A series of small, incredibly neat, bore-holes meander into the text block from its lower front edge.
This is my first encounter with a bookworm. On closer inspection, and to my relief, I find no evidence of an actual worm – no body, dead or alive.
We are back on the old books. Back to the careful examination of more intricate binding details. Cover boards of wood or cardboard – layers of laminated card? Parchment or leather – sheep? Pig? Cow? Neatly stitched endbands, marbled pastedowns, tooled decoration…
Untying the tapes that hold some of these books together, there is a much greater sense of discoveries to be made and care to be taken. The foam forms that support the very fragile editions are expensive. Jayne has provided cushions that can support the most fragile books while we clean them and examine clues to their provenance. On no account should they be opened greater than 90 degrees.
They tend to shed tiny flakes of ageing, disintegrating leather and the dark dust of ancient dirt and dead cells. There may be evidence of silverfish and previous damp mould. We are mindful that we should be looking out for signs of red rot – an irreversible degradation process found in vegetable-tanned leather.
Jayne has warned us there are books in potentially much worse condition still to come.
We speculate on possible early readers of books whose binding bears the evidence of once being chained; on books designed to be stored flat, before the current system of standing books on edge in neatly packed in rows. The binding shows us how information, titles, on the outside became increasingly important. Most of Sarum College’s books have their titles on the spine – an innovation that facilitated their retrieval from crowded shelves.
Sometimes we have books that are, in every way, falling apart. Tapes hold them together, but ideally there would be money to contain them in conservation boxes. We handle them with great care.
The tapes also keep less damaged volumes together. Occasionally we add preventive tapes to books that are still accessible to library readers, but need greater awareness in handling and storage.
The tapes need to be tied with granny bows. These are bows aligned with the text block so that they sit unobtrusively east/west as opposed to sticking up, north/south. The process of creating them is somewhat vague and we were advised to ‘become aware of how we normally create bows and do the opposite”
It is not the most popular task, mysterious to execute, but then very satisfying when we succeed!
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