from the bindery: the devil's bindery, or, if you were a book cover, which would you be?

as part of my quest to pay more attention to the 50-100 books that might pass through my hands per week, i've been keeping a list of bizarre and humorous book titles and setting bindings aside for scanning and photographing. below is an assortment of titles from the 1880s to the 1940s that came from a librarian for consideration to be commercially bound. this librarian is trying to aid me in my quest to keep my bindery prep students busy, but i looked at much of what he sent down and thought--what a loss to lose these original bindings. and all in the name of keeping me busy. i won't rebind most of the ones shown below because they are in too much disrepair to go to the commercial binder.

so. i love these covers and i love the titles. i wish you could see the tables of contents inside some of them or read these funny, mystifying stories. there is something charming and amusing and so odd about American and British culture at the turn of the last century and into those first decades. it is a quality that seems totally lacking in our world now. i don't know what it is. all i know is that i absorb a little bit of it each week at work as i dive back into the book culture of the time in search of sympathetic methods of repairing these little buddies. and in search of tidbits about book manufacturing of the time that fascinate me.

while the practical demands of my workplace cannot be met by approaching the zillions of books that come our way with a strict, conservation/restoration approach, it's a shame to me to lose these covers: these books in their whole, original form--and especially through their cover designs and materials--preserve and communicate so much about the world that created them.

so, take a look. thanks to the call number stickers, you can see the publication date on most these titles. any titles without a date in the call number are first editions. the last few titles come from the tale-end of the last awesome and ever-so-eclectic phase of the victorian publisher's binding-o-rama. i like these the best of the lot, but i'll wait to say which is my favorite until i hear from some of you which are your faves....

the following are identical editions but with very different covers.


from the lab: more than a ghost from my past

Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. this, i thought, would be a fine read for october. mysterious, romantic, eerie and full of suspense. a book i had read only once before about 14 years ago.

so i pull up the Lee Library catalog, jot down the call number on a scrap of paper, and take myself down the hall and up a couple flights of stairs to the southwest section of the 5th floor.

there are several copies to choose from. i begin to pull each one down from its place on the top shelf and flip through its pages and wiggle its covers, checking for overall structural soundness, seeing if i like the feel of the pages, the look of the type, the thickness of the book. (yeah, my usual ritual. nice to have so many copies to choose from).

oh, but what do we have here? one of the copies has been re-bound by book repair. you can always tell book repair books by their solid-colored cotton and rayon cloth cases and new labels (done on indesign and printed on moriki paper--for those of you binders interested in these details).

hmm. i wonder who repaired this? i'll just flip to the back and check.

lo and behold! there my initials were, staring right back at me, with the date 10/2002 written to the side. seven years ago, to this very October month, i had disbound this book, stab sewn on new endsheets, recased it in this teal green cloth, and lightly signed my initials in pencil on the bottom lefthand corner of the back cover!

naturally, i became the 19th person in 7 years to check this copy out. this 1941-er has held up quite well over the years, despite needing a little more tlc.

a missing or uber-damaged page i had photocopied and replaced. it's still stuck in there nice and tight. (the textblock is stab sewn all the way through, ps.)

hmm. some taped pages (among many) i chose to ignore. the tape doesn't appear to have evolved much, which is good. the paper overall is quite fragile. reminds me of the way a well-loved and used baby blanket feels over the years: thinning as it begins to fade.

i finished reading this book Sunday, on my flight home from the Guild of Book Worker's conference. tho it has withstood yet one more reading, there are numerous tears along edges of many pages, and some graffiti here and there, along with evidence of pencil marks i had erased in my former life as a book repair employee who didn't want to be a bookbinder. while reading it, i enjoyed not only the mystery in the words of the story, but the tactile story of the book object, itself. i reflected on the importance for me of working on circulating books--books that are used, books we are keeping functional and usable. i loved being able to feel how this book had been used and held and read by others. likely i am the only person to have returned to this 1941 Sun Dial Press copy of Rebecca more than once. it's come back to me: a ghostly remnant of my 2002 self going through the motions of a job, earning money meeting my solid 2009 self, striding with purpose through each day as a bookbinder and repairer of books.


from the wilderness: life outside of bookbinding

while i continue procrastinating my book-related posts, here's how i've been spending time the past few weeks.

september and october are some of the best times of year for wilderness excursions in utah. leaves are changing color, it's dry, and temperatures are cooler.

all summer, pear, sue, and i have completed a series of planned hikes. summitting mount baldy, on the face of Timpanogos, was our last for the season. the hike began in Pleasant Grove's Battle Creek Canyon where we discovered little paradises of waterfalls, meadows, and forests of firs.

even the top of Baldy was intriguing. we discovered that the north side is wetter and covered in firs, while the south side supports a much dryer climate, boasting only ankle-to-waste-high scrub oak. pear called it "mountain patterned baldness" or something like that.

while hiking across meadows on the face of Timpanogos and getting these views was my favorite part....

....the hike down became the hike from hell. thanks to some woefully misguided trail information, we ended up hiking/sliding/tumbling down the south face of baldy. it was by far the steepest descent i've ever done, and i spent a good deal of it crouched down and sliding on my feet. 2 hours of straight down left the three of us totally physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. we felt triumphant for making it, but i look up at baldy now and glare in its general direction.

Nebo Loop: views behind Mount Nebo.
since returning home from Boston, i've been trying to do things here I've never done my whole life growing up here. Driving the Nebo Loop and exploring Payson Canyon is one of those things. The terrain is much different than that behind Timpanogos along the Alpine Loop.

For one thing, the dirt is red! This is "The Devil's Kitchen". It's the Nebo Loop's own tiny Bryce Canyon.

The aspens were changing color right along with the maples. Mixed in with the evergreens they were amazing!!
back slope of Nebo.

Capitol Reef National Park

This was the perfect day to visit this park! Pear and i left provo at 7 am, and 2 hours and 45 minutes later we arrived at one of my favorite places on earth. Temperatures below seventy, dry, sunny, limited crowds. perfect.

View of the waterpocket fold geologic formation from our hike to the Golden Throne.

the Golden Throne. it was perfectly silent here. and along the way we found places that echoed so well off the slot canyon walls that you could hear your whole echo come back to you.

our second trail was the 3.5-mile loop around Chimney Rock.

nope. the camera isn't tilted. it's the natural slant caused thousands of years ago by a ripple and fold in the land.

just one example of the rainbow of colors at capital reef. the strata alternates from red to green to purple to white to yellow. a camera will never, ever do this justice, so just imagine it. or better yet. go there!

(so stay tuned. books will be back as soon as the outdoors is no longer available.)


seasonal chiasmus

today life is in chiasmus...

rain and cooler weather,

sprouting greens--spinach, lettuce and arugula

new beginnings at a new semester on campus

a season of plants and shrubs growing tired,
giving off their last exhale in a building burst of color....

i drift back with my memories to september and october's seasonal opposites, march and april

a season of plants and shrubs waking up,
breathing their first fresh breaths in a building burst of floral color

graduation marking new beginnings at the end of a semester on campus

sprouting greens--spinach, lettuce, and kale

rain and warming weather

spring and fall. at once so alike, yet moving in opposite directions, preparing for different tasks. they, in their own extremes, temper the more exuberant extremes of winter and summer.

and for a moment the world rests in equilibrium at the equinox--balanced light and life--before swirling along its expansive, ever-changing way


From the bindery: welcome to book repair

It occurred to me that part of The Q Lab should actually include the lab at work (or as we tend to call it--the shop). Not only does book repair zap most my bookbinding time, efforts, and energy, but i also come across some crazy, kooky stuff (stay tuned for scans from the 1968 bowling guide...), including fine examples of how NOT to repair a book.

so in commemoration of the pending fall (and therefore the end of the gardening season and the return of the bookbinding season)..........welcome to Book Repair.

this is the corridor of needy books that greets one at the entrance to book repair. (and yes, that blinding light at the end of the tunnel is heaven! we have the best light in the library, ps.) the books on the left are divided by floors and await subject selectors' decisions on which to repair and which to replace or withdraw. i spend a good chunk of time managing these shelves, keeping books stacked well, weeding out quick repairs (like a simple page tip-in), and chasing down librarians to get them to come review their books. while these are all books from the circulating collection rather than special collections, we still do a fair amount of 19th century books, which often tend to be either half-leather bindings sewn on cords with their front and back boards coming off, OR, dilapidated cloth-case bindings with the worse paper ever. love it.

once librarians make their decision, my boss and i check off what repairs the books need and put them on the repair shelves on the right, where students grab them. the 15 or so book repair students are all divided into floors and work with a team leader to get the work done. thanks to their hard work this summer, we cleared out the book repair backlog for the first time in years (maybe ever). i try to get students interested in and motivated to do big, odd projects (like giant atlases) but am not always successful. this summer, tho, everyone went on a split board kick, so we are getting some big books out of the way.

here's some of the equipment we have around the shop.

this is the corner o' machines. in the center you'll notice a nice, new guillotine, fully automated, including safety sensors that won't allow the blade to drop even if you are leaning in just a bit too far. Next to it on the right is a sander, and next to that the coolest , biggest stapler ever. on the left is a drill.

here's a closer look

this drill can hole punch an entire ream of paper if need be. the drill bit is lowered by foot pedal.

stapler up close. flip on the switch, press the foot pedal, KA-CHUNK! there's a little lever on the left that you use to set the staple length, so you can staple a ream of paper if you want to. there is also a saddle attachment so you can staple folds. we don't use this much, but it's fun when we do!

paper, leftover stock from stuff we don't do anymore, and binders board fill these shelves.

buckram leftover from days of yore. (for those unfamiliar, buckram is that thick, plastic-y cloth that library books are bound in) this is excellent old-school buckram some people might really like to get their hands on. we almost never use it since most the items that would be bound in buckram (like periodicals) get sent to the commercial bindery in SLC.

some rolls and pre-cut squares of starch-filled C-cloth and paper-backed cloth. flat files of japanese paper, silicon release paper, and some handmade papers.

more flat files (can't remember what's in them), plus scraps (looking a little messy). we're getting better at saving scraps that are actually useful, but every once in awhile, i find a scrap in the shelves that is a tiny sliver of cloth. same problems never go away....

paper-backed book cloth! would that we had had all these colors at school!

making new cases is one of the main things students do in book repair. we like to match the new cover to the old as much as possible......

......so having the full rainbow is helpful. and fun!

years ago, my sister pear made this guide on how to cut cloth economically. somehow it's ignored more than it's adhered to. whenever cloth is cut badly and wastefully, we say it's been murdered!

this is one of my favorite machines--the adhesive binder! in this photo, it's set for a flatback binding, but we have different shapes and sizes of curved attachements which allow you to put the round the book. much easier than jogging the book together by hand, putting in the round using a paper towel role, and then--pinching it with all your might so nothing moves--somehow dropping it into a standing press. the adhesive binder rounds and clamps all in one. (altho i'm glad i've done it the other way, too)

sinks and giant tupperwares for humidification chambers. we haven't had a flood for awhile, but when i was a student, we helped clean up over 1400 books after a flood.

fume hood, kwikprint, and some presses. the fume hood is almost exclusively used when we spray krylon on our new paper labels to seal the ink.

my bench.

view of the shop from my bench. there are 14 benches, and right now we have 15 or 16 employees (not counting three who are on study abroad). students hale from all over the U.S. and from Slovakia, Russia, Kenya, Mauritius, Uruguay, and Columbia. it's been an interesting experience teaching and training people who are not interested in becoming bookbinders. i've loved teaching students more about why we do things the way we do, and encouraging them to keep asking questions, questions, questions. some days i'm so harried and wish i had an office to just step out and away from it (i feel bad now, for the times i bugged mark in his office at school..:)); other days are calm and quiet, and i can catch a moment here or there to continue experimenting on some new variation on a repair.

some of our standing presses. the one on the right is the oldest. we have four total.

check out our awesome rack. about 15 years ago (or more), a book repair student designed these press inserts for a class project so that students could back their books and then move them to the rack to dry overnight. this frees up the presses so more people can back their books, and the workflow doesn't get stalled. ingenious!

here's a close-up of the inserts in action. just tighten the wing nuts, loosen the press, and carry your book-in-insert to the rack.

the last work station in the shop includes the label-making and bindery prep computer stations. students use the mac at the end to make paper labels for new cases. we use Indesign and match the original labels' fonts and looks as much as possible. you can see how the newly cased books on the shelf are color-coordinated so that the student can fit as many labels as possible on the matching piece of moriki paper.

the 2 bindery prep students work for me, specifically (officially i'm the Book Repair Assistant and Bindery Prep Supervisor). they are responsible for processing and prepping monographs and periodicals to go to the commercial binder. we send a shipment twice a month. it's a pain. in the old days they sent a shipment of 800 items every week! but with so much electronic access for periodicals, we only send about 500 items a month.

the boss's office. this is where we eat and have shop parties. we cook paste in the microwave. yes, the microwave. it works fine. (don't all faint at once)

board sheer.

giant board sheer and chewbacca (the black board sheer on the left. it needs to be oiled. if you lift the blade just slowly enough, it sounds just like Chewbacca.)

thus ends the virtual tour. come fall i will begin coming to work on saturdays where i can have the place and equipment all to myself for my own work. i also can borrow anything i need from the conservation lab across the hall (including finishing tools!!!!). it's a sweet setup i really haven't taken enough advantage of. but don't worry, i'm ready.