Ancient libraries always had a very special charme for me. I had the chance to inherit a quite huge collection of books from my uncle. When I was a child, I used to spend hours just looking at those dusty volumes, peeping inside and try to figure out why that book was written and why my uncle decided to buy it.
Old books: restoring the culture in Forlì
I knew Silvia and Roberta since years. I had the chance to interview them for a local newspaper and it was quite a natural passage to ask them a special visit for the Settimana del Buon Vivere blog tour.
Forlì is a small town but with a very important history and some hidden gems, both cultural and artisanal, that make it worth a visit.
Silvia and Roberta do a special job: they restore ancient books, documents, maps and everything is done with paper. We enter their laboratory early in the morning: in the table a huge and thick volume, still to be restored.
Everything is clean and the atmosphere is the same you can have in a medical ambulatory. They are the doctors of books!
How do they get the books? Mainly from public libraries or museums or just places that store them. They are quite delicate creatures. Centuries of life, bad storing, natural calamities (just think to the big flow of the Arno river in Florence 1966) and sometimes dramatic and wrong interventions, ruined them at a point that every single page must be rebuilt in every single element.
“When they arrive here, says Silvia, we first observe them and try to understand the best way we can follow to restore them”. Every single element of the book must be unstitched. The ancient rope binding must be cut and every single page must be washed after an ink check.
These are the most delicate moments, when a wrong action can ruin a memory, a piece of our past forever. Every passage is photographed so that the customer can have a complete documentation of the work.
Once the page is clean, Silvia proceed with another important operation called “veiling”. The page comes on a new piece of paper, ready to be rebuild with the broken and damaged pieces. Just like a surgery operation, Silvia and Roberta work shoulder to shoulder.
After the complete restoration, the book is rebound. Exactly as it was but with new materials. “Our work must look at the future and every single intervention must be done in order to last”, says Silvia. How many hours of work do you spend on a single book? It depends, every work is different but just consider that every single page needs a certain time to be treated and to dry so that we can do the post intervention, says Silvia.
The work of Silvia and Roberta is very precious and its value is recognized from the many people that are sponsoring ancient books restoration. Many times single persons gather in a group to crowdfunding money enough a special book, as it happened with some books of the Malatestan Library in Cesena.
Sometimes, in this secret coffer of history, Roberta and Silvia find some surprises: hidden documents that are inside the book cover that unveil secret informations or just precious work of art like this papal bull written on parchment.
The laboratory is not open to the public, but if you want to visit it, Silvia and Roberta will be glad to welcome you and share with you their work.
Disclosure: this post was written during the 2016 edition of Settimana del Buon Vivere. I would like to thank Graziano Rinaldini, director of Formula servizi per la Cultura, Silvia, Roberta and Antonella, for giving the group of blogger the chance to visit their laboratory and understand their work.