Glossary on Paper Conservation Sharing Knowledge to Preserve Culture

Preparation of binding leather for the conservation of bookbindings.
Preparation of binding leather for the conservation of bookbindings. | Photo: Sun-Yat-Sen Universität Guangzhou

How do you say “mass deacidification” in Mongolian, “wooden cover” in Chinese or “Albertina compress” in Korean? A multilingual glossary by the Goethe-Institut is a unique aid for experts in book conservation.

Since 2008, the Goethe-Institut Hong Kong has teamed with Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou (South China) and the National Center for Preservation and Conservation of Ancient Books in China to organize advanced training in maintenance and paper conservation for western publications. As a result, they created the first multi-lingual Glossary on Paper Conservation because in many cases, a tool was lacking for translating the expertise into the respective national language.

Brushes for treating paper in a Chinese restoration workshop. Brushes for treating paper in a Chinese restoration workshop. | Photo: Sun Yat-sen University Guangzhou As an instrument for communication and work, the glossary helps experts employ correct and uniform terminology. This is particularly important for terms that have no real equivalent in another language as European books are bound differently than Asian books. This means that some terms are completely unknown in some locations.

One year after its introduction, the glossary was additionally translated into Mongolian and in 2015 into Japanese. It is now available in six languages, making it unique in the field of paper conservation.

Juggling across language barriers

Damaged pages are treated in the cleaning bath. Damaged pages are treated in the cleaning bath. | Photo: Sun Yat-sen University Guangzhou Reinhard Feldmann, the director of the Department of Historic Books at the University and State Library of Münster who co-initiated the glossary, said of its origins:

“It’s always fascinating and demands respect to see how interpreters at conferences juggle with terms: in every language, in every field. Yet they sometimes also reach their limits. They are usually perfect in general language, but sometimes very uncertain in specialized terminology. This was also our experience: organizers of conferences on book preservation in China, Korea, the Philippines or in Vietnam. Everywhere we as well as the conservators and the interpreters reached our linguistic limits. But who knows off the top of their heads what ‘mass deacidification’ is called in Mongolian, ‘wooden cover’ in Chinese or ‘Albertina compress’ in Korean?”

More than 500 technical terms in six languages

Conservators test dyes on conservation materials. Conservators test dyes on conservation materials. | Photo: Sun Yat-sen University Guangzhou An international team translated more than 500 technical terms into six languages and, after an initial printed edition, packaged them in a software product that recognizes both Latin and non-Latin characters so they can be reproduced correctly on e-readers. In this way, all of the terms can be retrieved in German, English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Mongolian for comparison or in the index in individual languages. In addition, illustrations help to clarify terms.

Access for all: An online and a printed glossary

In addition to the online version, the Glossary on Paper Conservation also appeared as a printed product so it can be used in areas without Internet access or under censorship. With it, staff at universities, restoration workshops, archives and libraries can acquire international knowledge and obtain an overview of the terminology and methodologies of book conserving techniques for western printed matter.

The Glossary on Paper Conservation is also available in digital format. The Glossary on Paper Conservation is also available in digital format. | Photo: Goethe-Institut e.V. The glossary is an important tool to build a linguistic bridge between east and west for measures for the conservation of the printed heritage in East Asia.

By Michaela Bodesheim
Michaela Bodesheim is the head of the Information and Library division in Hong Kong.