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[BKARTS] how little? how much?



A recent meeting of the Delaware Society of Bookworkers took place at the Library Company of Philadelphia, a revered and ancient institution in Center City. Their collection of books is extraordinary, including some very old volumes. Some of these volumes are showing severe signs of aging. The Library had made no attempt to restore these volumes; the ones that were the most damaged were housed in specially made small decorative boxes. Many of these volumes had originally extremely intricate gold tooling on their leather covers. The Victorian books often originally had detailed parti-colored illustrations on their front cloth covers. To have restored such books to their original condition would have been prohibitively expensive, if it could be done at all.
A recent visit to the rare book room of the University of Pennsylvania showed me an alternative solution to the problem of aging books. They DID have many of their old volumes rebound--- in simple tan buckram with gold stamped titling and the year of the book stamped at he bottom of the spine. It was a little bizarre that a token gesture toward authenticity had been made by emulating the raised bands on the original volumes. A visit to the famous Rosenbach library in Philadelphia revealed that many of their volumes had been rebound in the same way.
The Linda Hall Library in Kansas City is the premier technical library in the world. Among its rare books are original editions of Newton, Galileo, Versalius, Hook. The library employed a bookbinder who taste, to say the least, is unusual. The director of the library showed me proudly a copy of Newton's "Principia Mathematica." It was bound in a garish green lambskin leather. Rather than reflecting at all its age, it looked like one of those pricey reader's club editions that one sees clogging the shelves of bookstores.
The question is: how much, or how little is it reasonable for a library to do? Book don't complain, so the library budget is the first thing to be cut when an institution is falling on hard times. More and more books from private collections, in which, presumably, much more could be spent on restoration, are ending up in public and university libraries.
However, when institutions can't afford to maintain their books, they often sell them, and they become inaccessible to the public. Drexel University, where I taught for thirty years, divested itself of some prize materials in its search for construction dollars. One, the original manuscript of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," entered the private market never to be seen again. This is particularly regrettable since the Poe work is a Philadelphia cultural artifact, having been written when the author was a resident on Spring Garden Street in this city. Many rare books were similarly deaccessioned.
Do bookworkers, in particular, those involved in the restoration of books, live in a never-never land, when few institutions possessing rare books can avail themselves of any of our expert services? Are we collaborating with the enemy when we do only a serviceable rebinding of a book? If that is so, it is not clear what the massive accumulated knowledge possessed by the membership of GBW and by those correspondents on this list can significantly accomplish.


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