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?
Each spring for the last couple of years, I’ve traveled up to the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library to teach a workshop on blind and gold tooling to students in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC). The workshop provides a very basic introduction to all the tools and materials that have historically been used to decorate bindings and allows the students to try some of the techniques for themselves. We also use the time to examine bindings from the library’s collection, looking closely at tool marks and other evidence, to determine how they were produced.
With in-person instruction suspended this semester, we decided to try a modified version of the workshop via the popular video conferencing platform Zoom.
I had to change a lot about how I would ordinarily approach this workshop, since I usually provide paper hand-outs and bring a number of physical samples for students to examine. I was able to get around some of this by using the screen-sharing feature to display images of specific tools and diagrams of important concepts during the lecture portion of the workshop. I also shared links to specific bindings in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Bindings Image Collection, so that each student could zoom in or navigate around the image on their own. Resources like this were a helpful stand-in for bindings from the Winterthur Library’s collection.
But what if you have an item on-hand which you would like your participants to examine more closely? My laptop’s webcam is thankfully good enough to show a fair amount of detail, but it can be a little tricky to orient the object in front of the camera so that your room lighting shows the surface characteristics. It might also be impossible to hold the object upright enough to view in frame.
I’ve seen some enterprising examples of detachable webcams mounted to headbands or task lights to create document cameras, but my webcam is not detachable. It turns out there is a simple way to turn your smartphone into a secondary, hand-held camera! Unfortunately, I figured this trick out too late for my own workshop – but maybe it can be useful for other folks doing instruction remotely. This trick requires you to first install the Zoom mobile app.
I start by scheduling a Zoom meeting and then either add the invitation to my calendar or email it to myself for quick access later. The meeting is launched on the primary device (in my case, a laptop) and the video and sound are set up. Instruction proceeds as usual until the hand-held camera is needed. At this point, tap the meeting link on a mobile device to join. When the meeting has launched in the mobile app, select “Join with Video” and then tap “Cancel” when asked to join audio. I learned the hard way that you will get some rather unpleasant feedback and echoing if you have audio going on two devices at once.
At this point your meeting participants will be disoriented by your competing video feeds (and maybe by your disheveled quarantine hair), but these feelings will pass.
Tap the button at the top left of your mobile device’s screen to switch to the rear-facing camera. You should ask your audience to find and “pin” the video feed for your mobile device, so that it occupies the majority of the screen when they switch to the “speaker view”.
Now you can easily move your mobile device around the object during your instruction session. When you don’t need the second camera anymore, simply leave the meeting on that device. Obviously this setup will put some additional load on your home network and internet connection, but it has worked well enough in my experiments to get the job done. This method will probably also work on other video conferencing platforms, but I have not attempted it.
With so many people developing and participating in online instruction right now, I’m sure others are finding new and helpful ways to use the technology we might already have at home. What tools or tips have you found useful in your work from home situation?
Preservation Week and May Day both happen this week. It is a good time to update your disaster plan or do one other thing to better prepare your organization for disasters. This year disaster recovery includes trying to figure out disaster response when campus is largely vacant, and how you can maintain physical distancing if you need to respond to a collections emergency.
Last week a hot water pipe burst on the third floor of the History Department’s building sending water down to the first floor. Two faculty members reported having wet library books. We sent them information on caring for their personal collections, then went to campus to retrieve a handful of books from the building. We also met one faculty who drove his library books over to the library.
Our Response to a Small Collections Disaster
There are several apps that are useful in these situations. I used one to scan and send a list of barcodes to Circulation for the books that needed to be checked back in.
I then set up the damp books in the fume hood to dry.
I prepared two wet books for freezing by wrapping them with butcher paper, sandwiching them between buffered corrugated boards, and securing them with cotton tying tape. Writing the barcode and date on the package will help us easily identify them in the freezer.
A Silver Lining
A silver lining in all of this is we discovered that our freezer is acting up again. Readers might recall that we had a problem with the drain in this freezer almost a year ago. We are waiting for the parts to come in so a repair technician can be scheduled.
After the Initial Response
The books in the fume hood dried within a couple days. I went back to campus and put them into presses to flatten. We will evaluate these for repair or replacement once we are back on campus.
This disaster was very small but it did raise questions about large numbers of library books housed in faculty offices, and what that means in terms of recovery efforts.