Conservation Unit director Meg Brown helps put thousands of books back on the shelf.
Old books, new books, resource books and popular books.
Meg Brown spends her days surrounded by a bevy of books, all of which have one thing in common; they're in need of repairs.
"What we do here is hands-on fixing," Brown said from her Conservation Unit lab in the basement of Watson Library.
Brown and her student employees work to return books to the shelves as soon as possible, gluing, sewing and binding books that came to them with torn pages and spines.
"We get about 150 books a week," Brown said. "It takes about 2 1/2 hours to treat each book."
Some books, however, take a lot longer and some are in such bad shape that Brown sends them to a commercial binder for final repairs. When possible they save the original pages and covers, and work to match fabric colors for the spines.
"What we can save as far as artifactual, we do," she said. "But the priority isn't the book but the information in it."
Brown has been working on a 1773 dictionary, a piece that might have otherwise ended up as a reproduction if not for its historical value.
"Every single page had to be repaired," Brown said.
In fact, some of the strongest, most well-made books were made before 1850, Brown said.
"1850-1980 is the most dangerous material," she said. "Twentieth-century adhesive is just terrible."
Brown and her staff cut and paste books back together using a Japanese rice paste that won't damage the materials through years of wear.
"Books actually are complicated items," Brown said.
She should know. She studied the art of bookmaking in Italy and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a master's degree in library science with a certification in conservation of library and archival materials. UT-Austin is the only school in the country offering the program.
"To me the craft has always been an art," Brown said. "There has to be a love and creativity there. That's always been a passion. If you don't have it, the books will fall apart."
Most of Brown's student-employees enter her work area never having looked at the guts of a book. By the time they leave they can repair almost anything.
"Slowly but surely people fall in love with it," she said. "My students love it."
Such was the case with Trace Bunker, a metalsmithing and art history student who started working with Brown as part of a work-study program.
"I was ecstatic because I didn't realize we had something like this," Bunker said. "It's the sort of thing I like to do."
In fact, Bunker said she wouldn't mind keeping a job in the book repair business after she graduates. "I'd be happy doing it as a day job, and do my art at night," she said. "It's a good set of skills to have."
-- JL Watson's phone message number is 832-7145. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.