Would I be interested in volunteering to clean and catalogue some old books in Sarum College Library?
Well, would I? On the face of it, it doesn’t sound all that interesting – I’m really not someone who takes any great delight in the processes of cleaning things.
I am however, rather fascinated by books. I trained as a printmaker and part of my training involved the history of this utterly fascinating craft and of course its momentous influence on the creation of books.
As a printmaker, I also learned a lot about paper and a little about its conservation. As an artist, I have made books – proper books – and was curious to learn more.
On consideration, the idea of a closer association with the old books at Sarum College began to seem irresistible.
I signed up for the training.
The first workshop, held in the College, was all about the process. Before we even began, we were taught how to handle the books.
We were then introduced to a surprisingly noisy little red, museum-grade vacuum cleaner; pony and hogs hair brushes, measuring tools, tapes and the intimidating business of tying granny bows. There was a roomful of friendly, chatty people, a very approachable instructor and heaps of gorgeous, fragile, tatty old books.
Clear and helpful morning instruction prepared us for the afternoon hands-on experience of handling, dusting, identifying, measuring, grading and commenting on, a selection of books from the Cathedral and Sarum College libraries. For those books needing cotton tapes to hold them together, tying bows that sat neatly with their loops following the lines of the text block, granny bows, was an art most of us struggled to master.
Nothing actually prepared me for the thrill of handling some of these delicate books; the delight of exploring charming small volumes on ancients such as Galen and Erasmus; or the sense of responsibility I would feel in grading their condition.
I couldn’t quite believe how excited I felt to be part of this project and how keen I was to experience the rest of the training.
by Gini Churchill