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Subject: ALA session on preserving physical evidence

ALA session on preserving physical evidence

From: Charlotte Brown <ecz5cbb>
Date: Friday, January 14, 1994
The following is cross-posted on EXLIBRIS and the Consdist.list.
Apologies for the duplication.

I am forwarding copies of a handout (below) that will be distributed at
the Curators/Conservators Discussion Group (American Library Association
midwinter meeting).  I thought it might be of interest to those who are
unable to attend.

I know that it's author, Randy Silverman, would like to have your
comments. Also, it is possible that Randy will re-work this document
into a more formal presentation and offer it at a subsequent ALA.  I
will keep EXLIBRIS readers posted.

Charlotte B. Brown, Chair, Curators/Conservators Discussion Group
Dept. of Special Collections
Los Angeles, CA  90024-1575

    From: Randy Silverman <rsilverm [at] alexandria__lib__utah__edu>

    Curators and Conservators Discussion Group
    ALA/Los Angeles, Sunday February 6th, 1994
    LACC-407, 8:30 am to 11 am
    Topic:      Preserving Physical Evidence in the Open Stacks
    Moderator:  Randy Silverman,
                Preservation Officer
                University of Utah

    Conservators, bookbinders, and book repair technicians are in a
    position to safeguard or unwittingly destroy bibliographic and
    artifactual evidence contained in original 19th century publishers'
    bookbindings.  What stands to be lost includes information relating
    to Victorian publishing and trade binding history; the rate of
    dissemination and implementation of industrial technologies such as
    cloth dyeing and weaving, ink manufacture, sizing, wood engraving,
    and chromolithography; artistic accomplishments of identified or as
    yet unidentified artists, engravers, typographers and designers;
    women's roles in the work place; etc. Most of these books are housed
    in the open stacks of circulating collections rather than in rare
    book rooms where they are subject to wear, repair and rebinding
    damage before researchers have a chance to fully appreciate their
    significance.  Unlike archeological digs that can be back-filled to
    preserve the site until more sophisticated recovery techniques are
    available, 19th century books continue to be used and consequently

    The rate of loss of these original bookbindings is not presently
    known.  A recent interlibrary loan survey conducted throughout the
    U.S., however, revealed that nearly half (49%) of 80+ extant copies
    of a Singular Life from 1888 have already been damaged by poor
    repairs or lost their covers to rebinding.  This is a fairly
    nondescript, unsigned binding.  However, it's binding was design by
    Sarah Wyman Whitman, thought to be the first woman commercial book
    designer, whose contributions to the history of the book arts and
    women's roles in the work place have yet to be comprehensively

    Conservators need help defining what to preserve.  It would be very
    useful to construct a framework of concerns that repair technicians
    and conservators could refer to in making treatment decisions for
    non-rare materials.  The following questions are designed to
    initiate a dialog with this outcome in mind, though they are not
    intended to define the parameters of the discussion if their scope
    is too narrow.

    Question #1.

        What will be considered rare 100 years from now?  What
        guidelines can be instituted to assist repair technicians when
        attempting to segregate significant bibliographical material
        from more mundane examples?

        A.  Should books produced within certain time periods be
            categorically defined as being candidates for retention in
            original format? (i.e., all publishers' bindings from
            1823-33 as incunables of the early cloth period)? What is
            the likelihood that this material could be re-cataloged as
            "rare?" Is high use ever a factor?  What about material that
            falls into this category but is currently damaged and in
            need of repair?  Are phase boxes appropriate for use in the
            open stacks?

        B.  Do certain physical features occurring within specific time
            periods require special attention because they represent
            possible examples of the use of new technologies (i.e.,
            Caoutchouc adhesive bindings c.1836; wire stitching c.1847;
            Smyth sewing c.1879; gold stamping c.1832; silver stamping
            c. 1848; black ink on cloth c.1845)?

        C.  Are certain physical formats known to be extremely rare and
            therefore in need of immediate protection in the form of a
            blanket moratorium on repair (i.e., books bound with printed
            paper covers dating from the first half of the 19th century;
            yellowbacks c.1849-1905; cloth bindings from the 1820's)?

        D.  Are signed bindings likely to be of greater interest to
            future researchers than non-signed bindings (i.e., printed
            or embossed designer's, engraver's, binder's or printer's
            marks on the cover, fly leaves, title page or colophon)?  If
            so, should examples from certain periods (c.1860 or before)
            be afforded special attention?  What guidelines should be
            imposed on the preservation of later examples?

        E.  Lacking a centralized source of information as to which
            libraries have copies of specific titles in original
            condition, how can the question as to whether to rebind or
            retain an original binding be addressed when the book in
            hand may be the last extant copy in an original binding or a
            unique binding variant?

    Question #2.

        Conservators and book repair technicians who repair non-rare
        books in research libraries must respond to demands of staff and
        patrons to process large numbers of materials as expeditiously
        as possible. Modifications and improvements to current repair
        techniques need to be efficient if they are to be widely
        accepted and pragmatic to implement. Rethinking the entire
        repair environment may offer solutions, because extra time spent
        on one object can be justified if time savings can be recaptured
        on another.  "Time savings" in a research library can also be
        broadly interpreted to include technical improvements that
        prevent or deter further damage over time, thereby resulting in
        long-term institutional efficiency.

        Conservators are currently discussing these issues relating to
        research library collections where the use of pressure sensitive
        tape for paper and binding repairs is assumed to be
        inappropriate.  It would be useful to provide conservator's with
        specific input about the book repair techniques currently in
        use,  identifying those that are currently perceived as causing
        loss or damage to original bibliographical information?

        A. Does the loss of the pastedowns (e.g., the endpaper glued to
            the board) in the repair process destroy the bibliographical
            integrity of the binding?  Would a compromise of losing a
            1/2 inch of the pastedown on the spine edge of the board be
            more acceptable, as this would at least insure that the
            original could still be seen?

        B.  If fly leaves are removed in the rebinding process and
            included in a new binding, are they better retained in the
            front and back of the text as originally intended, or is
            there an advantage in placing them together in the back of
            the book (i.e., to avoid constant wear when the book is
            opened) as is typical with French hand bindings?

        C.  When cloth bindings are rebacked, the original spine or
            spine fragment is typically reattached to the new cloth with
            polyvinyl acetate (PVA) adhesive.  This clear, water-white
            vinyl resin is not water soluble, meaning that original
            spines glued to new cloth with PVA will be difficult or
            impossible to remove in the future were the rebacking to
            fail and further intervention be required.  Gelatin has
            properties of flexibility and water solubility and should be
            considered.  Paste is less flexible than gelatin but has a
            long history of use in paper and book conservation including
            use for this very purpose in some conservation labs.
            Assuming that any contemporary repair might require further
            work in the future, is it prudent to recommend the use of an
            alternate to PVA for this purpose in general collections

        D.  A conflict of interests exists between the ideals of
            bibliography that argue for destroying nothing of an
            original book for fear of loss of intrinsic value and
            research potential, and book repair shops struggling with
            the responsibility of meeting production quotas.  For
            example, I was told of a bindery that identified a unique
            example of 19th century grained book cloth underneath an
            outer layer of cloth on a book being repaired.  Beyond
            recognizing what it was, however, the binders simply
            repaired the book's spine which once again covered up this
            unique cloth.  In defence of the practice, the argument was
            that the original material was not damaged by covering it
            over, and involvement in bibliographic research was counter
            to the goals of the bindery.  Similarly, examples of printed
            spine linings sometimes come to light in the disbinding
            process that could help corroborate the date of a book's
            binding, but are often lost during the process of cleaning
            the spine.  What are possible alternatives to these
            scenarios? Would it be appropriate to recommend photocopying
            bibliographic evidence when it comes to light, and should
            this copy be tipped or guarded into the book with an
            explanatory note?

        E.  Are phase boxes appropriate for protecting books in
            circulating collections?  Does the use of a box negate the
            need for repair, or should circulating books be returned to
            a functional state whenever possible for their own

    Question #3.

        Would a workshop to apprise librarians, conservators and book
        repair technicians of these issues be useful, and if so, should
        it be a collaborative effort between the American Institute for
        Conservation and the American Library Association?

                  Conservation DistList Instance 7:51
                 Distributed: Tuesday, January 18, 1994
                        Message Id: cdl-7-51-007
Received on Friday, 14 January, 1994

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