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A group of students works around a large table featuring various atlases and tools of bookbinding.
The group at work. Photo: Katherine Kelly, 2023.

Atlas Binding Workshop

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The following is a guest post by book conservator Katherine Kelly.

In early March, a workshop was held in the Book Conservation Section of the Preservation Directorate. The goal of this workshop was to create a model demonstrating a variety of map folding, attachment, and compensation methods.

Various folded and unfolded books and papers sit on a grey table, demonstrating the many types of book foldouts.
The Atlas Binding Model, opened eight different ways. Photo: Katherine Kelly, 2023.


In our daily work of repairing and rebinding books from the Library’s collections, we book conservators frequently run into the challenges of foldouts. Within books being repaired, we find torn folds and detached parts, and we also occasionally create entirely new bindings for books that contain foldouts.

A close up of an old book spine showing the opened book and a classic foldout method.
A common historical method of attaching maps into a book as seen in Joan Blaeu’s Atlas Maior, vol. 11, 1667, Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division. Photo: Katherine Kelly, 2023.


Our standard techniques for mending and binding must be adjusted to accommodate odd sized pages and extra attachment methods. Over the years, I have found it helpful to have examples of a wide variety of techniques, so that when these challenges arise, I have a toolbox of solutions to refer to and to select from. This workshop was designed to make just such a model. It consists of 16 different maps, each placed in the book in a different way. The variations range from historical methods of attaching bifolio maps, as shown in the image above, to techniques designed to allow extra large foldouts to open flat, shown below.

The instructor gesticulates to demonstrate an atlas foldout to a group of students.
A dramatic explanation of how maps unfold from a 2020 workshop. Photo: Conservation Division, 2020.


The workshop began with a brief slideshow of historical techniques, drawn from the Library’s collections. Several years ago, my colleague Cathie Magee and I surveyed the rare American atlases in the Geography and Map Division. As we documented the condition of these books and suggested conservation action, we took photographs that showed how particular construction and repair methods either led to or avoided characteristic damage. For example, a common method of adding a thick block of compensation to balance the thickness of a foldout can lead to torn neighboring pages.

An older bound atlas shows signs of tearing and damage from older binding methods.
Some methods of adding space for maps in a binding can cause neighboring pages to tear. Photo: Katherine Kelly, 2023.


After that brief introduction, the workshop participants moved to the book conservation lab and got to work. Eight participants from across the Conservation Division attended, and for three days they cut, folded, pressed, and constructed a model with 16 different maps included. These models are filled with notes and explanations about the advantages and disadvantages of the various techniques.

The instructor demonstrates how an oversized map is properly folded to fit the book and avoid damage.
An oversize map is folded down to the size of the model book. Photo: Katherine Kelly, 2023.


This is the fourth time this workshop has been offered to Library staff. Each time the resulting discussions have allowed me to improve and refine the workshop as participants shared their ideas and experiences with these challenging structures. At the end of March, I taught this workshop outside of the Library for the first time, to a group of conservators from the Smithsonian Library and Archives.

A text block in the process of being sewn is on a worktable. Sewing tapes, needle, and thread can be seen on the text block.
The pages and maps are sewn together to create a book. Photo: Katherine Kelly, 2023.

For more about these topics, you can read these two recent publications:

Kelly, Katherine S. 2021. “Conservation Treatment of Atlases, Foldouts, and Guarded Structures.” Book and Paper Group Annual 40: 44-62.

BPG Atlases, Foldouts, and Guarded Structures. 2023. Book and Paper Group Wiki. American Institute for Conservation (AIC).


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  1. Brava! I love seeing you teach this workshop. Great info, great fun, and a exploration of how information has been shared over time in bound formats.

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