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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Books on a shelf

Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

Even More Simplified Binding workshop with Karen Hanmer

June 4th, 2024

Bookbinding models are something of a theme for us this spring; in February, we installed our exhibit Object Lessons: Selections from the Conservation Services Historic Bookbinding Models Collection in Spencer Research Library’s main gallery. Creating and studying bookbinding models helps us to hone our hand skills and to better understand how books are made, which in turn improves the level of care we can provide for materials in KU Libraries’ collections

Four finished Even More Simplified bindings created in our workshop with Karen Hanmer.
Four finished Even More Simplified bindings created in our workshop with Karen Hanmer.

Then in March, Conservation Services hosted book artist, fine binder, and bookbinding teacher Karen Hanmer for a two-day workshop to learn a new (to us) binding structure. Karen’s “Even More Simplified Binding” offered us – that is, Whitney, Angela, and Kaitlin, the three book and paper conservators here at KU – an opportunity to brush up on techniques and to learn some new approaches to bookbinding that we can apply to our work.

Conservators watch as Karen Hanmer demonstrates backing - shaping the spine of a book - on a job backer.
Conservators watch as Karen Hanmer demonstrates backing – shaping the spine of a book – on a job backer.
Checking sewn text blocks to see how well they open.
Checking sewn text blocks to see how well they open.

Karen describes the Even More Simplified Binding as “stripped down to only the essential elements;” it is elegant and minimal in appearance. But because the structure of the binding is easily discernible, great care must be taken at each step to ensure a pleasing result. This structure was a good choice for our group of conservators with a range of bookbinding experience; we all found something to hold our interest, and we all came away with new skills. Karen came prepared with lots of examples of other bindings, so in addition to the fun we had making our books, we also had lots of great discussions and digressions along the way.

Conservators gather around to watch as Karen shows how to mark the spine wrapper before attaching it to the book.
Conservators gather around to watch as Karen shows how to mark the spine wrapper before attaching it to the book.
Detail view of the Even More Simplified binding with spine wrapper laced on, before attaching boards.
Detail of the Even More Simplified binding with spine wrapper laced on, before attaching boards.

Speaking for myself, I know that my approach to re-binding a book – on the rare occasions that it happens – has become much more conservative over the years. I’m interested in doing the most possible good for a book with the least possible intervention, and studying this binding has got me thinking about how I can apply its bare-bones-yet-structurally-sound engineering to projects that may come my way in the future.

Four people stand in the lobby of Spencer Research Library displaying books completed during a workshop.
Kaitlin, Karen, Whitney, and Angela with their finished books.

Angela Andres, special collections conservator

Adjustable Conservation Book Support: An open-design conservation tool arrives at KU Libraries

May 16th, 2023

The conservation lab at the University of Kansas Libraries is now home to a pair of Adjustable Conservation Book Supports, or ACBS’s. The ACBS is a hinged cradle that supports a book during conservation treatment; fiberglass rods gently hold the book open in almost any desired position, a feat that can be difficult or impossible to achieve with our usual system using weights and fixed cradles or foam wedges, or other rigged-up arrangements. The ACBS was designed and developed at Northwestern University by conservator Roger Williams in collaboration with students in Northwestern’s School of Engineering. Williams wrote about the process in this blog post: Collaborating with engineering students to create an open-design conservation tool – LIBRARIES | Blog ( We learned about the ACBS when Williams presented a webinar about the project during the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time when many conservators were unable to work in their labs. We and our colleagues around the world spent much of our pandemic work-at-home time learning and sharing on online platforms, saving up the new knowledge to try out when we were back in our workspaces.

One of Williams’ goals when creating the ACBS was to make it freely available and customizable  – an open-design tool that could be built with readily available supplies and that could be adapted and improved upon by the conservation community through use and experimentation. Conservators at the Auckland War Memorial Museum in New Zealand took up this challenge and created an (also open access!) alternative design for the two clamps that sit at the top of the ACBS. The 3D-printed Auckland clamp design increases the range of motion of the fiberglass rods, adding even more functionality to the ACBS. (See their blog post: Newest Trick in the Book – Blog – Auckland War Memorial Museum (

We wanted to build an ACBS for our lab, and we definitely wanted those clamps! We knew that KU Libraries had a 3D printer in our new Makerspace, so we reached out to Associate Librarian Tami Albin for her help. The Makerspace was in its early days, and Tami had been experimenting with the 3D printer, getting to know its capabilities and the properties of different filaments. We downloaded the files for the Auckland clamps and sent them to Tami. While Tami worked on the clamps, collections conservator Roberta Woodrick ordered the rest of the parts we needed for our ACBS’s (we had decided to build two), and she and I assembled them up to the point of adding the clamps. A few weeks later, Roberta and I visited the Makerspace to see the results of Tami’s first tests. Tami described how the 3D printer works, showed us the printed clamp parts, and explained how the type of filament affects the finished 3D print. She had printed an assortment of sample parts for us; we brought them back to the lab and examined each one to find those that had the look, feel, and weight that suited us, and to test the fit on the ACBS’s.

Two people whose faces are out of the frame stand next to a table laid with 3D printed samples of clamp parts for an adjustable book cradle.
Reviewing test prints of the clamp parts with Tami Albin at the Makerspace. Click image to enlarge.

After we’d selected the samples that we liked best, we reported back to Tami and she set to work printing the final pieces. We were excited to get the email from her letting us know that the parts were ready! We gave Tami free rein to choose the filament colors, and she came through with a selection of bright, cheerful colors that add some fun and personality to our ACBS’s.

Close up image of colorful 3D printed clamps on an adjustable book cradle.
Detail of the clamps in their beautiful colors. Click image to enlarge.

With the clamp parts in hand, we had a few more steps to go before the ABCS’s would be ready to use. I put together the clamp assembly and found that our off-the-shelf bolts were about 1mm too long, preventing the clamps from being fully tightened. I found my set of jeweler’s rasps (saved from a metals elective I took back in art school – conservators love to appropriate tools of many trades!) and used one to file down the ends of the bolts until they fit correctly.

Two black metal bolts, each with a small silver hex nut and large red-and-yellow 3D printed nut on its end, sit on a table next to a small metal rasp. The end of the bolt on the left has been filed down smooth.
A too-long bolt, left, and a filed-down bolt, right. Click image to enlarge.

With the clamps assembled, the last step was to fill in the sides of the ACBS’s to bring the surfaces level with the thick hinges. Per Williams’ instructions, I filled the lower boards of the ACBS’s with scraps of binder’s board, a heavier material, and the upper board with corrugated plastic, a lighter material, to help balance the ACBS. I then covered each side with blotter and sealed the edges all around with Tyvek tape.

A split image: on the left, two adjustable book cradles atop a workbench with a utility knife, a triangle, and a ruler; on the right, a close-up of an adjustable book cradle lined with corrugated plastic.
Filling in the lower board with scraps of binder’s board, left, and the upper board with corrugated plastic, right. Click image to enlarge.

Conservation is always a collaborative effort, and we are so grateful for Tami’s contribution to this project. We are looking forward to all the ways that we can put these new tools to use in our work caring for KU Libraries’ collections.

Two adjustable book cradles sit atop a workbench in a conservation lab.
Our two new ACBS’s! Click image to enlarge.
A thin Japanese book is held by fiberglass rods in an adjustable book cradle.
The fiberglass rods are strong but gentle enough for delicate materials. Katsushika Hokusai, Denshin kaishu Hokusai manga. Call Number: C22291. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas. Click image to enlarge.