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Re: [BKARTS] Secret book repair

Librarians do not own the books, it is true (the libraries do). However, they are the duly appointed caretakers of the books and have been chosen for their knowledge, experience, and training. They are responsible for developing and maintaining the collection under their care. They are also responsible for ensuring that patrons who use the library treat the materials in ways that are acceptable as determined by the policies of the library.

Tax-paying citizens have no more right to alter, destroy, or add to a library's collection then they do to alter, destroy, or add to a munciple park. In both cases, these public spaces are being cared for according to long term plans; plans that the community is welcome to comment upon or even change according to established procedures such as town meetings or appeals to elected representatives. But encouraging each individual to summarily make changes to such public resources is calling for the sort of anarchy which our communities cannot or will not support.

Furthermore, a librarian encouraging this sort of behavior is only asking for trouble. Once it has become public knowledge that a library allows the public to change the material form of books without seeking permission, books will start coming back to the library in all sorts of states.

Another consideration is the historical significance of a book's original state. There are many books whose bindings are of historical interest, and it is the responsiblity of the librarians (not the general public) to assess the value of a book's binding regardless of its delapidated state and then to specify the sorts of repairs appropriate for the particular volume. If you have comments on the value of a book or its need for repair, no doubt your librarian will welcome them. Furthermore, if you would like to perform a repair and are a qualified practitioner, then it is also likely that a librarian would welcome the help. But it is essential to ask.

And if you think that a library's books are not owned by the institution, you're welcome to try to check out a shelf full and tell the library that you plan to keep them. In a few months your local judge will be happy to explain the relevant ownership issues.

Ken Price

On Tue, 15 Mar 2005, J. J. Foncannon wrote:

   I think the whole ethical issue of repairing publically owned books involves
the concept of "ownership."  To assert that libraries "own" books, or worse, that
librarians are the owners of the books under their aegis, just reinforces the
popular conception of librarians as anal-retentive, secretive, and
overly-possessive.  I can only imagine the reaction of such a typical librarian to
an attempt by an unwelcome "outsider" to establish a dialog about the repair of a
   Libraries don't own the books in a public library, either legally or morally.
The books in the library at 40th and Walnut here are owned by the city of
Philadelphia, in which I-- an affirmed taxpayer--- reside.
   Disrepair blocks the usefulness of books in the same way that trash can block
a sidewalk. Should I attempt to move a pile of trash blocking the sidewalk?  Maybe
I shouldn't--- I might make a mess of it, as indeed some children would.  Better
just leave it and its attendant hazard alone.  To me this is the ethical core of
the issue.  Better to do no wrong, sure, but to do nothing could--- as one reader
pointed out--- jeopardize the future of the volume under consideration.
Discretion and responsibility are the watchwords here.
   This is one of the most interesting threads ever arising on BOOK_ARTS.  Keep
the letters coming!

"Rachel M. Kadel-Garcia" wrote:

On Mon, 14 Mar 2005, J. J. Foncannon wrote:

I don't quite follow the chain of ethical reasoning that leads to the

I think that it's quite inappropriate to rebind books without the owners' permission or knowledge. And I think that a lot of the maltreatment of library books we see stems from not really thinking of the books as being the property of the library.

   I found in my personal library a tattered copy of a book of folk songs
which belonged to the Kansas City Public Library. (Believe me when I say I
don't know how it got there, since I believe that people who steal books from
libraries should be put to sleep.  I lived in Kansas City over 35 years ago.)

   I rebound the book in blue leather with a nice 3/4 binding, and I am
returning it to the library.  No one can convince me that this is a bad thing
to do.

The first part seems pretty obvious to me: if I lent a book (or another object) to someone, I wouldn't want them to significantly alter it without my knowledge or permission, even if their intent is to repair or improve it. And because of that, I wouldn't rebind a borrowed book without permission myself. I don't know what aspects of the book in its original condition might be of value to the owner; I have unpreposessing books on my shelves that have sentimental value which militates against altering them.

Separately, there are lots of people who apparently think it's OK to
highlight in library books, write their shopping lists on the endsheets,
tear out pages that they want, etc.  Some of this treatment comes from
straight-up theives and vandals, but I think a lot of it comes from
basically decent people who just think of library books as not really
belonging to someone else.  (I've heard people suggest that it would be
acceptable to secretly replace their library's signed-by-the-author copy
of a book with another, unsigned copy.  I think the outrage some people
express over donated books being discarded or resold also has to do with
thinking of library books as ownerless, and the library as being without

If the first paragraph isn't convincing to you, if you *would* borrow a
book from someone and rebind it without asking, then the whole line of
reasoning doesn't work.  But if you wouldn't rebind someone else's book
without asking but you would do it with a library book, then I think that
ties into the problem of thinking of library books as ownerless.

On a more practical level: is it OK for a patron to reattach torn-out
leaves in a library book?  Lots of people would think yes, but many of
those same people think that sticky tape is a paper repair material.
Sure, they don't know what they're doing, but they don't *know* that they
don't know what they're doing.  There may be things that you don't know
about the book, or the way the library does things, that would dictate
handling the repair differently, or doing an enclosure rather than a


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J. J. Foncannon
Philadelphia, PA  19139

The Belgian surrealist painter Renee Magritte entered a cheese store in Brussels
to purchase a wheel of Swiss cheese.  The owner pulled a wheel from the front
window, but Magritte said he preferred the one on the back counter.
Â?But they are identical,Â? the owner protested.
Â?No,Â? Magritte insisted.  Â?This oneÂ?s been stared at.Â?

    The Bonefolder: an e-journal for the bookbinder and book artist

            For all your subscription questions, go to the
                     Book_Arts-L FAQ and Archive.

                 Both at: <http://www.philobiblon.com>

*********************************************** The Bonefolder: an e-journal for the bookbinder and book artist

            For all your subscription questions, go to the
                     Book_Arts-L FAQ and Archive.

                 Both at: <http://www.philobiblon.com>

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