Making (in) Special Collections

June 22, 2023

Folding and sewing pages
Folding and sewing the pages for a hardcover binding.

When students come to Special Collections for class visits, one of the things we spend a lot of time talking about is how books are made. We have examples of lead type to show students how letters would have been arranged for printing. We have samples of different kinds of paper, including parchment, which can be calf, cow, lamb, or pig skin. We also have numerous examples of the different ways in which books are sewn, glued, stapled, or folded together. Students are fascinated by the multitude of book construction methods. During the 2022-2023 academic year we found another way to expand our hands-on instruction. Special Collections and Lauinger Library are fortunate to have the Maker Hub, where we can explore binding our own books! 

The Maker Hub is located on the first floor of Lauinger Library and is “a diverse community of makers, inventors, designers, and entrepreneurs who are passionate about creating and building things. The space is open to all students, faculty, and staff of the Georgetown community and offers a wide range of resources to help you develop your skills and explore your interests.” Equipment available for use in the Maker Hub includes 3D printers, laser cutters, woodworking tools, electronics equipment, textiles equipment, and more.

Setting up a book press
Volunteer Instructor Noah Martin setting up a book press for glue up.

"The Maker Hub greatly values its partnership with the Special Collections as a connection to the past as well as inspiration for the future," says Maker Hub Manager David Strout. "By combining the resources within Special Collections with the modern creative practices of the Maker Hub, students are encouraged to explore the intersection between art, history, and technology."

The Maker Hub offers workshops run by volunteers. Two volunteers in particular, Noah Martin and Elizabeth Kean, were interested in teaching hardcover and Japanese stab stitch binding workshops in the 2022-2023 fall and spring semesters. Special Collections jumped at the chance to have students learn how to bind their own books—as well as the chance to make our own!

Different binding styles
Students exploring different binding styles from Special Collections.

The Booth Family Center for Special Collections hosted portions of each workshop to share examples of different kinds of bindings, discuss book and printing history, and make use of some of our specialized equipment. The document camera in Booth’s classroom, designed to project larger images of books and manuscripts for the entire room, also let us share live and close-up video of book binding in process.

Document camera
Volunteer Instructor Elizabeth Kean demonstrates applying decorative paper to the book boards, using the document camera.

In each workshop, students left with a beautifully bound book and a newly made connection to the items in Special Collections. We look forward to continuing to partner with the Maker Hub to explore more book and printing making techniques.

2023 bookbinding workshop
Spring 2023 Japanese stab stitch workshop for creative writing students with their handmade books.

—Jay Sylvestre, Rare Books Curator