The Guild of Book Workers Library contains over 1200 books, journals, videos, and other bookbinding related materials and is a great resource to those studying bookbinding and its related fields.
Since 1986 the collection was held on loan by the University of Iowa Special Collections and was officially donated to the University on May 2, 2022. The decision to donate the collection was driven by the Board's belief that the collection would receive better long-term care and be more accessible to library patrons. The University’s collections are public, and can be accessed by anyone, but will also prove very useful to individuals studying at the Iowa Center for the Book.
The Guild of Book Workers still holds a digital collection of recorded presentations from the annual Standards of Excellence in Hand Bookbinding seminar. The seminar began in 1982 and has been recorded since 1984. These videos document and demonstrate techniques that no print text can describe so thoroughly. More information can be accessed through the Standards Presentation Videos page. Discounts codes are visible to Members when they log in.
Both the GBW library and archive are housed by the University of Iowa Department of Special Collections & University Archives.
The Guild of Book Workers was founded in 1906. Its Library came into existence 52 years later with a gift in 1958 from out-going President Kathryn Gerlach, who suggested a library would be useful to its members. That first book was the Baltimore Museum of Art’s landmark catalog, The History of Bookbinding 525-1950 A.D.(1957). The membership was solicited for donations, and the notes of a subsequent meeting record the contribution of a further 15 books plus $20.00 in cash.
As the Library grew, it posed a problem as it moved among the shifting volunteers who ran the Guild through fat times and lean. The first of many “permanent homes” was the then newly created library of the American Craftmen’s Council (now the American Crafts Council) in New York City. Guild members had access to the ACC Library which in 1960 had received Edith Diehl’s collection of approximately 300 items related to bookbinding. Diehl, a New York binder and member of the Guild, was the author of Bookbinding, Its Background and Technique (1946), still in print today as a Dover reprint.
Since the Guild Library had only a quarter the number of books as the Diehl collection, the ACC Library was a good arrangement for the Guild. Access and lending policies limited the use of the ACCL, however, and so after a few years the GBW board found a new home for it in that of Library Chairman, Jane Greenfield, in New Haven. Mail order circulation was instituted as it continues today. The ACC closed its own library in 1972, and the resourceful then Guild President, Laura Young, succeeded in assuring the ACC holdings on bookbinding, including Diehl’s collection, were transferred to the Guild.
The Conservation Department of the Boston Athenaeum then housed the collection until 1986, when yet another move was necessary. William Anthony, newly settled in Iowa City as the first University of Iowa Libraries’ book conservator, was also the Guild Standards Chairman. He smoothed the way for the Library to come to Iowa’s Main Library Department of Special Collections & University Archives. The agreement between the Guild and the University stipulates that Guild members may continue to borrow items via the mail, but also allows anyone, Guild member or not, access in the Special Collections’ Reading Room.
Pamela Spitzmueller took over the Librarian duties when she became Book Conservator at Iowa in 1989, after Anthony’s death. Special Collections librarian Dick Kolbet converted earlier card and paper records, created records for over 100 items donated by retiring binder Stella Patri, and migrated to an online catalogue in the late 1990s. This descriptive author-title list has been maintained by Sid Huttner and all following Guild Librarians. Anna Embree served as Librarian from 1999 until she was succeeded by Jane Meggars in 2002. Ann Frellsen was elected to the position in 2011 and served three terms. Jay Tanner became Librarian in 2017 and facilitated the collection's donation to the University of Iowa in 2022.
At the time of the collection's transfer of ownership to the University, it occupied 120 linear feet with over 700 monographs focused on bookbinding (including manuals), the history of binding, and bookbinders. The collection includes exhibition catalogs and volumes pertaining to calligraphy, printing, papermaking and decorated papers, and conservation. By exchange of the Guild’s Newsletter and Journal, the Library received issues of periodicals from similar organizations in England, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Australia.
For additional history of the Library see “The Guild of Book Workers Collection at Iowa” by Pam Spitzmueller (~13 MB PDF) which appeared in the February 1996 issue of the Friends Newsletter, published by the Friends of the University of Iowa Libraries.