“Books will Speak Plain: A Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Binding” By Julie Miller

Books will speak plain in this novel because of the historical and descriptive analysis of bindings. I read through the introduction of the book which offers the purpose for its creation. The extensive knowledge contained within these pages is only the beginning of the prodigious amount of information about books and their bindings.

The purpose of this book is to to be an instructional guide to “identifying and preserving the vast cultural heritage represented by two thousand years of booking binding history” (page 1). She contextualizes the discussion of the book in the trends of today. In this way, she establishes the importance of studying these books as physical objects containing invaluable knowledge about human creation and connections. The lasting history of books proves that it is an endurable form, but it might be usurped in some fields such as education and science. Even though it may be thought of inefficient means of acquiring and searching for knowledge, it will still be important to understanding humans, our culture and history.

Julia Miller recalls the issue of  keeping books in libraries or institutions because it destroys or hinders the awareness of the  historical significance of a book or/and collection. Books loose part of their multiplicity when they are only cataloged in one way. The relationship with other books of the collection in which they came is also severed in many cases because they are house in different parts of the library. It is important to understand the reasons behind collecting certain books over others. In addition, one should understand all types and subjects prominent in historical book bindings. She exhorts libraries and other cultural institutions with books to call upon former librarians, conservators, and experts in historical bindings to become volunteers and take on training other volunteers in order to help disseminate knowledge of describing and preserving these objects. Some ways they can do this is by adding to the original records, holding public lectures, and bench workshops.

An example of this was done at the Special Collections Library at the University of Michigan in 2004 by Eileen Heeron, a rare book cataloger, Julia Miller,  and two other people with backgrounds in special collections. They captured decorative and structural information for selected bindings for the library’s online catalog and for a subsequent exhibit: Suave Mechanicals. They wanted to utilize the extensive research on bindings and capture all the description in the online catalog.

She showcases other tools to help book historians describe bindings which validates her book in bibliographic scholarship. It is a tool for instruction and an aid for caretakers at all levels of their career. The aim of this handbook is to help custodians notice interesting elements of historical bindings. Damaged bindings can reveal more information than intact bindings–structural, compositional, and decorative technique information.

Throughout this book she has described many different types of bindings, structures, and decoration. Binding scholars have been forestalled by the lack of even cursory descriptive binding information in collection catalogs and their ability to physical see and touch the books. Each one of the chapters builds off of the other before it. She provides useful reference  tools for beginners to experts. Their are color plate illustrations as well as black and white reproductions. There are three appendices with different guides along with a glossary and a bibliography.

After reading just a minute portion of this book, I would want to own a copy in my library for referencing and pondering over. I think it is a great handbook to begin or continue your exploration of book bindings with. Not only is it full of information but it also contains inspiration for projects and engagement with your own historical bindings.

*Miller, Julia. Books Will Speak Plain: A Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings. Ann Arbor, Michigan: The Legacy Press, 2010.


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