The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 19, Number 6
Nov 1992


Kenneth Lavender and Scott Stockton. Book Repair: A How-To-Do-It Manual for School and Public Librarians. How-to-do-it Manuals for School and Public Librarians, No. 4. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1992. 120 pp. ISBN 1555701035. $37.50 paper.

Reviewed by Nancy Schrock

School and public libraries place tremendous demands upon their book collections. It is not uncommon for volumes to circulate 2040 times among some of the world's hardest users--toddlers, teenagers, and adults on vacation. Funds for commercial rebinding are minimal or nonexistent in these libraries, so repair is crucial if books are to remain available--even if they are eventually discarded. Kenneth Lavender and Scott Stockton have prepared a book that proposes to be a "how-to-do-it" manual for these types of libraries.

Dr. Kenneth Lavender is a rare book curator, preservation administrator, and adjunct professor at the School of Library and Information Sciences at the University of North Texas; Scott Stockton is a student of fine binding and Coordinator of User Services, Department of Academic Computing, Texas Woman's University. Their experience with rare books and fine binding is reflected in their approach toward treatment procedures, which emphasizes decision-making and cites alternative conservation options in other publications.

Like most manuals, Book Repair begins with an introduction to tools and book structure and proceeds to describe paper treatment (cleaning and mending), hinge and spine repair, and protective enclosures. The section on paperbound books provides an overview of the range of options available to public and school libraries, which purchase paperbacks extensively and do not have funds to bind them commercially. The section on enclosures includes drymounting and lamina;ion with suggestions for substituting encapsulation for valuable materials.

The lists of tools, supplies, and equipment are generally adequate, although they would have been more useful if the information had been more specific. For example, the illustration of small tools has no captions to identify individual items. "Paper" would have been improved with suggestions of appropriate weights and sizes of sheets for endpapers; the importance of selecting alkaline paper is not mentioned. The recipe for paste neglects to mention that the slurry must be stirred for 1520 minutes, that it has a limited shelf life before becoming moldy, and that it needs to be strained and thinned before use. Methylcellulose is listed in the appendix but not in the supplies section, either as an alternative for paste or as part of a mix with PVA. Metal edged press boards are omitted, and the description of book presses is vague. The press illustrated in the photograph of a bench area is inappropriate for batches of repair work and the reader is told, "There are several kinds available, but they are generally suitable only for smaller books." The average public librarian needs far more guidance than that.

Although the authors advice readers to familiarize themselves with book structure, their introduction to the topic could be confusing to the newcomer. They use rare book terminology such as codex and quarto while neglecting to explain such elements as the hollow back--a crucial concept since one of the favorite repair techniques of public librarians is to glue the loose spine directly to the back of the text block. The simplified line drawing of a book does not illustrate many of the terms in the text. What is needed is a structural diagram of a dissected case binding that shows its structure with elements such as super, spine lining, and endpaper clearly identified (as in Milevski's Manual).

Repair staff in school and public libraries typically work in isolation and have few training opportunities so it is essential that a manual present simple and sound procedures. Book Repair contains errors in both text and illustration that would make it difficult for such people to experience success. For example, the diagram for pressing books shows a board resting on the full length of a knitting needle where the knob on the end of the needle would prevent the board from exerting full and equal pressure on the joint. The inlay in a reback is called optional when it is structurally needed to support the hollow of the case. Super is placed on the outside of the spine liner where it is likely to peel off. Books are to be opened 180 degrees immediately after gluing on the endpapers, a practice that will crease the inner hinge after the paper is stretched and the book closed and pressed. More complex procedural options appear within the sequence for routine work, making them difficult to follow.

Book Repair presents treatment as a continuum and guides librarians in identifying when they should send mate rials for more complex treatment and when commercially available materials would be more cost-effective than inhouse production. The section on paper repair helps librarians decide between a variety of tapes as well as Japanese paper, reflecting the limited value and life of many public and school library materials as well as limited budgets. Other manuals are cited for details of more complex conservation treatment, a responsible approach that takes advantage of available resources.

But overall, Lavender and Stockton seem more familiar with academic libraries than school or public libraries. Their assumption that school and public libraries have many deteriorated books that need enclosures does not reflect reality for most libraries where weeding is aggressive and constant. The chapter on enclosures mentions that phase boxes can be used for audiovisual materials, and given the proliferating amount of nonprint media, it would have been more relevant to show a videodisk receiving protection. Rather than instructions for Mylar dust jackets, library staff need advice o how to select commercial book jackets and attach them with the least damage (omitting rubber cement and long strips of tape). School and children's librarians need help repairing side-sewn, flat-backed picture books, a type of binding structure neglected in all repair manuals. Other common problems are split text blocks for adhesive bound fiction, distorted bindings, multiple loose pages, and broken boxes for AV materials. Providing procedures for these problems would have made a significant contribution to public and school librarianship.

Each new manual should build upon those that precede it. Although Lavender and Stockton cite other manuals, they miss two that would have solved some of the problems with their book repair procedures. The Illinois State Library's Book Repair Manual by Robert Milevski provides the best introduction to modern case binding structure; it describes elementary techniques for consolidating text blocks, tipping in multiple pages (not the single sheet that Lavender describes), and a range of simple repairs. Johns Hopkins Library's Preservation & Conservation Workshop Manual gives a clearer explanation of repairing with tapes and heat-set tissue; it also shows a technique for recasing books similar to Lavender's but with the improvement of sewing the spine lining through the first and last signatures of sewn bindings, rather than overcasting. By overlooking these manuals and the best overview of preservation for school and public librarians, Maxine Sitts's Practical Guide to Preservation in School and Public Libraries, Lavender and Stockton missed an opportunity to prepare the basic manual that public and school librarians desperately need.

Nancy Schrock has recently completed a statistical survey of book condition in four public libraries as part of an LSCA grant to assess preservation needs in Massachusetts public libraries. She has set up repair programs for public libraries in Concord, Wellesley, and Winchester, Massachusetts.

Our Past Preserved: A History of American Library Preservation, 18761910, by Barbra Buckner Higginbotham. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1990. 346 pp. $38.50; to order, call 800/2575755. ISBN 0816119325.

Reviewed by Paula De Stefano
Head, Preservation Department, New York University

Today's efforts in library preservation have roots firmly grounded in the past. Barbra Higginbotham's Our Past Preserved: A History of American Library Preservation, 18761910 (1990) thoroughly traces the many tributaries of preservation endeavors that have preceded us and attests to a rich and active preservation history in libraries in the United States dating back to 1876. In constructing this history, Higginbotham brings together the voices of our forebears, demanding and advocating the preservation of library materials. Articles like "After All, the Library Must Depend Upon the Book and the Book Must be Made of Paper," published in Library Journal in 1909, make a pitch for high quality paper in books and counsel librarians to prevail on publishers to provide it. Recalling today's permanent paper legislation, a 1908 circular written by the Chief of the U.S. Leather and Paper Laboratory was published by the Bureau of Chemistry "in the interest of promoting more permanent federal documents..." (p. 141).

Examples such as these abound in Our Past Preserved. Structured to reflect familiar preservation issues, chapter headings include environmental and building concerns user handling, binding, binding materials, papers and inks, cleaning and repair. Why 1876? Because that's when the American Library Association was established and, along with it, library literature. "Also in 1876, the Bureau of Education published its report Public Libraries in the United States of America: Their History, Condition, and Management," and included within its pages the chapters "Binding and Preservation of Books" and "Library Buildings," both of which "reflected the thinking of America's library leaders" (p. 4).

One of the most delightful and exciting aspects of Our Past Preserved is its originality. Nothing like this exists in library literature. Higginbotham's first note to the reader is a generous one that includes a dozen or more sources that address the history of some aspect of preservation (indeed, most of her notes throughout the book are very dense, i.e., loaded with sources), but, beyond a few articles, there has never been an exhaustive study of the development of preservation as a systematic activity in libraries. In her introduction, Higginbotham clarifies her purpose by saying:

This book aims to paint a comprehensive picture of preservation thought and activity in turn-of-the-century American libraries, within a larger framework of professional and cultural concerns, in the hope that a historical study of preservation problems and responses will promote further interest and cohesiveness in conservation issues (p. 2).

Further, she is quick to point out in her introduction that "it cannot be too strongly emphasized that this book is not a compendium of Victorian preservation techniques (p. 2)," which is true. What she has done is to comb the literature for primary and secondary resources relating to preservation and conservation activities in libraries from 1876 to 1910 and documented what seems like each and every instance that preservation, as a library activity or concern, has occurred. The result is an overwhelming collection of early thoughts and practices, annual reports, binding budgets, reports of special committees, disasters, and research findings. All have been carefully organized by preservation issue, rather than chronologically, although a chronology is thoughtfully included in an appendix.

Higginbotham's painstaking research and documentation of initial efforts to preserve library materials is remarkable. Our Past Preserved teems with late nineteenth century & early twentieth century voices raised with concern and alarm over the condition of their collections, as well as the conditions in their libraries. Indeed, one of the most impressive aspects of the book is the depth and breadth of the research that supports it. Particularly thrilling is the wealth of information culled from annual reports of libraries around the country dating back to 1876. Truly, the information that has been extracted from the annual reports reveals some of the most interesting observations and poignant examples of distress among librarians regarding the stability and condition of their books.

Chapter two, "The Environment as Enemy," is thick with reverberating complaints from all sectors of the country's libraries regarding environmental issues, such as temperature and humidity, light, dust, air pollution and pests. Ample sources declare the "ravages" of high temperatures. One of the worst cases of high temperatures cited in Our Past Preserved occurred at the New York State Library where they were "alarmed to discover temperatures of 145 degrees near the top of its forty-eight-foot-high ceiling..." Ainsworth R. Spofford, Librarian of Congress in 1876, remarked that "the books in higher galleries at the Library of Congress 'will almost burn your hand..." (p. 17). On the other end of the spectrum, the

Redwood Library, in Newport, Rhode Island, reported severe conditions of extreme cold in the winter of 1898 and pleaded for enough heat to keep the library stacks above freezing the following winter because it was damaging to the books (p. 18). These concerns and others like them were quite frequent.

Most preservation issues raised between 1876 and 1910 anticipated contemporary concerns, but others are quite dated. For example, the warm glow of gaslights in libraries may strike the uninitiated, momentarily, with an appreciation of antiquated charm. The truth is that gaslights in libraries were a major preservation concern due to their intense heat. Higginbotham notes that "Unquestionably, more was written about the injuries done to library materials by gaslight and its byproducts than any other cause of destruction (p. 18). "

In 1854 Dr. Henry Letheby reported to London city authorities that the products of coal-gas combustion harmed library bindings; they caused leather, paper, cotton, and linen to rot. Similarly, both William R. Nichols, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and scientist A. H. Church believed that bindings deteriorated because they absorbed sulfurous coal-gas fumes. At the 1877 Conference of Librarians, in London, Guillaume Depping, a Frenchman, suggested that a committee of librarians and chemists be formed to investigate the true causes of leather deterioration. Since some believed it to be gas, others heat, he thought that 'the opinion of scientific men should be taken'... (p. 19).

Reports of vermin, cockroaches, bookworms and other insects abound in library literature between 1876 and 1910 and "much was written about numerous ways of destroying or deterring insects" (p. 24). Likewise, dampness was condemned as intolerable in libraries and received bitter condemnation. Articles with titles such as "Quicklime," advocating the use of quicklime to absorb excess moisture in the air, provided schemes to counteract damp conditions (p. 21).

Chapter 3, entitled, "The Library Building: A Collection's First Defense," documents a nascent anxiety among librarians about the deleterious effects on library materials inherent in poor building structures. Types of heating ventilation, light, dust, and library disasters are addressed. The problem of gaslight is more thoroughly described in the context of its use as a method of illuminating the library for readers and the heightened danger of fire it introduced. Much of the material in this chapter is gleaned from the annual reports of libraries and boards of trustees. Higginbotham cites annual reports between 1887 and 1903 in which the issue of gaslight versus electric light was mentioned as a concern at institutions such as Yale University, Columbia College Library, the public libraries of Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Paterson, Cleveland, San Francisco, Minneapolis and others.

Likewise, much of the chapter's discussion of library fires is supported by the annual reports of libraries where fires occurred. In an 1880 annual report, a library in Massachusetts included in their plea for a fireproof building a quote from Milton regarding "good books" and added, "'But a good book to be useful must be protected, made accessible, preserved" (p. 40). It is sobering to read the list of institutions reporting fires: Johns Hopkins University Library, Trinity College Library, Chicago Public Library Milwaukee Public Library, Paterson Free Public Library and others. Titles of journal articles, such as "Three Libraries More Destroyed by Fire (1881)," "The Birmingham Fire (1879)," "The Prevention of Fires in Libraries (1879)," etc., are tragic and disturbing to read (p. 3839). Considered together, as they are in this chapter, these incidents impress the reader with the vulnerability of libraries to fires in the late nineteenth century.

Between 1876 and 1920 there were no recorded floods which affected libraries, but fires were frequent. Certainly the frame buildings occupied by many libraries, coupled with a fair amount of open-flame lighting and heating, made such disasters more common then than now....Each blaze--whether at home or abroad, whether publicized in the professional press or simply recorded in an internal library document--prompted some sort of preservation-related activity, even if it was only the publicizing of the necessity for precaution and fireproof architecture. As might be expected, many fires were followed by experimentation with various drying and mending techniques (p. 180).

Foregoing disaster preparedness efforts saw Harvard equipped with boxes with handles for the swift removal of books from the library in case of fire. Other safeguards included staff fire drills, fire alarms, fire department inspections, and watchmen patrolling stacks (p. 4142).

Not surprisingly, care and handling of library books was the subject of concern and consternation among librarians. The "civilizing influence" of a book in good condition was cited in a 1909 article entitled, "Ragged Books" and keeping books clean and neat on the shelves was advocated to promote careful book handling (p. 44). Some things never change! The age old habit of turning down corners of pages was noted in "Defacing of Books," published in 1877. Higginbotham's research uncovers a wonderful comment in an annual report of the Boston Public Library in 1889:

In general, persons using the Library treat the books as carefully as they would their own property. There is, nevertheless, one matter to which the public attention should be directed, and that is to the selfish but not uncommon habit--due probably to the thoughtlessness or vanity of a certain class of readers--of underlining passages and making pencil comments in margins. Offenders in this respect seem to forget that such marks deface the pages, and annoy sensible readers.

Library preservation is nowhere more palpable than in its link to library binding. Our Past Preserved provides a thorough account of antecedent library binding practices that affirm the obvious connection between binding and preservation in the minds of library professionals. Chapters six and seven, "Binding: Its Importance and Economics" and "Binding Materials: Costs and Choices" contain copious examples of early testimony of the importance of library bindings and clamor for sturdy structures and high quality materials for bindings.

Many of the principles that motivated past binding practices are strikingly familiar. "As one studies the literature of this period, five principles of binding economics emerge, though no one characterized them as such at the time" (p. 65). The first of the five principles regards the cost effectiveness of quality binding. Here Higginbotham quotes Justin Winsor, in "Library Memoranda" (1876): "cheap binding is often dear binding. Strong sewing, real leather, and solid board are worth paying for' (p. 65). Second, binding choices were closely linked to use and, third, the initial binding of a book was thought to be most important because, quoting a remark in the 1899 annual report of the Seattle Public Library, "the most careful binding would be the cheapest in the end." The fourth and fifth principles advocated by librarians a hundred years ago were that rebinding should occur before it was no longer possible and that "the binding should be suited to the physical characteristics of the book itself' (p. 66).

Quality of binding materials was as fierce an issue as it is today. Leather, in particular, in all its varieties, was a chief concern among librarians, as were the different processes used to prepare leather for bookbinding. Committees were convened to research and report on the "problem of disintegrating leather-bound library collections." One such committee was convened in 1900 by the Royal Society of Arts, the "Committee on Leather for Bookbinding."

...when it first met on 3 May 1900, two subcommittees were formed. The first to 'visit a selected number of libraries and to ascertain the comparative durability of the various bookbinding leathers used at different periods and preserved under different conditions,' and the second was 'to deal with the scientific side of the matter, to ascertain the cause of any deterioration noticed, and, if possible to suggest methods for its prevention in the future.' (p. 76).

The findings of this group are further recorded by Higginbotham, as are many other instances of the problems associated with deteriorating leather bindings during this period.

Library professionals and the federal government objected vociferously to the poor quality of paper used by publishers and much of that discourse is generously recorded in Our Past Preserved. Interestingly, these objections, Higginbotham points out, "originated not in the library community but in the federal government (p. 141). Initial attempts to address the problem of acidic, deteriorating paper can be seen in the collaborative work of the Committee on the Deterioration of Paper (Royal Society of Arts) and the U.S. Leather and Paper Laboratory in 1897.

The committee classed papermaking fibers into four categories, designated A (cotton, flax, hemp) through D (mechanical-wood pulp). The standard recommended for 'book papers required for publications of permanent value' required that at least 70 percent of the fibers come from class A materials and that no more than 10 percent loading matter and 2 percent rosin size be added (p. 148).

Our Past Preserved delves into the issue of paper quality as it emerged in professional literature and reveals a profusion of awareness and concern within the library community. Indeed, the extent of the studies, research and attention devoted to paper deterioration, decades before the Council on Library Resources funded William Barrow's research and the Barrow Laboratory, is quite stunning. At the same time, Higginbotham is quick to point out, "Despite the nascent interest in the preservation of paper--the very marrow of the book--the greater part of the period's research and activity focused on external preservation approaches rather than the problems inherent in the materials of which books were made" (p. 178). This she attributes to the possibility that in the absence of scientific research, external forces could be approached with more certainty.

Steering the course through the history of library preservation, our ancestors demanded more attention be paid to the condition of libraries and library materials advocated sound preservation practice, raised money for preservation, appealed to their governing bodies for support in preserving their collections, and urged reform in environmental controls, housing, book handling practices and more stable materials. Between the lines, the disparate efforts on the part of early library directors, librarians, curators, and others, can be seen the eventual emergence of a community of librarians that have organized, unified and empowered themselves enough to produce preservation legislation (New York State), a wealth of federal funds for microfilming brittle books (National Endowment for the Humanities), and many organizations devoted to the support of preservation, such as the Preservation of Library Materials Section (PLMS) within the American Libraries Association, American Institute for Conservation (AIC), Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC), MicrogrAphic Preservation Service (MAPS), the Commission on Preservation and Access (CPA), not to mention the various segments in consortiums like the American Research Libraries (ARL), the Research Libraries Group (RLG), SOLINET and AMIGOS. Like blips on a ribbon of microfilm, the individual impulses to preserve library materials coalesced into what is now a legitimate and powerful driving force in libraries, museums, archives and other repositories.

Until the last chapter of the book, Higginbotham does little to examine the link between nineteenth century preservation endeavors and the sophisticated mechanisms that have emerged to support today's efforts. Rather, she draws together the pieces of the puzzle and the idea begins to form itself. Initially, one is disappointed that few conclusions are drawn and few opinions formed along the way. Questions develop in the mind of the reader regarding how precisely the activities and development of Victorian preservation efforts in libraries have influenced and informed our efforts today. And pressing further on, what plausible conclusions might be drawn from that to steer the course of preservation over the next 100 years? Although her style is lively and informative, few steps are taken away from the factual reporting of the research to orbit the issue and inform us of her observations.

But in the final chapter, "Looking Forward, Looking Back: 1910," Higginbotham probes the factual evidence she has so painstakingly compiled and pulls it together to analyze certain aspects of her research, such as the "degree of interest in preservation" within disparate libraries in the country, the effect of economics on preservation activity and the influence on U.S. libraries of activities and research conducted in European libraries. Here, the profusion of notes that characterize the narrative of the rest of the book fall away and Higginbotham brings an acute, perceptive intelligence to bear on the history she has constructed. Her distillation of the evolution of preservation interests and the ideas she raises set the stage at once for further research. She suggests as much in her concluding paragraph:

This book, a representation of preservation thought and activity during the early years of American librarianship, provides a basis for the examination and analysis of the work to be done in the decades to follow, it sets the stage for the cultural crusade of the late twentieth century (p. 193).

In an article entitled, "Forgotten Forebears: Concerns with Preservation, 1876 to World War I," Larry McDonald remarks that "Few fields emerge full-blown...Preservation a field inherently concerned with the cultural production of the past, is largely and ironically unaware of its own history" (Libraries and Culture, vol. 25, no. 4, Fall 1990 p. 628). Lest we mistakenly assume that the impulse to preserve library materials is a recent phenomenon, Our Past Preserved is a testament to the contrary. Higginbotham has provided us with an exhaustive map of the concerns and demands for stable, high quality library materials made by our forebears all across the country. In the telling of it, we see that a crucible of forces has been brought to bear on library preservation. Indeed, our professional preservation concerns and demands for the collections we administer today are over 100 years old. Our Past Preserved does a heroic job of presenting this history in a well organized, impeccably researched volume.

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