Decision making on the cutting edge – University of Copenhagen

CC18 > Programme > Thursday 14 April - Session A > Decision making on the...

Femke Prinsen: Decision making on the cutting edge: Dealing with waste material used for book binding.

The recycling of printed or handwritten waste material in bookbinding is common in books from almost every period of the history of the book. Book conservators, therefore, inevitably have to deal with waste material at some point (waste material in this case refers only to parchment or paper with text and/or an image). During the conservation of books that contain waste material, decisions will have to be made about the best way to conserve the book, as well as the waste material.

Different interested parties, such as book historians, palaeographers, text editors, curators, and conservators, will value waste material differently. For this reason, decision making proves to be difficult. Waste material is an intrinsic part of the book's binding material, but it also has supplemental value because it contains a text or picture. This supplemental value can be appreciated in its own right, but it can also be appreciated for the additional information it may offer about the book it is used in. A medievalist might primarily be interested in the possibility of finding a vernacular text, whereas a book historian will mainly be interested in the waste material as part of the history of the book, while a book conservator might regard the waste material simply as part of the book's construction that should be repaired in order to make the book accessible again.


This paper discusses the complications that the presence of waste material constitutes in the process of decision making, in particular with respect to book conservation in public collections. The decision making model I present is a tool to help both book conservators and curators to deal with the many complex questions about the conservation of (books with) waste material. This model contains the various conditions that should be taken into account, such as the different values attributed to waste material, the values of the book, the function and location of waste material as bookbinding material, available treatment options, and the question whether interference with the waste material is necessary to repair the book at all.

Only when all the conditions of the proposed model are weighed, can conscientious decisions about the conservation of books containing waste material be made that do justice to the complexity of the relationship between a book and its waste material.