Paige M. Gutenborg

It’s been a quiet week at the Rosenbach. Most of the collections staff has been away, either on vacation or out in Wyoming, installing a traveling Sendak exhibition at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. I have spent the week hunched over my computer, learning the intricacies of Chenhall Nomenclature and editing object information in huge Excel spreadsheets. Rather than bore you with the details of that, I figured I’d post this week about a really neat book machine, nicknamed Paige M. Gutenborg, that I saw on a trip to Cambridge, Mass a few weeks ago.

Paige is a print-on-demand (or POD) book machine installed at the Harvard Bookstore, on Mass Ave in Harvard Square. Basically, Paige takes a digital file and then prints a book and binds it in front of your very eyes. The part of the machine where the book is assembled has plexiglass sides so you can actually watch the book come together–the pages come out of the printer and get collated, then a roller comes up applies glue to one edge, then the pages are inserted into the cover (which is printed in color on separate cover stock), then a guillotine trims all the edges, and then the book comes out of a slot in the bottom, like a gumball machine. The resulting book is just like any trade paperback, and it only took a few minutes to make.

It seems that there are two main types of books that people use Paige to create. One is self-publishing, and in fact that was what was being run while I was watching–a poet wanted some bound copies of his poems for a reading that evening. The other, which appeals to me as a historian, is making hard copies of out-of-print, public domain books which have been digitized through online projects such as Google Books. The idea that I could send in a link and order my own copy of some long-forgotten 19th-century book, rather than having to read 300 pages online makes me very excited.

Anyway, the gizmo is a lot of fun to watch and I’m certainly not the only one who thinks so–the woman who runs the machine is clearly quite used to onlookers and the owner of the shop even stopped by to talk about the machine with me and some other gawpers. I did my duty by the Rosenbach while I was there–two of the pre-printed volumes that the store had for sale as examples of Paige’s work were the Bay Psalm Book (fittingly, the first book they ran through the machine) and the Alice manuscript (from a digitized version of 1886 facsimile) and I ended up chatting at length with the owner and other onlookers about the backstories of both of these volumes. They were very polite to put up with me!

I don’t think the Rosenbach will be installing one of these machines any time soon (the $100,000 price tag alone would be a deterrent), but if you are in Harvard Square you might enjoy taking a peek. You can find out other locations with this machine (it’s technically an Espresso Book Machine from OnDemandBooks) at the manufacturer’s website, but sadly there are none in Philly.

Talking about books on demand is also a good chance for me to throw in a plug for research appointments at the Rosenbach. If there’s a book (or manuscript or whatever) in our collection that interests you, we can’t print you a facsimile, but we can give you a research appointment to enjoy the real thing, up close and personal. All the details about making an appointment are in the Research section of our website and our research hours extend until 6 PM on Wednesdays and Thursdays, so you can even come by after work.