Internship Report: Month 1, Part 2, now with more coffee!

During my on-site interview, back when there was over 2 feet of snow on the ground in Syracuse, Peter mentioned the latest Bonefolder Bind-O-Rama. Titled “Artistically Reversible: Where Conservation and Art Meet”, this Bind-O-Rama challenges its participants to demonstrate their ability to merge both the art of the book and conservation. I was immediately intrigued, really wanted to participate, but I couldn’t for the life of me think of something to do for it. Mostly, my problem was finding the right book for the project. Flash forward to sometime in mid-July, when David gifted me with a beat-to-hell (c.a. 1713) copy of 16th century Lutheran theologian Johann Habermann’s “Christliche Gebett für allerley Not und Stende der gantzen Christenheit”, which is a book of prayers for all times of the day. This book had so much repair sewing it looked like it was a Coptic binding. Now, I’m not going to go too much into the details of this project in this post, since I’m saving it for a post of its own. But I’ll throw in the before-photos, so you can see what I mean.

Repair sewing

Anyway, while I was pondering over what I was going to do with that book, I was helping out with some publisher’s binding recasings that David was working on. One of my favorite parts of helping with this process was doing some toning/in-painting on the repair tissue that David had applied to the frayed/torn head-caps. I love color-matching/toning/in-painting more than is probably healthy for a young conservator. It’s hard to accurately portray my color-matching/toning in photographs, since the choice of lighting can make it look at lot worse (or better) than it actually is. So, here are two photographs of the same thing, just one was taken with the flash and the other without the camera flash.


Fun fact, there’s a word for that exact phenomena: metamerism!

Doing these re-cases also sparked an interesting set of conversations regarding the concept of reversibility as it applies to conservation treatments. At Syracuse, we sometimes put in the new spine stiffener for an original case using PVA, which is not exactly water-soluble. This was contrary to what I had been taught in school, which was to use paste as much as possible when gluing anything to the original material. However, the use of PVA in these instances (and it’s not ALL instances, only when the paste has the potential to damage the original bookcloth via the transference of moisture) is justified because the reversal method (water) for paste has more potential for damage than that of PVA (mechanical methods such as scraping it away). We also talked about the challenge of using paste on leather, as any introduction of moisture to leather has the potential to permanently blacken the leather. In some cases (maybe that pun was intended, maybe it wasn’t…) it is acceptable to use PVA to adhere new (or old) material to the original leather of a book. However, we try as much as possible to only use paste for mends or the first layer of new spine linings. However, in some instances, the perfect reversibility of an adhesive isn’t as important as it’s ability to do the job well. The topic of reversibility is somewhat of a controversial topic among conservators, and I imagine that a few of you may be gasping in sheer horror (as I almost did when I first saw PVA being used to attach repair materials to the original cloth of a publisher’s binding) at what I just wrote. However, please do not run me out of AIC next year with torches and pitchforks – I’ve only given a brief overview of what we discussed re: reversibility, because it’s quite a complicated subject and I didn’t want to get bogged down going into all the details just now. But please be assured that we are not leaping about the lab, mindlessly flinging about a brush full of PVA and permanently gluing things to other things with abandon. However, I’d love to continue exploring the topic of reversibility vs. treatment effectiveness vs. ethics vs. whatever else, so please feel free to comment!

By the end of July, I also realized that I’d become addicted to coffee again. Oops.

And that rounds out most of what I can remember about my first month as an intern at Syracuse University Library!

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Internship report: Month 1, Part 1

So, it’s been a bit of a delay, but here’s the rundown of what I was up to this July. I started working in the special collections lab at the Syracuse University Library on July 5th. I immediately knew this was going to be an awesome experience when my boss, Peter Verheyen, told me that I could keep my blue hair (don’t worry, potential future employers, it has since reverted back to it’s natural color :P). I felt very welcome and fit in quite easily, working upstairs with David Stokoe (if you ever meet him, make sure to ask him about the time he beat Sting at pool) and popping in downstairs to chat with Peter about all things book-related. One of the downstairs lab work-study students, Christina, also moved upstairs to the lab a week after I did.

Bird Library

When I interviewed for the internship, I had a vague notion of what I wanted to work on, but wasn’t wedded to any particular type of treatment focus. I’d expressed an interest in working on larger, flat paper items (i.e. maps, prints, etc) or more tape removal projects (you think I’d had enough, but I guess not!), but after a few days of talking with Peter and David I realized I really wanted to work on books! I mean, when was I ever going to get the chance to learn both the proper English and correct German way of doing the same thing (springbacks, et al), at the same time?

Hence, my first month was spent doing multi-volume book treatments. In particular, I learned the “molded paper spine” treatment, which involves creating a new spine piece from University of Iowa PC4 paper that is shaped by tying it down over the original sewing cords. Eric Alstrom described it thusly:

“The molded paper spine binding is a conservation treatment Donia Conn came up with in answer to a problem she had with a collection in Syracuse University’s library. Syracuse University’s special collections library has a great number of German books printed and bound prior to the 19th century. The molded paper spine is a recasing structure intended for leather-bound books for which the covers have deteriorated too much to be salvageable. The new molded paper spine looks very much like leather and is very strong.”


Donia Conn’s original article about the molded paper spine can be found in Vol 2. No. 1 of the Bonefolder. There’s also a PDF of instructions, available from the Syracuse University Library’s conservation manual.

We picked three 18th century German books for the molded paper spine treatment, each of which weighed approximately 10 pounds. The biggest was so fat that I could barely get my hand around the spine. As only I am prone to doing, I decided to do the turn-ins after David had left, only to discover that it was a mighty feat to do turn-ins on such a heavy tome! I may have used some adult language, in my struggle to complete them.

Big German Book

However, we got through all three books, and then moved onto the next treatment, which was a set of five French volumes, all part of the published memoirs of some French gentlemen. David showed me how to do a proper English split-board binding on one of them, and I finished the other four in the same manner. I picked out some sea-foam green cloth, to match the hand-sewn green-and-white endbands, which I thought were appropriately rococo color choices.

Stuck-on endbands

Now, somewhere in the first couple of weeks, David mentioned that Syracuse has an Academy Award in it’s archives collection. Which means that I have finally completed my Academy Award Photograph trifecta, by posing with the Oscar given for best musical score, for Ben Hur. The three Oscar photos:

The Huntington Library's OscarMy second Oscar.And the Oscar trifecta is complete.

And now, I know that very little can be as exciting as that, but in Part 2 it gets even better! So stay tuned for the next installment of my experiences as the Inaugural Gaylord Preservation Intern!