Sunday, October 30, 2016

Learning from the experts

One regular occurrence, no matter what the age of your collection, is finding a book in need of some sort of repair. Whether it's become overheated and dried out, with random pages falling out, or if it's "shelled itself", with the whole cover block detaching from the pages, there's always a book that needs some attention. My problem is that I'm not skilled enough in this area to know what sort of repairs are possible, and where the line is between me being able to do some basic repairs, and when a book needs to be sent off to the book binders for some expert attention. 

Luckily, the binders we usually use, Downie Allison Downie, run a variety of classes on all elements of book making and repair. My colleague and I were able to go along to one of these classes recently, carrying a few sad examples each of books in need of repair. The way we spilt the carrying weight, I had the hardbacks with me, and my colleague had paperbacks in various states of dirtiness and collapse. I'm going to show you what I had to do to repair my pile of books...and why I am even more in awe of the skill of the bookbinders at DAD!    



The hardbacks pile

I had four books with issues - two old books that needed their spines/boards replaced or repaired/had sprung overly open and the sewing had started to become loose (and one of those had also suffered from some historic munching by a bookworm on the spine and front board); one that was in danger of having the spine break off, and one modern one that had a single loose page which we wanted advice on refixing properly.

My colleague and I were art of a class of about eight people, with two teachers, John and Mia. The ration of students to teachers meant we had lots of individual attention, which was essential - the range of books being brought for repair was amazing, from historic family bibles to bound collections of early motorcycle magazines and rare books on gardening and British moths and other insects, and specific advice on how to deal with each of them was needed. So, when I say "I did X, Y or Z", what I'm really saying is "John and/or Mia told me how to..." - they're the ones with the amazing skills here!

So....I started with the two "sprung" books - this involved taking them completely out of their original shells.

Removing the boards and spine from one of the "sprung" books

Bookworm damage on spine and edge of front board

Once the "shell" of the books had been removed, the old glue and paper from the spines needed to be removed too.

Taking the crumbly old paper bonded to the old glue off

Taking off the old fabric strip on top of the stitched spine

After clearing all the old glue, paper, and "stuff" off the spines, it was time to pull the relaxed pages back into a semblance of tautness again. This involved using whip stitch on the front and back sections of the book. There was a manoeuvre involving knots, and wrapping the thread around the needle that made sense at the time, but I guarantee I couldn't replicate now. But it worked well to pull the book together, especially with the book that had a loose front section.

Whip stitch
Whip stitch securing front and back sections to main block

Meanwhile, my colleague was also hard at work. She had a paper-bound book/pamphlet which (for reasons we shall not question) held the contents of legislation relating to taxation on beer in Edinburgh from the 17th and 18th centuries. This wasn't something to be rebound, but it was fairly dirty and had pages earmarked by folding, and we wanted advice on what to do to with it. She was set to work to carefully lift surface grime and dirt from this by carefully cleaning each page with an absorbent sponge/rubber (don't ask me the proper description for it other than it was gentle and safe!). Yes, I am mean and took photos of her while she was hard at work!

Careful removal of ingrained dirt in pages

I have to say, it took a while but the end result was impressive! The booklet now feels less....well...manky!

After doing the whip stitching I measured up, cut and glued new custom-size end papers on to the front and back of the text block. Then a new fabric covering was put over the spine, attaching on to the new end papers.

New fabric covering on spine, new end papers in place on front and back

Then, I got to vent some frustrations! The books were held tightly in a heavy duty metal clamp, and the spines needed to be hammered back into the curved shape that a book spine should sit in. So....I got to hit them them with a hammer, yay!


Book clamped in place, ready for spine to be hammered

Meanwhile, my colleague had been hard at work too. After cleaning every single page of the "booze book", she had then been busy with the other paperbacks. Two of these had dried out, and pages were either already falling out, or were about to. She carefully detached each individual page from both volumes, then (I may have missed some information here as I was doing my books, so forgive me any errors) she...erm....glued on the fabric spine? Sorry - I was engrossed with stitching and hammering at this point! But she was super focused, lining up pages with careful concentration!



As for me, my books had to be left overhanging the edge to preserve the curve of the spine, while I worked on the other bits.


Book resting while overhanging desk edge

Next, the spine needed to be replaced. This was done with some thin card, and it needed to be measured up against the size of the original book.


Card, cut to matching width for the spine 

Then, I had a moment where I had to lay bits on top of bits, while going "HOW THE HELL DOES THIS WORK THEN!?!?"

Moment of confusion and self-reassurance - card spine now also cut to matching length

Luckily, John and Mia were there to explain and reassure. Otherwise, I may have been tempted to start whimpering....

Meanwhile, John had also been advising on how to stop one old book's (Report of the Trial of the Dynamitards, in case you were curious) spine label from popping off. Turns out, its thick paste. Wipe it on with a sponge, then wipe the excess off, and leave to dry. Voila! Turns out, it also slightly cleans it in the process too - who knew that book was so manky? (not me).

Hammering the corners back into shape before stiffening them with paste 

Leaving front and spine to dry after pasting
John had chosen a close match in buckram fabric for each original cover, and these needed to be cut to size for each spine. The card for the spine was glued on to the buckram, with overlap at all sides.

Spine card, lying on buckram

Earlier, I'd carefully eased up the spine edge side covering of the original boards. This left space on the original boards for the new buckram to be pasted on, with the original cover material being smoothed down on top of the new material, and burnished to minimise the visibility of the overlap point.

Spine in place between old covers. Original cover material on right has been glued down over new buckram, yellow underside of cover on left is showing before being glued down over new buckram 

Both books needed this treatment - the fadedness of the original cover on one book was quite impressive!

New spine in place, with both covers glued down. Bookworm damage to cover visible on the board on the right. 

The original spines now needed to be fixed on to the new spine sections, after being trimmed to remove any trailing edges or threads.

The detached and trimmed original spines - one with a fair bit of nibbling from a bookworm at the top right

My colleague was also working her way through her pile of paperbacks, and was moving on to making brand new hardback covers for these books.

My colleague being instructed on how to put her collection of loose pages into a new hardback cover

Just to prove that I was there myself.... 

The top says "I have no idea what I'm doing and that's kinda the way I like it". A phrase I aim to live by. 

Once the spines were dry, I moved on to securing the book into the shell by gluing the end papers and text block on to the boards and the spine, and that was mine...done!

Recovered books, with glue drying

Don't they look nice?

The final hardback rebinds
I took the opportunity to shift the bookworm damaged cover page from being a front cover to being a back cover, to make it less obvious. The spine of that book had to be trimmed to be narrower than the original to get back to a solid piece of fabric, so it's not a perfect match, but it's now secure and won't deteriorate.

The other book could be trimmed more exactly, making it a very close match to the original size, and making it look almost as if it hadn't been touched. 

Finished, rebound books

This isn't everything about the day, as my colleague had further work on the previously-paperback-now-hardback items she'd been dealing with, doing foil lettering, clamping, burnishing, and who knows what else, but that's her story, not mine!

It was a busy day but the time flew by - we were always hard at work on some element of the complex process of repairing our hardback and paperback books. And what I've learned from the day is...repairing old books is definitely best left to the very skilled staff at Downie Allison Downie! They were brilliant teachers, and full of patience with our class! If you get the opportunity to go to one of their classes, do it....even if it's just to gaze in awe at the knowledge and skills of the teachers!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Opening the doors

Last month, for the first time ever, my library took part in Doors Open Day. My organisation has taken part in DOD for many years, but the library had never been involved before. From my first days in the library, I was aware of the need to raise its visibility, both internally, and externally. We've been working hard internally to raise awareness of the service, so that was being dealt with. To add to that, taking part in Doors Open Day seemed to be a good way to show the public more of what goes on in the organisation, and what resources are available to the service users.

My colleague and I worked hard to make sure that the library would be an interesting destination, and the public would know about it. Because the library is in a secure area, the only way to visit was to book onto one of the two tours running throughout the day, and choose at the end to come to the library. We made posters to leave at the booking desk, and another popular visitor area, to tell people how to get into the library. We put signs up in our windows, which many members of the public passed on their way into the building. We told other members of staff about the activities and items we had in the library, so they could tell the public. We're unsure whether it was the effect of this promotion work, or just general curiosity about the existence and work of the library, but visitor numbers exceeded our expectations - we suspected maybe only 5-10 visitors would continue on past the end of the tour to the library, but in the end at least 20 visitors per tour came to the library, meaning at least 200 people visited the library on the day.*

We restricted access to anything beyond the main ground floor corridor - we couldn't allow visitors to go where we couldn't see them, so we had to keep them in this space. To block access to the rest of the ground floor, we used roping, kickstools, and...Magnus.

Magnus, our skeleton staff. Many people think that Magnus retired from the Assistant Librarian role, but we know better...
So what did we have for visitors to do and see int he library? We had three desks to use for display in the ground floor space, and we used each for different purposes - one for an activity, one for display only, and one for browseable texts. We also used the library service desk to display additional items, and freebies for people to pick up. A window hosted a display usually managed by another department, but which we used this year, and which worked well with the materials we had to show.

Unfortunately my phone camera doesn't cope very well with the contrasts between the areas of dim and bright light in the library, so these photos make it look like there were some very bright lights on the books, when they weren't anything like as bright as that!

Ink, quills, pen pot, calligraphy examples and an original, hand-annotated copy of a text

At the first desk, we were hosting the materials which another department usually displayed, on technology through the ages. These materials included old quills, ink pots, document bundles and handwritten ledgers, along with a typewriter, floppy discs and dictophones, and these were placed in the empty window space above the first desk. To complement this, I bought quills, a dip-nib pen and nibs, and calligraphy inks. These were put on the desk in front of the technology display, with a layer of blotting paper, laminated example sheets of calligraphy, and a pile of squares of paper, to allow visitors to try their hand at writing with quills and nibs. This proved to be hugely popular, with all ages of visitors - frequently, people were already trying out the quills even before I had welcomed them to the library and invited them to try them! Almost every person who visited the library left with some sort of inked item: the Chinese ladies' names were particularly impressive, as was the beautiful poem about souls left behind by one visitor.
Historic texts on display on book pillows
We had a display of some of our older and more interesting texts from the special collection on the second desk. This included a 1699 text by George MacKenzie on "Laws and Customs of Scotland in Matters Criminal " which discusses the crime of witchcraft in some depth (accompanied by a modern English translation by me of the first few witchcraft pages), a text open at a 1665 case of son of a William Wallace trying to claim his inheritance, a text from the 1800s on the trial of Lord Melville for "high crimes and misdemeanors", a Latin text from the late 1600s, a copy of Regiam Majestatem from 1609, with additional annotations, a book on "the Douglas Cause", and a selection of other interesting books. After this picture was taken we also added a selection of handwritten deeds from 1700, with beautiful handwriting. Although the library has many modern texts, and electronic resources, we felt that they aren't as interesting to the public as "old stuff"!  The materials on this desk were the source of most questions from visitors, with people wanting to know about book ages, authors, history, contents,the legal system, the handwriting, and all sorts of other random things!

Books on the crimes, the law and notable trials
 We had a third table, with dictionaries of crime for people to look up the changing penalties for certain crimes. There were also exampes of books about practitioners of the law, and how they view themselves (the Punch drawing about the absurdity of women barristers was well liked - apparently, they'd just have their silly little heads turned by fashion) and materials on notable trials, including one being re-enacted on site that day. These were for visitors to flick through themselves,


The library service desk was used to display a large volume of the record edition of the Acts of the Parliament of Scotland, with a Glendook duodecimo edition for comparison.

Magnus checking the card catalogue for overdues
We had a tour group arriving approximately every 20 - 25 minutes, with the visitors able to stay up to 15 minutes in the library. As the library is in a secure area, someone was needed to escort visitors from the library and the building when they wished to leave. My colleague took this role on, and was busy constanly going back and forth as people requested to leave. I therefore was responsible for doing the talking - not a job I'm generally particularly keen on, and it was quite challenging - getting the attention of an unknown group, who were leaving at random times, and trying to explain the different desks and their contents to them, along with answering totally unpredicable questions. I think I got into the swing of it quite quickly, and I got quite a few laughs from the visitors - one even said I'd made a location and information that could be dry and boring into something interesting and fun, so I'd say I got away with it!

It was great to be able to speak to members of the public about what the library and the library staff do, and they had some interesting questions, which put my general and legal knowledge to the test! Some I knew, some I didn't know and have found out, and some I've yet to check.

  • Where did you get the quill pens from? And the ink? 
    • Feathers I bought on eBay and cut myself, and calligraphy inks that work well with dip-nib pens from Cult Pens
  • Who was the last person to be tried for witchcraft?
    • Helen Duncan, during WWII
  • Was the law to prosecute witches still in force?
    • At the time - I don't know, probably not! Now - I know it was repealed by the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951 (probably something to do with Helen Duncan, but I've not had time to check this)
  • Which court room would trials for treason in the 1700s been heard in?
    • I'll need to double check this one, but renovations in the 1800s mean I'm unsure without checking about which courtrooms were where
  • When were women first allowed to sit as jurors?
    • I've not had time to properly check this yet, but I suspect it was at the same time, or soon after the point when we gained the right to vote. It may have been the Representation of the People Act 1918, or the Equal Franchise Act 1928
Also, there were some unexpected things: someone was so keen on the quill and ink that I decided to give them a few of the spare feathers, to take away and showed them how to cut the shaft to be able to use it to write with. Another person was so fascinated by the translation of the witchcraft text that he asked if he could take it? We were happy to oblige, and printed ourselves another copy. Someone else wanted to understand and discuss the comparable points of Swiss and Scots law. An English-qualified retired legal practitioner wanted to know what the equivalent of Halsbury's Laws of England was, as she'd never known but assumed it existed (it's the Stair Memorial Encyclopaedia of the Laws of Scotland). Magnus also was occasionally "interfered" with by visitors, and I sometimes spotted people taking books off the shelves which had a rope in front of them to discourage that. As they weren't special or unusual, I wasn't concerned about this, but it was surprising to me that people would touch things that were obviously meant to be off-limits. I suppose I'm just not used to how odd the public can be!
Overall, it was a hectic, exhausting, but very fun day - I'll definitely be taking part again next year - will you be visiting?

* This is just an estimate - we were way too busy herding people to be able to count them, especially when two tours colluded and we had 40+ visitors in the library at once!

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