A question of tidiness?

I decided to take a little time today to read an article by Nicholas Pickwoad entitled Distinguishing Between the Good and Bad Repair of Books; a title alone could create a string of questions and opinions among conservators. Pickwoad emphasises that it is impossible to create a set of standards or strict guidelines when it comes to conservation, instead he outlines a set of questions that should be posed and discussed before treatment of an object is begun.

  1. What is any repair trying to achieve?
  2. What are the treatment options available for achieving those ends?

One of the points in his article I found interesting was the idea that often conservation is taking place to rid a library of “untidiness”. As someone who could be described as a neat-freak I can sympathise with those institutions. Often when I’m working on the Derry and Raphoe books I find myself wanting to “trim this or flatten that”, however one of the main aims in conserving this particular collection is to retain as much historical information about the bindings as possible. I realize that this is the case with most institutions, however I have never felt the great importance of this aim more than in this position. In many cases the before and after pictures here look very similar with only minor differences. Nothing is shiny, clean, squared up or flattened out. What has changed is how the book works, flexing and opening in a way that supports all areas of the book structure, giving it the ability to be handled safely and hopefully survive several hundred years more.

To find out more about his thought process and an excellent series of questions in addition to these two I highly recommend consulting the full article.

Pickwoad, N. (1994). Distinguishing between the good and bad repair of books. In Hadgraft, N and Swift, K.(Ed.) Conservation and preservation in small libraries. Parker, CO.: Parker Publications

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