The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 12, Number 5
Jul 1988

Survey of Abbey Readers

by Ellen McCrady

Preliminary results of the reader survey last October were reported in the January issue, but a complete report has not been ready until now. First, a caveat: The questionnaires were sent only to individual subscribers in the U.S., who make up only half the mailing list, and only half of those responded (272 out of 522)--so people like preservation administrators, archivists and others who are likely to be getting the Newsletter routed to them at work are undoubtedly underrepresented.

In answering the first question, "What field of work are you in or what personal interest does the Abbey Newsletter relate to? (Check no more than three.)," five or ten people were unable to restrict their choices to the most important three categories, but checked five or six. Their answers were all counted, because I did not think this introduced a significant bias.

A mere three out of the total of 15 interest categories accounted for 50% of the major interests of respondents--and these three were all "hands on" or benchwork categories. In fact, these three were just about the only benchwork categories listed. Even with all due allowance for bias due to the half-size sample and the selective responses (i.e., the likelihood that only bench people bothered to return the questionnaire), this is a pretty strong endorsement for an emphasis on bench conservation and bookbinding (and for the subjects that conservators and binders are interested in). A tally of responses, with percentages, is given below.

The second question, about bench people who became administrators, was included for several reasons, the first of which was to trace career ladders in conservation and preservation. Another reason was to understand the information needs of readers, especially with regard to the benchwork vs. administration focus. The response was about what I had expected, that a significant percentage of bench people are moving up into administrative positions. This is good in a way, because administrative decisions are better when they are informed by technical judgement and experience, other things being equal; but it is also sad to see so many bench people drawn away from the work they love because someone is needed to head a lab or program. Of course this happens in engineering and other applied fields too.

Field of Work or Personal Interest



Book conservation 189 20
Hand bookbinding 169 18
Paper conservation 135 14
Library 93 10
Preservation administration 59 6
Rare books, manuscripts 59 6
Archive 43 4
Formal study in binding, conservation or preservation 43 4
Teaching 35 4
Manufacture/distribution of supplies 33 3
Research & development 30 3
Library binding 25 3
Museum 19 2
Papermaking 18 2
Publishing 9 1

Ques. 2: Are you one of those rare (or maybe not-so-rare) people who used to be a full-time binder or conservator, and who subsequently came to administer a preservation program?




Yes 33 14
No 194 83
Doboth 6 2

The third question showed a strong overlap of interests in both book or graphic arts and in conservation or preservation.

Ques. 3: Do you have a serious interest in both book/graphic arts and conservation or preservation?




Yes 186 80
No 40 17
Lukewarm 6 2

The replies to the fourth question showed that only 14 of the 272 respondents (7%) communicate with others in the field by electronic mail. Three were on BITNET six on ALANET, five on ENVOY 100 (CIN), one each on ARPANet, OCLC LINK and TAPPINet.

The fifth question, "Is there any subject you would like to see covered in greater depth in the Newsletter?", brought 70 expressions of complete satisfaction, which have been compiled in typed form, ready to whip out in time of need (low morale, grant application, etc.). It also brought 79 suggestions, which were typed on separate cards, classified according to the Abbey Publications classification system, and tallied by subject. Any subject not already in the system (e.g. art on paper, structure of books, tips) was added.

The classification system has about 200 categories under six main headings:

  1. General & miscellaneous (about 30 categories)
  2. Preventive care, preservation (about 40 categories)
  3. Materials & treatments (about 70 categories)
  4. Entities (about 17 categories)
  5. Information (about 20 categories)
  6. Related fields (about 15 categories)

In each main category, the number of suggestions for topics to cover in greater depth were 19, 6, 93, 4 and 6. Even though the third main heading has most categories under it, it does not have five times as many as the first, though there were five times as many suggestions for coverage of materials & treatments as there were for any other main topic. In fact, there were requests for more coverage of 32 of the categories under Materials & Treatments. The most popular category was 3A1, Hand bookbinding, with 18 requests, and the next most popular was 3, General & miscellaneous information on Materials and treatments, with 11 requests. Other popular topics were 3A2, Book repair and phased conservation; 3A5, History of bookbinding and books; and 3J, Supplies and equipment, all with five requests. I take this hunger for information on hand bookbinding and related subjects to be a reflection of a) its appeal, and b) the lack of training opportunities. This situation is not likely to change, for economic reasons. It is something like acting: many are called, few are chosen. There is a book about the facts of life for would-be actors: Acting Professionally, by Robert Cohen (Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 1977). It is a sympathetic and practical guide, but blunt. Such a book has not yet been written for aspiring hand bookbinders, or for the established hand bookbinders who went through a lot to find training opportunities and never stop adding to their education for the rest of their lives. The Abbey Newsletter will never stop covering hand bookbinding, but it will probably also never cover it enough for the people who practice it. There may be a market here for another newsletter. Is anybody game?

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