Monday, December 29, 2008

Deconstruction And Decommissioning (part 1)

Part 3 of The Library Chronicles.


Question for everyone: how many of you out there like destroying things? Especially at work and especially with permission? Okay, let me count the hands: 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 15, 20....hmmm...looks like everyone does.

Ahhh....celebrating the inner child.

The next major component of my job involved creating the main source of food needed in order to produce the finished product called microfilm: pages and pages of newspaper.

The formula for creating this food source was a bit time consuming and fairly tedious. Time consuming in that there were a multiple of steps to taken and sub steps to be taken if certain situations arose (sort of like a BASIC language computer command: if a+b=c then do d, otherwise if a+b=d, then do c); tedious because some of the newspapers we worked with were old and some cases, fragile.

For the most part though, what follows is what I did for the next five years.

1. Retrieve the chosen newspaper from the attic. Now this wasn't as easy as it sounds. I went up with my co-worker and usually the volumes we needed were high up on the stacks (each stack had about fifteen shelves, minimum space width: two feet) and quite frequently we had no ladder to do this. Spidering was a very heavily used way of climbing.

2. Load up one to two carts and haul them back to the preservation room (again, not as easy as it sounds. For those of you who have done landscaping or home improvement, you'll immediately understand that pushing anywhere from 100 to 300 pounds of bound volumes of newspapers isn't an easy thing to do).

3. After putting them away in the various holding areas (shelves and pallets), I choose a volume to disassemble. I bring it over to my work area and whip out my handy dandy paring knife. Within thirty seconds, I had both covers and the spine covering removed, and I was ready to obliterate the interior.

4. Obliterating the interior simply meant taking a quarter inch section of newspaper and forcibly removing it from its brethren. Usually this process takes anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes, depending on the size and condition of the newspaper.

5. After turning a respectable four inch wide volume of newspaper into a ten to twelve inch stack of fractured parts, it was time to trim off the glue from the edge without wiping out the text.

Note: On older newspapers, particularly those from the 19th century, they printed text all the way to the gutter (fold). The worst thing I could do was to chop off the glue and remove a few letters of text from each line.

So I carried my disemboweled volume of newspaper over to a seriously big ass table top paper cutter.

Brief description: this thing was literally four feet by four feet, with a spring loaded pedal clamp and four plus foot arm for a blade. With this thing, you could cut (among other things) about forty-fifty pages at a clip.

6. Trimming the newspaper. This required a good eye and a keen sense of knowing how poorly the volumes were put together. Because this was something you couldn't simply blitz through willy nilly, it took me on average about fifteen to twenty minutes to do.

I got to be really good at what I did on the table cutter. So good in fact, that I was the catalyst for the introduction of a nifty safety feature that was added to the process in 1998.

How did I accomplish this fascinating feat of creativity?

I chopped off my fingertip.

Up next: Deconstruction and Decommissioning (part 2)


  1. The good old days, when one was young fit and healthy and paper was the ONLY means of communication, not variations of pixels.

    Looking forward to part2

  2. I'm sorry to hear about the fingertip. But this sounds pretty interesting. I'm sure it would get old eventually but it's neat to learn how this is done.

  3. Dave: Absolutely. I grew up in a household where newspaper reading was a necessity of life. My newspaper reading has dropped off dramatically, simply because there are no good papers in my neck of the woods anymore.

    Charles: Thanks. It does get interesting as I get deeper into this. Believe me, it took a lot of work on my part to even get it up to interesting. I think what saved my bacon for the time spent doing this, is that I love history. And while doing this job, I was able to get more background on more well known events of the past 150+ years or so, than I would ever be able to get simply from books or video.

  4. Man, does that sound tedious.

    However, it would be cool to read all those old newspapers.

  5. It was exceptionally so.

    It did get to the point where we (meaning everyone there), would look for a certain constant and compare how it was presented in different newspapers.

    Example: Menus at hotels. Back around the turn of the century, hotels would advertise what their food menu was for a typical week. It got to be really interesting seeing what your 75 cents (which back then was the equivelant of about $10 today), would buy for a five to seven course meal.

    So we would compare the different food menus advertised in the various local newspapers, just to see what was popular back then, that would be considered a major turn off now (among other things)


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