torture, and the desperate plight of family members of those disappeared or incarcerated.
I remember reading in school in some distant history book about the military dictatorship in Argentina in the late 1970’s. But being able to browse and read some of these hand-written, first-hand accounts in Spanish (my native language) was a profoundly different experience. It helped to remember that behind the news headlines of some distant conflict or behind the title of a chapter in a history book, there are real human beings with names and faces and real stories of tragedy during times of war and oppression. I look forward to the time of the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “And they will have to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 4:2)
Note on image: Correspondence to Rabbi Meyers from Deborah Esther Benchoam, a political prisoner who was held in cell 55 of the Villa Devoto women’s prison during the repression. From the RBMSCL Marshall T. Meyer Collection.
Heritage Preservation, the sponsors of May Day 2010, has pulled our name from a hat and awarded us a prize for our May Day blog post. Four winners from all of the participants were randomly drawn by members of the DC 16 firehouse, Heritage Preservation’s local firemen. Very fitting, no?
A list of all the participants finds us in good company. The other winners were Lycoming College’s Snowden Library, the Toy and Minature Museum of Kansas City, and the Balboa Art and Conservation Center.
Our prize is six Rescubes, perfect for those days when you come into work after a long summer holiday weekend only to discover that a water fountain pipe burst sometime at the beginning of that three day weekend, and there are three floors of wet carpeting and a small mold issue to deal with. Not that we would know from personal experience. [It’s all cleaned up now and dehumidifiers and carpet fans are on scene.] Happy Tuesday!
Alex Marsh is a Digitization Specialist in the Digital Production Center. He has been with us for five months and works primarily with rare and fragile materials from a variety of collections. He has recently worked with the Ethiopic Manuscripts collection, Duke University Herbarium materials, and American broadsides from the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections. Many of these will be made available through our digital collections portal.
Alex works with several different cameras to digitize the collections. Large materials or those that are particularly fragile go under the Phase One Camera. The Zeutschel 14000 A2 scanner is best for those items that are smaller and flat, like manuscript collections or typescripts. We also have a new SAMMA Solo migration system for digitizing our rare and aging videotape.
When asked to describe one of his favorite projects he said:
“The most interesting collection I have worked with so far are the Ethiopic manuscripts. They are very old and fragile and I cannot read the text, so I feel like an archeologist when I am handling them. Photographing the pages is tricky because they often do not lay flat, which causes focus issues, and, because I cannot read the text, it is possible to inadvertently miss a page or photograph the same page twice if I am not careful. It is exciting to work with such rare material and I look forward to seeing the project in digital format after completion.”
Images from Ethiopic Manuscript #35.
This year marks the Preservation Department’s tenth year serving the Duke University Libraries. We are planning several events to mark the occasion which will include exhibits, an open house, and interviews with staff members.
We will start our staff interviews with our longest-serving team member Winston Atkins, Preservation Officer for the libraries. Winston came to Duke from NC State a decade ago and was tasked with starting the Preservation Department. You can also find this and other videos at our Duke University Libraries You Tube channel.
We would love to hear from you if you have favorite Preservation, Conservation or DPC story to share, or would just like to give us a shout out and let us know how we are doing. Contact me and I’ll compile them for a blog post later.
Join us as we watch “Don Etherington: A Sixty-year Odyssey in Bookbinding and Conservation.” Mr. Etherington has worked tirelessly as a conservator, educator, writer and leading voice in conservation theory and practice. He has been a teacher and mentor to many conservators working in the field today and has led an enormously interesting life from apprentice bookbinder to proprietor of Etherington Conservation Services (now part of the HF Group).
This video is part of the Syracuse University Library Brodsky Series for the Advancement of Library Conservation. Follow this link for more on the series and past speakers.
Perkins Library, Room 217
Bring your lunch.
All are welcome.