Communion Of Dreams


Matter of principle.
May 29, 2007, 12:39 pm
Filed under: Book Conservation, Depression, Feedback, General Musings, Society

When I was still new to being in business as a bookbinder, I had someone call me one morning about doing some conservation work to a musical instrument. After I carefully explained that I was a book conservator, not an artifact conservator, they said that what they needed was the replacement of a small piece of leather which had been pared down to suitable thickness and then mounted, and that there wasn’t anyone in 100 miles who could do this for him. The guy practically begged me to help him out. Finally, I relented, and told him to bring the instrument in so that I could see what exactly he was talking about, but I made no promise that I would do the work.

He was in that afternoon. Opened up his case, took out his instrument. It was an accordian, about a century old. Needed a small piece of leather to function as part of the bellows assembly, if I remember correctly. Wasn’t very big, just a few inches across and about the same wide, and would need to be mounted under a strip of metal on each side. But the leather would have to be pared down very thin – a simple, but time-consuming task. I told him that it would take altogether about an hour and a half of my time, and with materials would run about $50.00 (my rates were only $25.00 an hour then).

He looked at me like I was nuts. “But it’s only a little piece of leather!”

“Well, yeah, but it’s going to take me 90 minutes to prep the piece, remove the old piece, mount the new one, and get everything secure.”

“But this thing is only worth about that much,” he protested. “I won’t make any money on it if I pay you that much to fix it. How about $10.00?”

I sent him on his way. And learned that it was pointless for me to try and help people who don’t really need it or want it. Unless someone values my services, and wants them applied in a suitable fashion, it doesn’t make any sense for me to try and convince them otherwise.

Which brings me back to this post, which generated some good feedback here and at UTI, and in private correspondence. I’ve thought a lot about this matter over the last several days, and thanks to the discussions I’ve had I’ve come to understand that this, like the above episode, is a matter of principle for me. And the principle is that I cannot force these people to do the right thing – I can only offer my services in a suitable manner, at a fair price, and then let them decide for themselves what the best course of action is for them. It’s not my job to save the world, or even to save the books in this collection from the people who now own them. It is simply my job to do good work when contracted by those who want my services. The rest is on their shoulders.

Jim Downey


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