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Tucson, Arizona, United States
I work as Panther Peak Bindery and am a bookbinder, conservator and instructor working outside Tucson, Arizona for individual and institutional clients across the country. I am a two term President of the Guild of Book Workers, was a Fulbright Scholar, taught at North Bennet Street School for over nine years and was the fastest in my middle school class at running up and down a flight of stairs (really!).

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

You know, I don't really think I'm working for you

Books have been, and are, such a constant presence in our lives.  I don't think I have known anyone who didn't have at least one book, and I have known many people who have had hundreds and hundreds of them.

As a binder, what has surprised me is that none of them have any idea how books function, or how they are made.  I suppose that's because it's not a common subject, and they didn't know they were interested in bookbinding until they met a binder or saw a bindery.

I firmly believe that people, in general, know more about how cars function than they know how books are intended to work. Consider how much more complicated cars are than books!  How many more parts make up a car!

I would also say that they have no idea of how books are repaired, or even what a good or bad repair is.

That was certainly true of myself.  I was working in an archives, mainly working in a darkroom copying and duplicating glass place negatives, when I was asked if I would fix a couple of books.  Not valuable books, of course.  They gave me a manual by Jane Greenfield, and my boss walked me through a repair.

I was left with a repair I felt was horrible, but I had no idea what a good repair was.  It actually kept me awake at night, I felt so bad for the books.  Even though the bindings had no value before the repair, and all I was doing was helping to preserve the content, I couldn't live with myself repairing books that way.

At that point I wanted to learn how to do it right, whatever that was.  After calling around I found out about the North Bennet Street school.  (How did I find them? I called the Massachusetts Department of Vocational Education!  They had one listing for bookbinding!)  I visited the school and the instructor at the time showed me a book he had fixed.  A light went off.

Almost immediately I made plans to quit that job and go to school.  I had to.

The point of this, though, is that people have brought me books to repair for about 20 years now and few of them really know what they want, or what to expect.  Will the book look new?  Will be it function again but still look it's age and show its use?  How long will the repair last?  I suspect many have these questions somewhere in their head, but lurking in their subconscious.  Few ask.

That leads them, at times, to ask for repairs which are ethical and proper to do, but not really the best thing for the book.  Explaining that to them can be difficult, and cost is very often a limiting factor.  Of course.  There are so many ways to approach a book repair.

After I graduated from NBSS and started repairing books at home, moonlighting from my job fixing books at Washington, I struggled a bit with how to proceed with these kinds of book repair. What was the right thing to do with them?

I decided my mantra would be that I would do the work the current owner's grandchildren would wish that I had done.  Whether the client is paying for that level of work or not.  (Hopefully they are.)

So the first question I ask myself when presented with a broken book is just that.  And it's been very helpful in sorting out treatment options to present to the clients.  What's great is that it answers every question.  Should I clean off this tomato stain, or coffee cup ring on the cover?  What should I do with these totally destroyed cover boards?

The answer lies in this:  would the grandchild of the client find any of that helpful in understanding either the book or their ancestors?  The wear of a cover can often say a lot about how the book was used, how often it was used, etc.  Book archeology!

The beauty of this question is that it's completely comprehensible to the clients.  It gives them a perspective from which they can make the right decisions.

Assessing  books when working for collectors or book dealers is  completely different.  The latter want their books detailed in the same way one would detail a used car for sale.  Hopefully not quite as superficially as is done with cars, but often the work is just that.  For collectors it's a completely different esthetic.

But for everyday folks with their favorite books, just imagine their grandchildren in forty or fifty years and ask them.   They'll know.

1 comment:

  1. That's so helpful, Mark! I'm definitely going to use that with my clients, too.

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