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Imposition and Format for Book Description

Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Submitted by Gary Frost

Imposition diagram

There can be confusion regarding description of paper books; the given book needs description of how it was made as well as how it appears now, and either perspective can unfairly dominate. Makers best describe their own work, but, perhaps, they will not or cannot. Papermakers, printers and bookbinders also prefer their own exclusive explanations. Bibliographers and book conservators can bring the description up to date, but some estimation will be needed for missing information.

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Preservation & Conservation Welcomes New Hires

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Beth Stone and Justin Baumgarten in front of Keith/Albee scrapbooksThe UI Libraries Preservation & Conservation department would like to welcome two new(ish) staff members, Justin Baumgartner and Elizabeth Stone. They join us as members of the Keith/Albee project team. They will be working together, along with other UI Libraries staff, to stabilize and digitize the Keith/Albee collection. Both Justin and Elizabeth are University of Iowa graduates who are no strangers to employment at the UI Libraries.

Elizabeth Stone started on July 21, 2014 as the Keith/Albee Project Conservator. She is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa Center for the Book where she studied bookbinding, letterpress printing, and book history. As a student, she worked in Preservation & Conservation salvaging flood-damaged items from the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library and the African American Museum of Iowa.

Justin Baumgartner started on July 22, 2014 as the Keith/Albee Digital Project Librarian. He is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa School of Library & Information Science. As a student, he worked in the UI Libraries Special Collections & University Archives and interned for the Digital History Project at the Iowa City Public Library.

The duo will shepherd 125-150 oversize scrapbooks through conservation and digitization workflows during the next three years. Visit the growing digital collection at .

The Keith/Albee project is a three-year project to stabilize, digitize, and provide online access to the Keith/Albee collection which documents the activity of a prominent vaudeville theater company through more than 40 years of business. The records chronicle the expansion of the Keith/Albee circuit, changes in its leadership, and the eventual decline of vaudeville.ka_blog_q1bBlog

The Keith/Albee Project has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.


New Housing Option for Conservation

Thursday, September 11, 2014
Submitted by Bill Voss

Goblet in phase boxWith the recent acquisition of a riveter and a board creaser, the Conservation Lab has a new housing option – phase boxes constructed from sturdy 40 point featuring fore edge closures made of nylon string and riveted vinyl washers. Stronger than a regular 20 point four flap enclosure, and quicker to make than a full clamshell box, these phase boxes can also be modified with Volara foam padding or Ethafoam wells to accommodate objects of various shapes and sizes.Series of plates in phase box
Cross in phase boxCompleted phase box


Imposition and Format

Friday, September 12, 2014
Submitted by Gary Frost

Open Book ImpositionThere can be confusion regarding description of paper books; the given book needs description of how it was made as well as how it appears now and either perspective can unfairly dominate. Makers best describe their own work, but, perhaps, they cannot. Papermakers, printers and bookbinders can also prefer their own exclusive explanations. Bibliographers and book conservators can bring the description up to date but some estimation will be needed for missing information.

Book imposition and format provide a good example of this descriptive challenge. Imposition, or the print shop choice of paper dimension and arrangements of type on the press bed are decisions of makers alone. Format conveys cutting and folding sequences for assembly of the book gatherings. The formats have traditional names such as folio, quarto, octavo or various other explanations such as quarto in six from sheet and a half. A format designation can be assigned during examination of a book in-hand. But format alone that will not well describe the book makeup.

If you wish a tutorial on identification method of book imposition and format you will not be disappointed. Two admirable narrations are the description of imposition by Gabriel Rummons[1] and description of format by Thomas Tanselle.[2] Gabriel, the printer, describes print shop methods and Thomas the bibliographer, describes the format description methods. Both are aware of each other’s practice and perspectives. Still there is a curious feeling of difference in perspectives of these two narrative types.

Let’s relate the knowledge presented by Gabriel and Thomas and, at the same time, also examine the difference of their perspectives. Imposition and format are complements of page assembly method and ultimately they reflect a complex of expedients needed to convey book content in a physical object. Imposition and format comprise a practical origami constrained by decisive, economic choices of a sheet dimension and production management. Practicality must also follow implications of font size, line length and number of lines per page. Such reality will dominate all book production from the beginning to the present.

In most paper book production the cost of paper directly determines imprint investment and risk. In the hand sheet era “Paper could claim over two-thirds of the total production costs, and in some cases three quarters of cost.”[3]  Printing paper was also premium stock and each sheet would need to count, run through and, ultimately, fold to full use without waste. Print shop masters knew all the options of imposition and format choice and used these for greatest expedition and expedience and error avoidance. Book designers, compositors and pressmen knew accuracy of every lock-up and every move. Such focus should also convey to description of the products of such work.

Retuning to description, distractions and displacements are not needed! Features such as laid pattern orientation, commercial sizes of sheets, grain direction, or options of self-backing impositions or type array of pages can obscure the start of a descriptive narrative of imposition and format. Neither is the number of folds of an imposition or the final dimension of the page alone a sufficient descriptor.

We should consider description of the relation of the various features. I would offer that book shape can be a good starting point. A strange, but handy reference here are the photo format shapes or their aspect ratios, especially the cut film sizes of 4 x 5 and 5 x 7. These two happened to exemplify the proportions of two-fold quarto and three-fold octavo. They can also represent the general proportion of paper sheets. They and other photo shapes such as the 2 ¼” square or the 35 millimeter frame of an elongated rectangle can also help as concept templates.

General shapes of various books are suggested here. The squat shape of the parchment book, derived from a quartered skin, is reflected by the 4 x 5 photo proportion. A more elongated rectangle of 5 x 7 is an echo of the ergonomic shape of the hand paper mold and later conventions of cut machine-made paper are echoed by a 35 mm frame. Even the extreme shape of a half-square of the papyrus book is suggesting the fold of a square, 2 ¼-like, sheet.

Formulations of paper shape options are memorized in print shops. There is the “little-me” that any starting sheet proportion will be proportional to any ¼ cut sheet derived from it. This will then enable exact proportion smaller gatherings. Options of a one-third proportion cut from a sheet can enable strange elongated or squat book shapes or, perhaps, stocks from one-third cutting can be allocated to different books altogether.

Shape, meaning page proportion or aspect ratio, can also suggest bookbinding conventions. There we need to remember that the head to tail height represents a double trim while the width is only diminished by a single foredge trim. Another factor of 3-D book product shape is book thickness. Letterpress monographs range from a single gathering to almost one hundred gatherings in thickness. Blank and ruled paper stationery binding, by contrast, will feature a standard number of gatherings, including a consistent number of gatherings in the earliest long-stitch books. Finally, book shape is itself optimized for various handling and manipulation actions and this is ultimately the most relevant feature for the reader. The reader is at work after the process of imposition and format decisions that define a physical book. On opening and closing actions of reading the infinite possibilities of three-dimensional book shapes are revealed. The paper book is a complex product.


[1] Rummonds, Richard-Gabriel, Nineteenth-Century Printing Practices and the Iron Handpress, vol.1, Chapter Eight, Imposition, Oak Knoll Press, 2004.

[2] Tanselle, G. Thomas, “The Concept of Format”, Studies in Bibliography, Bibliographic Society of the University of Virginia, vol.53(2000), p.67-115.

[3] Raven, James, The Business of Books, Yale University Press, 2007, p.50.


Buffalo and Iowa Connection

Wednesday, September 3, 2014
By Gary Frost

Buffalo workshopA library and archives specialty is now accommodated within art conservation programs at the University of Delaware, New York University and Buffalo State College. Iowa is among others supporting and participating in this overall initiative that is generously supported by the Andrew Mellon Foundation.

UI has begun hosting short term Internships for students from the Buffalo State College. These students have elected to specialize in book conservation at their home program and welcome the opportunity to experience the varied service routines of a working preservation department.

The Buffalo and Iowa exchange is coordinated by Iowa Conservator Emeritus Gary Frost. He is traveling from Iowa to Buffalo to offer book conservation training sessions, three times a semester. Frost also presents a three-week summer workshop in Buffalo that is opened to students from all the art conservation programs.

The Buffalo/Iowa exchange has benefits for everyone. Beyond support of graduate education in library and archives preservation Iowa offers unique resources for the students. Beyond experience in a working preservation department the Iowa Center for the Book provides experience of traditional crafts of book production while intense learning going on between Buffalo and Iowa students is also an important factor. The mutual student learning suggests other initiatives including cross-program workshops hosted by Iowa and cross-program curricula.

The Buffalo/Iowa exchange is a classic win-win transaction. Considering the students benefits it is a win-win-win transaction.



Friday, August 29, 2014
By Gary Frost

Psalter-SpielThe UI Libraries Preservation & Conservation Department continues assistance of the celebration of 300 years of book printing in the Amana Church community. The retrospective exhibit of the imprints, from 1714 to 2014, has been arranged and installed with the help of the conservation staff. Now we are printing the commemorative keepsakes for the various celebration dinners and conferences.

Printing of the keepsakes is underway at the Homestead Print Shop and Post Office. The Print Shop and Post Office is itself a historical exhibit. The recreation depicts printing and communication methods of the 1950’s in the Amana Colonies. The relatively late period depiction enables the inclusion of the Linotype composing machine; not until the mid-twentieth century did the German printers finally accept keyboard composition, modern types and English language.

The keepsake items feature proofs from the stereo-plates of the 1854 setting of the Psalter-Spiel. This hymnal and recitation book was produced from the beginning of the Church of True Inspirationists with the last edition from the 1854 plates printed in 1910. The plates appear to have been cast in Buffalo, New York replicating hand-set composition prepared just prior to relocation of the villages from Ebenezer, New York to the Amana Colonies.

Printing in the Inspirationist community has a long and impressive legacy of book printing. The UI Libraries Preservation & Conservation Department is proud to contribute the persistence of the craft of printing from metal type in the Amanas.


Iowa Collections Emergency Response Team Training

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Selecting tools for trunk kitYesterday twenty-five individuals from around Iowa gathered at the Camp Dodge Gold Star Military Museum in Johnston to begin training as a member of the Iowa Collections Emergency Response Team (Iowa CERT). Many of Iowa’s documentary collections are scattered in museums and libraries throughout the state. These diverse collections together form an invaluable statewide historical resource. Small institutions in particular often do not have the staff or financial capacity to respond appropriately when the collections are threatened. This training will build a network of experts throughout the state who can respond quickly to emergencies of different sizes and types. The assembled team is comprised of geographically-distributed staff from libraries, museums, archives, and other collecting institutions. The training is partially funded by an Historical Resource Development Program grant awarded to the Iowa Preservation and Conservation Consortium (ICPC). Training is coordinated by the University of Iowa Libraries staff, Nancy E Kraft, Brenna Campbell, and Elizabeth Stone.

First day of training concentrated on learning how to organize, plan, and respond to disaster. Each team member received a trunk tool kit with basic tools for responding to a disaster – hammers, screw drivers, pliers, caution tape, etc.


UI Libraries receives Carver grant to renovate exhibition space

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Exhibit Hall 1960In April, the University of Iowa Libraries was awarded $500,000 by the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust in support of the renovation of the Main Library Exhibition Space. Very exciting news!

Our current space was constructed in 1951 and has not changed much since then. Over the years, using the space as an exhibit became more and more challenging. Plus it was a space that people walked through to get from one side of the building to the other making it very difficult to engage anyone in an exhibit.

Due to the Learning Commons project which was completed in 2013, the current exhibition space is now a self-contained area. Anticipating the exhibition possibilities that the Exhibit Hall 2014 ConceptLearning Commons renovation would open up, we began working with consultant Liz Kadera on a gallery and exhibition space presentation. We were delighted that our new Library Director John Culshaw liked our concept drawings and pulled a team together to draft a proposal to present to the Carver Trust.

The renovation will create a more suitable and secure space dedicated to displaying books, manuscripts, maps, documents, artworks, and more from the Libraries collections.

Construction is planned to begin this fall with a proposed completion date of spring 2015.

First image courtesy of the UI Archives, 1960. Second image courtesy Liz Kadera, 2013.


Drying a Wet Book

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Interleafing a Wet Book
As a Preservation Librarian, I should know better than to read a book while taking a spa bath. Last week I did just that and dropped my book into the tub. Oops! Luckily I caught it before it was entirely submerged.

Pressing the Damp Book

I took immediate action. I grabbed some copy paper from our home printer and folded the paper in half and interleafed every few pages to start soaking up the water. Then I put the book into a “press” by using a cutting board and cast iron skillets. The press helps by putting a little pressure on the book to blot up the water and to keep the pages somewhat flat. The next day I pulled out the wet interleafing paper and inserted new but in slightly different spots.

Drying Interleafing Paper
I laid out the wet interleafing paper to dry so I could re-use. I repeated this process over several days.

Dried Book Showing a Little Edge Curl
The book is now dry but does show some evidence that it had been wet. If the book in question had been a book of value to me, I would have put the book in a zip-lock bag, stuck it in the freezer, and later taken it to a conservator.



Preserving Media

Thursday, April 10, 2014
Submitted by Emily F Shaw

Stacks of different types of mediaIn addition to millions of books, journals, and electronic resources, the University of Iowa Libraries is also the permanent home for film, audio, and video collections.

Projecting an original 16mm film can be risky, and using playback equipment that is dirty or in disrepair can cause permanent damage. Protecting the original is critical; many of our media collections are unique and most are actively degrading. In order to preserve this content and make it accessible to we need to digitize it.

I recently traveled with local historian and collector Mike Zahs to visit The Media Preserve, the vendor we contracted to digitally reformat some of Iowa’s most precious “time-based” media collections.

Racks Of Magnetic Tape Playback Equipment

Racks Of Magnetic Tape Playback Equipment

The Media Preserve is staffed by enthusiastic and knowledgeable professionals with many of experience working in the film, video, and recording industries. The studios at The Media Preserve are designed to minimize risk to customer assets, such as power surges, lightning strikes, or electromagnetic interference. Their studios are fully equipped to read and play back every type of time-based media content imaginable.


Inspecting Film in the Preservation Lab

Inspecting Film in the Preservation Lab

For common consumer media like VHS and ¾” Umatic tapes, the digital transfer process has been engineered to allow a small number of staff to oversee the digitization of multiple assets at once, thereby lowering transfer time and cost to their clients. In addition, The Media Preserve has a film preservation lab equipped for cleaning, repair, and high-resolution scanning of film. Their film preservation staff recently digitized half a dozen of Mr. Zahs’ badly degraded 35mm nitrate films created in the first few years of the 20th century.