CERL: The Working Group Bookbindings

By Per Cullhed – January 2021.

CERL, The European Consortium of Research Libraries is an organisation dedicated to European cultural heritage library collections and has many specialised working groups (WG) covering a range of topics related to heritage collections. One of them is the Bookbindings WG with approximately 20 members. Our main objective is to promote the topic of historical bookbindings and all actions serving to promote their on-line presence. European heritage libraries sit on a wealth of historical  bookbindings that, to a large part, are inaccessible due to the fact that library catalogues seldom give more than superficial descriptions of bookbindings. There are of course exceptions. Resourceful libraries such as The British Library and Bibliothèque Nationale de France do have information and images of bookbindings on-line, as do some other libraries, but in general bookbindings are quite inaccessible. My own library, Uppsala University Library, was involved in a research driven project and published the ProBok database in 2012. This has now merged with the more generic Alvin database (www.alvin-portal.org) and there is probably a trend not to support stand-alone databases concentrating on specific topics such as bookbindings. However, to become useful online resources, more bookbindings need to be published with both metadata and images;  the advocacy for all the activities serving this purpose is one of the few tools we can work with.

Compared to large organisations, such as IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions), working groups in CERL seldom have the advantage of regular meetings where one may expect the attendance of WG members. Therefore, CERL meetings serve more to focus on the local resources in place where annual meetings and seminars are held and from time to time papers presenting bookbinding projects have been on the agenda. In essence though, the WG is very scattered and has never managed to convene in its entirety. In 2019 a workshop was arranged in Uppsala on the topic of methods to present bookbindings on the web, and for May 2020, another workshop was planned to take place in conjunction to the CERL meeting in Brussels. The main topic was supposed to be scientific methods for bookbindings and the materiality of books. Sadly, this event had to be cancelled due to the pandemic and it is yet unsure when workshops can be resumed. To highlight, for example, what may be going on in the field, local activities and project presentations, a Newsletter was therefore published instead and this activity will continue.

The Ligatus project is one form of collaboration that has been more active than others. Ligatus is a research centre on documentation in historical libraries and archives at the University of the Arts London and one of its main features is the Ligatus glossary called Language of Bindings. On a practical level, collaboration on defining bookbinding terms and adding them to the glossary has been the most recent activity and this will continue. The glossary is hierarchically arranged in a way that is adapted to linked open data through the underlying CIDOC-CRM ontology, and as this field emerges, the glossary can prove to be very useful for interconnecting information on bookbindings in different languages. As we all know, bookbinding terms are very language specific, so translations of terms are always needed and will become even more useful when connected to a common ontology.

I was very pleased to hear about the active Belgian Dutch bookbinding community that holds conferences, workshops and meetings, and I would like to invite you to please communicate and interact with the CERL bookbinding working group. You will find more information on the group at https://www.cerl.org/collaboration/work/binding/main . Who knows, when the pandemic finally loses its grip, there will be a chance to arrange a special meeting on topics related to our common interests, which I hope will repair the loss of our planned workshop in Brussels and later this year, I hope to come back with more information.

Kind greetings

Per Cullhed
Uppsala University Library