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Understanding and caring for bookbindings

This Preservation Advisory Centre training day was held at the British Library Centre for Conservation on 19 July 2012.

This training day will help librarians and archivists understand the types of bindings in their collections and will provide guidance on handling and describing bindings and on appropriate conservation techniques. Participants will be given an overview of the history of Western bookbindings, with examples drawn from British Library collections. There will be a an opportunity to visit the studios in the British Library Centre for Conservation.


Why did you attend this training day?

  • To learn more detail about bindings, particularly types and structure, and conservation.
  • To learn more about descriptive cataloguing of bindings, but also to refresh ideas about handling and conservation.
  • To learn about practical aspects of caring for bookbindings in our special collections, and to revise my previous study of the role of bindings in the history of the book.
  • To be able to better interpret our rare books.
  • To appreciate more fully the handling of rare materials.
  • To learn more about caring for and handling special collections.
  • To gain more in-depth knowledge of bookbindings; to be able to advise researchers and volunteers on handling materials.
  • To learn more about bookbindings, and how to describe them, in order to provide fuller descriptions when cataloguing rare books.
  • I want to improve my knowledge of bindings to better understand and conserve the collections, as well as to further my own professional development.

What did you learn?

  • How to discern differences between types of binding covering materials. Historical context and chronology also useful. Some great handling tips too.
  • How to describe bindings and the terminology for parts of the book.
  • Different types of bindings and materials.
  • Different types of damage and deterioration.
  • What the binding has to say about the book's history.
  • How the binding can tell the story of the book.
  • A greater understanding of bindings, their history, how to care for books in general.
  • The cataloguing of bindings was useful, particularly the check list.
  • A lot more about the physical structure of books. So much to think about!

What will you do differently as a result of attending this training day?

  • Look at our collections with renewed interest.
  • Inform others of the significance of bindings in the collection. Begin to note descriptions of the bindings on the catalogue. Buy further book supports.
  • Handle books with more care.
  • Consider the binding of a book when handling it.
  • Will write up 'handling guidance' and pass on information to other cataloguers.
  • I shall be able to apply my newly learned knowledge of bindings to my rare books cataloguing.
  • Spend time differentiating binding types and pass on that knowledge.
  • Recheck the older cataloguing of historic bindings.
  • I will be able to identify bindings more accurately.

Other comments

  • I really enjoyed the course. I found it informative and will use some of the things I've learnt in my current job.
  • A very enjoyable experience - with an interesting group of attendees and very interesting instructors.
  • Very useful opportunity to meet colleagues from other institutions.
  • A really enjoyable and well run day. Speakers were concise and very approachable - I'll return to work with lots of new ideas for managing our rare books collections.
  • The use of physical examples was very good - I now know what to look for.
  • Thanks for a great, informative day.
  • Really interesting - thank you!
  • Thank you very much.
  • Excellent course.


10.00 Introductions and welcome
10.15 Binding types and structures and their significance
David Pearson, Guildhall Library
11.45 Break
12.00 Handling bindings: the use of supports and protective enclosures
Sarah Hamlyn, British Library
13.00 Lunch
13.45 Describing bindings
Karen Limper-Herz, British Library
14.25 The conservation of bookbindings
Roswitha Ketzer, British Library
15.25 Break
15.40 Tour of the Centre for Conservation
16.00 End