The Book Arts Lab Makes Changes in a Pandemic

In the last issue of this magazine we introduced you to the newly opened Book Arts Lab. Since then we have seen quite a few changes here in the way we offer our services.

The Book Arts Lab, offering some of our most unique services, has truly had to find different ways to offer their services to the Library community in the midst of a pandemic. Before the pandemic arrived, they were offering a number of in-person workshops that saw their beautiful space being used regularly.

Since then, Larry Thompson, Master Printer for the Book Arts Lab, has had to find new ways to engage the community.

Pre-pandemic workshops

  • Binding a Medieval Book “A Coptic Binding”
  • Intro to Hand Typesetting “Famous Last Words”
  • Intro to Hand Printing on Presses “Printing Dangerous Words”
  • Block Carving & Printing in Linocut “Kissing the Chains That Bind You”
  • Intro to Wood Engraving “Making Graven Images”

Pandemic videos

  • Binding single signature & multi signature book
  • Cutting and Writing with a Quill Pen
  • How to set type… without type!
  • Block carving - erasure cuts, linocuts and demonstration of wood engraving
  • Paper Making in your kitchen
  • Pandemic demos (usually live)

The basis of experiential learning, particularly in the book arts lab, is hands-on work. The pandemic has made in-Lab sessions very difficult to hold safely, so a rethink was required in order to continue to provide these sessions.

“There was always a plan to document with video and create instructional videos, but it was quite far down on the list of priorities and would be recordings of live events in the Lab--that changed with COVID,” says Larry. “The trick seems to be combining live demos, with movies and videos of simplified book arts production that can be reproduced in the student’s home.”

Pre-pandemic workshops were quite ambitious, and included typesetting and printing along interesting themes, such as “Famous Last Words” and “Printing Dangerous Words.” Students could cut linoleum using the carving tools available in the Lab, where materials could be supplied. Pandemic videos incorporate some very basic and general historical context, with step-by-step “how-to” instruction that can be followed using more accessible materials for students.

“The real challenge is to make the video workshops doable using stuff any student could find around the house or dorm. Instead of cutting lino and wood using specialized tools, they could cut rubber erasers with a sharp knife, and print them using a stamp pad,” says Larry. “The exercise is simple, but the experience is the same – in essence – that the ancient Chinese used to create page plates on a single plank of wood.”

From here, students can synthesize their area of study with the practice, and are able to reflect on the experience, still giving them that very unique experience that has been part of what the Book Arts Lab has hoped to offer from the beginning.

The process of making videos has also been a new one for Larry and has actually provided him with his own learning opportunity in his effort to learn to teach.

“I used the university’s AV Commons which loans out video cameras, mics, lights and stands for installation shots,” says Larry. “I spent most of my summer doing these videos, prior to the Library opening to the public again. More than anything, I learned to be kind to myself. This is the first time I’ve done any work in video and I wanted to keep it light and to remember to be friendly and smile. There are plenty of awkward bits and stilted speech, and that’s okay. It’s a rather special thing to have the opportunity to learn these skills, which will be so integral to future teaching.”