Friday 8 July 2016

The Maureen Duke Educational Award. Manila Bound.


The Maureen Duke Educational Award. Manila Bound.

I left London Heathrow Airport in early March at 10pm. London was locked in a chilling, sleet-ridden darkness. Heathrow being almost devoid of passengers with those who had braved the time and weather huddled in small, quiet groups. Wrapped in dark, generous winter clothing, looking for the entire world like slow moving standing stones.

Landing at Ninoy Aquino International Airport some 14 hours later (8pm local time), the heat of the day that had been absorbed in the fabric of the pavement and buildings radiated into the still night air. And as a foretaste of Manila, Ninoy Aquino was a pageant, a circus of colour and noise. The 30-minute taxi journey to my digs offered further glimpses into Metro Manila. Huge advertising hoardings hemming in the multi lane express ways. Construction sites vying with apartment blocks and shopping malls to snag the sky. People, people everywhere, eating, working and living. Occupying every available space. 
 Construction sites vying with apartment blocks and shopping malls to snag the sky.


After a day to acclimatise and with a bag slung over my shoulder containing my tool kit and umbrella I walked the short distance from my digs to the Ortigas Building. Even first thing in the morning the reflected glare from the sun warranted the use of sunglasses. It was then I noticed that much of the usual street furniture, street signs, advertising hoardings, graffiti and traffic signage etc appeared bleached out and after only a few minutes away from my air conditioned building, the humidity and heat became alto apparent. 

Ultraviolet rays can break down the chemical bonds between pigment and dye molecules and thus fade the colour(s) in an object or on a surface - it is a bleaching effect. Some objects may be more prone to fading, such as dyed textiles and paints. Other objects may reflect the light more, which makes them less prone to fade.

My arrival at the Ortigas Building was met with little, if any fanfare. After negotiating the metal detector and successfully explaining to the security guards what I was doing with numerous sharp metal objects I was shown to the lift, given a demonstration of which button to press (second floor) and left to it.

The doors slid open into a functional, marble and wood clad reception area. The receptionist, who I quickly learnt was called Peter, explained that the conservation team had yet to arrive. In my desire not to be late I had arrived early. I was ushered to a comfortable chair in the library to wait, having left my bag with Peter (for security reasons). This gave me an ideal chance to see some of the collection.

The Ortigas Foundation Library (OFL) has a web site ( Containing much information, however, briefly, the OFL is composed around the collection of the libraries founder Attorney (Lawyer) Rafael Ortigas Jr and the collections of Jock Netzorg and Professor Gregorio F. Zaide. The OFL houses nearly 21,000 Philippine-related books from the 17th century to the present day. In addition to antiquarian and rare books, the OFL collection also includes17th to 20th century publications, rare maps, botanical prints and objects. The library also houses over 3000 photographs, prints, postcards, stereo views and illustrated material dating from the 1860’s to after the 2nd world war. Subjects include early views of Manila along with other cities and towns, the countryside, architecture, anthological studies, transportation, landscapes, trade, events etc.


The Reception area and Peter from the stairwell. I soon learnt that the 2nd floor
was in fact the first floor and it was quicker to take the stairs.
 The OFL is not a static collection; new books and related material are added regularly, requiring the skills of the conservation team to make assessments and perform any conservation or restoration work that is deemed necessary.
 The meeting area of the library set the tone. Informative, yet relaxed

The reading room. Much of the OFL collection is accessible via computer. Recent  and more robust acquisitions are available for research.

 The core of the collection is housed in a controlled environment within the public area. Tinted glass allows for viewing whilst offering UV and sticky fingers Protection

The conservation area consists of two rooms, one for wet work and one for dry work. 

The conservation team in the wet room.  L to R; Loreto D. Apilado,
Mariano T. Alcantara, Olivia C. Ongoco and Mildred O. Apilado.

The dry room. It would appear that the problem of never having enough
Space is world wide.

 The Philippines is an archipelago island nation with over 7,100 islands. The climate is either tropical rain forest, tropical savanna, tropical monsoon, or humid subtropical in higher areas characterized by relatively high temperature, high humidity and rainfall. There are two seasons, the wet season and the dry season, usually based on the amount of rainfall but is dependent on the location in the country as some areas have rain all year. The warmest months are March to October; the winter monsoon brings cooler air from November to February. For the Manila area the average temperatures are from a low of 79 °F in January and December to a high of 86°F in May, humidity levels are from a low of 60+% in April to 80+% in August.
Keeping the previous paragraph in mind, it is widely accepted that ideal conditions to store books and related materials are as follows;
Books should be stored away from direct sunlight, which can bleach spines and paper and can lead to an increase in the acid content of paper.
It is important to have constant temperature and humidity within the book storage area with circulation of air. If the room is too hot and dry, leather bindings can dry out and crack; books should therefore be kept as far away as possible from heat sources such as radiators and fires. However, a low temperature in itself does not hamper the growth of mould. It is important therefore to avoid storing books in damp conditions to prevent spores of fungi (mould and mildew), which are always present in the atmosphere, from blooming on books, papers etc. Wherever possible try and keep the room temperature within the range of 16°C to 19°C (60-66°F); with relative humidity within the range of 45% to 60%.
It is easy to understand that the Philippine climate is not ideal for the long term preservation of books and paper. It is not only the environment that conspires against the book. Neglect and over zealous use of self-adhesive pressure tapes such as Selotape used by well meaning people also add to the mix. However, the conservation team have and continue to not only conserve the expanding collection but also take in outside work. The work is diverse, from the manual cleaning of printed material to the restoration of books. The only work that is not carried out in-house is the finishing (titling etc) though at the time of my stay plans were being made to acquire simple finishing equipment.
Ortigas Foundation Library.
Answers to expensive questions.
As with any specialist tools and materials, bookbinding, conservation and restoration equipment can be very expensive. However it is not only the expense that has to be considered. For example, a Leaf Caster can cost more than £5000, plus taxes and shipping. Then there is the space where it will reside, the training of the members of staff, repair and maintenance. Also to be considered is how often will the equipment be used. To be short, no matter how desirable it would be to have a Leaf Caster there may not be the funds and space available. 
The OFL answer is simplicity itself. A food blender.

The food blender can be seen on the extreme right of the image with the paper making frames on top of the blue water canisters.

Using the food blender to make pulp that corresponds with the page or material fiber and tone that requires repairing, single or multiple sheets of paper can then be made. The resulting sheets of paper can either be used wet or dry. The wet paper in-fills can be teased out of the sheet and tweaked into the area that requires in-filling. Basically leaf casting without the leaf caster. The dry paper can then be wet or dry cut as and when required. A very elegant solution.

  The original document was backed on to an unsuitable paper. Along with pressure sensitive self adhesive tape there is evidence of insect damage and bleaching.

Pressure sensitive self adhesive tape is gently removed using a modified soldering iron. Though solvents can be used to remove tape some printing inks can reactivate when solvents are applied.


Because of inconsistencies with the water quality, bottled water is used. The document is being washed and de-acidified with distilled water and calcium hydroxide using a hand pressurised garden sprayer. The document is sandwiched between non-woven polyester sheets.

With the infilling finished the work on the document nears completion. Every aspect of the work has been done by hand (except the food blender) the quality of the finished work is a testament to what can be accomplished with basic and modified equipment and professional skills.

Perfil de Cresta.
Profile of Crests by Manuel Bernabe; frontispiece Claro M. Recto
Published 1957

Carmelo & Bauermann Printing,Manila.
The Philippines was a colony of Spain from 1542 to 1899. In1899 the USA  won the American/Spanish War becoming the  new colonial power. The Philippines gained independence in 1946. Books were either imported from Spain or printed in Spanish.

One consideration that is always to be taken on board when work coming into the OFL either for the collection or outside work is the need for the encapsulation in Mylar envelopes of all books, printed matter etc. The reason is obvious when explained. Though the OFL does have a fumigation cabinet it is small. The encapsulation prevents any cross infestation of insects, insect larvae, mould and fungi whilst in the conservation unit, simple but very effective.
Even in the controlled controlled environment of the central collection many of the books, maps etc are still encapsulated. The clear Mylar makes for easy examination of the material inside, thus making the detection of any insect activity or mould ingress easy. Perhaps in the UK this form of encapsulation would not be a first choice action. However, it is a perfect solution when faced with an environment such as Manila, small details like this, become more and more important and obvious when explained or seen.

Though some bookbinding, restoration and conservation materials such as basic bookbinders board and some papers are available in the Philippines much has to be ordered in from abroad. With some orders taking 3 months to arrive forward planning has to be a priority. It is not only the cost of the materials, as already pointed out there are the additional costs such as import tax. The conservation teams answer to some of the issues they face have made me question a lot about how I and perhaps others take so much for granted and how we could perhaps make better use of what we have.

The specialist materials the equipment used in bookbinding is either expensive or very difficult to obtain. To this end most of the bookbinding equipment has been made by Mr Loreto Apilado or fabricated to his specifications. The various press being made from local wood and materials have far less chance of warping than imported wooden equipment and are considerable more cost effective. This idea of using what is local not only applies to major pieces of bookbinding equipment but also the simplest and perhaps most used tool. The Folder. 
 Above. Bamboo folders made by Mr Loreto Apilado. Bamboo grows throughout the Philippines. Bamboo makes ideal folders, is easy to shape and is very strong.
Below. A wooden laying/finishing press and nipping press on the bench and above are sewing frames made by craftsmen from local materials.

 The Final Few Days.

One very important aspect I soon grasped when I was doing my initial research about bookbinding, restoration and conservation in the Philippines was the lack of learning opportunities. To this end it was suggested that as a skill exchange I could deliver a two day course in case binding.
The short course was booked out well in advance with students coming from various arts, crafts, libraries and bookbinding/restoration and conservation backgrounds. One point that I found very generous of the OFL was that there was at least one assisted place (free place) this going to a taxi driver who loved books and wanted to learn how to make one. This gentleman along with the other students showed so much passion, skill and very genuine desire to learn. I have to say I was touched.

The first morning of the OFL workshop.The students were not supplied kits to make their books but working with the materials as they would come from the suppliers. The feed back from the workshop was extremely encouraging. It was more than obvious that the students were very thirsty for knowledge and to learn new skills or different methods.

One very important aspect of my work is teaching bookbinding and related subjects including restoration and some aspects of conservation. I consider myself very lucky to be able to teach and over the years I have worked with some very gifted people from all over the world with ever-increasing numbers of students coming from S E Asia, the Middle East, South America and Africa. For many of these students returning to their home countries, they face the prospect of starting their professional working life with limited equipment and materials. However, their situation can be far more problematic. Because there has been, in the last 20 or so years, a gradual decline in commercial hand binderies with the traditional skills being lost or watered down, these students often find themselves working in near isolation and in some cases with no recognised suppliers in their country. But by far the biggest differences are the climate and resources.
The Maureen Duke Educational Award (MDEA) offered me the chance to learn and work alongside conservators and bookbinders at the OFL. To have that all important guiding hand, to gain valuable experience of what the reality of working with limited equipment, space and facilities is, and to realise what is and is not important. Perhaps as important is a new, flexible way of thinking. Since returning to the U.K. I have begun to teach my students what I learnt, for example; all the students on the beginners modules now have to learn to cut board with just a straight edge and knife, to use minimum equipment and economy of materials and space. Little things like using methyl cellulose because it is easier to store as it requires no refrigeration, will not break down in humid / hot conditions and does not use a preservative will be taught to students who will benefit.
In addition to the above changes, from August 2016 all students who start the beginners modules will make their own folder. As I gain more practical skills I will encourage my students to make other simple hand tools, to have a working knowledge of how to make and adapt should the need arise. I have also instigated work on designing a small nipping press that can be made from minimal and widely available materials.
I realise that these are all small steps but I hope to be able to improve and to share more with my students the skills and knowledge that I gained whilst at the OFL.

In Conclusion.

I conclude with the future. After some discussion with the OFL Conservation team and Mr John Silva (Executive Director OFL) it was agreed that if possible a teaching programme be started at the OFL. Also, that if funding was available through tuition fees and other avenues of funding that I return to the OFL to give an extended programme of courses in 2017, to continue what has been started.

I would like to thank The Maureen Duke Educational Award, Peter, Loreto D. Apilado,
Mariano T. Alcantara, Olivia C. Ongoco and Mildred O. Apilado, John Silva and all at the Ortigas Foundation Library for their generosity, help and warmth.

Thank you, Mark Cockram. June 2016.