Language of Bindings Network

Lead Research Organisation: University of the Arts London
Department Name: CCW Grad School


Texts can exist without physical form, but for almost two millennia, most texts have been preserved as written or printed sheets enclosed within a binding. The binding is therefore the container of information, both erudite and popular, and is often more revealing about its origin than the text it contains. The binding, through its materials and techniques (and decoration, if it has any), can indicate where it was made, when it was made and what type of reader it was made for. This is critical information for use in the growing study of the history of the book and can provide information that may not be available from any other sources. However, bookbinding has not yet been embraced as a core element in the history of the book.

This project will create a Network of experts from a range of institutions in the UK and across Europe, who will work together to agree on a methodology for describing bindings using a widely accepted terminology. This is the first step in systematising the study of bookbinding and allowing the collection of uniform data from book collections in Europe and the U.S.A. This data can then be used to analyse how bindings were made, their frequency and both the geographical and chronological spread of the components and materials found in them, thus identifying their development and the trade links they illustrate as well as mapping their history and establishing time-lines to facilitate their use as historical evidence.

This project will also ensure that the agreed methodology is put into use by the participating institutions, because an objective of the Network is the preparation of a grant application to the EU Culture Programme to describe a critical mass of bindings from Europe, available in 16 European languages and this methodology will form the basis of this research.

This project is strong in the wide participation of important book-related organisations and the Network is ambitious in that it will cover most of the history of Europe through the collections of the participating institutions. This is a critical aspect of the work, because wide participation ensures acceptance of the methodology by many partners and ultimately a unique resource for the study of bookbindings and history in general.

In addition to the important benefits for historical resource offered by this project, two additional contributions can be identified:
a) It will augment the study of bookbinding as a craft and therefore it will be of benefit to a wide range of students and professionals working in the field of book production (including book arts, graphics, publishing etc.) and conservation.
b) It will offer a technical framework for recording any object within and outside the cultural heritage field.

Finally, this project will offer a particularly important advantage for the use of books in the digital age: A digital or digitised book can be viewed online in the form of digital images. This completely removes the physicality of the book as an object and therefore reduces dramatically the audience's (mostly the public's) experience of reading a book. By offering a structured way of presenting the binding-related information, this experience can be enhanced and the historical value of the binding restored. The project will therefore allow an important change in the public's understanding of history by retaining access to the contextual information of the physical book within an electronic environment.

Planned Impact

In addition to a publicly available website with the complete output, the Network will target specific sectors as follows:

a) Antiquarian bookdealers will be encouraged to use the Network's output to make descriptions of the books they sell with these benefits: a) assessment of provenance of a book, based on its structure with a direct impact on its value, b) expansion of the bookdealer's market to clients who are not interested in the content of a book, but in its value as an object (materials and techniques), c) compatibility of records among different bookdealers will simplify business transactions and record keeping, thus reducing cost.
b) Professional book conservators will take advantage of a commonly accepted methodology/vocabulary for describing bindings as it will lead to optimised description work-flows and digital tools, thus reducing the time needed for undertaking the conservation of a book.
c) Digitisation and text-encoding professionals will add binding-related metadata to digital images thus increasing their value, which can lead to more profit.

a) National organisations (e.g. CILIP) will use the Network's output to assist in the process of expanding the use of book collections to include the study of material culture.
b) European organisations (e.g. CERL) with a scope of delivering digital content to EU citizens will use the Network's output to enhance the digital delivery of books.
c) International organisations (e.g. IADA) will adopt the Network's specification as a standard and promote it in their guidelines for member libraries.

a) Libraries (e.g. public libraries, university libraries, National Trust) will adopt the Network's output for delivering and enriching their content online. These organisations will also use the Network's output to improve their conservation and cataloguing records.
b) Educators (e.g. craft colleges, evening and adult education classes and schools) will use the Network's output to increase access to the study of bookbinding.

Digitised books are delivered through a digital medium and the physicality of the book is lost. A non-expert cannot easily appreciate the structure of a book from a digital image. This reduces the experience of reading a book to simply browsing pictures online. The Network's output, as adopted by the content delivery organisations, will enhance access to important information about the materials and techniques used to make bindings. This will be particularly important for inaccessible high-value books where the binding can be of critical importance.

The Network will therefore influence the common misconception that a book is of value only when read and will improve people's understanding of contextual historical information - a critical contribution to the nation's culture and an important tool for the interpretation of history.
Moreover, the detailed description of bindings will allow the public to appreciate the bookbinder's craftsmanship and inspire modern book-artists to delve into ancient techniques thus inspiring new output.

The Network's primary output (specification for binding description methodology and vocabulary) will be completed in 5 months from the beginning of the project. During that period the partners will form an EU consortium which, following the end of the project, will pursue the implementation of the proposed specification and translate the terminology in 16 languages, in two years. The expected time-scale for impact is therefore three years from the start of this project.

The Network has a specific interest in bookbinding, however the principles of developing the methodology and vocabulary can be applied to any documentation project within or outs


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Description Outputs published on-line in June 2015
Exploitation Route Adoption by CERL (Consortium of European Research Libraries. The thesaurus is to be embedded in the cataloguing system of the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. The thesaurus is currently being translated into Italian and Danish; German and French translations are under discussion.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description The methodology and thesaurus have already been used by several research libraries across Europe and the USA
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Title Language of Bindings Thesaurus 
Description Relational database based on Drupal's internal schema. It has been customised to store SKOS data. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact A number of libraries and researchers have been using the Thesaurus for cataloguing (including Oxford college libraries) and rare book conservation workshops (including the Royal Library in Copenhagen)