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Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Sarah Walker's blog

Book Repair: A Gateway to Feeling Accomplished

Where do you go if you have need of book repair? Since we are an archives, and we are known for having books (North Dakota related, of course), patrons ask us this question quite frequently.

Repairing a book

Reference Specialist Sarah Walker holds a book mid-repair process. The original binding has been removed and strengthened for when the book block will be reattached.

Although we do not repair books here at the State Archives as a service for our patrons, we do actually conduct limited in-house book repairs for some of our most heavily used and damaged books to extend their shelf life (literary pun intended!). These are patch and repair, triage-style fixes, leaving behind scars. We keep the repairs as archival quality as we can (when using tape, glue, paper, and cardboard), but this is not restoration. This is survival.

However, it can also be super fun!

Book repair tools

Some tools of the trade are pictured here. Rubber bands; metal brushes; saws; glue; archival-quality, double-sided tape; clamps; string; paint brushes; a ruler; and a sock (used as a weight—it is filled with lead pellets) are all used in some capacity in our “workshop.” The white roll is a material called cambric, used to cover the spine and glue the book block back into the binding. We put small amounts of glue into baby food jars so we don’t have to leave larger bottles open, and then we apply glue with paintbrushes.

I learned some simple book-binding tricks and tips many years ago (or, what feels like it, anyway) from a gentleman who volunteered to teach our staff. There were several of us at the outset. Now, I am the only remaining staff member working on our books from this first instruction. However, our staff has kept the process going by working with each other and sharing the information.

Virginia Bjorness, cataloger, and Stephanie Baltzer Kom, head of technical services, are my book-binding buddies these days. We meet approximately once a month for about an hour and go through the tattered vessels that have been pulled from any of our various shelves.

We complete several steps to determine what is to be done, as not all books must be repaired equally.

Phase box

This is a phase box. Made of a stiff cardboard, it protects everything inside of it by acting as a hard shell.

First, we determine whether the book should be put into a phase box instead of going through repairs. Using a phase box will protect the book as is. There are merits to this; it will maintain some historical integrity of the object (if this is important to the book). Also, sometimes the paper is too fragile to work with, or the repairs necessary are too numerous and would not improve ease in using the book. These books need a phase box and will be set aside for that purpose.

Once the book has been determined as free-for-repair, one of us examines it. What issues does it have? Are the pages merely falling out? Is the binding tearing? Is the book pulling in half? All of these are typical problems we see quite frequently in books of every age.

Then we look at the book to see what style it is. Does it have a flat binding? Are the pages glued directly to the binding?

Book with pages falling out

Head of Technical Services Stephanie Baltzer Kom displays a book with loose pages falling out.

Now it is time to fix it. Some fixes are pretty simple. For example, if a book’s pages are falling out, but the rest of the binding is fine, typically all we need to do is tip, or glue, the pages in. We apply a thin strip of glue on the binding-side edge of the page that has fallen out, as well as the following page, and then put the glue together, keeping the page as even with the rest of the book block as possible. We sometimes put strips of plastic between pages to keep them from getting glued to everything—glue is essential!

Some fixes are more time-consuming and involved. These tend to be my favorite. They frequently involve stripping the book block from the book and redoing the binding. This is more typical of books that have a rounded spine rather than a flat spine. Maybe the book block pulls out of the binding, ripping a page or two. In this instance, we might even have to apply a fix to the book block itself and tip a few pages back in, as well as work with the binding.

First, we must work with the book block. We pull the book block from the binding, put it between two bricks, and fully remove any excess materials of glue and fabric from the spine. We peel it by hand, cut it away, or even sand it. After this is done, we might be able to simply tip or glue the pages together, and then spread glue across the entire spine to make a glue binding to keep everything together. This is set aside.

Sometimes we have to restring the spine. This is my favorite part! After the book block is cleaned as best as we can, we use a small handheld saw to cut several shallow stripes into the spine of the book block. We add copious amounts of glue, again. Then we cut strings and squeeze them into those stripes. We clamp everything in place and tighten the strings. (I add more glue after this, just to be sure.) Then we let it dry. Voila! In the morning (or in the next month, when we are back together), it is just a matter of laying the block into the book, finishing up the edges, and gluing everything together.

If it is a flat spine and the binding is toast, we might use tape to recreate what was there. This is a special, much more hearty kind of tape (think duct tape in quality, leather-bound book in texture, and imagine “old library” to get the right color. Though to be honest, we mainly just have it in black.) We measure the covers and the book block, place the covers on the either edge of the tape, and tape them back to the clean, dry book block.

Fixing book

Left: Sarah Walker peels back fabric that must be removed before this book block can be put back into its cover.
Right: This book is clamped in place to dry. It had been torn from its binding but will soon be in one piece again.

Book repair is subjective, so we often confer with each other on these more difficult books. Sometimes we try something to see if it will work—and sometimes, we see these books return to us for more repairs. Quite frankly, we sometimes accidentally glue the pages in the wrong section, upside down, or to each other. Book repair can be complicated.

It’s also, in my opinion, a creative outlet, a stress release (especially when you get to use the saw on the book), and it is useful for maintaining readable books that our researchers can access and use.

So, to come full circle, where do patrons take their books for repair? We can brainstorm a few ideas for the patron who might prefer to send their books to a professional. However, although what we do is not preservation, and isn’t always pretty, it really does help the book survive. If any patrons would like to try their hand at repairing their own books, we are happy to provide some helpful tips. Feel free to contact us at archives@nd.gov!

Behind the Scenes of Our Second Dance-Off Video!

Sarah and Lindsay dancing through Inspiration Gallery: Yesterday and Today

It’s time for the international museum dance-off! Electronic Records Archivist Lindsay Schott and Reference Specialist Sarah Walker dance through the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Faithful readers of this blog may recall my post from last year, about our first entry into the Museum Dance off hosted annually by the blog "When You Work At A Museum."

Well—it’s back!

This, the fifth year, is a bittersweet year for the competition. It marks the “last dance”—a final hurrah for the author of the “When You Work at A Museum” blog to host the international dance-off she created. It is silly, yes, but that’s what makes it fun—and it has allowed museum communities to show off their talents, and how awesome their staff, patrons, and collections are.

Last year, we were pretty ramped up for our music video take on “Stereo Hearts,” by Gym Class Heroes and Adam Levine. Our entry is here, if you’ve forgotten it.

This year, our dance-off mastermind director, New Media Specialist Jessica Rockeman, decided to take a different tack—a one-take wonder (more or less). The idea was this—we’d basically dance our way from one end of the building through to the other. No cuts, or as few as possible, would occur.

Sarah and Lindsay at end of hallway waiting to dance

The beginning of the video, filled with drama and electricity. Actually, we decided on this opening pose just before we shot the scene.

Lindsay and I were once again ready and willing. A song, date, time, and place were picked. I set up some simple choreography for everyone to do together at the end. Other staff from our multiple divisions showed up to help us. And a movie was born.

Okay, it wasn’t quite as simple as that. But it did take less time, this time around.

Jess and I did several walk-throughs of the building, scouting out how we would move with the camera and each other. This was conducted sans camera, so any staff walking along saw Jess holding a phone and walking backwards, her head swiveling back and forth constantly, with me essentially skipping in front of her and stopping occasionally at different spots to dance around. Then Lindsay came with, and we repeated it all again. And again. And again.

Our goal was to cover as much ground as possible, and include as many people as we could. We started in the far end of our staff area and plotted to make our way up into the State Archives, through our three permanent galleries and ended in our grand and beautiful atrium. However, no matter what we tried, we ended up just flat-out running from one end to the other.

The following conversation is mostly true, but is slightly dramatized.

“Jess,” I gasped, “We can’t just run! We need to be able to dance!”

“Yes,” Lindsay wheezed, “we’re running the whole thing!”

“True,” Jess replied, panting. “And I’m running backwards. But we need to move from here to there. Shall we try again?”

Sarah and Lindsay ready to go through door

This was our cheat. This door actually opens up into more museum, but we cut and opened in the State Archives Division—we got to take a little breather, but not for long. We probably had a minute and a half rather than half a minute, this way!

So I’ll let you in on a secret. We cheated—just a little bit! We snipped some of the employee area, and we used one cut to skip some dead hallway. Technically, we walked through one door and appeared in a different section of the building than we should have. We raced through a few other areas, and we somehow made it in time to do the dance at the end in the atrium. Our one-take, no-cut video became a one-take, one-cut video. But this way, we were able to survive the song, still dance (it is a dance-off, after all), and achieve it mostly without running. (Please note, this video or blog does not endorse running in the galleries! We have strict no-running policies. But when you work at a historical society, and you are shooting a dance-off video with caution and alacrity, it may at times appear that you are slightly bending the rules. I guess we can just call it a perk of being in this specialized field.)

Sarah and Lindsay dancing through hallway with person dancing behind window

We hope everyone caught the staff cameos, especially in the first few scenes! Here is one of our museum preparators, Andrew Kerr, rocking out in the Paleo lab

Really, that was it. Lots of run-throughs and crossing of fingers for extra staff, and then the grand number that you can view on our YouTube page. It was all very different from last year’s, but it had its ups and downs. In fact, Lindsay and I felt there were several pros and cons with the video.

Sarah and Lindsay dancing through hallway with girl dancing behind window

More cameos - Archaeology Collections Assistants Meagan Schoenfelder and Brooke Morgan returned to add their flair in the Archaeology lab

Pros:

  • We spent a lot less time filming this video and felt less pressure.
  • We enjoyed the making of a one-cut/one-take wonder!
  • We covered a lot of ground and showcased a lot of our workplace.
  • I love dancing in the atrium. We should have more reasons to do this on a regular basis.
  • We got to dance with a friendly dinosaur.
  • Actually, we had a good group of staff come along for the ride. Also, we had an awesome group number at the end.
  • We laughed. A lot.

Sarah and Lindsay dancing in hallway

The collision happened fairly early on, and only once—pretty good, considering how many times we had made this run by then!

Cons:

  • The camera moved a bit more than we could help. You know, what with the running backwards and forwards, and all.
  • We wanted to post more staff in our employee staff area than we were able to do.
  • We did several practice rounds before shooting the actual one-take/one cut wonder, and many of us were out of steam by the end, with several choosing to enjoy cooling off in the sub-zero temps we had outside on that day.
  • Lindsay and I almost took each other out at the beginning of the video and were gasping by the end.

Sarah and Lindsay dancing down Corridor of History

We were almost done at the point this scene was shot! The finale was soon to follow.

It was fun to do this video again, and to try something different. We greatly enjoyed it! From the dancing dinosaur to the cameos of staff from beginning to end, we have a video we are pleased to share. Watch it in all of its glory, here and now!

We need your help to get out of the first round, this year! On Tuesday, May 1, at 7 a.m. CST, through Wednesday, May 2, at 6:59 a.m. CST, you can vote as many times as you want for our video. All you have to do is go to www.whenyouworkatamuseum.com and find our submission. The link will be shared again via our social media pages.

Share our video. Share our passion. Enjoy our work. And don’t forget to vote!

Group dancing, including a t. rex

We made it! Jess decided early on that we needed a dinosaur in the filmed footage, and paleontologist Becky Barnes kindly helped us out—you can see her in the midst of our group in this picture. Because, who wouldn’t want to dance with a dinosaur?

Group dancing, including a t. rex

This was our final group shot, where we did our moves together and then cut loose.