Diary of a preservation newbie

Diary of a preservation newbie
10 December 2010

It's a friday, and the view from the fourth floor on this late spring day is gorgeous. I'm thinking i'm not so new now: i started in January, after 6 months of volunteering in the bindery. I love every minute of it. Every book is different, and my jobs at the moment are pretty much routine stuff: sewing, drilling (yes, we drill through books), glueing and making boxes. But because books are all different shapes and sizes, one job is never the same, even if the items appear the same size. In July last year I became a volunteer for preservation, in the bindery. I had a few skills, and they had me sewing a bit and taught me how to make phase and corrugated cardboard boxes. The team up here is made up of a fantastic bunch of people and they made me feel very welcome. So when they offered me a short contract, the transition was not at all scary. Now that I am here, I get to try scary stuff, ripping books apart (ok, perhaps not ripping as such), remaking a spine for a book, or taking of bits and pieces off a book with a big gob of paste. In terms of experience though, I know nothing. Ok, I know a bit, but thinking that I know nothing puts all that I have learnt into perspective.  Bookbinding and paper conservation are skills trades. Both require patience and attention to detail. The sooner you start in the field, the more you learn from experience. I actually did a course at Canberra CIT under Neale Wootton. I am fortunate that he is also working here, and so i still work with him.  Dave, my current boss, trained with him as well, doing an apprentiship in binding through TAFE in Ultimo. I'll try to give you a picture. We have an open plan space; from the bindery I can hear the girls in the paperlab discussing work and homelife; sometimes there is silence, sometimes there is much laughter, and often there is music - at times, very repetitive music.  We are a friendly bunch, and Dave is the only male in the section. We don't give him a hard time, not even about his jokes. I see myself as Dave’s apprentice.  And as such you have to not mind the routine stuff: in the first week I practically made phase boxes every day.  In my second week I did a lot of tipping in of single pages, and sewing. This routine stuff is all practise, and I know before I can get to anything more complex, practice  is the best thing I could do.  In every item that I touch, that I repair, that experience prepares me for the next one. The good thing about Dave is that he is prepared to let me travel my own road, giving me enough rope to try stuff out, while also being  there to point me in the right direction when I get a bit lost. We have settled into a routine: Monday is boxing day; Tuesday, staff meeting; Wednesday I take about 2000 steps around this maze of a building on the book run, collecting items for treatment from various departments. I try to remember people’s names and have a bit of a chat along the way. Wednesday is also Calamari day at the café across the road…. Sometimes we do amazing work up here, repairing maps or pictures or rebinding books. Often it is just tipping in pages. We kind of work magic, but we are not mysterious. It’s not just all work up here. We get exciting items from the collection passing our way; Sam from Digitisation came up one week with Japanese boxes of a paper collection. It was so fascinating to see the different types of papers made around the world, right at our fingertips; a few months ago, Exhibition next door had one of the first Gutenberg books ever printed.  It had wood blocks that had been hand painted, who knows when, by who knows whom (to tell the truth , it looked a bit like someone had thought it was a colouring-in book!) I've been flipping through my work diary, and i have heaps to tell you about. Stay tuned! [gallery]