The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 8, Number 2
Apr 1984


Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology, by Matt T. Roberts and Don Etherington. Washington: Library of Congress, 1982. (Order from Superintendent of Documents, USGPO, Washington, DC 20402; give Supt. of Docs. #LC l.2:B64/3.) 296 pp. $27.

Reviewed by Sally Roggia
Librarian and Conservation Specialist, Midwest Cooperative Conservation Program, Morris Library, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

Reprinted with permission from Fine Print 10 (1), p. 21- 23, January 1984.

Because there has been no standard terminology for their field, book conservators and bookbinders individually have created descriptive terms for the various problems and structures they encounter in books. Most of the terms in common use have their roots in historical binding practice or were derived from related fields like art collecting, crafts, chemistry, and the book production industries and thus have inescapably accrued much ambiguity and imprecision. Binders who were trained in the traditional manner of their trade may have less of a problem with historical terms than school-trained conservators who lack the knowledge of the old trade.

This dictionary is the first of its kind and is a landmark in the development of a useful standard terminology derived from all these diverse sources. Its very existence means the field of modern bookbinding and conservation has reached a certain maturity and level of achievement and can advance even further through discussion of the terms and definitions presented in the dictionary.

The authors are understandably cautious and set limited goals, stating in the preface that the dictionary is not an encyclopedia; the articles are purposely kept short and specific, and the authors specifically mention that this dictionary is to be considered a guide to vocabulary and not a compendium of practice in the field.

How well did the authors manage to fulfill their own goals in the creation and production of this dictionary? This evaluation will concentrate on five points: 1) selection and omission of terms, 2) use of sources, 3) adequacy of the definitions, 4) illustrations, and 5) editing.

Selection and omission of terms. True to the title of the dictionary, the authors concentrated primarily on terms related to bookbinding and comparatively few terms deal with book conservation. They did include a number of terms and definitions from analytical bibliography which are useful in describing and citing ancient books, for example, the entry on "dates, translation of" on pages 73-74 is helpful in interpreting title pages because it shows many letters, symbols, and words used by early printers.

One potential use of the dictionary might have been as a guide to the terms used in other Library of Congress publications. In general, this expectation is not met, an example being the omission of the term "phased preservation." This omission is particularly unexpected because it is used in the biography of Peter Waters which appears on pages 280-81. Thus a concept developed at the Library of Congress, mentioned in its own publications and in this dictionary, is left undefined.

Some terms describing innovative practices and treatments are included, for example, sewing in the round" on page 231; while others no less experimental such as "non- adhesive binding" are not. A long list of important conservation concepts are missing, for example, "conservation binding," "conservator," "documentation," "encapsulation," "mass deacidification," "preservation," and "reversibility." The authors may have omitted these conservation terms because there are no published, authoritative, standard sources for them, but that is why the authors should have drawn upon their own experience; it is a loss that they did not do so more.

Use of sources. It would have been extremely useful if additional source information could have consistently been provided regarding the dates or eras of use of historical materials and practices, as well as their country of origin. (This should have been done, for instance, for "American leather" on page 9, "publisher's reinforced binding" on page 207, and "volant" on page 278.)

The authors have often taken definitions virtually unchanged from their listed sources. This produces a lack of stylistic consistency. But more importantly it produces canned definitions where creativity and thought are particularly needed. For example, on pages 30-32 the definition of "bookbinding" is composed of three vaguely related essays: first, a history of book decoration, second, an essay on trade binding operations, and a third essay on modern criteria for book performance. These essays are directly drawn from the listed sources. The choice of topics presented under this heading, in place of other topics such as book structures, seems arbitrary.

Adequacy of the definitions. The authors have subtitled the dictionary A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology, establishing the descriptive as opposed to the prescriptive nature of the definitions it contains. This represents a loss of much potentially useful evaluative information badly needed by the field of conservation. For example, the definition on page 9 for "slum-size bath" makes no mention of any pros or cons based upon the current evaluation of the practice. But the authors are not consistent in their strictly descriptive approach; for example, also on page 9 is the definition of "amyl acetate" including an evaluative statement about its lack of effectiveness as a leather treatment.

Errors sometimes appear in these definitions which are not the simple ones caused by inadequate editing or typographical errors; for example, the entry on "book lice" says that these bugs are also called "deathwatch." But "deathwatch" is the common name for one beetle family, Anobiidae, which is in fact very harmful to books, and not a member of the less damaging category of "book lice" (family: Corrodentio, species: psocidae).

Sometimes contradictory information appears in the definitions of related terms. For example, the definition of "natural dyestuffs" on page 173 states that these are to be "distinguished from dyestuffs manufactured from derivatives of coal-tar." But on page 9 the definition for "analine [sic] dyes" states that only some, not all, synthetic organic dyes are derived from coal tar. Thus the definition for "natural dyestuffs" should have distinguished these from synthetic organic dyes and not just those derived from coal tar.

The way the authors choose to present conservation terms will cause the reader many problems. In general, conservation terms are not defined under their own headings, but are included in essays attached to related terms, not always appropriately (e.g., fumigation procedures are discussed under "bookworms"). Even when the essays on conservation topics are included, the information they contain is sometimes incomplete or in error. The definition of "bookworms" contains its share of misspellings, "cresote" instead of "creosote" and "napthalene" instead of "naphthalene," as well as erroneous information. And lastly, some of the substances mentioned in the definitions for "bookworms" and "fumigation" are extremely dangerous and the use of these toxic substances is now unlawful. Unfortunately, no information on toxicity or legal restrictions is given in these definitions.

One finds an essay on proper environmental conditions for the storage of paper along with an essay on techniques of paper manufacture included under the term, "durability (of paper)." If the reader were looking for information on proper storage conditions for paper, it would be a matter of chance that it would be found under its heading of "durability." The concept of durability describes the quality of strength of paper, and is a different concept from longevity; environmental conditions affect longevity, not durability. Thus the volume must be read from A to Z in order to find the material on conservation tucked here and there among the more logically and consistently arranged bookbinding terms.

Illustrations. The illustrations are wonderful. The colored plates from the Restoration Office of the Library of Congress are beautiful, accurate, and informative, as are the large line drawings by Margaret R. Brown of the Restoration Office. But there are not nearly enough of them. The dictionary concerns itself primarily with terms which describe physical structures, patterns, and designs; illustrations are necessary to the understanding of many of the definitions and they are not for the most part illustrated. For example on page 11, "a-pattern" is defined as a "cloth pattern with a long narrow grain"; an illustration would certainly have helped.

Editing. The editing of this massive work shows the same inconsistencies as do the other areas previously mentioned. The definitions are filled with typographical errors even in the entry headings themselves. Also, some definitions contain little lapses that render them incorrect or meaningless, for example on page 16, "bamboo" is said to be "used in making molds in the manufacture of handmade paper," but no mention is made that this is true only of Asian handmade paper.

In summary, the authors can be cited for various inconsistencies and problems; but they can also be heralded for actually beginning a much needed task. Should persons interested in bookbinding and conservation purchase this volume? Of course, and the purchaser should read it, thoughtfully consider the terms and definitions, find the errors and omissions, test the definitions, make suggestions for improvements, and press for needed updates and corrections in future editions. In this way the field can move from the poorly adapted and half-understood terms borrowed from other fields toward a standard terminology based in bookbinding and conservation practice.

Summary of other reviews of Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books

Summarized by Ellen McCrady

The Roberts and Etherington dictionary is also reviewed in The New Bookbinder vol. 2 (1982) on page 7S-76 by Marianne Tidcombe, who agrees with Ms. Roggia on all major points: the book's usefulness, its inexplicable omissions and sometimes erroneous definitions, and its careless editing for spelling and capitalization. In addition, she comments on conflicting and overlapping definitions, e.g. "edge rolled" and "rolled edges," or "hollow," "Oxford hollow," "one on and one off," and "two on and one off":

The feeling one gets after reading many of these dual definitions is that the compilers, rather than making a list of all the terms they wished to include and then preparing authoritative entries, have gathered together glossaries from many sources and merged them--not always successfully.

She hopes the next edition will have more biographical entries and fewer for machine binding. Nevertheless, she describes the book as a major achievement, a real alternative to Glaister's Glossary of the Book, and a good buy (and a good read).

Lawrence J. McCrank of Indiana State University reviewed the same book in College & Research Libraries 44 (6), November 1983, on p. 500 502 and 504. He too draws attention to the omissions, inconsistencies and overlapping definitions, but since he is a bibliographer rather than a bookbinder or conservator, he has some additional comments to make on matters not covered by the other reviewers.

First, he says it is not a dictionary because it does not provide lexical information about the vocabulary (presumably this means derivation, pronunciation, part of speech, and whether the term has a meaning limited in space or time). It is not a real encyclopedia either, he says, although it is "loaded with encyclopedic information." He most regrets omissions of terms that would be useful to codicologists and bibliographers, and of terms relating to Renaissance and medieval bindings, and to early codex forms and structures, as well as to preparation of leather and parchment.

He goes on to warn that the dictionary is not useful for standardizing descriptive terminology, and to criticize its lexicographic aspects (headwords often being participles rather than infinitives, and filed under the modifying adjective rather than the noun modified). Like the other two reviewers, he concludes by calling it an important contribution and recommending its purchase.

Sidney Huttner, who reviewed Glaister's Glossary of the Book for this Newsletter in December 1980, has a review of the Roberts-Etherington dictionary in the January 1984 issue of The Library Quarterly, p. 122-124. He complains that the book seems to have had no goal, although it was issued under the auspices of the National Preservation Program, and that "we are invited to view the approximately 4,000 entries as a cut-and-paste reorganization of a selected literature." It could have served the needs of book and paper conservators better, he feels, if it had been more discriminating and prescriptive in dealing with the mutually inconsistent vocabularies of the related fields from which they draw their terms, and if the authors had made explicit the criteria they used for accepting or rejecting terms.

For his list of peculiarities and errors he considers the entries on marbling and its illustrations, adhesive and heat-set tissue. Like the other reviewers he notes inconsistencies, curious omissions and inadequately related terms and definitions. He likes the drawings but questions the choice of what to illustrate, and the confusing captions (e.g. for bands, clasps, tacketing and rounding). He concludes by saying, "These examples could be drawn out at length, but there is little point: this is an indispensable but distressing book. Its second edition could well be magnificent."

Library Materials Preservation Manual: Practical Methods for Preserving Books, Pamphlets and Other Printed Materials, by Hedi Kyle, with contributions by Nelly Balloffet, Judith Reed and Virginia Wisniewski-Klett. 2nd printing, April 1984. Order from Nicholas I. Smith, PD Box 66, Bronxville, NY 10708. (1st printing 1983) 168 p. $22.50 + $1 postage. ISBN 0-935164-10-3.

Reviewed by Walter Henry
Conservation Technician, Stanford University

It has been remarked that the surest way to draw fire from all quarters is to write a conservation book. Not wishing to contribute to this condition, let me grant at the outset that Hedi Kyle's Library Materials Preservation Manual has much to recommend it and whatever criticisms I may raise ought not belie one telling truth: had this manual been available when I was a novice technician, both I and my institution's collections would no doubt have been spared considerable grief.

Addressing itself to the practicing technician or librarian charged with the care of non-rare materials, the manual takes on one of the thorniest problems in book conservation, one that has, until of late, been rather consistently avoided by the conservation community: that is, how to deal with materials which, by their nature and number, may not be afforded the elaborate and costly attentions showered upon books deemed rare. As such, this volume, like the several similar manuals published recently, constitutes an undeniably noble undertaking. Its shortcomings are largely those of its genre (for a thoughtful discussion of this situation, see Craig Jensen's review of Morrow's Conservation Treatment Procedures in The Journal of Library History, Summer, 1983).

The economics of collection management, the exigencies of research, and the vast numbers of items requiring attention, all seem to demand abbreviated, sometimes even cursory, treatments. Nevertheless, these constraints upon treatment must, if we are to maintain any semblance of ethical behavior, represent a challenge, not an excuse for abdicating our responsibilities to these materials. The phrase "quick and dirty" is all too often offered with apparent apology masking a secret pride, a tacit self- congratulation. Clearly, a manual dealing with this class of materials is in an excellent position to make substantial inroads in the proper direction, but in order to do so, it must first undertake an analysis of the nature of the problem of non-rare materials, establishing just what is appropriate to their treatment. Without this analysis, the only recourse is to conventional wisdom and the traditional set of mending practices that have themselves brought about many of the problems faced by these materials.

Readers who know Ms. Kyle through her workshops, demonstrations and exhibits will have come to admire the elegance of her problem-solving strategy, which brings to the analysis of structural questions a freshness and clarity of approach that is, in many ways, unique: it is quite literally heuristic. Thus she is ideally suited both to carrying out the requisite analysis and to conveying the fruits of that analysis in a manner that encourages the novice to thoughtful treatment. That she fails, in her book, to do either is as much a disappointment as it is a surprise.

In what appears to be an attempt to demystify conservation practice--not in and of itself an inappropriate aim--she frequently reduces that practice to a set of recipes, characterized by a coarseness of approach, an insensivity to the uniqueness of each object, and a one- size-fits-all tactic, all of which ill serve both the materials being treated and the reader, for whom these recipes represent a foundation of learning, an introduction to working methods and to modes of thinking about structural problems. Perhaps even more disturbing is a rather cavalier attitude toward benignity and reversibility, qualities that are important in any conservation treatment, but absolutely critical for treatments in which the usual degree of care and attention may he attenuated. Many of the treatments outlined in this manual are questionable and occasionally downright dangerous, as exemplified by overenthusiastic reliance on PVA/methyl cellulose mixture, excessive spine lining, overwide reinforcing guards, and a gross disregard for the interactions of materials with differential expansivity. By contrast, the sections on containers offer a far more auspicious set of projects, providing the novice with a set of exercises which, though one might quarrel with their utility, help to inculcate good working habits and a sophisticated understanding of the way that the various components of a structure are built into a whole.

There is, as I have said, much of value in this book. If a future revision of this manual is envisioned, a careful rethinking of the fundamental problem of dealing with non-rare materials, coupled with a more purposive application of the heuristic pedagogy for which Ms. Kyle is justly known, could well produce a truly valuable work, a work of wide utility, one which would make a significant contribution to our efforts to deal effectively with the singular challenges presented by this problematic class of materials.

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