Bodleian Fasciculing

In September I visited the Bodleian conservation studios in Oxford to take part in their one day course “An introduction to Fasciculing”. Before starting at PZ Conservation, I had not come across this technique, or even the term, and so it was completely new to me. I had been asked to put together a training day for the Cornwall Archives Network on storing loose leaf/single sheet items, and was planning this day when the ICON email came through – great timing!

Fasciculing is a term coined by Christopher Clarkson who developed the technique in the 1970s at the Bodleian Library. The term comes from the Latin fasces: ‘a bundle of authoritative rods’ and later came to be know as fasciculus meaning ‘a part number of a work published in installments’. The technique was developed to combat the damage caused by binding up loose leaves, or single sheet material into guard books and other previous methods. These past structures have proved so damaging to the items they were supposed to protect, that finding an alternative method of protection for single sheet items was very important.

The fascicule itself is a system of storage for loose, single or double sheet papers. They are pamphlet-style bindings made up of blank, archival quality paper sheets with hooked guards as compensation. Papers are attached using a hinge of Japanese paper and wheat starch paste onto the pages of the fascicules, usually one or two items per page.  The fascicules are of a uniform size, and therefore do not have ragged edges, and the pages are larger than the items being hinged in, protecting them. They can be modified to suit each inserted item; if the item is thicker – e.g. a pamphlet, a page or two can be cut out making the compensating guard the correct thickness for the item. All manner of material can be inserted into the fascicules –parchment as well as paper, and photographs in polyester pockets (these are hinged in using EVA instead of WSP). Theoretically, the hinged items do not need to be handled and can be turned by manipulating the pages of the fascicule, and as each item is adhered to it’s own page abrasion between items is eliminated.

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It was explained to the attendees that the day would be jam packed, and we would be getting stuck in immediately to allow enough time for the paste to dry. We weren’t given any introduction to the structures at all, which made the mornings session slightly difficult, as we couldn’t see what we were aiming for. However after a while, all things became clear.

Each workstation was set out with a fascicule and a selection of papers that best represented the different types of material that could be inserted into the bindings; handmade paper, acid free tissue, card/manilla, postcards, newspaper etc. Also prepared, was a selection of “problem” pieces; extra long pieces, sheets with a torn spine edge, and losses along the spine edge.

We started by guarding up the sheets that were to be inserted and then followed a demonstration about how to handle and guard in the “problem” cases. There was then a short introduction to fascicules and a background to their development, and we were shown some examples of the type of items that can be hinged in, and some finished collections.  After the guards had dried, they were prepared for insertion into the bindings.

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After lunch we were given another demonstration of how to hinge in the items, which we followed. The tutors then showed us how the fascicules were made, in house. It was a fantastic course, run by conservators who knew so much about the subject, so we benefited greatly from their experience.

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