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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Librarian can mend

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, January 20, 2013

At a family gathering over the holidays, my brother handed me a book and said, “Suppose you can fix this?”

 

He placed in my hands a book with a chunk of pages sliding from the back cover, and assorted pages at odd angles sticking out of the front cover; which was ripped.

 

I told him that there would be no guarantees, but “sure,” I would be glad to see what I could do with it.

 

Later, my sister-in-law inquired how a librarian learns to repair books.  I can repair books, but I am not an archival bookbinder.

 

I thought back to my first venture of book repair.  I was a sophomore in high school, and to avoid a study hall, I volunteered in the school library as the librarian had been my elementary teacher years earlier.

 

She took me to the workroom where the table was piled with hundreds of books.  She said, “We’re a little behind with our mending, but here’s an instruction manual, and the book glue and tape are in the cabinet.”

 

I took the 20 page manual home and studied it, and returned the next day.  She told me that I could “practice” on the box of moldy books on the floor if I wanted.

 

Over the next month, I worked on the easy repairs and slowly progressed to the ones needing glue and time in the book press.

 

The librarian suggested that I could go to the public library and work with their book mending person as the application of book tape on the spine was an “acquired talent.”

 

I made an appointment for a late afternoon visit to the public library, and was introduced to Miss Pipes, the mender.  Her work table was in the extreme rear of the Cataloging Department, and consisted of a solid, old oak table splattered with glue residue and little hunks of book tape.

 

She had a book press, bone depressors, huge scissors, book covers, and a new tape applicator machine.  Despite a gruff library voice, Miss Pipes taught me a lot about book mending in the short afternoon meeting.

 

Forward to West Virginia University, and as a student in the Library Science program we attended a Mending Workshop in the basement of the WVU Library.

 

Book mending companies had given the university supplies for us to use on the books provided.  The professor started with basic instructions on book repair, and told us to replace the spine of our book.

 

We progressed to several tasks with the books stacked on the table.  It was easy for me, but it was the first time for most other students.  I won the roll of orange book tape for having the best book spine.

 

In the Master’s program at Case Western Reserve University, book mending was a minor part of the Cataloging Class, and after the professor watched me tip a page back into a book, I was excused from the remainder of the class.

 

Today, library schools are more concerned with web page development and the theories of information retrieval than glue on a book, so I am not sure if the topic is even mentioned.

 

I think the physical paperbound book will remain part of our society for years to come, although supplemented by eBooks and online information sources.

 

Not every book needs to be mended and repaired, it is sometimes easier and more cost effective to replace the book; but some books do have sentimental value to their owners.

 

Yes, I did mend my brother’s book.  I got the pages back in the correct order, and got them into the binding, and it looked pretty good.

 

I was going to lecture him about the proper handling of books, but as the first-born I lecture him enough, and a worn book means that he is using it.