February 19, 2013—As 20 Girl Scouts gathered at Houghton Library on a recent Saturday to learn about bookbinding, Todd Pattison couldn’t help but remember a similar event from his youth that set him on his career path.
“When I was the age these girls are now, I was in the Boy Scouts, and at the time, they completed merit badges for bookbinding. When I completed that merit badge, it really changed my life,” said Pattison, a collections conservator with the library. “I went on to apprentice in bookbinding because it resonated so much with me, and it’s been my profession ever since, so it had this life-altering effect on me. When I found out that the Girl Scouts offered a Book Artist Cadette Badge, I really wanted to share that unique craft with other young people.”
Working with Girl Scout leaders, Pattison helped to coordinate the bookbinding event, bringing the 20 middle-school girls to the Harvard Library from Concord, West Roxbury, Arlington, North Reading, Belmont and Lexington. The girls, all between the ages of 11 and 14, came to Harvard on January 26 to complete the five necessary steps for the badge. They explored the art of bookbinding, became familiar with the internal structure of books, experimented with various book artist techniques, and focused on both function and style in creating their own pamphlets and scrolls.
Anne Kern, a retired Harvard librarian, worked with Pattison and Girl Scout leadership to help coordinate the event.
The program began with an overview of the Edison and Newman Room in Houghton Library, where reference librarian James Capobianco spoke about the historical books, as well as sharing how the library is organized. The program shifted to hands-on training with Sarah Smith, book arts instructor at the Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, at Lamont Library. Smith showed the cadettes how a book is structured, particularly its cover parts and binding.
The cadettes then began to construct their own books. Lauren Telepak, collections conservator, showed the cadettes how to construct an accordion book, in which the pages are folded, and a traditional book, in which the pages are sewn together. Each of the cadettes created a 16-page pamphlet and sewed it to create a finished book.
“They were so excited,” Telepak said. “They had a lot of great, insightful questions. I think they really enjoyed understanding how books are put together, what’s underneath a book’s binder—sort of how books work. Here at the libraries, we’re biased about things like that, but it was great to see them share that interest and excitement.”
By far the most ambitious and time-consuming project came next, as Susi Barbarossa, conservation technician at Harvard Library, showed the cadettes how to turn a sewn pamphlet into a hardcover binding. Barbarossa said one of the aspects of the event that impressed her was the team effort across several of Harvard’s libraries.
After folding four sheets of paper and sewing them together to create a textblock, Barbarossa showed the cadettes how to attach a spine strip and dual boards to create the binding. Once the cadettes had glued the first and last pages to the interior of the book boards, the girls used decorated paste paper to personalize their books.
“It was great to have people from several libraries—Widener and Lamont and Houghton—all working together to make this happen for the girls, who really got into the project,” Barbarossa said. “We’ve already started talking about doing more events like this specifically for the Book Artist Badge, so hopefully we’ll be able to do this for other Girl Scouts as well.”
In the final event of the program, Brittany Fay, library assistant in the Chemistry Library, presented information on scrolls before helping the cadettes to create their own. Using dowels and long strips of paper, and adding a cloth tape to hold the scroll closed, each girl constructed her own five-foot scroll.
Pattison, who hopes to make the bookbinding program a regular event for other Girl Scouts, said that one of his prized possessions from the event is the thank-you note the cadettes sent to the event’s coordinators.
“They produced a five-foot long scroll, which of course they learned about during our event—I have it at my desk right now,” Pattison said. “It’s really beautiful. I mean, you can’t ask for much better feedback than that.”
“The girls really appreciated the program,” Kern said. “It was so generous for Harvard to coordinate this for us...it was a really wonderful event, and I hope it will continue and grow so other Girl Scouts can learn from the program as well.”