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Peter Verheyen Keeps SU Library's Books
In Good Shape

By Cynthia Moritz.

From the "Staff Matters," The Syracuse Record, April 16, 2001

Photo By Steve Sartori, SU News ServiceAs an undergraduate at The Johns Hopkins University, Peter Verheyen took a work-study job repairing books in the library. He became so interested in the bookbinding process that he took a semester off from school to work at a museum conservation laboratory in Germany. By then he was hooked on the bookbinding process. Today he is the SU library's conservator.

Verheyen began looking for apprenticeship opportunities in Germany, finally accepting one in Gelsenkirchen, at a bindery in an artists' colony. It was a traditional apprenticeship in that it was very rigid. Verheyen started out sweeping floors and doing other menial tasks. He gradually worked his way up to doing actually bindings.

"It wasn't so much like being in school," he says. "Apprentices are an integral part of the business. These shops couldn't keep functioning without them." It wasn't unusual for Verheyen to do more than 100 bindings a week as an apprentice.

As part of his apprenticeship, Verheyen also made visits to a trade school, where he learned techniques that he wouldn't be exposed to in the shop. He was also required to study such subjects as math, especially as it applied to his chosen trade, for example calculating the amount of materials to be ordered.

After two years, Verheyen took the exams to become a full-fledged bookbinder (the usual apprenticeship runs three years, but Verheyen got credit for his work-study experience). For the exams, each apprentice must produce the same pieces; allowing them to be compared nationally.

From Germany, Verheyen traveled to Switzerland, where he spent four months learning book restoration. Then he did an internship at the Folger Shakespears Library in Washington, D.C. For three years he worked with a conservator in private practice in Chicago. Then he became assistant conservator at Yale University, and eventually was named rare book conservator at Cornell University.

Verheyen came to Syracuse in 1995 to enroll in the library science master's program and to set up the SU library's conservation laboratory. His first task was to restore volumes from the library's renowned von Ranke collection.

"Conservators in private practice can spend a lot of time working on a few valuable pieces," Verheyen says. "Here, I have had to balance the need to repair a large volume of books against the need to use sophisticated treatments on a few valuable works."

While Verheyen continues to keep his creative juices flowing by binding works for his own collection, he rarely takes on private projects these days. He is too busy keeping up with needed conservation on volumes in SU's library, along with teaching the occasional class to VPA students.

In the future, Verheyen would like to see the SU library's conservation program grow. "I want to do a wider range of treatments," he says. "I want to help keep SU's special collections accessible to faculty and students."

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