Guild of Book Workers Newsletter
Number 106
June 1996


Books Illustrated: A Symposium Celebrating the Work of Ruth Mortimer. Smith College Libraries, April 12 - 13, 1996.
This symposium was organized by The Friends of the Smith College Libraries to honor the work of the late Ruth Mortimer, who was Curator of Rare Books for Smith College for almost twenty years.

The day and a half symposium consisted for four panels and an opening address by Barry Moser (which I unfortunately missed, being en route from Philadelphia). The first panel, "Perspectives on Book Collecting", offered a forum for the views of the three individuals who are usually involved in book collections, the dealer, the librarian and the collector. Moderator Sidney Berger, head of Special Collections at the University of California Riverside, and his fellow panelists, Edward Ripley-Duggan, of Wilsey Rare Books, and Nicholas Basbanes, author of A Gentle Madness, engaged in a lively discussion of the passion for books that they all share. Basbanes' journalistic gift for story telling was an entertaining aspect to this groups' discussion.

The second panel, "Scholarship and Teaching", included G. Thomas Tanselle, vice-president of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, Margaret L. Ford, Senior Specialist at Christies, and John Lancaster, Curator of Special Collections at Amherst College, as moderator. The discussion of Ruth Mortimer's work on Harvard's Catalogues of French and Italian Sixteenth-Century Books, by Tanselle, was the highlight of this panel, as it was the best look at the depth and excellence of Mortimer's scholarship.

"Rare Books and the College Library", panel three, was a discussion of the specific role the university has in the collection of rare and limited edition book work. Ruth Rogers of Wellesley College and Susan Allen of Kalamazoo College Library spoke of their libraries' mission to maintain the collections for use by students. They also discussed their efforts to make the special collections seem less inhibiting, and a more approachable area of the college library.

The last panel, moderated by Barbara Blumenthal, bookbinder and designer, was "The Artist and The Curator". Speakers included Laura Davidson and Marian Parry, both artists, Marcia Reed, curator, and Steven Clay, of Granary Books. Parry showed slides of her delightful and often humorous watercolor illustrations; Davidson showed slides of her richly colored limited edition sculptural bookwork; Clay brought up the issue of "where are the buyers?" of artist books, and the panel and audience exchanged their views (and frustrations) pertaining to this issue.

Marcia Reed, curator of Rare Books at the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, presented a slide lecture, "The Book, The Box and The Body", which developed the theme of the book as a metaphor for the body and containment, using work from the Getty Collection. I found the symposium a very satisfying day and ahalf of book related discussion. It was also a wonderful tribute to Mrs. Mortimer's work in the field of Rare Books.

Written by Claire Owen.

New England Chapter Meeting on Ethics and Standards
On Saturday, March 30, 1996, 41 New England Chapter members met at the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Mass. for a discussion on Ethics and Standards in Bookbinding. Sam Ellenport, of Harcourt Bindery, was the moderator; Karl Eberth, Nancy Southworth, Paul Parisi and Nancy Schrock were the panelists.

Mr. Eberth, a bookbinder in private practice, working mainly in conservation, began the discussion by stating that there needs to be an ongoing dialogue on ethics and standards. The Guild of Book Workers' Annual Standards Seminar serves a certain purpose, but we need to go further, perhaps creating a mission statement, as well as a code of ethics similar to one used by the Dutch organization VcRcs (for restorers of paper, books, furniture, silver, etc.) since 1991. He also suggested that there be more coordination between training programs and bibliographical research, and that there be a database with information and guidelines accessible to all bookbinders and conservators.

Nancy Southworth, a book conservator residing in Vermont spoke next. Her 25 years as a binder has brought her much acclaim - earlier, for work in editions and fine bindings, and, more recently, for her persistent study of materials and methods used in conservation. Ms. Southworth wanted to share with us her personal thoughts on ethics, stating that the way she approaches her work mirrors the way she tries to live her life in general. Ethics prevalent in dealing with her family and friends carry over in her professional life. To claim the title of book conservator one must have received adequate training and be responsible for constantly updating one's knowledge, keeping abreast of current trends and research, and experimenting on one's own. Treatment reports kept on all work are essential in gaining knowledge of methods and materials used in book conservation.

Paul Parisi, president of the Acme Bookbinding Company and former president of the Library Binding Institute of America, followed her. Having worked in library and trade binding for more than 20 years, Mr. Parisi has always been concerned with standards. In 1986 he and Jan Merrill Oldham published a new set of standards and specifications for library bindings. The last set, made in 1980, had emphasized strength; Mr. Parisi felt that flexibility should be emphasized, and that each book should be considered individually - cookie-cutter formulas shouldn't be used in binding methods. A good set of standards would encourage libraries to compare products, and binderies would begin to compete to produce better bindings. While head of LBI, Mr. Parisi helped create NISO (a national organization which compiles information for standards). Performance benchmarks would be studied, inducing suppliers to improve their products (e.g. book cloths). Methods and structures traditionally used might be rethought. Mr. Parisi is currently on a committee to formulate international standards in bookbinding.

Nancy Carlson Schrock was the final panelist to speak. A book conservator and consultant to major libraries, she participated in the development of the AIC Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice in Bookbinding (1994) and is on the board of AIC's Conservators in Private Practice. She also is on the NISO committee, working to describe and set a standard for materials used in bookbinding (paper, board, cloth, plastic, etc.). She spoke briefly on the importance of a conservator having received a recognized, formal training, and how one must, as a conservator, adhere to ethics and standards set by a professional organization such as AIC. Recognizing the importance of keeping treatment reports, Ms. Schrock is Archives Liaison in the Internal Advisory Group of AIC, developing a way to help conservators save records of their work in a common database.

Written by Luisa Granitto