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Behind the Scenes: The Pratt Library Bindery

Posted In: Behind the Scenes, State Library Resource Center
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By B. Manning

Did you know that the Pratt Central Library has a Bindery unit which dates back to the 1930’s, and is still functioning today? In today’s disposable and digital-frenzied society, you may wonder what possible need the Pratt Library would have for a functioning Bindery—where books and other library items are modified, restored, and/or rebound. Indeed, not too many other public libraries can boast of having such a unique facility in their system.

Bindery BookMartha Edgerton, the library’s book conservator, who oversees the Bindery’s activities, explained to me that their main goal is to "preserve the older materials of the collection, which includes the everyday circulating material, as well as the non-circulating, reference, and special collections materials." In this sense, "older" means anything that has been circulated, or handled, and is not new anymore—so anything dating from 2012 on back. This includes anything from an out-of-print paperback book, to maps and posters, to objects and artifacts—like the piece of Poe’s coffin in our collection. It is the job of the Bindery to preserve these materials by protecting them from mishandling, as well as environmental factors (i.e. pollution, light, etc) that contribute to the degradation process.

"In most cases of restoration," Martha explains, "we try our best to maintain the original components of an item." Because of this goal, you have probably checked-out an item that has been through the Bindery unit, and may not realize it—such as a paperback book which has had its front and back covers reinforced and stiffened, making it more durable and circulation-friendly.

See an example of the process in this video, featuring Bindery volunteer Marty Yaker and employee Chantha Luy:

However, since the Bindery is not a conservation lab, they are not doing high levels of conservation, but mostly focus on preventative measures that slow-down the degradation process, such as building protective boxes for material to be housed in, and (of course) using acid-free material in their preservation work.

Bindery CutterThus, even though this is the digital age, the majority of Pratt’s collection is still comprised of physical material,—approximately 2.3 million volumes throughout the system—some of which are rare items, which makes the Bindery’s behind-the-scenes efforts pertinent today, and essential for preserving material for the future. Last year, for instance, the Bindery preserved 1,082 library objects (books, documents, etc). These are materials from the general stacks, which you and I check-out routinely, as well as items from Special Collections

The skilled workers in the Bindery are diligently preserving items for use today, and for future Pratt patrons. I must point-out, however, that they only work on Pratt Library materials, and thus are not open for restoring your privately-owned, rare book. But, if you have some spare time and are interested in learning some of their preservation skills, as well as how to use some of the cool bindery equipment pictured here, the Bindery is currently in need of volunteers. You may contact the Pratt Volunteer Coordinator to learn more about this opportunity.

Bindery Press


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