As conservationists we have a lot of conversations with our different clients on how to balance conservation and restoration for rare books and ephemera. While we were educated in institutions regarding conservation and restoration, our experience with a wide variety of clientele has shown us that institutional guidelines are limited by the structure and motivations of the institutions that have created them. Lines become blurred because the only lines that are publicly available are those published by institutions, and while these rules are perfect for them, that doesn't mean they're useful for individual collectors. Best practices are constant, however the balance between conservation and restoration shifts depending on the motivation of the collector. When you think about what drives an individual to collecting and how personal that motivation is, how can private collectors really be expected to adhere to institutional guidelines anyway? The current philosophy for institutions is to preserve the object without leaving the fingerprint of the current owner, archiving them rather than restoring them.
Book collecting is different than archiving: As books leave their marks on the collectors, the collectors leave their marks on the books, for good or for ill. There is no such thing as standing still; even without human handling books are in a constant state of deterioration. As a collector you can choose to archive your books or preserve them and become part of their history. A book tells its history in its structure. Leaving your mark on the book in a greater or lesser degree will establish provenance, which will be important to future collectors. Wherever you fall on the spectrum between conservation and restoration, what you do for books is important. It is impossible to come into contact with a book, whether as an archivist or a private collector, without leaving a bit of yourself behind. It can be a simple as the choices of which books to gather together, or as intense as completely rebuilding a book. You're now part of the book's history.
Have you thought about where you fit into the larger world of book preservation? What do you want people in the future to know about you and your interaction with your books? We would love to continue this conversation with you: Comment below.
We want to see what books you're collecting, conserving, restoring, reading, and making a part of your life. Post your finds on Instagram and tag them with #BecomePartoftheHistory; we'd love to feature your treasures on our feed too.