Emma Richardson

Post-Analogue World

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The Restorations workshop was a thoughtfully delivered session, encouraging cross-disciplinary discussions relating to the preservation and repair of historical documents. As a conservation scientist I came to the workshop with knowledge of the key issues surrounding restoration, conservation and preservation practices, and whilst the theoretical and practical aspects were familiar to me, the emotional aspects of book restoration were really brought home. My mother being a librarian, books have played an important role throughout my life. They have been a constant, and I have (perhaps) taken them for granted.

This workshop provided a unique opportunity to rifle through the stiff, yellowing pages of some quite magnificent printed books and manuscripts, and I realized what a delight it is to have such physical, tactile interactions. The afternoon was comprised of a range of activities, kicking off with a presentation by the charismatic Fred Bearman, UCL’s Preservation Librarian. This was followed by a handling session, a practical repair session, and a discussion between Fred and restoration artist Celia Pym. At the point where it was time for each member of the workshop to reveal the books that they had brought for repair, there was an air of caution, coupled with a little embarrassment. It was time for people to expose the level of damage that their cherished books had endured. There was gentle unraveling of ribbons and string, and the careful unwrapping of paper, ensuring that no pages were lost or bindings further damaged.

The nature of the workshop, and the response of the group to the repair session, caused me to reflect on a number of aspects of the care and preservation of books. It was apparent that these documents were not only considered a conduit for the transmission of information. The creaking of the resistant bindings; the odor of the dust and pages; the style of writing or print; the notations in the margins; each adding to the narrative. It is these aspects that are lost through the digitization of books and documents. Although e-book readers have their own tactility, such as the smooth surface of the screen felt under the fingertip, and there is much to be gained through the ready access to information, there are clear disadvantages. As we supply ever more documents in digitized format for students to access on Moodle or Blackboard, the context of book chapters, sections or articles cannot be transmitted. I remember many an enjoyable hour rummaging through the pages of old polymer manufacturing journals from the 1950s, where the pages adjacent to the articles were covered in adverts for new materials and applications, giving a broader historical perspective. It is such intimate moments with historic documents that cannot be readily transmitted and I do wonder what is lost for students studying in a post analogue world.

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