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Hold That Thought: Paper in the Protective Codex Format

Winter 2017
Winter 2017
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Gary Frost   is Conservator Emeritus, University of Iowa Libraries. He is an adjunct instructor in book conservation at Buffalo State College, and in book arts and book studies at University of Iowa Center for the Book. Here we consider the obvious: the deliberate and complex preservation function of the codex format book. The binding constructs a functional durability, security, portability, efficient access, and proven longevity for otherwise vulnerable paper pages. The codex format also produces a commodity that provokes careful possession and economic value and the performing book sequesters and reveals authentic material qualities across time and cultures. In a discussion of traditional Tibetan libraries, Jim Canary points out that the stacked, loose leaves of the texts are lashed together between heavy wooden boards so that the compressed leaves are kept protected. The compression and alignment of the stacked leaves between the heavy boards protects from fire, water, and adverse storage conditions. The lashed commodity efficiently contains the writing substrates, the words, and thoughts. Paper function depends on its associated binding function.

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Codex binding is a preservation device in context of chaos, risk, and uncertainties of documentary transmission of culture and it has also been deliberately refined for this task. Ephemeral notes, troubadour and player pocket prompts, erasable tablets, bureaucratic calculations, inspired drafts, or artistic sketches otherwise have little hope of survival. Formal transcription and binding together counters the disappearance of content in more ephemeral formats.1 The codex format conferred not only canonic identity to text but it tests and confirms innovations of research tools.2 Inventions of alphabetization, Arabic numbering, or division into chapters are implemented by the bound codex. In books the page design and codex format define each other. This elusive and obvious paratextual dynamic soon transformed access innovations into normality of book use.3 There are other influences of codex binding. Some are disruptive of paper qualities but many consequences prove useful for authentication and preservation of paper qualities. Sophistication of books using deceptive antique effects, facsimile replacements, and new endpapers for fashionable dressing are typical undocumented changes.4 The bookbinder and restorer can work behind a curtain with options of re-sewing, reconstruction, re-coverings, repairs, and a whole variety of "re-"s. Other modifications frequently emerge from unquestioned conventions of the bookbinding trade. These afflictions on books and book papers include unquestioned forwarding methods such as sawed in cords, severe rounding and backing, immobilizing glued linings, and tube hollow cover attachments. Such disruptions are fairly obvious in bound books. Examination and interpretation of these disruptions, at least, supports forensic examination and precautions in the practice of book conservators when their own opportunity for treatment intervention occurs.5 Happily, benefits of the codex format itself can over-ride many problematic influences of its fabricators or re-fabricators. It is the same determinate of format that preserves qualities of text and artifact that distinguishes the book among material culture transmissions. The codex format is not just a pretty face. In his research William J. Barrow presents a useful case history of material study of paper qualities based on samples from bound books.6 He chose to base comparative studies on "book papers" meaning leaves extracted from books. The researcher can construct comparative material analysis and extrapolate from pages dated and sequestered in books. Likewise the book conservator can extrapolate from performance of comparative binding types. This was exactly the research basis for the classic study of the one-piece parchment bindings done by Chris Clarkson in the aftermath of the Florence flood: "I noticed that a surprising number of small limp vellum bindings of the early seventeenth century appeared after four hundred years and at least on damaging flood, to have survived in a better state of preservation in comparison with other, more elaborate binding structures."7 A recent example of research based on study of papers preserved in books is Cathy Baker's reconstruction of early experiments to produce smooth-surface wove papers.8 Here the prompt is the 1754 printing of Virgil by John Baskerville using paper produced by James Whatman. At issue is dissipation of mythologies surrounding the advent of wove paper through laboratory confirmation of methods driving production innovation in the mid-eighteenth century. Will this research clarify a historical convergence of printing and papermaking into an interactive single trade? Stay tuned… So with Barrow, Clarkson, and Baker we encounter a basic affordance of the codex format. This is the capacity for self-authentication of the sequestered and fixed, bound stack of individual paper pages. This potent quality provides more assured attributions of time and type of the paper; Cathy Baker even mentions the sequestered evidence of contrasting "Tuesday–Saturday" papers.8 Additional bibliographical consequence is attribution of distinctive handling and feel of different book papers or their differing fiber stocks with assurance of their authentic, preserved qualities and a confident association with an imprint, say one from the seventeenth century with sheet qualities of that time. Even later disruptions such as resizing can be detected and confidently interpreted in a re-bound context. For the student of material book studies, the codex format presents a reliquary and near-video recording of practices and products of historical papermaking, printing and binding, and the expedients and speedy skills of past craftspeople. Another self-authenticating attribute of paper books extends beyond examination of the single copy. Comparing multiple copies of the same edition yields useful findings. It is said that a given edition copy from England will exhibit the influence of an under-heated, cooler UK storage, while a copy housed in a typically overheated US library will reveal the consequences of its storage conditions. While contrasting a near "nature vs. nurture" influence can lead to faulty conclusions, this approach can be validated as the comparison of natural aging as experimentally more persuasive than accelerated aging. As an example, in a current study, the University of Iowa Preservation Department has archived together control and treated samples of un-alkalized and alkalized books (the copies are guillotined in half). The text papers have been comparatively titrated at intervals over a ten-year period to observe persistence of neutralizing treatment as subjected to natural aging. The samples, as with the Barrow Lab samples will be stored, in identical conditions, into the future. We can now consider in detail some features of the codex format that confirm its protective role in culture transmission. These performance features include attributes of closed-book storage, portability, and opened-book use. Persistence of this functionality is also buffered by book conservation practice providing any needed reconstruction of inherent book endurance. closed-book storage: The passive physical and chemical sequester of paper within books is relevant here. Adverse influence of sheets in uncontrolled conditions has long been apparent during management of drying and humidifying in paper and printing production where sheet exposure to excess dampness or drying risks spoilage. Papermakers' drying lofts required careful siting for directed scour of breeze. The aspirating spur distribution in the loft and their drying distortions were countered by stack seasoning and ream wrapping. Sizing and burnishing and grading also worked to manage flattened sheets. Such activities were costly in labor or, in later mechanized dry-end work, costly in energy. Printers also struggled with management of humidity in paper. Here the paper was handled in sheets and quickly returned to stacked piles but then also continuously re-separated at the press. Make-and-turn or other duplex perfecting at a single press or multiple presses compounded variables. Later printers transferred humidity management to the whole plant environment shifting the overhead cost from micro-to-macro scale. On the other hand, passive control of aspiration and infiltration among pages of a bound book is both efficient and cost free. The passive compression of book papers suppresses adverse, airpollution reactions as well as energy-driven fluctuations in storage conditions. The physics of this pervasive effect is echoed in geology where lamina of shale are stable under compression but quickly decomposed when separated and exposed to air. Reaction exchange rate is slowed in a closed book. The dynamic of edge infiltration is apparent in paper color and flexibility gradients of book-edge margins compared to central page characteristics. Such a gradient of deterioration in a bound page demonstrates physics of energy and pollutant exchange into the text block and confirms an "osmotic" barrier of the compressed pages. This barrier is nicely illustrated by sublimation of ice from a frozen book. Since many libraries have used display freezers to hold and freeze dry wet books, the analogy is rather familiar. The freezedry process will quickly sublime the seal of ice a few millimeters in from the edges, but then stall. Penetration is almost halted and "drying" continues only with gradual opening fan of the pages. Water wicking is another issue, particularly if the page paper is un-sized. No evidence is more apparent (or frequent in older imprints) than water-intrusion staining. Here the visual gradient of the penetration is the inverse of air-vapor intrusion since the interior boundary of the water stain is more concentrated and visible as compared with contrary effects of air intrusion that present a gradient accentuated from exterior edges.9 The two different mechanisms of interior staining and exterior edge deterioration indicate different intrusions. Incidents of fire or pollutant intrusion will produce book-edge deterioration while a liquid intrusion will map itself visually through the interior. book portability: The codex format diminishes risks of mobile transport and library relocations. The format also protects the pages during exchanges of ownership, expatriation, refugee escape, tornado vortex, or during endless other adventures. The book format travels well, and especially exhibits its portability when worn as an amulet, hidden and retrieved by reformers, efficiently packed for rescue from flood, or quickly rescued from civil violence. There is also the attribute of the persistent, secure order of the book pages. Not only is this a validation of the historical intentions of author, publisher, and librarian, but there is another very important forensic validation. Aside from evidence of an undisturbed order there is evidence of any deliberate or deceptive disruption of the intended collation. This is evident in the tell-tail miss-alignment of individual pages along a trimmed edge. Such a jut of an individual page can prompt closer examination bringing paper matching, different sheet treatments, or an added or facsimile leaf into scrutiny. opened-book use: An especially obvious attribute of the codex format is the accurate "geo-positioning" of readers' notes along page margins. Even underlined text, so despised by librarians, specifically distinguishes some text from the rest. Marking in books facilitates re-reading by the individual reader who fans the pages to scan for annotations, but the annotations also accumulate and compile into critical evidences of multiple readers responding across time and cultures. Only the enduring codex format can both provoke and authenticate recording of such dynamic, distributed authorships. The commentary of such annotations has encouraged rich bibliographic study tangential to, yet augmenting the material study of the book.10 This momentum also emphasizes the essential function of the codex format; in a bibliographic mindset the book function enables paper function.11 The forensic book is the testifying witness of all its interventions. These evidences can include handling stains of devotional and soiled fingers, gutter debris, or even a pressed flower. Such fragile evidences can only survive inside a book. Another perspective on opened-book use considers codex-structure pliancy for active manipulations and motions of reading. The codex binding has been refined for just such reading actions. These gymnastic actions in the hands are even associated with ease of comprehension.12 The page turning used to navigate the exposition eases relocation of ideas. Other fingering and page fanning prompts a whole haptic familiarity with the codex format. The "enigma" of the persistent flourishing of print publications is hardly grasped in the popular press. The electronic, screen book never quite triumphs as its advocates are oblivious to the deeply embedded cognitive role of physical things. The hands prompt the mind. Taken together performance attributes of the codex format—closed, relocated, and opened—are fairly obvious. However, other implications of the physical protection capacity of the codex also loom up beyond observational detail. There is explanation of the persistence of paper and the print book in context with enthusiasm for networked and screen-displayed transmission of culture. Is the paper medium destined to be displaced by media of screen resources? Another uncertainty is if future textual media studies will clarify, and not confound, the protective role of the codex format.13 A resolution of such uncertainty is that self-authenticating paper media and self-indexing screen media need to work together if we are to provide useful transmission of culture. Scholarly readers can already be defined as skilled crossmedia researchers. Conservators also can position their skills and care of the physical collections as an integral activity of humanist agenda. Conservators bridge scholarly, artisanal, and analytic skills and can mediate between different perspectives of specialists. The paper book has made efforts of self-indexing in the past but the long struggle for efficient finding aids in the paper format has been quickly augmented and eclipsed by Google and library utilities with automated, keyword searching. However, with screenaccessed finding aids there is also the inconvenient dissipation of self-authentication qualities that can be assumed with paper. Here is the disturbing result: responsible continuity of culture must now engage multi-media ambivalence.14 Also looming is some explanation of the mysteriously complementary performances of physical and screen-accessed resources. Perhaps using the paper book as a tool we can engage the new ambivalence and encounter a new philology.15 Self-authenticating paper is capable of just such a paradigm shift…once again, but it does take time. Paper is one of those tools of thought that can be thought of as such; perhaps paper is actually a frame of mind.16 Hold that thought… Paper distributes our cognition and entangles our interior thinking with external things. Paper is a trans actor between somatic thought and material culture. The incentive toward material exemplars of thought is only one incentive attributed to paper, and such distributed cognition is only one theme within a larger story of cultural innovation as mediated by paper, its writing substrate, and its commodities such as the codex format.17 The gymnastic codex format was seen floating on the flooded Arno and aloft in a debris-topped tree on the Biloxi coast. On a changing planet the codex format survives, protecting its contents and usefulness into the future. Can we keep the book at work in this inherent function? The book conservator's role is to extend the protective function of the codex format. This is accomplished by skills and technologies that rejuvenate a lively endurance of the codex structure and send it tumbling into the future.  notes 1. Mary A. Rouse and Richard H. Rouse, "Roll and Codex: The Transmission of the Works of Reinmar von Zweter," in Authentic Witnesses (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991). 2. See "The Development of Research Tools in the Thirteenth Century" in Rouse and Rouse, Authentic Witnesses. 3. Anthony Grafton and Megan Williams, Christianity and the Transformation of the Book (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006). 4. A place to start on the undocumented practice trail may be Robert Fleck, Books about Books (Newcastle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2008); see for example item 72. See Stephen H. Grant, Collecting Shakespeare (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2014) for a real flavor of the overheated US market for rare books. See also Peter W. M. Blayney, The First Folio of Shakespeare (Washington, DC: Folger Shakespeare Library, 1991), or his "Introduction" to Charlton Hinman, The First Folio of Shakespeare: The Norton Facsimile (2nd edition, 1996). 5. A seminar topic of "Book Interventions, books remade by use" (2016) presents a construct of the various intervention evidences found in books. These are discussed as interventions of 1. Production; 2. Marketing; 3. Ownership; 4. library processing; and 5. restoration and conservation. Forthcoming publication by The Legacy Press in Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding vol. 4. 6. William J. Barrow Research Laboratory, Permanence/Durability of the Book—V: Strength and Other Characteristics of Book Papers, 1800–1899 (Richmond: W.J. Barrow Research Laboratory, 1967). 7. Clarkson, Christopher, Limp Vellum Binding and its Potential as a Conservation Type Structure for the Rebinding of Early Printed Books (Venice, Italy: ICOM Committee for Conservation, 1975). 8. Cathleen A. Baker, "Nineteenth-Century Paper: Sizing Does Matter," Hand Papermaking vol. 30, no. 2 (Winter 2015): 19–21. 9. Exposition of the physics of paper wicking actions are found in Gerhard Banik and Irene Brückle, Paper and Water (London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis, 2011), 303, for example. 10. See for example, William H. Sherman, Used Books, Marking Readers in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008). Extending beyond textual content of annotation to a wider view an "…idea of book use helps make visible the set of material, social and institutional relations in which books are embedded…." See also Bradin Cormack and Carla Mazzio, Book Use, Book Theory 1500–1700 (Chicago: University of Chicago Libarary, 2005). 11. Two recent and engaging studies of books making history are Andrew Pettegree, Brand Luther (New York: Penguin Press, 2015) and Adam G. Hook, Selling Shakespeare (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016). 12. The body as instigator and innovator of consciousness is revealed by Antonio Damasio, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain (New York: Pantheon Books, 2010). 13. A text for the topic of cross media reading is presented in Comparative Textual Media, Transforming the Humanities in the Postprint Era, edited by N. Katherine Halyes and Jessica Pressman (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013). 14. For an example of a study that both explains and compounds the ambivalence of print and screen books see Timothy Laquintanto, Mass Authorship and the Rise of Self-Publishing (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2016). Note the effort to align self-publishing with e-books and traditional publishing with print. 15. A complete study of philology or comparative study of texts is James Turner, Philology, The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014). The "new" philology must now span comparative textual media (see Hayles and Pressman). A sample study would be Craig Kallendorf, The Protean Virgil, Material Form and the Reception of the Classics (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2015). 16. A parallel model is presented by the field of cognitive archeology. Fun summaries are presented in Lambros Malafouris, How Things Shape the Mind, A Theory of Material Engagement (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013); and Ian Hodder, Entangled, An Archeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things (Oxford, UK: Wiley–Blackwell, 2012). 17. For a study of pivot in humanist inquiry into the ontology of the book, see Daniel Selcer, Philosophy of the Book: Early Modern Figures of Material Inscription (New York: Continuum International Publishing, 2010).