Today’s post is part of our continuing series of blog posts from the students in Honors Seminar 321V, Smelling Old Books: The Art & Science of Preserving Our Past.  The students were asked to consider ways in which learning about heritage preservation has changed their attitude about any aspect of their relationship to the objects around them in their daily lives and habits.

From Quinn Tipping:

Last fall I took over as choir director at Memorial Lutheran Church, just south of campus.  As choir director, I spend a large part of my time dealing with paper.  Music needs to be sorted, counted, filed, repaired, etc.  Fortunately, the church where I work has a designated music library, complete with several large file cabinets and shelves; however, though the music is, for the most part, neatly catalogued and stored, the manner in which it is kept is not ideal for preserving its integrity and ensuring its longevity.

Modern Schirmer edition of Ippolitov-Ivanov's "Bless the Lord, O My Soul"

Due to the lack of climate control in the church, the library experiences seasonal extremes in temperature and humidity, which is stressful and ultimately damaging to the documents.  Each musical selection is kept in simple cardstock folders placed inside metal file cabinets.  It is likely the folders are not acid free, and they provide no support to the documents they contain.  To make matters worse, I have found bugs of varying varieties within the folders.

Prior to taking this Honors seminar, I had never thought of the physical music as a historical document.  Now, I take pause.  A week ago I went to the music library to pull a piece for the choir to sing this November, “Bless the Lord, O My Soul” by Ivanov, a Russian composer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  I pulled the cardstock folder out of the file cabinet, opened it, and was struck by the intricate and beautiful red and black design on the cover of the now yellowed G. Schirmer edition.  Very Russian.  I opened the music to look for the edition printing year, and discovered that the copies were printed in 1913, nearly a century ago.  These pieces of music, held and used by choir members for almost 100 years, provide a unique link to our musical heritage.  They have a history.  And, I believe, a history worth preserving.

From Maria Arendt:

A few weeks ago I took a book off the library shelf and all I thought about was the information it contained and making sure that I checked it out before walking out of the library doors so that the annoying and embarrassing alarms didn’t go off.

Now, when I take a book from the shelf I think about how it may have been changed since its original printing.  If it was rebound, and if I think it has been rebound, I look at how good the craftsmanship is. I also think about what materials it’s made of and how they may react to each other in the future.  I wonder how the book will look in 20 or 30 years, and what damage may happen even if the book is never touched.  What chemical changes will this book undergo?  The honors seminar 321V has changed my understanding and outlook of the book as an object, not just a way to get information.

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