Keeping body soul
of books together
By Cynthia Parks between 1850 and 1950 on acidic wood
Staff writer : pulp paper the most ephemeral of
GAINESVILLE The word may be im- word-savers.
mortal, but'the page it's on is not. Pre-1850 book paper was made with
Erich Kesse's job is to keep the soul of strong cotton fiber. Post-1950 book paper
the word with the body of the book. He is has much of the destructive acid washed
preservation officer at the University ;of' out of it. ,
Florida library, and he is in charge of: Another unexpected aspect of Kesse's
2.7 million books in all the university work: While he has miracle machines in
libraries except health and law. his department in UF's old Library East,.
2.5 million microfilms. : machines that can reduce two rooms full
500,000 maps. '.' of newspapers to two file cabinets of miL
Endless cubic feet of archival material 'crofilm in a summer, he says that stateof-
and unnumbered cubic feet, of photo im- ''the-art book preservation is 18th-century
ages. state of the art.
A book in bad shape is.seriously evalu- You see, bookbinding began 'as Kesse's
ated on a long work sheet: Are there oth- hobby. It was his way to get in .touch
er copies in the nation? Is the book vital with his roots, back ,to his grandfather,
to the university collection? Should the il'. who was'a bookbinder. He showed Kesse,
lustrations alone be preserved? now 29, how to bind books with rectan-
Kesse :said the decision to preserve a gles cut from old clothes when. Kesse was
book or to chuck it is a complex a youngster.
one, and not his. A bibliographer makes Kesse had to -do it until he gotit right
that judgment based on the book content. '- no glue coming through the cover, the
If the call is, "Retain it," Kesse's staff hand-stitching through the folded, nested
adds the volume to its list and considers' signatures of pages neatly done and not
Options. Photocopy it page by page, or too deep into the margin.
microfilm, it page by tedious page. The Some books at Library East are still re-
book may have to be dis-bound to do the. stored that way. A. press or vise, maybe
job. like Gutenberg used, still squeezes the
Author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings lived, book firmly while a new. headband is
at Cross Creek just south of Gainesville, glued or sewn to its broken spine., Along-
Sand her papers went to the university. side computers and chemicals to analyze
,Among 'them was an unpublished short' the acidity of paper are the old tools:
story, The Celebrity, rattled out of the needles, paper folders made of bone and'
typewriter on cheap'acidic -copy paper, a skife for repairing leather..
So that others can now read it in its first- A couple. of things complicate Kesse's
hand condition, the preservation staff job. One is where he works -- Library
,washed the brittle yellowed pages of acid, East. It's 'an anomaly. It looks-.like a li-
Sthen encapsulated them in clear polyes-. brary ought to look. It was built in. 1926
ter. in a Collegiate Gothic style .with stone
Kesse calls it embalming archival mate- ,arches and dark exposed beams. :The
rial, much as, Lenin rests under glass in stone stairway to the second floor is worn
Red Square. by the feet of-passing readers.
There are several iroi\ies to Kesse's But it's the. second-worst building oni
work, and one of them is that he rarely campus for preserving books, said the'
works with rare books. They, are used preservationist. The humidity is 70 per-'
'sparingly and under such guarded condi- cent there .
tions that chances are one in 1,0 ththey'll The worst building is Library West, built
be darmiaged. in 1967. There, the humidity ranges from
Kesse's priority is books in circulation 65 to 85 percent. Only constant vigil in.
for a university population of 35,000 stu-
dents, books printed during the century (See BINDER,. Page C-8) :,
Binder keeps books
together at :UF :
S(From Page C-1)
the rare books department keeps
mold in check.:
Other problems are carpet beetles
the size of a'pin, head, and roaches,
which are regulation-size. They fol-:
low -students carrying sacks of
snacks to keep them awake while
they read about Visigoths and Medi-
terranean fruit flies.'':
Even the starch-filled cloth covers
of books are like mashed potatoes
to insects, said Kesse.
Old methods may be best for
some preservation, but .Kesse.
counts on science finding a way to
save, for example, a pre-1820 oddi-
ty bound in wallpaper, or a 1617
Bible printed from the same plates
as the first-edition 1611 King James
SThere seems to be a kind of des-
perate patience in Kesse's business.
He says you have to be tough about
what you chuck out and replace.
Shelves of sick books are-. waiting
in line, sickest first, for attention.
Even Rawlings' Pulitzer winner The
Yearling, written from her Florida
experience, must wait its turn.
But actually, Kesse .is a softie
about words. He .write a column,
Notes from. Preservation, for .the
University '-of .` Florida Libraries
Newsletter.. His style is arch and in-
formative. He once quoted one S.R.
Ranganathan, the great 'Indian li-
brarian, ~whom one .:suspects is
something like columnist Mike Roy-
ko's Slats Grobkiri. '
Some books, like the 1617 Bible,
are put into boxes to wait for tech-
nology. Four books are in a freezer,
waiting. One is a 16th-century ge-
ography with plates made by one of
the earliest mapmakers. 'It would
cost '$14,000 to treat the book,
which, is about its worth. A better
method may be. developed to do it
more cheaply '. :: .
Kesse says :the :books are like
vampires in caskets, sleeping for
years until, they .wake. The turn-
,about is that the blood of knowl-
. edge will then be 'sucked from
them. Until t cold storage or
:Erich 'Kesse, preservation officer for the University of Florida library, sits
Among books housed in Library East. Some may be rebound, others photo-
copied or microfilmed, some may see the wastebasket.