Book Reviews

CompGuideToWordpressInLibrariesToday, on our preservation blog’s fourth anniversary, it seems fitting to mention that “Parks Library Preservation” has been featured in Amanda L. Goodman’s The Comparative Guide to WordPress in Libraries (ALA TechSource, 2013) as an example of WordPress usage in an academic library (pp.91-95).  The first half of the book explains the basics of WordPress and offers a step-by-step planning guide to maximizing the effectiveness of the WordPress platform for your particular institution.  The second half of the book is composed of brief case studies of WordPress sites implemented by academic libraries, library associations, digital libraries and archives, government libraries, public libraries, and others.

Four years later, we find that our WordPress blog continues to function more or less as we hoped it would when we first started. The blog has increased our public profile, and allowed us to better serve the Iowa community, in keeping with the mission of ISU as a land grant institution.  With our preservation colleagues spread far and wide, the blog has also allowed us to connect and engage professionally with the field at large.

We’ve stumbled a bit along the way, but after some trial and error, we have settled into a workable blogging schedule. Towards the end of each calendar year, I draft the following year’s schedule, assigning a pre-determined number of posts to each member of the Preservation Department, and setting aside posting days for students and interns as well.  We’ve figured out that the right posting schedule for us is once per week, with an additional monthly post for the 1091 Collaborative Blogging Project with the Conservation Department at Duke University Libraries.

We’ve seen our readership blossom to an average of 3,000 views per month, and we’re bolstered by our small but dedicated following of approximately 500 subscribers through various channels.

Thanks for being part of our community. We look forward to your continuing comments and feedback in the coming year and beyond!


Along with our wishes for a happy new year, we’d also like to say thank you to our readers for making last year such a rewarding one for us.  We appreciate your shared insights and feedback, and thank you for being part of our virtual preservation community.

2013 is already off to an exciting start, beginning with a frozen pipe which burst in the offices of our Special Collections and Archives over break.  Since I was basking in the Arizona sunshine at the time, Hilary will fill you in on the details of that escapade next Tuesday.  We’re also in the midst of our search for the 2013 Lennox Foundation Intern; if you or someone you know is planning to apply, please note the January 17 deadline.

Parks Library, Iowa State University

Parks Library, Iowa State University

As we look ahead to the rest of 2013, are there any favorite topics you would like to see us revisit?  We’ve covered topics as diverse as disaster response, conservation treatments, digitization projects, book and paper arts, commercial binding, reformatting, book reviews, conferences, sustainability, whimsical quizzes, and local preservation events.  Are there topics we’ve never discussed that you wish we would?  Guest bloggers from other departments of the Library from whom you’d like to hear?  Join our conversation!

Wishing you all a productive and fulfilling 2013!

The Story of Leather (1915) by Sara Ware Bassett. Early 20th century American publisher's binding in green bookcloth with embossed black title and front board decoration. Photomechanical print illustration on front board.

Sometimes it’s fun to take a break from modern conservation scholarship and dip into an historical novel, like Sara Ware Bassett’s The Story of Leather (1915).  This novel was one in a series of “educational novels” by Ms. Bassett, including The Story of Cotton, The Story of Lumber, and The Story of Iron, to name a few.  This rather charming tale follows the adventures of Peter Coddington, whose father owns a leather tannery in which Peter learns the trade.  The plot lightly touches on labor relations, fair wages, and workman’s comp, all wrapped up in a mystery that dates back to the Civil War and carries the message of honoring one’s moral debts.  Woven throughout this sweeping storyline are many detailed passages about the process of preparing skins, the process of chrome and vegetable tanning, and the methods of finishing leather.

Nat Jackson teaches the young, incognito Peter Coddington the basics on the floor of the tannery.  He describes the process of washing and softening the dry skins after they come to the “beamhouse,” and then shows Peter the pit of lime where the skins are soaked until their fibers swell and the hair loosens from them.

“But I don’t see that the skins that are tossed into the lime pits come out with the hair off, ” objected Peter.

“Bless your heart — the lime does not take the hair off.  The men who unhair them have to do that.  They lay the wet skins out on boards and with sharp knives pull and scrape off all the white hair.”

“Why don’t they take off the brown or black hair as well?”

“Because only the white hair is removed by hand.  That is kept separate and after being dried is sold to dealers for a good price.  The colored hair is taken off by machinery and is sold too, but it is not so valuable.”

“I suppose plasterers can use hair like that, ” speculated Peter.

“Yes, and upholsterers, ” added Jackson.

This 240-page novel is a quick, pleasant, old-fashioned read, with clear descriptions of the leather-making process near the turn of the 20thcentury.

Dyed goatskin leathers from Pergamena (Montgomery, NY).

To bring you back to the 21st century, here are some photographs of goatskin and calfskin leather taken with the ProScope 200x digital microscope.  As you can see, the goatskin pores are much larger and more unevenly distributed than the tighter, more evenly spaced pores of the calfskin.  This difference is noticeable even on the macroscopic level, and can be used to distinguish types of leather by sight and touch.

Un-dyed goatskin leather at 200x magnification (left); un-dyed calfskin leather at 200x magnification (right).

One of my favorite things about ISU is the amazing Lectures Programs.  For our local readers, I wanted to mention that author Matthew Crawford will be giving a lecture this Thursday in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union.  Mr. Crawford is the author of Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work and  his talk is titled “The Case for Working with Your Hands.”

For our readers who can’t make it to the lecture, many lectures are available as podcasts at this site.

If you are wondering if you would like to read the book, you might find this article from the New York Times Magazine interesting.