When Books Talk

Savannah Willards Social Life of Books site.

The Final Countdown #4 – If I add brackets will it work?

Coding is hard and B.Pauley is the bomb(dot)com.

I’m actually pretty sure those were the words I used verbatim when working on the timeline this past week, trying to make everything look the way we wanted it. I truly do not know what I would do without Dr. Pauley and his coding genius because my menial knowledge of CSS coding was getting me nowhere.  It was to the point where I was typing anything I could think of and adding brackets to see if it would work!  Ultimately we got it figured out, (thank you Bens!) and the timeline is near-perfection now. I have a couple more slides to finish typing up, still waiting for some information, but it is uploaded on our website now if anyone wants to check it out.

Once that mess was finally fixed, Mary Haynes and I turned our attention back to scanning. We FINALLY finished all of the books for this project after two long nights in the archives, and can now focus on the website itself and getting everything polished.

It is strange to think that we are getting towards the finish-line with this project, it has felt so all-consuming. We only have to edit our interviews and get pages posted, but other than that we are pretty much there. I ironically called this series of posts ‘the final countdown’, but now it’s starting to feel real and I don’t know how I feel about that.

The Final Countdown #3 – Reasons why we should forget the 90’s

Here is a list of all things wrong with the 1990s:

  • Glue sticks – I know we were all infatuated with the purple Elmer’s glue stick, thinking it was the best thing to hit us since jelly bracelets, but gee were we wrong. Those suckers don’t hold a thing. Sure they might have for the first year or so these Production Books were put into the archives, but 12 years later? Everything was falling out of these books.
  • Plastic screws – Have you ever had to deal with these? They are little plastic screws that you put into another tubular screw in order to hold something together. If you haven’t, then learn about them now before you have to face them because they are the WORST (If you don’t know what they are, which we did not). It took Mary Haynes and me so long to figure out how these things worked, let alone how to get them unscrewed. I almost broke one because I could not for the life of me figure out how to keep one end from moving while twisting the other. It was awful.
  • Random objects? – There is something about 1994 and gluing random objects into the books for decoration. We saw ribbons, bows, monopoly pieces, cloth dolls, some of the oddest things you could think of. I blame the Gold Side’s circus theme.
  • Plywood covers- You read right folks, plywood. For the covers. Yepp, Purple’s 1994 Production Book was made out of three plywood pieces hinged together to create a book. Believe it or not, that’s one of the most reasonable things these books have been made from before they were regulated.
  • Glitter – All I’m going to say is that Mary Haynes sat down one of the books and glitter shot out. We still don’t know from where.

So in conclusion, knowing that 1994 is one of the more docile years when it comes to the Production Books makes me cringe. There is a reason the College Night committee added a Legacy Product aspect to the Production book scoring in 2003, because these books were not made for preservation. At all.


On the plus side, we did get our IRB approval and knocked out one of our interviews! So not all was lost to the 90s woes.


The Final Countdown #2 – I need a calendar

This past week was Spring Break for us Montevallans (Montevallites?), so there is not much to report from Mary Haynes and me. Although, apparently I need to make more use of my calendar alerts because the break mind-set had me 15 minutes late to class this past Tuesday; I was so scrambled that I had to log in on my phone and participate in class while mooching off a Starbucks’ wifi. Let’s just say I do not think I will make the same mistake again.

That being said, it was not entirely unproductive because we did get our IRB Report submitted. The IRB was not extensive, but it was annoyingly detailed. Of course I understand why it must be that way for high-risk projects, but for simple interviews a lot of it seemed redundant. Because of my Communication Studies major I was bound to run into the IRB reports eventually, so I am glad I got to get familiar with them now. We are still waiting to hear back about it, so updates to come on that.

Now that we are back on campus, it’s time to hit the ground running with this project–and school in general. I feel like I need to make a very intense to-do list for this next month, but I’d be afraid as to what it would look like. As far as this class specifically, it seems like a lot still has to happen but I think most of it is just getting it down on the website. Interviews aside, we have almost all of the information we need for the project, it’s just a matter of writing it out. Mary Haynes and I planning on meeting after class tomorrow to discuss a divvying up of the work, so hopefully that will help–to use a season-appropriate saying–get all of our eggs in the basket.

The Final Countdown #1 – Yikes

Well. This is going to take longer than expected.

I fondly look back on a time where we were guessing the Production Books were only about 50 pages each, that 50 pages would not take long to scan and that this part of the project would be a breeze.  Gee were we wrong.

Our trip to the library this past Thursday night was actually our second day of scanning (yes, we were a little behind schedule and only had the first book done). Determined to keep up with our set goals, we convened at 7:00 PM and decided we would not leave until we got through both 1958 and 1969.  Needless to say, we had our work cut out for us. By the time Mary Haynes and I crawled out of the recesses of the archives around 12:30 AM, the only things we knew were “Preview” “Scan” “Add Page”. What took us so long was the nightmarish discovery that the Production Books actually average around 75-80 pages a piece; I can only thank the heavens we narrowed down to 9 books total instead of getting ambitious.

I will say that the actual books, as opposed to the early years of regulatory folders like 1958 had, went a lot faster. While it seemed like there was more content in them, they were missing all of the miscellaneous receipts and scrap pieces that made up the folders. That being said, I am glad that we were able to deal with a couple of years of the folders so that we could show why the Production Books became the big deal that they are now. Seeing the disorganization and missing pieces of years without the books, it gives us more insight into how the Books became actual books.

Hopefully now that we know what it takes to scan the books, we can plan our course of action from here on much more efficiently. We still have a lot of archive hours ahead of us, but this gave us the solid start that we needed to get our heads in the game.

Assignment #5 – A Book’s Owners

You know how when renovating a room, you have to scrape all of the wallpaper off the walls and it is easy and super tedious, but you know it’s going to be worth it in the end? That’s kind of how this assignment went for me. This week we were asked to once again use technology I had previously never dealt with before, and considering last week’s results, I was cautious to say the least. Surpisingly enough, I did not have as many troubles this time around. While data scraping is definitely not how I would like to spend an afternoon, much like peeling wallpaper off it was more tedious than anything.
Once I finally got all of the data, painstakingly putting it through Google Sheet after Google Sheet, I was ready to take on Kumu. Once again, I was surpised how user-friendly it was. (Maybe Zotero and I are just not meant to be.) Although there are some discrepancies with my map, such as the random gray circles that did not want to get color coded, overall it turned out pretty well.

I used the Bristol Baptist Academy’s records of 1860 from Dissenting Academies database:

Authors = Blue dots

Books = Yellow dots

Assignment #4 – A Book’s Location

For this assignment I decided on a whim to use Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s Don Quixote (English translations), knowing that there was a copy in our archives here. I struggled and struggled with the software due to my own technological ineptness, but finally after hours of having too many tabs open on my computer at once, I was able to make a map. This map shows the distribution of editions of Don Quixote from 1620 to 1799. Unsurpisingly enough, most of them were published in London (which is why it is red, because I color-coded by concentration), but there a few more here and there, obviously centralized in the UK and Ireland. As you can see, there was one stray over in Maryland, which was slightly out of place, but I guess not too odd because it was a later copy (1781).

Color-Coded by Concentration:

London – 59 copies (red)

Dublin – 9 copies (orange)

Glasgow – 3 copies (yellow)

Coventry – 1 copy (green)

Edinburgh – 1 copy (green)

Assignment #3 – A Book’s Life

New software, new language, and a new way to think of books, these are the oppurtunities that this week’s assignment has given me. We were asked to pick a book with a deep, preferrably mappable history and create a timeline of its life (see below). This project was intimidating at first, but once Mary Haynes and I got going, it actully gave us some really amazing insights into just what a book can hold if you look deep enough. The book we ended up using was actually discovered on a whim; I happened to grab it off the shelf and notice that it definitely was not in English. Ultimately it were the signs of ownership that caught our attention, and you’ll see why in the timeline. We thought that using the unfamiliar timeline software was going to be the most intimidating part of this project, but it turns out that translating Danish and using Norwegian census data is a lot more difficult. Even so, we made it work and discovered some facinating things about just how far a book can travel.

Assignment #2 – A Book’s Beginnings

It’s week two of our Social Life of Books class, and the university’s archives were calling once again. This time, we were on a mission; having covered a brief introduction to bibliography, everyone in the class was asked to identify certain traits of a book’s beginnings and figure out the format in which it was made. With that goal in mind, my partner Mary Haynes and I each grabbed a book and went to work.

I decided to use the oldest book in the Montevallo archives, which we identified last week:  The Satires of Decimus Junius Juvenalis, 3rd ed. with sculptures. Published 1702. You can read more about this book in my first post here.



The first thing I noticed was the surpisingly recent binding for such an old book. I quickly discovered that this book was rebound by C.F. Rothweiler Bookbinding in Zion, Illinois, but the original binding can be seen attached to the new binding. When rebound, the title from the original binding was glued onto the new spine, something common for older books that have been rebound.

Because they simply covered the old binding, there was no effect on the page margins which can often be cut off when the original is not kept. Although it is unfortunate that the original binding fell apart, because it happened I was able to clearly see the 5-stitch bindings. I was interested in how exactly the falling apart; upon further inspection is appeared to have split in three even sections, but there was evidence of smaller spitting happening as well. Mary Haynes and I came to the conclusion that this book was probably bound in smaller sections that were put into three bigger sections, and then finally bound together as a whole.



Right off the bat knew that the paper is laid, not wove. We can tell because with laid paper, you can see the impression of what are called “chainlines”, the wires that this style of paper is pressed against to be formed. Of the visible chainlines, there were mostly horizontal but on pages with images added the vertical wires can be seen as well (see left versus right images below). All of the pages are opened and are trimmed, meaning the edges are cleanly cut without jagged or still folded ends. Unfortunately, I could not find a printer’s watermark despite looking for quite a while.





This is where, in my opinion, things got interesting. Signature are signals that tell printers how the large pages that are all printed at once are supposed to be folded. There were signatures at the bottom of the pages in groups of four. They were denoted by letters of the alphabet, starting with A, and continued until they had to start over with Aa. The interesting part about it was that the signatures were four on, four off. As you can see in the pictures, the pages followed an A1, A2, A3, A4 pattern but then followed by 4 pages without a signature. This has to do with the ultimate format of the book.



Based on the evidence we found (and a little origami on my part), I’ve come to the conclusion that this book was created using an octavo format. Octavo means that, when compiled to be printed, there were 8 “leaves” (front and back pages) formatted per large sheet that went through the printing press. The biggest indicator of this was the signatures and their sets of four. As stated, signatures are used to keep track of how the sheet needs to be folded in order to keep the book pages in order, so it is safe to also assume that each new set of signatures means a new set of pages. If this is the case, that means there would be 8 leaves and 16 pages, hence, octavo format.



When counting pages for format, you cannot include illustrations when it comes to early versions of printing. This is because illustrations were often lino-types or woodcuts and had to be printed on different types of paper and added later. In this book, there were full page illustrations, generally with a blank page on the opposing side. This told me that the illustrations were in fact printed separately and then bound together with the rest of the pages. Unfortunately, it slipped my mind to snap a picture of a whole illustration, but in this picture you can see part of one next to title page.



What caught my attention the most from examining the book was the way the typesetting worked. I knew in theory how it worked, but once I got to see the books up close it was then that the idea of hand-laying each letter became most evident and impressive. The first thing I noticed was actually a misprint in one of the signature series, as you can see in the pictures below.

After that I started looking for mistakes, but then stumbled upon something much more telling of the handmade nature of the book. Apparently when a page used too much of a single letter and the printer would run out, they would substitute other letters to make it work, usually with W’s and V’s as you can also see in the pictures.

Out of everything I found, I think my favorite was something that is a product of the time this book was written. I kept finding all of these works with seemingly random f’s where one would assume s’s would go. Having seen these before but never getting an explanation, we asked the archivist and discovered that back then, the f indicated a long s as opposed to a short s sound.


Overall, this visit was one of my favorite learning experiences that involved a lot of self-discovery. I had no idea that the structure of a book could be so fascinating, and I have a feeling I will never look at book bindings the same again. (Nor will my friends, because I’m a sharer when it comes to fun facts like this.)

Assignment #1 – The First Visit

This past week we were asked to take a trip down to our local archives and meet the archivist. The archivist here at Montevallo is a fun man named Carey Heatherly, and he was a huge help in finding what we needed for our assignment. My partner Mary Haynes and I, armed with our questions and notebook, were ready to do some digging.

The first question had to do with the oldest book in the archives. We ended up with a the third edition of The Satires of Decimus Junius Juvenalis published in 1702. This particular copy was printed by Jacob Tonson, an 18th century bookseller and publisher famous for buying the copyrights to William Shakespeare’s plays. We do not know exactly how it ended up in the United States, let alone in Alabama, but we did discover through the archive’s book logs that the College bought it for $6.50 on February 8,1952 from someone known only as “Elizabeth Bkseller”.

The spine of The Satires

(Juvenal, Decimus. The Satires of Decimus Junius Juvenalis, 3rd ed. with sculptures. Jacob Tonson. Greys-Inn-Gate, London, 1702.)


Our professors then asked us to find a book with visible signs of wear and use  After searching for a bit, the best example we could find was a 1960 copy of The Mind of the South by W.J. Cash. This book had significant amount of both underlining and marginalia.


With the help of the archivist we discovered that this book actually belonged to Ethel Rasmusson. Ethel was not only an avid donator to the archives, but also an instructor of history at the University of Montevallo. She received her master’s degree from the University of Chicago, and mainly taught History 101 and 102. Based on the areas underlined and the marginalia, we assume that this book as used to teach part of her class.

Minds of the South by W.J. Cash

(Cash, W.J. The Mind of the South, 1st Vintage Ed. Vintage Books Inc. New York, 1960.)


Finally, our professors sent us out to discover a collection within the archives. When told this, the archivist pointed us towards the Library of Science collection. Identifiable by a stamp on the inside of the cover, this ongoing collection is made up of children’s books with vibrant drawings in them.

The identifying stamp that shows this book is a part of the collection

Some of the books included are stories like Gulliver’s Travels by Swift, The Haunted Bookshelf by Morley, Merrylips by Dix, and many more. The cool part about this collection comes for the history of it. Mainly used during the 20’s and 30’s, these books were used in classrooms to show prospective teachers how to build a classroom library. We did some digging and actually found the course descriptions of the classes that used this collection. Book Selection was the name of the class, under the code of LS (Library Science) 301/302; the class was taught by Greta Largo who was an assistant professor in Library Science.  The significance of this collection stems from our area’s deep history in education for women because not only was it taught during the time of Alabama College for women but, also because Education was (and still is) the largest major on campus.

The collection of children’s books

The first visit to the archives was a complete success, and I cannot wait to discover more and more as this course continues.

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