I am currently working as a book conservator, at a conservation lab within an American university library. I studied book art and papermaking at this university, and ended up staying for work. When I first chose my major in 2014, I had little hands-on experience with Western methods, structure, and materials. My advisor recommended that I learn by working at the library. They thought that would be the best and quickest way for me to learn the most traditional bookbinding methods. That’s how I got started.
Basically, I repair and conserve damaged books and paper materials. I handle all kinds of books and paper, from postcards and general books to rare books and maps.
My days are relatively simple and repetitive. Generally, I wake up around six in the morning, take my time with breakfast, and I get to the library for work by nine. (On days I have a morning class, I go to work in the afternoon.) For about four hours a day, I repair books at the library, and afterward I do other things, or go to the papermaking lab or my studio to work on my projects. When I have several deadlines to meet, I stay up all night working. But in general, I set my schedule so that I only work four hours a day at most — I try not to go over. (Of course, I sometimes just do what I feel like, not anything productive.) I’ve made it a rule not to work after 10 pm. I realized that I’m less stressed when I have this kind of repetition and regularity in my life. Oh, I also started working out recently. That was a huge change in my daily life.
Rewarding… Hmm. Well, I guess many people do find it rewarding, and try to find meaning in the reparation process, in cleaning damaged books and making them sturdy again. But I don’t really feel much. I’m not saying that the process doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s just that the process doesn’t feel that rewarding. It’s a little difficult to explain. When I start repairing books, a lot of the time I have to pay attention to the details and work on parts quickly before the glue dries. So I don’t really have time to feel anything when I’m working and concentrating. It requires a lot of technical skill, so I prefer being mechanical.
Also, I sometimes feel sad, not happy, when I do repairs. Not for every single book, but for the ones that have been severely damaged. It feels as though I’m forcing life back into a book that should rest in peace. Perhaps it’s because they’re library books. I feel there’s meaning in repairing books that contain the stories of their owners. There’s delight and reward in repairing something that’s dear to someone. But once a library book is repaired, it’s placed back on the shelf and has to endure humidity, gravity, bugs, UV rays, and time until someone takes it out. It starts to deterioriate. Just thinking about it makes me sad. I told a friend how I felt once and they teased me, saying that I was being overemotional. It’s probably true. But some people become very attached to relationships, plants, animals, or even objects when they spend a long time with them, and I think I’m that kind of person. So I’m a little sad.
My wrist and the joints in my fingers hurt. (Absolutely!) People think that book repairs entail working with delicate, light sheets of paper, but the tools I use and the weight of the books does hurt my wrist and fingers. I ought to take care of them every day, but I get lazy after work, so a lot of the time I don’t do anything. I’m suffering finger pains these days, as a result.
Each project had its own charm and fun, so it’s hard to pick one out. Instead, let me tell you about my hobby. Around the time I get paid every month, I go to a used bookstore in town and browse to see if there’s something I like. And occasionally, I purchase a book just because it’s been severely damaged, and work on repairing it. It’s fun. Since it’s not for the library, I don’t have to make it perfect, and I can also experiment, take time to disassemble from cover to cover, or work on some technical skills. So those books are pretty memorable. Library books, my projects, and commission projects are all work that I have to take responsibility for, and they’re also something I’m obligated to do. But the books I buy from used bookstores are kind of like my childhood friends, and I’m comfortable with them. Since I can just play with them, trying out different things, it’s fun from start to finish.
Sure. I’ve worked on art books for some time, and I currently have one copy of each. But in the future, I’m hoping to make a few copies of each and sell them. At the earliest, I’ll be able to make them available from the end of this year.
Yes. I especially like the easy access to the various materials I need.
I’m a bit hesitant to answer this. I’ve been away from Korea for a long time. I haven’t seen or experienced the changes in Korea, so there’s a lot that I don’t know. I’ve learned about some new experiments and attempts online, particularly through social media, and there are probably more. But the one thing that I’m sure of is that there will be a lot of interest in this field. People just haven’t had the chance to see it yet. The newness and unfamiliarity could be a barrier to the public, and myself even, but I think the newness could also spark curiosity. And as that curiosity grows, I think the situation will improve.
Since book repair and conservation are still new in Korea, I’m a bit nervous and afraid. I don’t think that I’m pioneering on my own. I’ve studied and trained under someone who’s worked in this area for a very long time, and I’m now showing what I’ve learned to others. I just think about how to best introduce and establish my field, so that other people can find the same joy that I do in my work. So it worries and excites me at the same time.
I’ve named the studio “Jaeyoung Book Repair”. I’ve finished the logo, and I’m working on the space and other parts. At the earliest, I hope to open the shop in late 2017 or early 2018. Book repairs and binding will be the mainstay of what we do, but I’m planning on offering other exciting things too. Once I figure them out, I’ll be sure to advertise them online.