Downie Allison Downie book repair course

SLLG member, Kirstie Hustler of the Advocates Library, reviews one of Downie Allison Downie’s bookbinding courses which are taught on Saturdays throughout the year at their workshop in Glasgow.

This was the second course I had attended at DAD Bookbinders and I was really looking forward to it. I had given my dad a place on the course as a birthday present so it turned out to be a very enjoyable “Daddy Daughter Day” as well as a day for learning new library related skills.


Take this hammer: book repair in action

The workshop was easy to find and close to the station. There was a cup of coffee and introductions on arrival and then we got stuck in. On this particular day there were four students and two teachers (Karen and Gemma) which ensured everyone had help when they required it. The atmosphere was friendly and supportive and we were even provided with lunch.

Each person had brought some books which were candidates for repair and we discussed them with the tutors and made our selection. My books weren’t very old (well no older than me) but were definitely well-used and well-loved.



First of all we had to mend any pages which were torn. This involved cutting paper to match the torn edge and attaching it using heat sensitive tape. I couldn’t believe I was ironing and actually enjoying it.

Using the techniques learned in the beginners class we created new covers for our old books. Some people peeled away the old spines and reattached them to the new bindings.

Another part of the process I really enjoyed was hammering the edges of the pages into a curve and rolling the new cover across a metal bar to create a curved spine. One of my books was an old paperback which was shedding its pages. I made a hard cover for this and it looks great. My other book was a big book of children’s stories and I had brought wrapping paper to use as a facing for the inside covers. I was very happy with the finished effect.


…and after

Finally we used a machine to stamp the book titles onto their new covers. At the end of the day we had breathed new life into old books and I really felt I had elevated old favourites into new treasures. I would really recommend you have a look through the scruffier parts of your library and sign up for this course.

Kirstie attended the Book Repair course, held on 28 April 2018 from 10am until 4pm, priced £75.00 including materials and lunch. Details of future bookbinding courses can be found on the DAD website.


BIALL workshop: European Union information, 21 March 2016. A review

SLLG member, Jane Condie of the Advocates Library successfully applied for an SLLG bursary to allow her to attend a BIALL workshop on EU information. This is Jane’s review of the course.


Course: BIALL Workshop – European Union Information

Trainer: Ian Thomson, Director of the European Documentation Centre, Cardiff University and Executive Editor of European Sources Online.

With the aid of a bursary from SLLG, I was able to attend a one day course at the University of the West of England – Frenchay Campus, Bristol last month. I stayed in a pleasant (but odd) guest house a few miles away from the venue – which made for an enjoyable walk to get there in the morning.

The Frenchay campus of UWE was unexpectedly large so I was fortunate to meet up with another course attendee at the gate. We navigated the way together. On arrival we were surprised by how un-library-ish the library building looked, but the presence of a large Shaun the Sheep statue reassured us we were in the right place (“…can you please meet us beside the Shaun the Sheep – Justice Baa Lamb – that is just inside the entrance to the Library…”).

Although the welcome was warm and the refreshments were yummy, I’m afraid I found this workshop somewhat disappointing. This was due, in part, to my having previously attended Ian Thomson’s course for the SLLG in 2013, but it had a good bit to do with organisational problems and an overly optimistic course timetable.

I will present my review using the course structure for headings:

Brief Introduction to the European Union
Key Institutions – Legislative Acts and Judicial decisions – How policy is made – Role of committees – Challenges

This introductory section was timetabled to last for only one hour. In practice it took up almost the entire morning. There was undoubtedly a lot of very interesting stuff here but as someone who has both attended his previous course and worked with Eur-lex for several years, I didn’t gain much new information.

Also, due to a breakdown in communication/organisation we spent more than half of the morning session without access to the detailed PowerPoint – full of links and information – the trainer had supplied. Neither he nor the organisers thought to direct us to, or even mention, the copy waiting for us on the university’s shared drive! We were just sitting in front of useless computers, listening to him talk. I don’t feel I lost out too much from this error but for those attendees new to EU law, the morning must have been an absolute blur of incomprehension.

However, I did learn about the existence of ‘Trilogues’ in the EU legislative process. About 85% of new legislative proposals have gone through this process in recent years. It speeds things up considerably but there is an issue about transparency. Although the Trilogues are not exactly secret there is no real way to obtain documents from these Trilogue sessions. The European Ombudsman is conducting a public consultation on the transparency of Trilogues. This is definitely something I’ll be keeping an eye on in future.

Searching for EU information / Guides to terminology
Search engines – EUROPA – FIND-eR – EU Bookshop – European Sources Online – Glossary – Eurojargon – IATE – Machine translation

A highlight of this section for me was probably the Search Europa site. This is basically a Google powered site, set up by the European Journalism Centre, to search the whole EUROPA portal. Ian thinks it’s better than Europa’s own search engine.

He also mentioned a number of archives which have digitised the kind of really old documents that are currently not available via Europa. He mentioned an American site – Archive of European Integration (AEI) – in particular.

Legislative and judicial information sources
EUR-LEX – Summaries of EU Legislation – Procedures (formerly PreLex) / Legislative Observatory – National Implementing Measures (NIMs) – Official Journal – COM Documents – Case law – Legal citations

There wasn’t much new information here sadly. I did however learn something interesting about the Commission’s new policy to improve the drafting of EU legislation: Consolidation, Codification and Recasting.

Consolidation has been used for a while in an attempt to simplify much amended legislation. Consolidated legislation is useful but not authoritative.

Codification brings together one or more Consolidated acts into one. The new piece of legislation passes through the full legislative process and replaces the older act(s).

Recasting is similar to Codification, in that it brings together one or more Consolidated acts, passes through the full legislative process and replaces the older acts. However, Recasting will also include substantive changes and amendments to the existing legislation. Ian Thomson says that this will be the preferred method in future.

Policy monitoring
Key documents to follow the activities of the European Commission, Council of the European Union, European Council, EU Presidency, European Parliament – European External Action Service – Registers of documents

According to my notes we seem to have pretty much skipped this section due to lack of time. Instead we engaged in a fairly lengthy ‘practical’ session which I didn’t find useful at all.

Role of an EU member State in the creation, adoption and implementation of EU law (using the UK as a case study)
Government – Government Departments – Parliament – MEPs – European Commissioners – Economic and Social Committee (etc)

This was the section I was most interested in, due to some recent enquiries I’ve had. I had been hoping for some insight into the location of implementation documentation but it wasn’t much more than a disappointingly vague overview of the process.

EU sources: EU Press Room – RAPID – EU Calendar – TV and web-streaming
Non-EU sources: EUObserver – EurActiv – Politico – Europe Media Monitor – Newspapers – Radio and TV – ESO – Blogs – Social media

Nothing noteworthy mentioned here.


I’m sorry if this report seems unduly harsh but I really was hoping for more from this workshop. However, in a spirit of optimism and positivity, I will finish by listing three things I did get from the day.

I learned about:

  1. The existence of ‘Trilogues’ in the EU legislative process.
  2. Digital archives of old EU documents.
  3. Consolidation, Codification and Recasting.

Thanks for the bursary SLLG!


Justice Baa Lamb – lives in the UWE Frenchay library now


Thanks for the review of this course, Jane. If any member would like to apply for a bursary as Jane did, to allow you to attend training, please see details in the members’ only section of the group webpages or talk to a member of the committee. 

Emergency planning and disaster recovery for collections – the bigger picture, 4th December 2015

An SLLG member imparts some learning outcomes from a recent course on disaster management.

Emergency planning and disaster recovery for collections – the bigger picture
Harwell, Polygon, AXA
Scottish Parliament
4th December 2015


This half day course concentrated on managing collection recovery when it has undergone a catastrophe. The course specifically looked in detail about the element already known as good practice in collection care, business continuity and content salvage – the Disaster Plan – and focussed on working at the extreme end of it.

Most collections have some sort of plan in place as contingency for actions when faced with small or self-contained “disasters”. However, a key to every plan is when to acknowledge the point where additional or expert help is required.

The course was taken by three presenters: one of each from collections, buildings and insurance backgrounds. All three have been involved in the ongoing aftermath of the Glasgow School of Art fire, which both highlighted a need for this course and was a useful illustration to hang each of the presentations together.

Planning for deeper considerations
Emma, Director of Harwell, introduced the overall theme of the course: Disaster recovery, no matter how big or small, relies on time being used at its most efficient.

Recovery management is best planned because:

  • Robust planning automatically embeds efficiency
  • Planning makes responses quicker
  • Planned actions are invariably positive
  • Better planning mean actions run in parallel. Removing single or linear decision making is vital when the plan is asked to cope with a catastrophe

To complicate matters, major disasters seem to occur when least expected or prepared for. Building contractors are often working during unsociable hours. Containable incidents are more likely to develop catastrophically when there is no one around.

To compound this, major disasters do not only affect the collection. They are usually building wide. An incident rooted under another department’s jurisdiction can cause a disaster for a collection. Water can run internally and unpredictably in a building’s infrastructure. Fire can take unusual turns and the smoke affect rooms far from the source.

With these complications in mind, Emma highlighted aspects which are often overlooked in disaster planning.

Disaster plans should not assume the people responsible will be immediately able to take charge. Various people must therefore be given delegated responsibility to action decisions and even limited finance privileges to get the plan progressed.

The plan should detail when an emergency is an actual emergency. It should have a shortcut to both contact expert services and alert those who work or are involved in the building to act according to the plan when such a scenario has been discovered.

Any good plan requires full staff engagement and awareness of it. All those working in the building will be affected to a degree in a major incident and should take an investment in being prepared to form a capable support structure.

When developing a plan at the catastrophe level of a situation there are a number of subtle aspects to consider:

  • Who is actually a stakeholder in the plan? Collections will only be a piece of the whole when faced with a catastrophe. Users of the collections, other employees, those with financial investments in the collections and everyone else with a purpose must be included
  • Is there a bias of priorities in the plan? Workplace politics and inter-department conflicts can add bias in planning. These need carefully untangled to ensure everyone is working in the same direction
  • Is there known personal conflicts which would hinder working relationships in a plan? Teamwork is critical at the level of recovery.
  • Can the teams do the work? A good example is if a team is too short without a step to attach protective sheeting on high shelves, could taller people be introduced to that team?
  • Don’t forget Health & Safety to be written into a plan. People are always more important
  • Is there a system in place to ensure the teams’ morale is maintained? Often the work will be difficult and tiring so having someone regularly providing hot drinks and food can be crucial

The plan can even be used to control the environment to mitigate disasters in the first place. Are people regularly monitoring their workspace? Does the plan include service and equipment check details?

Plan content
Emma explained one of the most common hindrances in a disaster plan is content overload.

With so much to consider in planning for disaster recovery it is not surprising, but too much information is a danger to that one thing a plan should be: a tool to make initial decisions correctly and quickly under pressure.

Disaster plans which require looking through an index, or flicking past introductory passages, can cost time and cause confusion and this is not a good thing.

Remember what was said at the beginning: Disasters tend to occur when least expected, often when those with responsibility are not able to take charge right away.

A disaster plan should strive to be no more than 1 page.

But then, disasters are complex; major incidents involve large scale planning. So Emma proposes the following solution:

  • Create a separate disaster plan document for each disaster possibility
  • Give a document corresponding to each individual with just their responsibility

Plan priorities
Emma explained that most people making plans are keen to confirm collection priorities. However, the way priorities are worked out beforehand can be problematic when encountering a major disaster.

Often the priorities can change when faced with triaging a vast collection. It is important the plan can adapt pragmatically to the situation:

  • Take into account deterioration rates and costs to restore materials
  • Adjust plans to the time and effort in evacuating materials. Which do not consume the most front line resources at the expense of triaging the materials once evacuated?

Consider the extent of the salvage operation and again adjust the plan:

  • 20 books placed in crates in 3 minutes vs. carefully bandaging, labelling and then crating 20 books for 30 minutes
  • 20 Books triaged over 2 tables vs. 20 files of loose documents requiring 20 tables

In summary – be picky with the priorities once you’ve assessed the situation.

Emma gave a short list of ‘must-haves’ for any disaster equipment box:

  • Polythene sheeting
  • Absorbents of various sizes
  • Pre-made labels

Emma went a little further with suggesting that there could be an order form ready to submit for personal equipment (jacket and shoe sizes).

Above all, the plan and equipment need to match one another and staff well practiced in using both.

What else?
With a large scale recovery it is vital to gain support. To do this, do not be afraid to broadcast the situation.

  • Be aware of where the expert help is. Waiting until a disaster before sourcing professional conservation services is a bad idea
  • Maintain good links with other collection managers nearby. Often reciprocal agreements can mean a sharing of resources
  • Use social media. An established social media presence can be used to inform and interact with interested parties easily and can be vital in gaining advice and perhaps even more support

Case studies
Finally Emma provided some of her experiences with a couple of case study examples.

  • A law firm sat with saturated documents in their store for 7 weeks while tendering out for a conservation contract. By the time they opted for a company the documents were irretrievable
  • Talking to a public document collections manager after a disaster, they judged the success of their recovery as near 50:50 sticking to the disaster plan and good team work in adjusting to the circumstances
  • A fine art collection based their priorities on valuations of the works. It took 6 firemen 10 minutes to decide the highest valued painting was too awkward to remove, while the estimated cost of the artwork being destroyed elsewhere overtook the value of that single painting
  • A successful evacuation of a collection included every detail and decision logged by a team member. The result was the insurance company paid out full compensation

Emma reiterated to never underestimate the time, effort and space required in any disaster recovery and the advantage in factoring in support at every point.

Building in disaster planning
Simon, Director of Polygon, gave a brief talk on why considering the building itself is vital as part of disaster planning.

The best place to re-house a collection after a disaster is where it came from. It fits. Therefore it is in everyone’s interest to get the building back to standard as soon as possible.

There is another reason why attention to the building is a must. A catastrophe will almost certainly mean restricted access to part if not all the building. All the while the collections are inside, potentially degrading.

Gaining access will be the job of the emergency services. Being taken seriously by the emergency services is a big advantage. The services want to work with you and speed up the process of giving you access. Provide the services with all the information possible about the building:

  • Floor plans and layout
  • Materials used in the structure
  • Where fire extinguishers and power sockets are
  • Where priorities in the collection are located

If you have plans, good personal safety equipment and are willing to work with the emergency services then access to the collections can be improved.

Finally, a means of securing the building is a high priority:  Personal valuables in desks, expensive company equipment, parts of the collection all need secured if yet to be retrieved.

Insurance – what is it good for?
James, underwriter at AXA ART, was the last to speak.

The role of the insurer is a main part of preparing a plan for any disaster. The insurer’s number should be right up there on the disaster plan. Quickly getting settlement of an insurance claim after a catastrophic incident is crucial in enabling the expert services to begin work.

When the Glasgow School of Art went on fire, within a day 75% of their insurance policy was settled.

James gave some advice about not only choosing the correct insurer and insurance, but also how to gain better terms.

Let insurance influence good disaster planning by letting it answer some of the questions the insurer will want answered:

  • What is the precise value of the collection?
  • How is the disaster plan written up?
  • Who is involved in ‘signing off’ on the disaster plan?
  • How is the disaster plan challenged and improved?
  • What is being done to assess the risk to the collection?
  • What precautions to mitigate loss are in place?
  • What do you want to happen to the collection after a disaster?

Taking an insurer confidently through those aspects will likely gain a collection more favourable policy terms.

It is equally important to get the correct insurance. James pointed out a specialist insurer does not mean “more expensive” – it means it is more tailored to get the correct “basis of settlement”. That is, what will trigger the settlement:

  • Compensation
  • Replacement
  • Reinstatement
  • Conservation

If the collection is destroyed in a fire and the basis of settlement is only for conservation – the policy will not trigger because there is nothing to conserve.

Getting advice and interviewing insurers is recommended. Don’t be afraid to question the insurer’s experience with similar collections, or what an underwriter’s understanding of a type of collection is.

This course was also a bit of a sales pitch, but the practical information was valuable as both a refresher to attendees and for genuinely practical insights on larger scale thinking when support, insurance and pre-planning will contribute hugely to successful recovery of collections.

Further Reading:
SLLG members might like to read the 7 principles of good disaster preparation in “Disaster planning”, Issue 49 (Mar.) 2013, by the same author.

An SLLG member’s visit to the Library Hotel in New York, July 2015

Library Way, NY

Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Library Way?

SLLG member, Lissie, didn’t need to pack any holiday blockbusters when she travelled to New York this summer and stayed at the Library Hotel.

If you’re planning to go on holiday and can’t quite bear to leave your work at home, then The Library Hotel is probably for you.

Located in Midtown Manhattan, the hotel is one block away from the New York Public Library, right in the middle of a two-block stretch of East 41st Street that was renamed ‘Library Way’ in the late 1990s. The sidewalks are decorated with bronze plaques containing literary-themed quotes, enabling me to experience the real rage that New Yorkers feel towards tourists who stand still and stare at the ground!

A library poem on Library Way between The Library Hotel and the New York Public Library. Deep breaths, now.

A library poem on Library Way between The Library Hotel and the New York Public Library. Deep breaths, now

The hotel itself has completely embraced the library theme. It’s not just a normal hotel with lots of extra bookshelves! All of the bedrooms have their own subject and are organised following the Dewey Decimal system. There are ten floors, each floor corresponding to one of the ten main categories of the Dewey Decimal System, and the type of room determines your decimal. We ended up on the eighth floor – Literature – and were staying in a “Petite” room, meaning that our theme was Poetry!

Bookshelf in the Library hotel

Bookshelf in the Library hotel room

Why not stay in the law library room?

Why not Law, I hear you ask? When we first looked at the hotel we wanted to stay in the Law room, but it turned out to be slightly out of our price range. Those third-floor junior suites don’t come cheap!

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. The Petite Room really lived up to its name. But despite its size, there were books aplenty!

Library hotel bookcase

Library hotel room bookcase

Most of the Library Hotel’s books have been donated. I had fun finding messages and dedications written inside some of them, when I wasn’t busy photographing every library-themed object in the room, that is!

An inscription in one of the books

An inscription in one of the books



Unsurprisingly, I loved staying in The Library Hotel. As New York hotels go, it’s pretty on the small side, and doesn’t have a lot of the amenities that other Midtown hotels can offer. However, you immediately forgive them when you see the staff’s incredible attention to detail and obvious love of the library concept: Chocolates! Pillows! Umbrellas that definitely weren’t worth $25.00!

I would definitely stay again. The only real downside is that after travelling all the way to New York, I wanted nothing more than to curl up in bed with a good book!

Book quote pillow

Book quote pillow

Library quoting chocolate

Library quote chocolate

“keep your books dry”: buy an overpriced umbrella

For more information (and vastly superior photography), visit

Library Way plaque image taken from