The art of book binding started in 1935 at Mertz Library. Librarian Sarah Havens Harlow wrote the Report of the Librarian to the Garden's Director- in- Chief Marshall Howe and stated the Workers Progress Administrator's (WPA) service provided an expert bookbinder to repair and rebind books. As Mertz Library collections evolved, library challenges emerged such as proper storage of books, environmental conditions (i.e. light, temperature, humidity, dust), age of books, deterioration of paper quality, library space and care and handling of books. Focusing on these factors, a handbook bindery program was officially established in 1966.
Image: Report of the Librarian,1935
Inventorying the library's holdings for damaged items, Gwendolyn Yvonne "Penny" Blackman worked on mending and repairing the Mertz Library's collections. Starting as a part time library Clerical Aide in 1967, her responsibilities included commercial bindery preparation routines and assisting the serials clerk and library secretary. Dividing her time between the bindery and public service departments, Blackman trained with bindery expert Laura Young and became a full-time staff member in 1969.
Image: Gwendolyn Yvonne "Penny" Blackman (Left: Technical Services department, Right: bookbindery department)
Using uda rice paper and wheat paste to reback the book spine, covering the book board with decorated paper and using vellum to make the bookcase spine, Blackman used bindery materials and techniques to restore an 18th century rare book item housed in Mertz Library,
"Furstelling der jenigen Statuten" by Simon Thomassin. An additional library item restored by Blackman was Robert Morisons (1672) plant taxonomy text, "Plantarum Umbelliferaum distributio nova"- applying hot glue on the book spine and using a silk English headband in brown and beige thread (a sewing method which provides additional support to the book spine).
Image: Furstelling der jenigen Statuten" by Simon Thomassin (Left: Vellum Spine,Right: Book overview)
Blackman's conservation skills went beyond Mertz collections. During the 1970s, the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries (CBHL) hosted a seminar on book conservation at the New York Botanical Garden where Blackman conducted a first aid book repair workshop with Mertz Conservator and peer, Judith Reed. A member of the Guild of Bookworkers organization, Blackman exhibited books and marbled papers with her colleague, book artist and conservator, Hedi Kyle at the Guild of Bookworks exhibition at Yale University's Sterling Memorial Library. By 1973-1975, Blackman became the handbook bindery supervisor and trained college work students and library volunteers. Under her supervision, forty prints and drawings were matted, framed and displayed across the library and executive offices. Known across the library as "Penny", Blackman was well liked for her work and received many compliments.
Image: Gwendolyn Yvonne "Penny" Blackman with Mertz Library Personnel
Through book board and book spine repairs, Blackman's meticulous book restoration procedures and techniques have helped improve book openings, protecting library books from further damage. In 2023, after examining Mertz rare book items restored by Blackman--Mertz Library Conservator Olga Marder affirmed the items were in good condition, a job well done. Blackman's devotion to preserving and conserving Mertz Library materials, support long term use for future generations.