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We Call Them “Naked Bindings”

It’s #WorldBookDay today and we are highlighting some books that have come through recently from Technical Services.

There seems to be a new trend in publisher’s bindings: the exposed-spine binding. We call them “naked bindings” because they lack part of their cover. There’s even a subject heading for this kind of binding called “Backless Bindings (binding).”

Born naked…not ready for the shelf.
Similarities and Differences

There are a few things they have in common:

  • Folded signatures
  • Sewn-through-the-fold
  • Adhesive layer on spine
  • Very flexible spine, opens flat

Variations include:

  • Papers are either calendered or not
  • Thread color can be single color or multi-color
  • Adhesive layer can be very thin (almost invisible) to very thick; sometimes unevenly applied
  • Covers are commonly chip board or binders board, but some are a heavy paper much like a paperback.
  • Cover attachments seem to be either tipped onto the first and last flyleaf, or a doublure attachment. Occasionally you find one that has a doublure with a sewn-on binders-board cover (this must be the “Mercedes of Exposed Spine Bindings”)

One commonality: these are very weak bindings especially those with tipped-on covers, loose sewing, and unevenly applied adhesive.

The Best of the Bunch

It feels like publishers and/or authors simply choose this style of binding because it feels edgy.  But when this style of binding is chosen thoughtfully, it can really work. The best of this batch has to be “Hilos Libres: el textil y sus raíces prehispánicas, 1954-2017 = free threads : textile and its pre-Hispanic roots, 1954-2017” by Sheila Hicks. This books was, “Published on the occasion of the exhibition held at Museo Amparo, Puebla, from November 4th, 2017-April 2nd, 2018.”

Why does this binding work for this book? The book is about a textile exhibit. The exposed threads, multi-colored thread choice, and loose threads on the front cover all relate in some way to the textiles highlighted in the text block and textile artistry.

Nice thread choice.

 

Lovely loose ends on the front cover.

 

Happy little sewing in the middle of a section.

The covers are fully adhered to a doublure, and that section is sewn onto the textblock. This creates a very stable and secure cover attachment. Overall it is a solid binding whose design connects to the contents of the book.

Straight Out of Coptic

These are obviously machine-sewn edition bindings but they hark back in my head to Coptic bindings with a nod towards the Sewn Board Binding originally designed by Gary Frost (which itself gives nod to Coptic bindings).

Coptic binding models.

These exposed spine bindings lay really flat because they don’t have all those pesky spine linings to control the opening. They are very vulnerable to rough handling because the binding has no protection and the board attachment is really weak.

Everyone Gets an Enclosure

This group of “Backless bindings” will have custom four-flaps created to protect the bindings. If these were special collections items we might consider a “peekaboo” box that allows the spine to be seen on the shelf. But since these are in the circulating collections, we will give them a standard four-flap enclosure or corrugated clamshell box. These provide a bit more protection from handing and reduce light exposure.

Happy #worldbookday everybody!

Look it Up! The Encyclopedia Britannica 11th Edition

By Mary Yordy, Senior Conservation Technician

Encyclopedia Britannica Eleventh Edition adverstisement
1913 advertisement for the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition from Penny’s Poetry Pages.

Unlike millions of old reference works in declining bindings, the 11th Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, published in 1910, has a following. Veneration of this edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica spans beyond libraries and the antiquarian book trade into popular culture.  A. J. Jacobs writes about it in his book The Know-It-All, and Hans Koning, powerhouse of New Left thought, published an eloquent meditation on the world view reflected in its pages. It is discussed as THE GREAT 11th EDITION, listed alongside the works of Heidegger, Camus, and Fukuyama as one of the 100 most important non-fiction works of the 20th Century. Two websites are devoted to 11th Edition fandom. There is even a fingernail polish.

People who praise the 11th Edition Encyclopedia Britannica point to the illustriousness of the contributors, the profusion of beautifully written biographical entries with odd, sometimes questionable details (Pedro I of Portugal disinterred his dead mistress and placed her remains on the throne of the queen, Potemkin died “…in consequence of eating a whole goose in one sitting,” etc., etc…) or the detailed, illustrated accounts of manufactures, engineering, and natural history. But the veneration of this work is more diffuse and more adoring than these particularities account for. Hans Koning writes:

“The world of the Eleventh Edition was at the zenith of those ‘encyclopedic’ prerequisites, rationality and positivism. All of humanity appeared to be on the threshold of being totally understood, described, improved, and then perfected, through the logic of Anglo-American institutions and thought…it was the high point of the Enlightenment, doomed to end when the lamps went out all over Europe in the fatal summer of 1914.”

Page on bookbinding from Encyclopedia Bryitannica
Our favorite Encyclopedia Britannica chapter.

Kelly Lawton of Lilly Library had come across a single volume I repaired in the early 2000’s and asked Beth Doyle if it could be used as a model for repair of the remaining numbers in their original bindings. This repair had retained the section sewing and the boards but replaced the badly degraded leather spine and heavy, brittle end sheets. My goal had been to make it robust enough to be handled as part of the circulating collection without unduly sacrificing original components. Fortunately, the technician, the end sheet paper and the black book cloth involved in the process that produced that successful repair were still available to create a matched set.

Within the week a large bin arrived and the project began. I used a combination of poulticing and manual manipulation to remove the degraded leather on the spines and the pastedowns on the inside of the covers. This was perhaps the biggest mess I have ever made in the lab, and required a thorough cleaning of tools and work surfaces each night.  There were piles of degraded leather crumbles and dust, globs and slurries of poultice, all haunted by the distinctive odor of old animal hide adhesive. Poultices had to be watched closely because some of the remaining leather glued to the back still contained green pigment that jeopardized the section backs of sheer white ‘India paper.’

Books repaired and boxed, ready for quality control.
Repaired and new housings…ready for shelf.

 

repapaired Encyclopedia
Repaired and ready for its next reader.

Once all 14 volumes were clean, backed and fitted with new end sheets, I reused the original embossed covers in a case structure and filled my press with the newly cased Encyclopedia Britannica volumes.

 

What Will Publishers Do Next?

We regularly see book publishers’ attempts to set their products apart from the rest of the market here in the conservation lab – usually because the novel materials or structures they have chosen don’t hold up so well under normal use. We often find ourselves asking, “What will these publishers try next?” This week the answer to that question came in the form of robots.

Front Cover of Robots 1:1

This very large and weighty volume depicts over 100 space-themed toys held by the Vitra Design Museum. Much like our copies of Audubon’s Birds of America, the book is so large because the toys and their original packaging have been photographed and printed at a scale of 1:1. And I will say the images are wonderful.

Interior double page spread of of Robots 1:1, Showing robot toy packaging and the toyThe unique feature of this book, however, is a USB memory stick that has been integrated into the headcap. The stick contains a film by Luka Dogan, showing a selection of the robots in action.

 

Headcap of the spine with USB stickWe often see volumes with additional media included, usually as a CD or DVD inside a paper or plastic pocket that has been adhered inside one of the boards. Other types of media are too thick to be handled in the same way, so the location of this USB and it’s “holster” are interesting and unobtrusive. It includes some nice design elements, like a small magnet to hold the stick securely in place.

USB out of holder

The problem comes when you actually try to get the stick out. Grasping the stick and pulling it free puts a lot of stress on the headcap and joints, some of the weakest areas of the binding. As you can see, the front joint has already started to tear. Additionally, the glue holding the metal USB holster in place has failed and it now easily slides out from the spine piece.

USB stick and holder detached from headcapIncluding additional media with a publication can provide a lot of additional value to the reader. It also means loose components can easily become lost. As technology ages, it can be a challenge for readers to actually use the media. For example, the laptop I’m using to write this post doesn’t have a disk drive of any kind, so reading a CD or DVD would be a problem. I guess it’s only a matter of time before a USB Type-A port becomes scarce as well. The added media might become less accessible, but at least you don’t need a machine to read the book!

FY 2019: By the Numbers

It’s that time of year when we report our annual statistics to our administration. We thought we would share these with you, too.

839 Book Repairs (down 23% from last year)
1,439 Pamphlets (up 35%)
12 Treatments: Other (not reported last year)
2,434 Flat Paper (up 75%)
6,822 Protective Enclosures (up 14%)
13,966 Disaster recovery (up 21,067%)
34 Exhibit mounts (up 325%)
89.25 hours of time in support of exhibits (includes meetings, treatment, installation, etc.) (down 88%)
1,206 items repaired for digital projects (up 20%)
58 items repaired for exhibits (up 2%)
2 items repaired for multi-spectral imaging (not reported last year)

72% of total work was for Special Collections
28% of total work was for Circulating Collections

90% of work was Level 1 [less than 15 minutes to complete; 22,985 items]
9% of work was Level 2 [15 minutes – 2 hours to complete; 2,228 items]
1% of work was Level 3 [2 – 5 hours to complete; 280 items]
0% of work was Level 4 [more than 5 hours; 19 items]

Level 1 work was greatly skewed by the amount of mold removal we did for one Rubenstein project. For that project we removed mold from almost 13,000 sheets of paper. You can see that reflected in our 3-year trend.

The Lisa Unger Baskin Exhibit took a lot of our conservator’s time last year. The opening at Rubenstien Library was a huge success. We are preparing those materials for a loan to the Grolier Club later this year. We also did a significant number of Level 1 rehousings for two collections from Rubenstein Library. One was part of the mold-removal project, and the other was the boxing of the Curtis folio plates.

This year we also significantly changed our statistical reporting. We added a “Level 4” to the treatment levels. Until last year, Level 3 (over 2 hours) was as high as we parsed out complicated repairs. This year we decided that Level 3 would reflect 2-5 hour treatments, and Level 4 would reflect treatments over 5 hours. While statistically Level 4 treatments were zero, we did complete 19 of these repairs. We also started tracking the number of hours we spend doing administrative work such as meetings, curatorial reviews, training sessions, handling assistance, etc. This better demonstrates our cross-departmental work and shows how integrated we are in the larger library setting.

Other Things We Did Last Year

The most exciting thing about FY 2020 is that we will surpass the quarter-million mark for items sent to the lab. We are currently at 247,943 cumulative repairs/enclosures since FY 2003.

We hope you enjoy looking back at FY2019 as much as we did. We know FY 2020 holds a few interesting challenges including helping prepare the Lilly Library for renovation. We hope you will keep up with us through this blog and through our social media accounts. Happy FY 2020!

Intern Update: Doing All The Things

As you recall, our intern’s first few days were a little hectic. Since our last post Garrette has learned how to repair manuscript materials for digitization, learned how to humidify and flatten architectural drawings, and continues to refine her boxing skills.

This week Garrette helped re-install the two Audubon double elephant folios in the exhibits suite. These were removed earlier in the year to make way for the “500 Hundred Years of Women’s Work” exhibit. It took four of us about an hour to reinstall these two volumes. The birds were greatly missed but they are back on display with new page openings.

Strapping a double elephant folio Audubon.

We toured the Library Service Center this week with colleagues from the University Archives and the Rubenstein Library. Earl Alston, LSC Access and Delivery Coordinator, gave us a behind the scenes tour of the stacks. Every time we visit LSC we are impressed with the amount of work the LSC staff do every day. It’s hard, physical labor that is mostly invisible to patrons.

Really big stacks at the LSC.

In the lab today we hosted a tour for our colleagues in the Digital Collections and Curation Services department. Garrette gave a terrific presentation on the humidification and flattening work that she is doing for the Duke Gardens collection. These are rolled drawings depicting the Garden’s hardscapes and greenscapes that show the evolution of Duke Gardens.

Garrette (R) showing colleague how to humidify and flatten architectural drawings.

Later this week we will tour the UNC-Chapel Hill conservation labs. We also have Garrette working on some disaster recovery projects for the Triangle Research Library Network as well. She is getting a good picture of what collections conservators do on a daily basis from treatment to disaster preparation to  meetings to surveys.

The Iceman Floweth

Last April we got our new freezer delivered. The first thing we did with it was to set up a table-top disaster situation* so our intern and new staff member could gain experience working with damp and wet books.

Sara (L) and Phebe (R) prepare items for the freezer.

 

Phebe (L) and Sara (R) recovering wet books.

That was back in July 2018. The books have been in the freezer since. This week I remembered them as I was working on this year’s internship schedule, so I went to get them out of the freezer. When I opened the door I saw this:

That is an official stalactite.

At some point a part broke, allowing the water drain to malfunction and create this frozen waterfall inside the freezer. The freezer was two weeks out of warranty (of course) but the awesome people at Fisher Scientific waived the repair fee, sent a repair person, and it is now fixed.

Lesson learned

If you don’t have a clear-glass door on your freezer, put a reminder on your calendar to look inside once in a while. We will now check inside the freezer once a month as part of our monthly staff meeting agenda.

 

*No actual library books were harmed during this experiment.