Book cradles that don’t go to the grave

Wunsch Conversation Lab invents reusable mounts for library exhibits

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Staff in the MIT Libraries’ Wunsch Conservation Laboratory have been working to design a new kind of structure to display books and other objects exhibited in both the Maihaugen Gallery and Rotch Library. Such an exhibit mount should be designed so that it does not damage the object while also presenting its best qualities. Conservation Associate Ayako Letizia developed an innovative solution by creating a book mount, or cradle, that is both more flexible and more sustainable than conventional mounts.

Letizia’s design has movable arms that can be altered to adjust the book’s opening angle; this allows staff to use the same cradles to display different books across different exhibitions. Over time, this reduces waste by eliminating the need to create new mounts. In addition to the arms, the display angle of this type of mount is also adjustable. On a higher shelf, an object needs to be in a more upright position, while an object on a lower shelf would be tilted back to more comfortably accommodate the viewer.

This new cradle, with its two angle-adjustments, is made possible by using a sheet of PETG (polyethylene terephthalate glycol), a co-polyester called Vivak®. This strong, transparent plastic sheet is easy to manipulate by cutting with a board shear or utility knife and then bending by hand. Folds made in the Vivak® can flex back and forth multiple times without breaking.

Because this flexible plastic book mount can fit almost any kind of lightweight book, it can be reused for subsequent exhibits. For example, for the recent exhibit The Great Stride: MIT Moves to Cambridge, staff were able to repurpose 90 mounts out of the 100 needed to create displays. Conventional custom-fit book mounts, on the other hand, are hard to repurpose and are often discarded after a single use. Another advantage of using this book mount is to save storage space. When de-assembled into pieces, the mount parts can be nested together. That is a great benefit for a small space with limited storage areas like the Wunsch Lab.