Between the Pages: The Secret Lives of Library Patrons

By: Kaycie Romano, Preservation Assistant

Just as every book has a story to tell, every reader has their own unique narrative. Pull out a book from the vast library shelves and you’re not only diving into the world created by words on a page, but in some cases the world of whoever read the book before you.

Employees of Syracuse University’s Preservation Department have the pleasure of spending time with many books. Between cutting off their spines to gluing in loose pages, I enjoy getting to know the books we handle, and what may be inside of them. These remnants from past patrons give us a brief glimpse into their one-of-a-kind lives.

slip of paper that was book order from publishing company dated Sept. 13, 1892
Book order form from publishing department found in library book.

First up is a book order form used by Professor John Heddaeus in 1892. Born in Germany in 1847, he became a Professor of Modern Languages at Syracuse University after a brief stint at a military academy in Sing Sing, NY.  He taught in Syracuse from 1892 to 1895 before moving to Yonkers, NY where he was a Unitarian Pastor at New Hope Church. According to this order slip, the publisher Heddaeus was purchasing from specialized in French and Veterinary books. Exactly what he bought is unknown, but one might be more useful for a Language Professor than the other.

book open with note that reads "for a bad time, call Dean Woods at ..."
Handwritten “for a bad time” note found in library book.

The next book involves a disgruntled, yet humorous patron. The simple, white index card reads: “for a bad time, call Dean Woods,” followed by a phone number. I could not find a record for a Syracuse Dean with the last name Woods, nor a professor named Dean Woods. There is still hope, however, that someone, somewhere, is named Dean Woods and is ready to supply a bad time to those in need.

index card catalog describing "Bunion surgery - a new approach" (Motion picture)
Card catalog for bunion surgery movie

Our next artifact is for those interested in the intersection of medicine and filmmaking. This motion picture advertises 29 whole minutes of 1974’s newest approaches to bunion surgery, via Billy Burke Productions. For video and foot enthusiasts alike, this would be a real hit!

bookmark with man wearing cowboy hat at top and text promoting "A New Album of Timeliness Music from Ralph Stanley"
Bookmark for Ralph Stanley album

No book collection is complete without a good set of bookmarks, and this one is among the best. Grammy-award winners Ralph Stanley and T-Bone Burnett (the team behind the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack,) adorn this bookmark that advertises their new album of “timeless music.” And yes, the handsome fella in the cowboy hat is Ralph Stanley, though T-Bone Burnett isn’t half bad either.

handwritten note to Brown from Roland
Note to Brownie from Roland

The last tale comes in the form of a note scrawled on the inside cover of a book. The note, written in 1934, reads: “To Brownie on our ninth anniversary. I have written so many inscriptions in gift books of poetry for her there isn’t a word left to say except I hope she enjoys this one as much as the others – Roland.” This note was written to the owner of the book, Bernice Brown Wolseley, namesake of the Wolseley Memorial Collection in the Upstate Medical University Health Science Library. Bernice was the first wife of Roland Wolseley, a Syracuse University journalism professor known for his groundbreaking study of the African American press.  It’s safe to assume Bernice enjoyed this 1932 David Morton novel. In fact, she admired David Morton’s work so much, she might have been the one to cut out his obituary from the New York Times and stick it between the pages of the same book after he passed away in 1957.

newspaper clipping with photo of Prof. David Morton
Photo of Prof. David Morton
newspaper clipping of obituary for David Morton
Obituary copy for Prof. David Morton

The scraps left behind by library patrons give us some insight into just who our readers are. They’re people from all different backgrounds with a wide field of interests, from bunion surgeries to bookmarks of T-Bone Burnett. Though they all are unique, they all are connected through the books that line the shelves of Bird Library.

This blog post was written by Kaycie Romano, who worked during the summer of 2021 in the Preservation Department.  Kaycie is a sophomore student who is majoring in music education and is from Baldwinsville, NY.


Behind the Spine

by Jessica Rice, Preservation Lab Supervisor

You are relaxing with some tea and reading a book, and suddenly you get the distinct and eerie feeling that eyes are watching you.  You do not see anyone else in the room.  Well, just an idea: those eyes might be inside your book!

Employees in the Syracuse University Preservation Department take pride knowing that their work will impact readers for years to come.  The repairs vary from simply re-attaching loose pages to reinforcing the book’s structure.  Occasionally, however, the books themselves provide little surprises that add fun to the process.

Many older books have a paper or cardboard lining inside the spine of the book.  (The spine is the “back” part of the book, opposite from where the pages open.)  Bookbinders would put a lining in to help the book open more easily.  For the most part, the linings are just dull scraps of blank paper, perhaps something that was found lying around the workshop.

But every once in a while,  we find a spine lining that provides an extra dimension to the book considered as an object.  What was the binder of the book-with-eyes thinking?  Perhaps they were making a (really inside) joke, providing personal commentary on the book’s topic, or even just amusing themselves on a dreary day.  As with all the linings discussed here, the paper was later removed to complete the repair and was not preserved. 

You just never know what you might find inside a book once you take it apart.  The spine liner below was found inside a 1950s-era book on Rationalism in French Literature of the 1700s. 

binding of book with cartoon of people in old fashioned costumes, woman holding parasol, men wearing hats

The publisher was J. Vrin, located in Paris.  Did the binder pick this paper on purpose, perhaps as a comment on rationalist criticisms of social institutions?  The grumpy-looking woman in the center certainly looks as if she might have something to say.  Or, more prosaically, this was just a random left-over scrap from an advertisement or magazine page.

book spine with monochromatic image of cherubs playing

This book’s spine liner does not look like a randomly cut piece of paper, but something that was selected to allow the two groups of cherubs to remain intact. As you can see in the close-up, the two little cherubs are enjoying a book.   The paper scrap shows just a portion of what originally was a very detailed illustration with fine cross-hatching, a lovely floral border, and a dramatic scene on the right side that is difficult to decipher.  This kind of find makes one wish to see what the rest of the image contained.

close up of two cherubs sitting side by side reading a book

Below is another rather dramatic image, with a woman holding something in her left hand that could possibly be a torch.  The partial text at the bottom, “Verlag von Carl Krabbe,” is the name of a publishing company in Stuttgart, Germany.  This spine lining may have started off as a portion of a book cover or catalog from that publisher.

book binding of woman with text at bottom that reads Verlag von Carl Krabbe

Below is a spine liner made from what appears to be a form or page related to marriage.  The larger letters at the top look like the beginning of Holy Matrimony.  In the middle of this scrap paper are spaces for the date and what might be a space for witnesses to sign.

book spine with green lettering that looks like marriage certificate

Below, a closeup view of the bottom of the paper shows a delicate flower image that appears to be a wild rose along with the word “Love” in ornate script. 

book spine with word "love" and rose

Finally, sometimes we see text written in a language that we cannot read on the spine lining of a book. There can still be an interesting picture that draws attention.  In this case, the yellow and blue circles bring an astronomical diagram to mind. 

blue and yellow circles with connection lines and text in another language/alphabet

These humble and hidden scraps of paper are amusing and give some insight into the world of bookbinding in the past.  A physical book truly links a past craftsperson and a current reader in a real and tangible manner. While there are still people who make books by hand, most books now are printed and bound on large industrial machines.  Book designers are not as intimately involved with the final products.  Even today, however, people make creative choices about fonts, book covers, illustrations, sizes, and materials.  That human element of the book, so apparent as we work in Preservation, remains and will continue to make books a valuable part of the cultural record.