WFU’S “Book Mechanic” preserves history

Craig FanslerCraig Fansler is a mechanic, but you won’t find him in a garage. Instead, Fansler is tucked away inside the Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University tinkering on books rather than cars.

“If a book is falling apart-just like a car-we can catch the problem and prevent more damage,” said Fansler, who repairs damaged books and documents as the head of preservation for the university.

Fansler is a modest man who shrugs off compliments about his talent. Others see him as a preserver of not only books, but also Wake Forest heritage.

Lu Leake, a long-time administrator at Wake Forest, took several old ledgers to Fansler, including one that dated back to the 1800s. The books offer a glimpse into Wake Forest history through handwritten minutes from faculty and board of trustee meetings and a list of enrolled students.

One large leather and suede-covered ledger was from Wake Forest’s early 19th century days when students worked in exchange for an education. Inside the ledger, written in an elegant script, was a list of students and their day’s work, such as making candles. “The history of the school includes precious documents,” said Leake, the university’s interim registrar. “They are prized possessions.”

Rhoda Channing, director of the university library, said preserving books is part of a library’s responsibility to society. “Craig understands how important it is that our culture be available to future generations.”

Tasks for the preservationist, who along with his student assistants repaired about 4,800 books last year, range from replacing missing pages to repairing damaged covers and weak spines.

On the current repair list is the photographic chronicle, “Anne Frank: Beyond the Diary.” The red, hard cover book was missing groups of pages, called signatures. Through interlibrary loan, Fansler found a copy of the book, so he can reproduce the missing pages and include them in the book.

In addition to his repair work, Fansler also is part of the library’s disaster team. To a library, disasters range from an outbreak of mold to flooding from a broken pipe. Whatever the problem, Fansler is there to make sure the loss is small, Channing said, adding Wake Forest is fortunate to have a preservationist. “Every library tries to have a ‘Craig,’ but many don’t.”

Although Fansler recognizes his role in preserving history and prolonging the life of books, he mostly appreciates the artistic side of his job.

“It’s a form of self expression, just like art,” said Fansler, who has a bachelor’s degree in art history and printmaking. Before repairing books for Wake Forest, Fansler was making books as a hobby.

Fansler enrolled in a bookbinding course after cutbacks forced him out of a job in 1992 with the Tennessee Department of Conservation, where he designed museum quality exhibits at state parks and visitor centers. Fansler’s bookmaking hobby turned into a career in 1994 when he started working at Wake Forest.

Because of Fansler’s creativity and talent, people ask for his help on all kinds of projects from repairing family Bibles to writing inscriptions in calligraphy. “‘Craig, can you look at this?’ I hear that a lot,” he said.

Campus chaplain Ed Christman calls Fansler an artist. Fansler repaired two Bibles for Christman and worked with him on projects during Wake Forest’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week.

“This is an artist at work,” Christman said. “He preserves, but the same talents and skills are at work when he creates.”

To Fansler, he’s just doing his job and enjoying every minute.

Categories: Campus Life, Staff