29 March 2017

Lead snakes and foam cushions

Foam cushions typically used to support books. (Image from the BBF).

You’ve just arrived at a research library abroad, equipped with a letter of introduction and all necessary equipment. You’re fully informed about the library’s rules and opening hours, and although you don’t speak the language, you have enough to be able to ask basic questions about the library’s collections. You know that you need to use the appropriate book supports to examine your material. But how do you ask for them?

Even if you’re an experienced researcher, you may not know the appropriate English terminology for all the specialist equipment you may need to use. Generally speaking, few people, unless they are trained librarians or archivists, know which terms to use. And even if you do, it’s difficult to be sure of the corresponding vocabulary in another language.

Lead snake, used to weigh down the pages of rare books and manuscripts while avoiding damage.

The most common specialist equipment consists of foam cushions and lead snakes. Foam cushions are also known by librarians as a Clarkson Book Support System. A helpful description (in German, but with images) of how to use the different types of foam cushion appropriately is available here. There are several different types of lead snake, ranging from thin and long to short and thick – but luckily, they do not have different names depending on their shape.

In the below table, I’ve provided these and the other most common terms – from basic ones such as ‘eraser’ to the more esoteric ‘acid-free strip’ – in English, French, German and Italian. This list is far from exhaustive, but it may save you ten minutes of searching the internet – or, as I once had to do, explaining your request to a puzzled librarian using hand gestures.

English German French Italian
bookends Bücherstützen serre-livres i fermalibri
foam cushions Unterlagen/Kissen matelas/futons en mousse i cuscini
wooden book stands der Bücherständer le pupitre i leggii
wooden sticks (for use with wooden book stands) Holzstäbchen chevilles de bois i bastoncini
ultraviolet lamp die Ultraviolettlampe lampe à rayons ultra-violet la lampada di Wood/ad ultravioletti
lead snakes Bleischlangen traversin ou serpent/serpentin i cordini piombati
acid-free identification marking strips säurefreie Einlegestreifen bandes Identa-Strips i segnalibri in carta senza acido
classmark/shelfmark die Signatur la cote la segnatura
gloves (cotton or latex) Handschuhe (aus Baumwolle oder Latex) gants (de coton ou latex) i guanti (cotone o lattice)
pencil der Bleistift le crayon la matita
ruler das Lineal la règle il righello
magnifying glass die Lupe la loupe la lente di ingrandimento
eraser der Radiergummi la gomme la gomma
tape measure das Maßband le mètre de couturière il metro da sarto

With grateful thanks to @chaprot for providing the French for ‘wooden sticks’, and to @ParvaVox for the Italian and French terminology generally!

If you’re able to provide the above terminology in a language not already listed here – or to supply the names of specialist electrical equipment – please get in touch! The above table will continue to be updated and expanded, so do keep checking back.

By Anna Dorofeeva.

Do you have any questions or additions to make to this blog post, based on your own experience? Have you recently used a research library and think you’d like to write a post for us? Get in touch with us by email or via Twitter.

Lead snakes and foam cushions
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