Library Book Cleaning Project Blog: Down to Business

Our first session and we were all five starting working together.

The library viewed from our eventual work area…

We were given protective tabards, and set up our work stations – which, this time, included leg raisers for one of the tables. The cleaning was to take place at the table with the leg raisers. They actually proved to be too high for me so I sat rather awkwardly at the second table, still unable to tuck my knees under.

Two of us set about the cleaning and began to fill out the form that would document each book. The book then passed to the second table, where three of us measured and made notes on the bindings and the special features of each book.

We were getting to know each other, but the process of working together was clunky and very much a work in progress.

It did however, quickly become clear that we were each being distracted by our fascination with old books and the discoveries that we were making.

Cleaning was quite a straightforward thing requiring a delicate hand with the vacuum cleaner and two different kinds of brush – hair and bristle.

Our work station with the cheerful, red, museum-grade vacuum cleaner…

Grading the book was not too problematic, if one could maintain some detachment, and measuring just a matter of accuracy.

Judging the binding, trying to identify types and grades of leather, we began to get pulled into the individual charms of each volume.

And once we opened the covers, we were lost. Soon the cleaning team had a backlog of clean books and they too took on the pleasing task of examining the books in detail. We were to document the condition of the binding, the provenance and the individual quirks and assets that marked each one out as special.

Some books grow on you, with others it really is love at first sight.

We took a coffee break and returned to ‘our’ books with enthusiasm. It was a delight to discover the keenness of my fellow library volunteers and to discover my own fascination growing beyond the illustrations and the typography. Our conversations, centred on the book in hand, were nevertheless wide ranging as we discussed our ‘finds’ and speculated on meanings, interpretations and the cultures that produced such gems.

We made slow, but steady progress; eventually, reluctantly, packing everything away in time for a Sarum College lunch at 13.00.

We also agreed our next meeting dates and proceeded down to the dining room feeling quite pleased with our progress. We had somehow, completed work on ten books.

by Gini Churchill

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