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Publishers’ Bindings Online Grant Narrative*

Digital Trade Bindings Online (DTBOnline):
The Art and Craft of Decorative Trade Bindings, 1815-1930

Name changed, effective February 17, 2004:

Publishers' Bindings Online, 1815-1930:
The Art of Books


All academic libraries have within their holdings books bound in 19th century decorative trade bindings. These materials are significant in their place within the fabric of American history and culture, but efforts to present these bindings in a collection that is representative of the era as a whole and to make them available virtually, via the World Wide Web have been limited. Even the extensive exhibition mounted by The Grolier Club in New York City (May-July 2000) with its handsomely produced catalog offers only 254 examples from a collection of more than two thousand volumes. Exhibits available on the Web are far more limited in scope and number. Many of those virtual exhibits are ephemeral, often remaining online to promote a temporary on-site exhibit.

DTBOnline, a significant digital collection of decorative trade bindings, along with a comprehensive glossary and guide to the elements of these objects, will strengthen the growing interest in and create broader awareness for this “common” object called the book. There is a great need to develop sensitivity to these books and their significance. During the 19th century (Industrial Era, Modern Age), books were produced for broader audiences, marking a significant change in availability and perception.

Decorative trade bindings cover many of the books that people have in their homes today, but their owners are unaware of the cultural and historical significance of such bindings. These bindings reflect not only social and cultural history, but bibliographic history as well. DTBOnline will expand awareness of the book as artifact and of the role trade bindings play in providing a window into historical, cultural, and industrial periods. This project will increase the awareness of the general public about the importance of the trade bindings as reflections of historical events, art movements, and the evolution of commercial binderies. The project will also afford students, teachers, binders, and scholars the opportunity to study up to 5000 trade bindings in a single, virtual location.

One can look upon this project as developing a model which other repositories can use with their own collections, including possibly contributing in the future to this project. DTBOnline will greatly broaden a relatively unexplored scholarly field. This resource will encourage interested parties to look at their own collections, and to gain an understanding of design movements and trends both within the United States as well as abroad, comparable to Jugenstil in Germany, Art Nouveau in France, Arts and Crafts in England, and Glasgow School in Scotland.

DTBOnline’s holdings will consist of a collection of materials that not only provide the user an understanding of what was being read but will also illustrate the importance of the book as an object. These titles will serve as a microcosm for understanding westward expansion in the United States, when Alabama was considered part of “the American West”. It will allow users to explore the notion of “cult of domesticity”; the evolution of the notion of leisure; the shift in the manner in which children were treated in the home; the movement towards education, emancipation and women’s rights; the movement toward the modern, Industrialization and Victorian culture--all as reflected in the books and their binding styles. DTBOnline can provide help in understanding America’s first century, both in history/culture and in design, such as the development of a distinctive American style and the movement from America looking abroad for inspiration, to Europe looking towards America for ideas and imagery.

DTBOnline will bring together a comprehensive collection of materials through the World Wide Web. By looking at the books as objects, and providing a depth of metadata about each item, the collection will be of great use to a broad range of constituencies. The use of an online collection allows flexibility for several levels of searching by one or more elements, such as:

  • Designer
  • Publisher
  • Materials
  • Subject Headings
  • Theme
  • Place of Publication
  • Descriptive Elements (stamping, tooling, cloth, etc.)

There are very few books, reference sources, or websites available on American Trade Bindings. (See Appendix A: Bibliography.) Until very recently trade bindings have been a topic that has been of interest to a small group of scholars and collectors. This project will create exposure and build understanding, and at the same time create a definitive online source, both for reference and for research on the American Trade Binding movement.

The audience for a comprehensive online collection of 19th century trade bindings with reference and research components includes but is not limited to:

  • Students and Other Learners

    Students of the book arts, librarianship, and special collections librarianship
    Lifelong learners
    General public
    K-12 students (as they learn about books as physical objects)

  • Scholars and Researchers

    Scholars in Book Arts
    Art Historians
    Scholars of Industrial Art and Design
    Literary Scholars

  • Practitioners

    Industrial artists
    Librarians and descriptive bibliographers
    Antiquarian book collectors and dealers
    Centers for the Book members
    Book Binders
    Book designers.

DTBOnline will provide access to up to 10,000 images, all deliverable directly through the World Wide Web. It will be designed to accommodate users from all ages and levels of expertise through a user-friendly and interface, and will be rich in metadata, providing unprecedented searching capabilities.


The creation of the DTBOnline gateway and interface holds potential in providing models that other repositories, both large and small, within the United States and abroad, can use with their own collections and for their own user communities.

The organization of this project, as well as the technical guidelines and outreach/publicity guidelines produced within DTBOnline, will provide models for other libraries that seek collaborative relationships and strong outreach efforts surrounding future digital projects. Following the initial grant period of three years, DTBOnline itself will continue as a gateway for smaller repositories wishing to contribute their holdings to a large, searchable virtual collection. Many smaller institutions do not have the resources to support in-house digitization projects, but would benefit from working with a library rather than a commercial vendor.

By bringing together these materials in a virtual environment, there is the potential of working with collections and repositories throughout the world. Of specific interest will be collections with holdings that reflect parallel movements in Decorative Trade Bindings, such as Jugenstil in Germany, Art Nouveau in France, Arts and Crafts in England, and the Glasgow School in Scotland.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has a long and distinguished track record of diverse cooperative projects with a variety of partners. The University of Alabama’s participation in the IMLS-funded Cornerstone Project illustrates the university’s strong commitment to collaboration both within the state of Alabama and beyond.

The decorative trade binding is a universally recognized style, widespread throughout the 19th century and early part of the 20th century. Because so many repositories, both in the US and abroad, hold these kinds of works, there is excellent potential for integration into larger scale initiatives worldwide.


One of the first activities of the project will be for the partners to develop a comprehensive implementation plan. This section identifies and describes the major responsibilities, tasks, and objectives including in the process of developing DTBOnline to strengthen the number and enlarge the scope of resources available to scholars, students, practitioners, and lifelong learners.

DTBOnline represents a major breakthrough in providing access by creating a web-based searchable resource for trade bindings, based on an integrated thesaurus of terms and rich metadata that describes images of 19th century trade bindings, including covers, spines, end-papers, and title pages. In addition to being a research tool, it will also serve as an educational resource with a searching tutorial, illustrated glossary, biographies of designers, a bibliography and a webliography of research and exhibits relating to the study of trade bindings, and sample lesson plans for primary and secondary classes.

The following individual activities will be critical to the project’s success in creating a resource that is valuable and useful to many audiences.

Project Activities

  1. Select up to 5,000 items that are representative of 19th century decorative trade bindings.

    While some preliminary work has been done, it’s imperative that the final selections be representative of the variety of styles of trade bindings. The selections will be both broad and deep, reflecting the strengths of each of the two partner institutions.

    The University of Wisconsin-Madison has a deep resource with the Cairns Collection of American Women Writers, an 8000-volume special collection of materials by American women writers or about women covering 1650-1935. Included are 150 titles in variant editions by Sarah Orne Jewett, a writer known for her attachment to Maine and its landscape, including examples of most of the known Sarah Whitman–designed volumes. UW-Madison also has nearly all the recorded editions of Emily Dickinson (about 200 volumes) and Louisa May Alcott (about 300 volumes), including a number of decorative trade bindings depicting domestic scenes and at-home life. Many of the 600 volumes by Harriet Beecher Stowe feature decorative bindings, some stamped or embossed while others are colorful descriptions of scenes from the book.

    The University of Alabama’s collection in the W. S. Hoole Special Collections Library contains more than 2700 volumes of decorative trade bindings. The collection is unique in that it is representative of all areas of American publishing from the 1830s through the 1920s and includes both major as well as lesser-known designers. All areas of publishing are represented, including fiction, children’s fiction and adventure, and non-fiction materials such as guides for leisure activities (such as hunting and fishing) as well as business publications. The two collections complement each other especially well. Another value of DTBOnline will be the connections it will allow between and among disparate materials that have not been examined together previously.

  2. Develop a model thesaurus of terms describing the representative trade bindings selected. Use the structured vocabulary and classification system of the thesaurus to develop Dublin-Core based descriptive metadata for trade bindings included in the DTBOnline database.

    Developing a thesaurus and descriptive metadata for trade bindings is one of the unique and most important aspects of this project. As noted earlier, there is limited research on decorative trade bindings and no standard terminology for describing the book as artifact. Given its strength in this area, the University of Alabama will take the lead on this objective, with cooperation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Project participants will review the literature, analyze and synthesize the best research and practices to date, and then develop a model thesaurus. To test the effectiveness of the thesaurus, the project will translate it into descriptive metadata that will be used in creating the DTBOnline database. The project will contribute significantly to scholarship in the area of trade bindings by analyzing and synthesizing terminology and, for the first time, creating a model for describing trade bindings.

  3. Develop a comprehensive online glossary, complete with images of visual elements and techniques as well as information on binders, designers, and printers. These will be described and explained to meet both the reference needs of advanced scholars and the information needs of students and interested lifelong learners.

    One of the stumbling blocks associated with the study of the book as artifact is that of terminology. Although many scholars of the book are from English-speaking countries, the terminology used in each case differs. One objective of the project is to develop an accompanying virtual glossary that would serve as the definitive research and reference tool in the study of decorative trade bindings. Because of the nature of web resources, the terminology can be cross-referenced virtually. The digital images of specific design elements can also be enhanced and magnified to better illustrate to the user the detailed aspect in question. For students and lifelong learners, explanations will be useful and easy to understand. This component will provide users worldwide with a greater understanding of the elements of the book.

  4. Scan up to 10,000 images of 19th century trade bindings (including covers, spines, end papers and title pages) from up to 5,000 items to populate a Web-accessible database.

    The core of DTBOnline will be this collection of digital images of trade bindings. Both institutions have experience preparing and scanning materials, creating file naming conventions, and so on. The University of Wisconsin-Madison will provide the interactive database and search engine. The project will most likely use SiteSearch bibliographic retrieval software, thereby providing users with a familiar Web-based “online catalog” to search, retrieve, and view images.

  5. Create user-friendly, easy-to-use educational resources accessible via the World Wide Web that will meet the diverse needs of students, teachers, and lifelong learners.

    In addition to developing a tutorial on effectively searching the database of trade binding images, the project will provide a bibliography and a Webliography of research and exhibits relating to the study of trade bindings, biographical information on designers, and sample lesson plans for both primary and secondary schools. The variety of users, uses, and resources will be considered in designing the database, the web site, and the accompanying resources.

  6. Develop a model for publicity and outreach activities to introduce a new online resource.

    The University of Alabama Libraries has worked extensively in the area of outreach, marketing, and publicity. Using DTBOnline as the “test case”, the project will test the effectiveness of selected strategies for marketing and advertising. Information about the resulting model will be published as an article or white paper and made available through the DTBOnline website.


The Co-Principal Investigators will have overall management responsibility for the project but will delegate daily activities to the Project Manager. The Co-Principal Investigators will work with an Advisory Board and other experts to help set priorities and benchmarks for the project, facilitate communication between the Board and project participants, and organize Board meetings and teleconferences.

The Project Manager will work in close consultation with the coordinators at UW-Madison and other project personnel to ensure that DTBOnline overall standards and practices are developed promptly and applied consistently, particularly with respect to selection, description, metadata, imaging, file naming, web development, and so on. The Project Manager will coordinate implementation of the project to insure that all goals and timetables are met, including those for evaluation and reporting. The Project Manager will have the responsibility for implementing the DTBOnline outreach and publicity plan.

The Trade Bindings and Pedagogical Specialist will provide scholarly subject knowledge and expertise to oversee project content, specifically the development of the thesaurus, glossary, specific item descriptions, and lesson plans. With the Project Manager, she will also be involved in selecting materials and deciding how many and what images will be made of different types of bindings.

A password-protected web site with bulletin boards and relevant documents will be developed early in the process to facilitate communication among the partner institution personnel and the Advisory Board. It will serve as a temporary repository and clearinghouse for development plans, decisions, progress reports, and so on. Selected items may be moved to the DTBOnline site to serve as background information for future project planners. The project also includes plans for travel between the two universities annually. There will be annual meetings of the Advisory Board and key project personnel each year of the project to set overall project priorities and benchmarks, review progress toward goals, and address problems.


DTBOnline will draw on the skill and expertise of UA and UW-Madison faculty and staff as well as several leading figures in book bindings, book arts, technology, and digital projects to address the twin problems of developing standardized terminology to describe trade bindings and creating a multi-purpose, multi-functional web resource. DTBOnline will have an Advisory Board composed of some of the foremost scholars in Decorative Trade Bindings, along with students and other stakeholders.

Key Personnel

Co-Principal Investigator Louis A. Pitschmann, Dean of Libraries at the University of Alabama, is a leading figure in American research libraries particularly in the area of collection management. In addition to working on a number of IMLS and NEH grants, Dr. Pitschmann writes extensively on the impact of technology on collections and the need for libraries to be proactive. Since coming to UA in 2001, he championed a number of technological initiatives, all of which have been enthusiastically received by the University community.

Co-Principal Investigator Karen Croneis, Associate Dean of Libraries at UA, is currently UA Project Manager for an IMLS Grant for “The Cornerstone Project: Building the Foundation for Sharing Unique Treasures in Alabama”. With broad experience in library management, user/collection services, and library assessment, she is providing leadership for UA’s nascent digital initiative efforts.

Project Manager Jessica Lacher-Feldman, Public and Outreach Services Coordinator at the W. S. Hoole Special Collections Library at UA, is a past president of the Association for History and Computing. She writes on a variety of topics related to history, technology, book arts, web design, and printing. Lacher-Feldman created two of UA’s three online exhibits and is a key player in UA’s digitization work. Her outreach work with UA’s Book Arts program helped to shape key elements of this proposal.

UW-Madison Coordinators Lee Konrad, Head of the Digital Library Group, and Barbara Walden, History Outreach/European History Librarian will provide overall coordination of the project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Both have significant digital projects experience at UW-Madison. In addition, they have experience that is particularly relevant to DTBOnline as key personnel on the digital project “The Art of Books, German Decorative Trade Bindings from Collections of UW-Madison”.

Trade Bindings and Pedagogy Specialist Cathleen Baker, consultant and doctoral candidate in the UA College of Communications and Information Sciences, has extensive education and experience in the areas of conservation, art history, books arts, and printing, as a practitioner, a faculty member, and an author. She is proprietor of The Legacy Press which specializes in books about American book arts.

Metadata Coordinators Amy Rudersdorf, Head of Metadata and Encoding Unit at UW-Madison, will supervise the work of using Dublin Core metadata to describe the trade binding images. She is experienced in design, development, and implementation of initiatives relating to digital library collections. The University of Alabama will also be using Dublin Core metadata, under the direction of Mary Alexander, Metadata Services Coordinator. Ms. Alexander has experience developing standards, identifying best practices, and writing a procedure manual for participants in the IMLS Cornerstone Project.

Digitization Coordinators Digital imaging at UW-Madison will be supervised by Sandra Paske, Head of the Digital Content Group Reformatting Unit. Mrs. Paske is experienced with management of digital projects, knowledgeable regarding standards and procedures for digital imaging. At UA, Donnelly Lancaster, Archival Access Coordinator at the W. S. Hoole Special Collections Library, will be the supervisor. Ms. Lancaster is also knowledgeable in scanning and imaging projects and is head of the UA scanning operation for the IMLS-funded “Cornerstone Project”.

Website Development Cheryl Ballard, Web Services Librarian at UA, will take the lead in developing the DTBOnline website. She is skilled in web design and development and is knowledgeable about usability issues.

Advisory Board

The Co-Principal Investigators will appoint and chair an Advisory Board to ensure that project priorities and parameters meet the needs of book collectors, established book arts programs, researchers in the history of the book, students, and lifelong learners. To this end, the following individuals known for their knowledge of the book arts and the latest digital applications have agreed to serve as members of the Advisory Board:

Sue Allen, Instructor at Rare Books School at Columbia University and the University of Virginia. Ms. Allen has been described as “the foremost authority on 19th-century American book covers,” and she has lectured and published widely on the conservation and preservation of 19th- and early 20th-century trade bindings. She has published work on American cloth bindings found in collections at Yale and at the University of Chicago and evaluated bindings at many other institutions. The American Printing History Association has honored her for her research in that field.

Professor Steve K. Miller, The University of Alabama. Professor Miller came to The University of Alabama in 1988 where he teaches letterpress printing and hand papermaking in graduate-level MFA courses in the Book Arts Program. Professor Miller is Co-director of Paper and Book Intensive, a nationally recognized annual series of summer workshops in the book arts. He is Chair of the Advisory Board of the Robert C. Williams American Museum of Papermaking in Atlanta, Georgia. Professor Miller is also a past president of the Friends of Dard Hunter, Inc., the largest group of artists, craftspersons, conservators and scientists in the United States (450 individuals and companies) devoted to the art and craft of hand papermaking and related book arts.

Dr. Michael Seadle, Head, Digital and Multimedia Center, Michigan State University. Dr. Seadle is editor of Library Hi Tech and the author of an array of articles on library technology. His most recent article, “Outcome-based Evaluation,” will appear in Library Hi Tech, v. 21, no. 1 (2003). He is currently co-principal investigator of two IMLS funded projects, “Making of Modern Michigan,” and “Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project.”

The Grolier Club, the Caxton Club of Chicago, and the Book Arts Web will also be invited to nominate one representative each to serve on the DTBOnline Advisory Board.

To ensure that the needs of students, teachers, and lifelong learner are met, the Co-Principal Investigators will invite UA students and faculty members from the School of Library and Information Studies, History, and Education as well as local collectors and others to become members of the Advisory Board.


The total project budget is $568,304. The University of Alabama will contribute $235,787 (41.5%), the University of Wisconsin will contribute $82,551 (14.5%), and the partners seek $249,966 (44.0%) from IMLS. Please see the budget section for details.


As part of the DTBOnline project, a model will be developed that explores the methods of publicity, outreach, and promotion of the project. This relates not only to the development and use of the collection, but also of the accompanying online glossary, as well as the lesson plans that will be included in the DTBOnline site. Participants in the grant will use this opportunity to develop a published guide, or contribute an article to a scholarly journal on the development of the promotion, publicity, and outreach activities surrounding the DTBOnline project.


DTBOnline will incorporate internal reviews and external assessments to monitor progress on individual parts and the overall project. The Project Manager with project personnel will develop and implement quarterly progress reporting procedures and regular user-based evaluation mechanisms. The Advisory Board along with students in related areas will play a key role in ensuring the thesaurus and terminology selected will meet the needs of the scholarly community. Their input on the adequacy of the descriptions as well as the accuracy, completeness, and ease of use of the database will be solicited before, during, and after the thesaurus and the website are developed.

In reports and evaluations, key personnel will be expected to include qualitative and quantitative feedback from all constituents, specifically students, scholars, and the general public. Assessment of the project, its influence, and its impact will also be evaluated through a publication that specifically addresses the marketing, outreach, and publicity of the project itself.

Focus groups will also be conducted regularly to evaluate the functionality of the site, not only the database but also the educational resources. Consisting of faculty and students in the Book Arts, as well as users from other disciplines and levels of expertise, the site will be developed based on the expressed needs of each user group and then evaluated by those same communities.

Users will be encouraged to discuss the ways, if any, in which DTBOnline made a difference in their lives, e.g., saved timed, facilitated research, surprised them, taught them something new.


DTBOnline will be an interesting and vital resource for a broad and diverse audience. The project and its outcomes will be presented at conferences such as the annual meeting of the American Association for History and Computing, as well as statewide conferences such as the Society of Alabama Archivists. Articles in regional, statewide, and national journals will also be submitted.

An article or white paper on publicity and outreach of an online resource, based on the experience using DTBOnline as the model, will also be an integral part of the dissemination of information about the resource. By creating and providing access to lesson plans and a comprehensive online glossary/thesaurus, DTBOnline will generate still further marketability and interest.

DTBOnline, in its conception and in its outcomes, will be understandable, useful, and educational to a broad and diverse audience including scholars, students, and the lifelong learner.


This project holds limitless potential in its sustainability. Other institutions, both large and small, will be able to develop and create their own, or to contribute to this project.

Making the project available via the World Wide Web, and making the project accessible through the Alabama Virtual Library (AVL), a statewide information resource for all of Alabamians, will lend it wide-scale appeal.

Through the development of this project, the staff at both the University of Alabama, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison will develop a greater level of expertise in the Book Arts and in decorative trade bindings. They will also gain a deeper understanding of the development and implementation of collaborative digital projects.

By providing broad access to the project findings, both UA and UW-Madison will further the efforts of digital scholarship, preservation, unprecedented access, and collaboration.

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