I initially wanted to title this written piece “Learning Beyond Walls” but decided against it for the simple reason that I still found myself surrounded by walls even if they were not UT affiliated. When thinking about this more, I found myself still fixated by the idea of walls. We as students oftentimes corner ourselves within imaginary walls as it relates to our academic trajectories and the paths we believe are available to us. Each semester the course offerings and teaching materials define our walls. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed the courses I’ve taken while a student at the iSchool, both in the actual department as well at UT in general. That might be a result of my own whimsical take on education, but nevertheless I have found freedom in pursuing my academic curiosities and rarely find myself following one defined path. I know that walls do not define my boundaries and that lessons exists in every corner.
For the past month, thanks to a fully paid scholarship opportunity, I have attended classes on bookbinding at the Austin Book Arts Center located in the Eastside. The course titled Bookbinding I consist of 6 classes costing a few hundred dollars and meeting once a week in the small but fully stocked studio of the Center commonly known as ABAC. The course, with all materials included, teaches students how to construct three structures: the historical long stitch binding, flat back case binding, and how to construct a box to house one of our completed books.
I should say a few words about Austin Book Arts Center. The center became a non-profit organization in 2015, but prior to that many of the people involved with ABAC had also been involved with Austin Book Workers. Today ABAC offers workshops in letterpress printing, bookbinding, paper making, typography, book history and design, and various arts of the book. In addition, ABAC offers memberships that include discounts on workshops and the ability to rent the studio and its equipment.
As an aspiring archivist, I looked to this course as a way to supplement my knowledge and skills of materials that I will most likely work with. For the past year and a half, I have tried to choose courses that both stimulate my research pursuits as well as provide me with hands on experiences that will be useful in the workforce. Some courses offer more theory heavy materials and others a little too much practice without enough time to discuss the mechanisms and reasons behind the acts we were instructed to follow. Always the subversive student, I took matters into my own hands and strive to construct my educational road according to my desires and needs. In particular, I view bookbinding as a deconstructive approach to understanding the structures and history of an item, and how to perhaps make archival research relevant and intriguing to audiences.
Now every Wednesday night for 6 weeks I learn how to sew, cut, bind, and construct a book. With each stitch, I realized the significance of the very materials that I would often pass by without a second glance. Now whenever I hold a book, I cannot help but flip through the pages curious as to what sort of binding I would find. I can imagine discussing with a researcher the history of book making during their time frame or demonstrating to a young budding class of undergraduates that archival materials carry a historical significance with every stitch.
Now as my classes wind down, I know I have found a new gem in city to help me grow even after I graduate from UT. I look forward to the future possibilities of learning how to repair books, the art of paper marbling, and letterpress printing. I also look forward to exploring other opportunities in Austin to learn beyond the university and to know that learning does not end the second I walk down that stage at graduation.