On this day in 2009 our blog was born! Looking back, we have accomplished quite a lot here over those 11 years. We are rapidly approaching our 500th post. It seemed fitting to celebrate by highlighting our eleven most popular stories or “quick pics” from the lab:
I was a bit surprised to see that three of the top posts are from this calendar year. With the disruption to everyone’s work over the last 9 months, it has been a little more challenging to keep to our usual publishing schedule. But with everyone spending more time at home these days, I guess that also means more folks are looking for something to read. Welcome to our new readers and a huge ‘thank you’ to long-time followers who have stuck with us! Here’s to another 11 years of preservation stories, coming to you from the library basement. Have a safe and restful holiday.
As readers may remember we had a painting at Lilly Library spontaneously fall off the wall this summer while we were all working from home. The painting’s hanging wire was very brittle and snapped. It’s difficult to say whether it snapped first then fell, or broke on the way down as it snagged on the hook. Regardless, we started worrying about the wires on the Duke Family Portraits that hung high above the reference desk, and whether those, too, were in danger of falling. After consultation with Lilly and library administration, we decided we needed to remove these before the semester began and before people were in the building again.
Needless to say this was not an easy endeavor. It took staff from Lilly, Conservation, LSC, Shipping and Receiving, Cataloging, and art handlers to make it happen. Here’s a visual play by play of the action. Click on the images for a larger view.
The first step was for our vendor to fabricate crates for each painting. Those were made and delivered to Lilly.
The “travel” crates have wood frames with corrugated coroplast sides to lighten the weight of the crates. Each painting ranges from 48″ wide to 73″ tall and 3″ deep. So every ounce counts with crates this size.
Next step was to get them off the wall and this required a small two-person lift. We had to temporarily remove the security gate to get it in through the front door.
Before crating we wanted to vacuum the decades of dust off the frames and paintings. While Rachel vacuumed, Peter and his crew kept removing paintings from the wall.
Next step was to attach coroplast backings and mounting hardware so we could screw them into place in the crates. It also gave us a chance at a closer look at the damage the frames have sustained over the years. Our decision to remove these now was confirmed when we saw that the eye screws in some were starting to pull out of the frames.
Next was to get them secured in the crates and labeled. We asked Cataloging to create stub records and assign barcodes for these so we could track their location in storage.
Once crated they were ready to move to the LSC. We had extra hands on site so that we could move them safely out of the building, down the ramp, and onto the truck. As four people moved the crates, one stayed with the truck to make sure the contents were secure.
These are now safely at LSC. One of the things we did right was to write the name of the portrait and the barcode on both ends of the crates just in case our lovely picture labels would not be visible when they were placed in the facility. Turns out that was a great idea because that is exactly what happened.
Moving these while the library closed proved to be a good decision. We had space to work safely and didn’t have to worry about working around staff or students.
The paintings will come back to Lilly Library eventually, once they’re able to be rehung safely and securely.
Photos courtesy Kelley Lawton, Rachel Penniman, and Beth Doyle.
We are slowly getting back to a “new normal” for the lab. Lab staff have returned on a two-day-on/three-day-off weekly schedule to allow for social distancing. We have new lab cleaning protocols in place for shared equipment, we are wearing masks, and we are figuring out how to navigate the building to avoid people as much as possible. We have also brought back the work we took to the secure stacks while we were away.
Our current priority is to do repairs to support the Library’s “digital first” initiative. This means we are prioritizing repairs for digital imaging requests from faculty and patrons for the fall semester. We are also working on some exhibit prep and general collections repair. It feels really good to be back in the office and at the bench, even if it is for a shortened week.
I have been very grateful to have the option of working from home over the last couple of months as we weather this pandemic, but I still really miss working at the bench and doing treatment. It looks like we may be able to return to the lab soon, so I wanted to start a bit of manual dexterity practice in my spare time to prepare – like doing a home workout for my hands. I’ve wanted to make a model of a Byzantine binding for some time now, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
The Byzantine binding style originated in the tenth century and is commonly characterized by unsupported chain-stitch sewing, wooden boards with channelled edges, textblock edges trimmed flush with the boards, and protuding primary endbands. The Rubenstein Library holds a number of Greek manuscripts bound in this style, which can be seen in the Early Manuscripts digital collection. It can be difficult to create a satisfactory model of a binding without being able to closely examine a historical example, but I thought it would be a useful exercise to make an attempt. Michael Burke’s 2010 presentation at the Guild of Book Workers Standards of Excellence seminar and Greenfield & Hill’s Headbands: How to Work Them (1990) were my primary references for this first attempt.
I already had most of the materials necessary to make the model at home, so I started with folding and pressing some wove paper to make the textblock. I only ended up with 13 sections of 6 folios with the paper I had on-hand, but I would have preferred the textblock to be a bit thicker. Five recessed sewing stations were cut into the folds of the sections using a scalpel. I purchased 1/4″ quarter-sawn white oak boards from Colophon Book Arts Supply.
I trimmed the textblock to fit at head and tail, thinking it would be easier to square up while sewing. In the future I will just leave all edges long and plough in-boards after sewing.
The boards were drilled for the board attachment and endbands using a hand drill. I used chisels to cut V-shaped grooves into the head, tail, and fore-edge of each board and shaped the spine edges with a hand plane.
Normally, the sewing for a book will start at one side (e.g. the front board or first section) and proceed through the textblock to the other (e.g the lower board or last section). In the case of Byzantine bindings, however, the textblock can be sewn in two halves and then lashed together at the middle. For this model the boards were attached to the textblock through the primary sewing, which allows for a very tight attachment. After the two halves are linked together and the boards are closed, the book rounds and backs itself. After sewing and getting the spine into shape, the textblock was pasted up with wheat starch paste and lined with undyed cotton.
The Greek endband for this model contains two cord cores (one a bit thinner than the other) and is sewn with the same thick (12/3) linen thread that I used for the textblock. It is anchored into the boards, as well as the center of each section in the textblock. This endband is pretty straightforward, once you get the hang of it- but it did take me several failed attempts to get something that looked correct and consistant.
With the endbands done, I trimmed the fore-edge of the textblock flush with the boards and prepared for covering in leather.
Every historical example of a Byzantine binding that I have seen so far is covered in a dark brown leather, although I’m sure there are is some variation. The closest that I had in my personal stockpile is a light brown goatskin from Harmatan. In an effort to make covering the channeled board edges a little easier, I flat pared the turn-in areas fairly thin using the Schärffix® leather paring machine I have at home (my spokeshave is at the lab). This method was very quick but I will approach it differently next time (more on that later). The leather was pasted out and adhered to the spine and boards. When the leather had dried, I cut the turn-ins at the spine edge of the boards and turned-in at the spine.
So far each of these steps has been pretty straightforward and familiar, but here is where things get a bit dicey. The instructions I had for forming the endcap area around the protruding endbands are pretty general and the digitized copies of historical bindings available online don’t show this part of the binding very well.
My decision to pare the turn-ins uniformly thin has given me some pretty wimpy-looking endcaps, but sometimes the best way to learn something new is to just try it and learn as you go.
After the second endcap, I have a better idea of how the covering can be done – but I still need to work out the paring and cuts exactly. Looking at variations on original Byzantine bindings will also help. The thinner leather did make covering those channeled board edges very easy, though!
Covering the board corners was another area that could be handled in a number of ways. For simplicity sake, I decided to go with a straightforward mitered corner, as seen in the library’s Greek MS 60. I find the easiest way to make this corner is to cut through both layers of the overlapped turn-in with a knife, remove the excess leather, and line the turn-ins up again.
Now that the book is covered, I will be working on a fore-edge closure. I had pre-drilled the lower board prior to covering with 3 holes for a braided leather strap. A brass pin will be mounted into the fore-edge of the front board as a catch.
Model making is a useful exercise for learning how a binding is assembled and how the different components function together. By manipulating the model, you can sometimes get a sense of where a particular structure performs well and where it becomes stressed and may fail. This side project has provided a welcomed diversion over the last couple of weeks, providing a “low stakes” project that I can use to experiment and test my hand skills. While I do feel a bit rusty after a few months away from the bench, it feels good to get in a little practice. I’m already looking forward to making my next model, after the library has reopened and I’ve had an opportunity to compare some items from the collection.
Welcome Amarah Ennis, our summer HBCU Library Alliance intern. Amarah is a student at Hampton University where she is studying journalism. She is one of eight students studying preservation this summer through the University of Delaware/HBCU-LA internship program.
This year the program moved online due to COVID-19. The site supervisors all agreed to host one class covering a specific topic. Those topics include:
Introduction to Library Preservation
Preventive Conservation/Disaster Preparedness and Response
Each module will be taught by a team from one of the host sites. Students are asked to do pre-class reading and/or assignments. During class we will have plenty of time for discussion and Q&A (my favorite part). Each intern will be completing a site specific project, and they will be presenting a short talk at the end of the summer to show what they worked on.
We are really going to miss having Amarah on campus. Hopefully in the future she can come visit in person when it is safe to do so.
Just before quarantine we got our new wall-mounted roll storage unit from the carpentry shop.
We have a larger stand-alone roll storage rack where we keep rolls of book cloth and Melinex. But we recently moved the encapsulator and it became clear we needed to move the Melinex storage closer to the new location. The stand-alone rack was too large for that space so Rachel researched wall mounted racks. Nothing “off the shelf” fit the space, so she worked with the carpentry shop on the specifications. The new rack stores two rolls and hangs high enough that one of our height-adjustable tables can be positioned underneath for ease of use.
About 10 years ago I visited Claire Van Vliet at her Janus Press studio space in Newark, Vermont with another conservation intern. Claire was incredibly kind, spending all afternoon showing us around and talking about her work. At the end of the visit she gave us each a copy of her book Woven and Interlocking Book Structures as a parting gift.
I rediscovered this book on my shelf a few weeks ago when I hit my limit on Zoom meetings and was desperate to return to doing some hands-on work. And what a sanity saver it has been! I’ve taken time every day to step away from my computer and work my way through each of the structures.
The book provides instructions for creating a sample of more than a dozen woven or interlocking book structures that are easy enough for anyone to do at home. The samples are small, only 4×5” and just a few pages long. Construction requires a few simple tools: a pencil, ruler, cutting blade, scissors, scoring tool/bone folder, awl/needle, glue, and a microspatula which was not required but “worth getting because you’ll wonder how you lived without it.” While nicer paper or a variety of papers would make more interesting finished samples, you really only need cover stock and text weight papers. Still, I had to make do with the paper I had on hand at home. Sometimes I had to use scraps of paper with the grain direction going the wrong way or that wasn’t quite the correct weight. But in the end I was able to successfully create a sample of every structure.
(Click each image to enlarge)
There are even instructions at the end of the book to create a lovely little slipcase to house your entire sample set of books.
If you would like to create your own sample set of woven and interlocking book structures you can access the entire book online for free through Internet Archive:
Campus is still closed but that doesn’t mean that things have been quiet for Conservation. Last week we responded to a call from Marvin Tillman, Manager of the Library Service Center (the offsite high density storage facility). He had come in to meet a repair crew from Facilities who were working on the sprinkler system pump. Marvin noticed water on the floor and quickly jumped in the picker and navigated to the top of the stacks. There he found a leaking sprinkler head and many trays of wet books underneath it. Marvin removed the trays, put the books in the freezer and called Conservation. After a thorough review of the stacks he found one more tray that needed to be removed.
I picked up a total of eight bins of books and took them back to the lab to air dry. First step was to record the bar codes so we could deal with them in the management system.
There were 261 wet books. These ranged from just damp to pretty wet. All were salvageable.
Mark Barker, Director of Security and Facilities Services set up a couple folding tables in the dirty room for me and brought all the fans from the disaster supply closet. I proceeded to divide the books by wettest, medium-wet, and damp. The wettest items went into the fume hood since that pulls a constant supply of steady air.
The medium-wet books got set up on tables with fans circulating air around them. Loyal readers will remember when we invented/discovered the “double-decker drying system.” It really works, and it means you can dry twice the number of books with the same footprint. The trick is airflow. You want to see “the disaster recovery wiggle.” Every book should be wiggling a bit as the air moves around the space.
The damp books were set up on one of the lab tables with a fan.
Once the items were dry they were pressed for a few days to flatten them.
The books that were mostly flat but needed a bit of pressure were simply put under boards and bricks.
The majority of the 261 items will be going back as-is to LSC. A small number will be rehoused before returning, and fewer still will be repaired. Thanks to quick identification and action all around we can say that this recovery effort was successful. It did bring up questions about recovery during a pandemic. Those questions will be on the next agenda for the Disaster and Environment Response Team (DERT) meeting.
We are beginning to think that our buildings and their ghosts might miss us. We got a call last weekend about a painting in one of the libraries that fell off the wall. This building is empty, of course, except for the ghosts of librarians past. are they trying to get our attention?