Preservation week: 5 questions with David Brock and Aude Gabory

April 27, 2016
Richenda Brim
David Brock and Aude Gabory, Conservation Services

In today’s Preservation Week blog post we meet two members of our Conservation Services team: David Brock and Aude Gabory. Conservation Services has a central role in the preservation program through conservation treatment, external exhibit loan preparation, assessments, training, and consultation. From re-sewing a first edition of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species to repairing 18th and 19th century Japanese souvenir maps and 20th century Egyptian movie posters, conservators and technicians combine craft skills and conservation expertise to protect and prolong the useful life of collection materials.

For more information about Preservation Week including resources, quick tips, and free webinars visit the American Library Association’s Preservation Week site

David Brock is the longest serving member of our conservation team.

Tell us about your work, David.

My work as a book conservator centers on the conservation treatment of individual rare books. All of the physical materials comprising a book—its paper, ink, binding, and more subtly, the signs of its passage from hand to hand and century to century are part of a mute history that can have important things to tell the scholar and researcher. Saving and caring for all these aspects of a book is the work of conservation.

What is your favorite book/item to come across your bench in the past year?

Probably my most interesting conservation challenge this past year was Grosses Textilhandbuch. This is a German production from 1936. It is a box of textile samples mounted on card, as well as samples of the raw materials from which the textiles were made. The box had been very badly water-damaged, was warped, and in numerous pieces. I had to flatten the individual pieces of the box and then work out how they originally went together.

Has your work in preservation influenced your life outside of work?

Yes. When I look at my own books acquired over many years, I wonder whose hands they will pass through in the future.

Why did you decide to go into this field?

I loved books, reading, and working with my hands.

Do you have a favorite tool/operation/piece of equipment?

My favorite tool is my dividers. When I acquired it as an apprentice, I felt that I had never before held in my hands such an inspiring and carefully made tool. I can remember hoping that my work would become worthy of its use.


Aude Gabory is the newest member of the Conservation Services team. Welcome, Aude!

Tell us about your work, Aude.

I am Assistant Conservator at Stanford University Library. The focus of my work is on conservation of books, manuscripts and other items from Special Collections but I also help out with General Collection material when there is a need.  

What is your favorite book/item to come across your bench in the past year?

I've been at Stanford only since January after moving from Chicago. One of the very first treatments I did was on a 17th century book about London. The title page was covered with the signatures of some of the previous owners of the book, and one of them had drawn a face into an O from the title, with a tongue sticking out. The humor was intact after all these centuries! Aside from the very personal touches this book bore, it was also a magnificent challenge work wise, and a formidable task after a 6-month hiatus. The book was very patient with me and it taught me many lessons.

What parts of the library do you wish you knew more about?

Every part of the library! I'm often asked about the strengths of the various collections, and I'm often at a loss for a good answer because I haven't done my homework, but also because it is hard to figure out what makes a given library special sometimes, if you are not a scholar. A few bullet points/reference points on the website would help (and if they are already there I apologize!), such as number of volumes, strengths of the Rare Books and Manuscripts collections, etc. 

Why did you decide to go into this field?

I did have an aha! moment, but it came after years of passive interest for fine bookbinding and a fascination for restoration work since I was a child. I grew up in the Loire Valley in France, with its rich history of book production and its many historical landmarks. That was the background of my childhood and early adulthood during which I focused on the Renaissance in my literary studies. Fast forward many years and the realization that manual work would make me happiest, combined with the opportunity to go back to school in Boston and train as a bookbinder and conservator, and voilà. It all came together and made perfect sense. The gratification of a job well done is at the root of it and the fact that I consider the preservation of cultural artifacts as an obvious necessity, because it was all around me growing up.

Do you have a favorite tool/operation/piece of equipment?

I love the smaller hand tools that we use all the time (spatulas, brushes, folders), because they are extensions of our fingers, they are not impressive but they are simple and efficient. Perhaps my hands are my favorite tools. It all starts with the hands. But I also find the larger pieces of equipment we use very handsome and humbling. They haven't changed in centuries, really: presses, ploughs, sewing frames, board cutters. There are also the materials we work with. Japanese papers are miraculous. Perhaps my favorite operation is the first moments you spend with a book that needs treatment, when you examine it to establish a diagnosis and a course of treatment. That time you take to ponder all the decisions that will affect the rest of its life. You become a little bridge in its long life.