One of the silver linings of business travel being suspended for the foreseeable future is that so many conferences have gone virtual this year. This has provided a number of opportunities to experience the meetings of professional groups outside my usual repertoire. This week I’ve been really enjoying the International Mountmakers Forum. The organization has been very generous to record and upload the talks to Youtube.
Mounting objects for exhibition can be very challenging, and I have learned about new materials and techniques this week that could be used in the gallery spaces in our library.
The success of virtual conferencing during that pandemic gives me hope that this kind of programming will remain available, even when the world has returned to normal. Conferences are an essential fundraising opportunity for many professional organizations, and there can be financial disincentives for the organization in making content too freely available. At the same time, there are many professionals working in cultural heritage institutions or in private practice who do not have access to funding for professional development and are cut off from the debates and interactions that happen at these meetings. I’ve been very impressed with the way our professional organizations have adapted in the last year and I look forward to continued innovation and greater inclusion using these same systems in years to come.
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.
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:
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?
Here Rachel is showing a chart of the Triboelectric series (right before we all remembered we could just share screeens 🙂 ). It’s nice to be able to connect with colleagues so easily, despite everything that is going on.
Caring for library collections often requires experimentation and ingenuity. In supporting the needs of library programs or researcher requests, we are regularly confronted with unusual objects or condition issues that have no obvious treatment solution. When you happen upon a novel or particularly effective approach to these complex treatments, it’s always nice to share what you have learned with your colleagues!
This week, the Conservation Services staff were treated to some tips in treating very large books and broken wooden boards by senior conservator Erin Hammeke. Hint: Both involve the liberal and creative application of clamps.
Today is the last day for Garrette Lewis-Thomas, our second HBCU Library Alliance/University of Delaware Winterthur intern. The end of this two month internship really snuck up on us! As you may have read in some of Beth’s recent posts, we have thrown a ton of information and instruction at Garrette in the last eight weeks – and she has accomplished so much in that time.
We decided to wrap up with a fun little intro to some basic bookbinding: Coptic style bindings.
These books are a simple, non-adhesive structure that mirrors some of the earliest multi-section codices. An unsupported chain stitch serves as both the primary sewing and the board attachment. The books are very flexible and open flat, which makes them wonderful little notebooks. We dressed them up a bit by covering the boards with decorative paper and stamping Garrette’s initials in gold on the front cover using our Kwikprint hot stamp.
We will miss Garrette so much, but wish her luck in the coming school year!
It’s been a really busy two weeks for Garrette. Her last day is next Friday, so we are trying to finish up projects and fit in any last minute training that we can.
Garrette has been working with the TRLN Disaster Interest Group team leads to research shared disaster recovery agreements, updated our training presentation, and has sent out a survey to TRLN libraries. The survey will help us understand our training needs and our readiness should disaster strike one of our consortium members.
Garrette attended the TRLN Annual Meeting last week. The meeting always starts with an inspiring speaker. This year the keynote was Dr. Louise Bernard, Director of the Museum of the Obama Presidential Center. Dr. Bernard discussed the thought processes behind designing the Obama Presidential Center and showed some preliminary site drawings. Her vision for this building and its programming is ambitious and on a scale not seen with other presidential libraries.
We toured several conservation labs this week. We appreciate our colleague’s time and energy. It’s always fun to visit other labs and talk with conservators about their space and what they are working on. Not pictured is our visit to the N.C. Archives conservation lab. Emily Rainwater toured us through her space. We geeked out a little in their disaster supply room.
Today we did a tabletop disaster recovery demo. Garrette and Kelli Stephenson, Coordinator in Access and Library Services, set up a recovery area for items that got wet in our imaginary pipe leak. They set up items for air drying, and prepped several for the freezer. We also learned how water soluble yellow highlighter can be.
Garrette has also been spending a lot of time in the Lilly Locked Stacks identifying items that need enclosures. This building will be renovated soon, and we need to prepare the medium-rare materials for moving offsite during construction.
Garrette is working on her final presentation that will cover what she did this summer. She is finishing up work for digital imaging prep and the Ortiz posters. She is also learning how to make corrugated-clamshell boxes this week.
These seven weeks have flown by. One more to go. We are really impressed with how much work Garrette has accomplished so far.
Our new intern, Garrette Lewis-Thomas, has arrived and we couldn’t be more thrilled. Garrette is our second HBCU Library Alliance conservation intern. Like last year, she will spend eight weeks with us learning everything from minor repairs to making heat set tissue to preparing materials for digitization.
Garrette is a student at Fisk University where she is studying psychology and sociology. She works at the John Hope and Aurelia E. Franklin Library assisting the Access Services Desk. Her interest in John Hope Franklin fits in well with our collecting areas and we are excited to work with the Rubenstein John Hope Franklin Center to find some projects for her to work on.
The very first thing we did is take Garrette to a job talk by a candidate who applied for a library position. She got to see first hand what a job interview looks like in an academic library. The interview was at another location on campus, so she also got to learn how to get across campus during the summer on the bus. Day 1 was a little chaotic but it all worked out. She got a tour of a part of campus that we didn’t expect would happen on Day 1. It is a good reminder that not everything goes as planned.
Day 2 brought another problem…something smelled terrible in the lab. It’s still unclear what the problem is or where it is coming from. Because we couldn’t be in the lab for any length of time we decamped to the Disaster Supply Room next door. We took the CoLibri machine in along with the newly-arrived shipment of vendor-supplied corrugated boxes. Garrette spent the day covering New & Noteworthy books and folding boxes. In the afternoon we hopped the bus to East Campus and toured through the Music Library and the Lilly Library. Lesson learned: there is always something to do to be productive even when you can’t get to your bench.
It still smells in the lab, but it is getting better. Current theory: something dead is in the tunnels below the building and there isn’t anything we can do about it. We are airing out the lab and doing our best to ride this out. Garrette is working on minor repairs and enclosures. We started the day in the Disaster Supply Room, but have moved back into the lab with all the fans running and doors open. Garrette has already proven to be very flexible, adaptable to change, and eager to learn. We can’t wait to see what the summer holds for her and for us.
Thanks to our supporters
These HBCU Library Alliance internships would not be possible without the help of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the University of Delaware College of Arts and Science, the Department of Art Conservation at the University of Delaware, and the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library (DE). Thanks also to Debbie Hess Norris and Melissa Tedone at the University of Delaware. A big thanks to We also wish to thank the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation for supporting this internship.
We will continue sharing more about this internship as it progresses, but for now: Welcome to Duke, Garrette!