17 May 2023

The Role of Librarians in Preserving Endangered Crafts

Post by Laura Ryan, Assistant Librarian, Special Collections & Archives, DCU Library.

A store room of 17th and 18th century leather bound books, DCU Library
All librarians, and in particular Special Collections librarians, have long played a role in preserving history. Through outreach programmes, genealogy, recording oral history, or simply in our long-term care for books – we play a role in ensuring the history of a place, a community or craft continues long after we have retired. We generally also love books – the smell, the feeling of paper, leather bindings and of course the contents. It puts us in a unique place. We have an appreciation and often an in-depth understanding of the craft of books, as well as access to them and their care. 

Red List of Endangered Crafts 2023 banner.
The UK charity Heritage Crafts has released its 2023 edition of the Red List of Endangered Crafts.
Funded by The Pilgrim Trust with additional sponsorship from The Royal Mint, Heritage Crafts undertake enormous research to rank traditional crafts in the UK by the likelihood they would survive into the next generation. There is no equivalent for the Republic of Ireland but the report includes data from Northern Ireland. Unsurprisingly, included on the list are many of the crafts which together created the physical books that line our Special Collections stores. 

There are four categories of risk within the report: Extinct, Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Currently Viable. Many criteria decide the ranking, from the number of those employed in the craft, to trainees, to serious amateur makers and leisure makers. The viability of making a living while practising a craft, market issues including supply, industrialisation of the process, and cost of machinery or tools, public awareness of the craft, as well as many more factors are represented in the report. 

Pertaining to book craft only, here are the following crafts now Extinct, Critically Endangered, or Endangered in the UK:



The process of beating gold until it is thin gold leaf. For book craft, this is used to gold tool bindings or to illuminate manuscripts. Beaten gold is still available – though done now by machine and imported. 

Critically Endangered

Fore-edge Painting

The application of an image onto the fore-edge of a book. Usually applied while the pages are fanned out at an angle, the process means that if covered in gold, the image will completely disappear when the book is closed. For an example of this in an Irish collection, see “Now You See It, Now You Don’t”  from UCD’s Cultural Heritage blog.

Paper making (commercial handmade)

Thqe process of hand-forming paper, using a mould and deckle to gather and form the sheet of paper. Paper made this way is generally formed of cotton and linen flax. The report also notes that the manufacturing of the mould and deckle no longer takes place in the UK.

Parchment and Vellum Making

Parchment is made of sheep and goatskin, while vellum is made of calfskin. Both have made up our manuscripts and books for several centuries. The report notes that much of the public does not understand what vellum is in particular which is part of the decline. Vellum is more flexible than paper and survives far longer over time than modern conventional paper. Many of our books from the 1400s and 1500s made of these materials are in far greater condition than books from the 1980s. 



Embellishment of a manuscript with gold leaf on a gesso base, as well as decoration with colouring. We may be most familiar with historiated initials: illuminated capitals which begin a book or section. The report notes that there is very little demand for this type of illumination these days.


Printing using hand-setting and a variety of presses. This is the form of printing developed by Johannes Gutenberg and was the primary form of printing of books from the 15th to 20th centuries. This craft is maintained currently by artisan or fine art printers.

An example of Spanish Moiré marbling, DCU Library.
Paper Marbling

A form of aqueous surface design, this is the process of floating inks on mixture of water and surfactant, creating designs within that floating ink and transferring it onto paper. This is traditionally applied to endpapers but became common on outer bindings when leather became more expensive. It can also be applied to fore-edges. To read more on marbled paper in Ireland, see “Marbled Paper: History of an Endangered Bookcraft”.


The process of using vegetable tannins to convert raw hide into leather. This is used for the exterior bindings of books. Due to some processes within the creation of leather, it can degrade over centuries and crumble. It is often subject to an issue referred to as ‘red rot’. Conservation of this is difficult and binding with leather has become much rarer. 

What now for librarians?

Why does it matter to us as librarians? Quite simply, the books that we are charged with preserving and conserving require the sustained existence of the craft  so that conservators can source materials (now and into the future) that match the process and materials of the book being conserved. 

So what can we as Special Collections librarians do about this issue? We can’t fix the issue ourselves and many factors are far beyond our control or remit: economics, supply issues, traineeships, loss of skilled people to pass on the craft, etc. However, the report mentions several factors that librarians do have an impact on. 


Creating accurate 563 fields (binding notes) which use consistent and accessible terminology so that the crafts involved can be found through catalogue searches and tracked through collections. This means that we have to be knowledgeable about the crafts in order to adequately describe them. Research into understanding how things are made must be part of our role so that we can best understand how to preserve them. 


Recently, someone mentioned to me that ‘materiality of the book’ had been overdone, because the research exists. This does not negate the sharing of that knowledge and research. The report mentions a lack of public awareness of the crafts. Librarians are both keepers of and speakers for these books. It is important that when we do outreach sessions, talks, seminars, blogs or tweets that we include descriptions of and information about the processes behind the books. We need to share our knowledge and understanding to generate interest in those processes. Few of those people will ever follow up on becoming a professional in the craft, but they may pursue it as a leisure maker and generate business for a craftsperson to run classes and make a livelihood. In doing so, we also further the memory and preserve the history of the craft. We, too, create historical records in our research output and outreach efforts. 


Very few of us, especially here in Ireland, have significant funding for purchasing. When we do purchase, due to the nature of our existing holdings, we often look to older collections on sale or available from donors. We spend much of our time delving into the past. It is time to look at the present, as a gateway to future collections. There are local craftspeople using all of the above techniques in Ireland. Specialist publishers, binders and fine art printers, from Stoney Road Press to The Salvage Press are current creators of specialist limited edition publications that keep alive these crafts in Ireland, but also publish works to match our interests in Irish literature and culture holdings. 

What librarians can do may affect only a small part of the ongoing legacy of book crafts, however  it is pertinent that we adequately understand the process of these crafts and their history, to contribute to their ongoing maintenance while supporting current local businesses and craftspeople where possible. 

Laura Ryan in an Assistant Librarian in Special Collections & Archives at Dublin City University. With a background in Art History, she has a particular interest in the book as an object, and the continuation of book craft practices.

10 May 2023

Libfocus Link-out for May, 2023

Welcome to this month’s edition of the Libfocus link-out, an assemblage of library-related things we have found informative, educational, thought-provoking and insightful on the Web over the past while.

Podcast - Healthy Escapism: The State Library for the Blind and Print Disabled
Reading is the one form of escapism that just about anyone can practice, regardless of income. Even so, roadblocks keep many folks from getting lost in a traditionally printed book. Thankfully for New Mexicans, staffers at the New Mexico State Library for the Blind and Print Disabled have committed themselves to remove those barriers.

Putin’s War on Ukrainian Memory
Richard Ovenden, the Bodley’s Librarian at Oxford writes for the Atlantic on the targeting of libraries and archives in Ukraine, as repositories of national culture and consciousness for The Atlantic.

Support your local librarians by rejecting book bans
This article by Christopher Harris looks at the ideological attacks that have been taking place against school libraries in America. Pressure from National Groups have led to restrictive laws that limit access to information and threaten First Amendment rights.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors Unanimously Passes Resolution in Support of Digital Rights For Libraries
Last month the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to support a resolution backing the InternetArchive and the digital rights of all libraries. This resolution recognises the public value of libraries, preserves free access to information and urges other important legislative bodies in the U.S. to support digital rights for libraries.

LA and APA Provide Guidance for Citing Content Created by AI
Educational Technologist Richard Byrne highlights the recent move by APA and MLA to provide guidance on how to cite content created through the use of AI tools like ChatGPT.

Seven strategies to turn academic libraries into social organisations
Sheila Corrall talks about the need for libraries to focus more on the social shift happening in higher education, arguing that in order to secure a future on campus, libraries must switch from a transactional to a relational model of librarianship. Social networks and collaboration are key.

Managing the Metrics of Academic Publishing
Stuart MacDonald reflects on a new paper in Social Science Information, arguing that publishing metrics are 'unfair' and don't measure the essence of academic performance. Instead, they game research assessment for personal and institutional gain.

Toward a Framework for Information Creativity
Mark Dahlquist looks at the work of John Dewey to suggest that the traditional distinction between creativity and literacy education is not only unavoidable but also potentially productive.

Strategic planning for your library – some ideas and inspiration
When it comes to your library’s strategic vision, it can always be helpful to get a little inspiration from what other libraries are doing. This overview of eight current strategies might be a good place to start.

‘Too greedy’: mass walkout at global science journal over ‘unethical’ fees
More than 40 leading scientists have resigned en masse from the editorial board of a top science journal in protest at what they describe as the “greed" of publishing giant Elsevier.

14 Apr 2023

Digitising projects in Maynooth University Library using a digital camera and scanner

Guest post by Bridie O’Neill, Edel King & Laura Gallagher, DPDS, MULibrary

The Digital Publishing and Data Services (DPDS) department in Maynooth University (MU) Library purchased a new state-of-the-art Zeutschel scanner last year. We received training on  the scanner and its accompanying software, Omniscan. We spoke to people digitising in other institutions and paid a visit to the National Library of Ireland to view their scanning suite. Since then, we have received some reprographic requests from around the world. 

In this blog post, we will detail how we fulfilled these requests using our DSLR digital camera and the scanner.

Digitising using the DSLR camera. 

We were requested to digitise the Bloomfield maps of the Loughton & Redwood Estate by MU's Arts and Humanities Institute. The maps consisted of 34 maps and ledgers dating 1836-1840. The maps were oversized, measuring 80 cm by 1 metre. We chose the digital camera (DSLR) as the best medium to digitise the maps.  

Image from the Bloomfield collection

We ran several tests using different exposure settings to gain the depth of field required for the maps. As the maps were oversized we placed them on the floor supported by backboards and the copy stand was adjusted to allow the maps to be photographed in that position.

We also experimented with lighting and discovered that the best exposure could be gained from turning off the overhead fluorescent lights and engaging the flash function on the camera with even tungsten lighting. We documented all our findings in a ‘How to’.  

The photographs were captured and saved using TIFF format which renders the best quality for reproduction purposes. The files were then converted into JPEG format to assist data transferring and ease of editing. The MU Arts and Humanities department are utilising the maps in an interactive project with pop up fields for further in-depth information.   

Using the camera and copy stand

Digitising using the scanner 

We received a reprographic request from an academic in Durham University for the digitisation of a 1595 book called Essais de Michel de Montaigne. This was the first request we received where we could properly use the new scanner.  

Image from Essais de Michel de Montaigne

The scanner comes with some excellent features. One of these is Interleaving. Interleaving allows you to scan one half of the book entirely, for example solely the right-hand pages. After that, with Interleaving mode on, you can scan the left-hand pages. Interleaving puts each scan in its correct place automatically so that page 3 is followed by page 4 etc. 

We found this feature extremely useful when scanning the Montaigne book.  It allowed us to set up the book on the scanner with the relevant supports, scan one half of it and then set up the other half. This meant that there was much less handling of the item.

Interleaving equipment

The requestor wanted a full view of the book including the spine and leaves. These areas were not possible to capture using the scanner, so we supported the book and took the images using our DSLR camera and then worked on them using Photoshop. 

Spine of Montaigne

Initially, we thought it best when scanning the right-hand pages to just scan the images and then use filters after to crop, straighten or brighten the image. However, this book generated nearly 800 scans and so cropping and straightening after scanning proved time consuming. When scanning the left-hand pages, we made sure the book was positioned exactly how we wanted before scanning so that little work had to be done on the images after.

A proper file structure had to be established. The images are scanned as TIFFs, (as per best practice). Then, as part of finalising, a feature called ‘Copy’ can copy them all into another chosen format. For testing purposes, we used one folder for all formats. But as we would only be sending one version to the requestor, we needed to separate formats for actual projects so that everything was more easily accessible. 

Using the scanning software

Teams has proven to be a very useful tool. Creating a channel or folder and either uploading or copying the files to that location means that the files are available for the team to work on or look at no matter where they are. It also provided us with a useful location to store backups.

We purchased some book supports for digitising as well and they have been very useful to us with regard to handling of the sometimes fragile material being digitised.

Book supports that we purchased


We are currently working on a curatorial request to digitise the Wardell Archive, housed in our Special Collections and Archives (SC&A) department. This collection comprises the personal papers of the Wardell family. This project has over 600 items, organised across 147 items. They are mainly letters and are handwritten front and back. 

Image from the Wardell collection

As the collection is so vast, a good naming convention is vitally important so that once all the letters are digitised and converted from TIFFs to JPEG, they are easily identifiable and therefore easy to ingest into our Digital Library. For example, Item 1 in Wardell, a handwritten letter with writing front and back was named PP2-1-001 (front) and PP2-1-002 (back) to clearly identity that the item generated 2 scans. We used a renaming feature set up with the OmniScan software which allowed the user to name each scan they digitise on a project.

We use colour cards beside each item and a grey back board underneath. This allows for the requestor to see the full depth of the paper and the ink used in writing.


 The feedback we received on the digitisation of our projects to date has been extremely positive. Digitising allows academics and researchers to see items that could have been. They can enlarge and use them without damaging the original item.  We are looking forward to working with both the camera and the scanner in the future on further reprographic or curatorial projects and exploring all the features that the scanner has to offer.

If you have any questions about our digitisation projects or wish to put in a request, you can contact the team at, digital.library@mu.ie

The MU Library Digital Library will launch in the coming months.

3 Apr 2023

Libfocus Link-out for April, 2023

Welcome to this month’s edition of the Libfocus link-out, an assemblage of library-related things we have found informative, educational, thought-provoking and insightful on the Web over the past while.

US Library Survey 2022 Navigating the New Normal.
Since 2010, Ithaka S+R has conducted the Library Survey on a triennial basis with the overarching goal of tracking the perspectives, priorities, and leadership strategies of library deans and directors at four-year academic institutions. The results of their latest survey are now out.

How to get people to come to your library events.
We've all been there. We've spent a lot of time and energy organising our event, our workshop, our training session. And nobody or virtually nobody turns up. This great short video from Angela Hursh offers some simple advice to make sure this doesn't happen to you again.

In the latest episode of the podcast, Noelle Knows Nothing, titled 'Yes, please touch the 500-year-old book, Noelle speaks to John Overholt, Curator of the Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson and Early Books and Manuscripts about life as a rare books librarian at Harvard Library.

In The Librarians are Not Okay, Xochitl Gonzalez speaks to librarians in the United States about new laws that challenge what books librarians can buy and put on shelves, for fear of facing personal litigation.

AI in Higher Education: The Librarians’ Perspectives.
An interesting survey of 125 academic librarians exploring attitudes to the growing development of Artificial Intelligence Technologies; whether to embrace or ban them and the effect they may have on students' ability to think critically. Using ChatGPT to help write a paper and reference software to automate citations, is this the new norm?

ChatGPT: Implications for academic libraries.
A brief study of the implications of AI tools for academic libraries. We learn the rise of AI tools might lead us to an arms race as Google and Microsoft add ChatGPT into their tools. Will academic discovery tools do the same? An interesting thought is introduced – perhaps ChatGPT could help speed up the development of OER textbooks and reduce the cost of education for students?

 A bibliophile’s paradise: the National Library of France in a classic documentary from 1956.
The 21-minute documentary Toute la mémoire du monde (All the Memory in the World), made by French filmmaker Alain Resnais in 1956, is an astounding tour of the la Bibliothèque nationale de France (the National Library of France) before digitisation, when the world’s largest well of information wasn’t at our fingertips, but fastidiously collected and sorted behind library walls.

 Libraries Need More Freedom to Distribute Digital Books. But publishers are working hard to prevent that, wherein Dan Cohen writes about how a district court judge in New York recently ruled on Hachette Book Group, Inc. v. Internet Archive, a case that is likely to shape how we read books on smartphones, tablets, and computers in the future.

 Europeana re-use - be inspired.
This article highlights the creative ways artists, poets, educators and researchers reuse Europeana’s digital cultural heritage. The material on Europeana's site has inspired everything from educational videos, problem-solving challenges created through the gamification of digital material, robotic sea monster designs, poetic responses to artwork to collages for greeting cards.

 Building the future intelligent campus.
This guide from JISC looks at how many universities are developing intelligent campuses in an effort to use data collection to improve the student experience, business efficiencies and environmental performance. It explores the benefits of this development, looking at how it is helping the third-level education sector make better use of resources and facilities, deliver more personalised services to students and improve their campus experience. The guide also looks at the ethical concerns around data collection and the questions that have and should be asked about how the data might be used.

23 Feb 2023

UCC Library Annual Seminar 2023

Guest post by Blazej Kaucz (on behalf of UCC Library CPPD Committee) 

On Monday, the 6th of March 2023, UCC Library is going to host the UCC Library Annual Seminar 2023.  

The event will explore the role libraries play in promoting and supporting equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). There will be a range of speakers on the day, who will offer perspectives from a Library viewpoint, and also from the perspective of the communities that libraries serve. 

The speakers will be discussing, inter alia, the role of the libraries in decolonisation initiatives; how EDI is transforming the strategic landscape; how the libraries can develop as a place of welcome as part of the Library of Sanctuary; and how in doing so the libraries can encourage diversity and not division. 



Registration and morning refreshments 


Welcome and Introduction 


Keynote speaker - Marilyn Clarke (Institute of Advanced Legal Studies) 


Leona Burgess (Louth County Libraries) 




Katy Lumsden (National Library of Ireland) 


Elaine Chapman (Technological University Dublin) 


Closing remarks 

The keynote speaker is Marilyn Clarke (Institute of Advanced Legal Studies Librarian).  

The seminar is free and in-person, but registration is required. To register please visit https://libcal.ucc.ie/calendar/librarytraining/seminar2023 

Posted on Thursday, February 23, 2023 | Categories:

13 Feb 2023

Open to All? LAI Open Scholarship Group Webinar


Image from event listing on LAI website 

This is a guest post by Jane Burns, Director of Education and Public Engagement, Faculty of Engineering and Informatics at the Technological University of the Shannon. Jane holds Fellowship Membership with the Library Association of Ireland where she is a Member of the Executive Council. Jane is also a Steering Group Member of the National Open Research Steering Group. She is involved in Equality and Diversity at TUS and nationally as an Aurora Champion and was appointed to the National Aurora Advisory Group. Jane is currently a PhD candidate at Dublin City University where she is exploring the areas of Education, Graphicacy and Graphic Medicine. Find her on Twitter @JMBurns99 or on LinkedIn

As a librarian, educator and a researcher I am eternally curious about new ideas, and new approaches to connect with others inside and outside of areas that I know about. Over the course of the webinar there were three fantastic presentations, by Dr. Lisa Padden (UCD), Dr. Chrissi Nerantzi (University of Leeds) and Oisin Duffy (National Biodiversity Data Centre). While each of the presenters were engaging and informative I found that the presentation by Lisa Padden was the one that connected to me most, for my personal and professional role. I was recently appointed the Director of Education and Public Engagement at the Technological University of the Shannon.

I found the idea that ‘Open’ is more than just ‘Open Access’ - so open and beyond publications but inclusive of things like information, teaching, learning and research. Access needs to be more than just ‘accessible by’ to be inclusive.

Dr. Padden offered an example of an ordinary daily experience of automatic opening doors. This was something that never occurred to me as an ‘example of Open’ (no pun intended) but using that as a model for all other areas and applications of openness really was insightful. It is something that is so much a part of every day that allows openness for all - and we don’t even have to think about it - it just is. This is perhaps a way we need to think about openness - not as something special, or extra, but integral so we don’t think about it all - it is so engrained.

A demo of the Microsoft Accessibility Checker was engaging. I had never heard of it before and often struggle with the question of whether or not my communications are accessible enough – if am I being inclusive.

I found Dr. Padden’s approach to be engaging and understandable, sometimes I get so worried about making a mistake with accessibility that I choose not to publish, present or engage. After today I know that is not the best way to proceed, that there are tools, resources and colleagues to reach out to for help in developing this area of knowledge.

Thank so much to my Library colleagues, who continue to develop ideas and expertise and who bring us along with them to learn together. 

Posted on Monday, February 13, 2023 | Categories: