OBJECT LESSONS: Selections from the Conservation Services Bookbinding Models Collection

Please enjoy a selection of bookbinding models created by KU Libraries conservators between 1995 and 2024. Bookbinding models demonstrate the structure, materials, and techniques of various historical book forms. In addition, their creation may inform conservation treatment of collection materials from Spencer Research Library and other campus libraries. As we learn more about an item’s physical composition, we also gather information about its vulnerabilities—places where old books are most likely to fail. Sometimes we learn unexpected things about a book structure when we make it for ourselves, testing pre-conceived notions about how it was created.

The books featured here represent common types of bindings across time and cultures, but primarily focus on European book forms. We often feature bookbinding models in conservation lab tours and teaching, allowing visitors to handle them and appreciate how they function. Did you know that books are usually sewn with thread? Or that parchment is made from animal skin? Having the opportunity to examine these models is often an eye-opening experience.

In addition to historic models, we include some more fanciful, artistic bindings that may inspire printmakers and book artists. Spencer Library also houses a collection of artists’ books, many of which push the limits of the concept of a “book.”

We hope that these exemplars encourage you to contemplate the book form in its abundant variety. The structure, materials, and form of a book provide clues about its history and the culture in which it was created. The study of historic bindings connects us to traditions of craft, commerce, and readership; it invites us to wonder not only at our differences to the users of such objects, but, importantly, to our similarities.

Angela Andres and Whitney Baker
Conservation Services, KU Libraries

This is an online version of a physical exhibit that was on display in Kenneth Spencer Research Library during the Spring semester of 2024. The exhibit was created by Whitney Baker and Angela Andres, Conservation Services. Contact Whitney or Angela with questions.