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Bookbinder finds niche in digital market

By Antoinette Mercurio

Reg Beatty

Reg Beatty is a bookbinder and communications and culture master’s student.

Whoever said books are disappearing hasn’t met Reg Beatty.

The Communications and Culture Graduate Program student has made a career out his love of books by becoming a bookbinder. Beatty, who has a degree in fine arts from York University, has practised his craft in his studio since 1992 after a librarian friend encouraged him to study bookbinding. Ten years later, he’s found a way to incorporate his craft into the digital world. During the past two years he’s contributed his expertise to the Department of English and Centre for Digital Humanities, helping produce innovative projects that have gained international recognition and official scholarly accreditation.

To Beatty, book arts bridges two worlds ­ – art and literature. Beatty sees himself as both a craftsman, who is preserving a skill and technique, and an artist who sees the potential of bookbinding.

“I always saw bookbinding as the engineering side of bookmaking,” Beatty said. “Bookbinding has become a true art and collaboration between artists, writers and bookbinders.”

 Beatty isn’t threatened by the Internet boom, but rather sees it as helpful to books because it’s made people aware and think of them in a new light.

“There’s a huge debate in the industry about is this the end or the beginning of book arts,” Beatty said. “Book arts is a true radical approach to books because it makes you question how you interact with them. Books are interesting objects for us to engage with [because] they aren’t sculptural but displayed as a sculpture. The scale of them is very intimate.”

Beatty’s biggest contribution has been to the Centre for Digital Humanities’ Yellow Nineties Online project. With funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, a team of students and professors has spent the past seven years developing a site for the scholarly re-creation of avant-garde periodicals from the 1890s such as The Yellow Book. Beatty’s task has been to ensure the site captures the spirit of early modernism in its design, while remaining true to the periodicals and print culture innovations specific to the 1890s. As a result of Beatty and the team’s work, The Yellow Nineties Online was granted official accreditation in February 2012 as a peer-reviewed scholarly publication by the Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship, the internationally recognized assessor of 19th-century digital humanities research.

Co-director of the centre Lorraine Janzen Kooistra said, “Reg brings historical knowledge, a wonderful interplay of theory and practice, and a designer’s eye from the bound book to the digital screen’s user interface.”

The Yellow Nineties project crosses over into Beatty’s research project, What Can You Do with an Artist’s Book? His thesis explores the complex relations between book objects in print and digital culture.

“My research is meant to spark debate and encourage dialogue about what we want books to do, especially after they’ve been turned into digital objects,” Beatty said. “It’s very much future oriented.”

Beatty heard about Ryerson’s Communication and Culture Graduate Program through a friend and was fascinated by the mix of subjects, such as media, arts, technology and politics, studied in the course.

“I wanted to be at Ryerson because it’s really impressed me and grown in all the right ways,” Beatty said. “I found I could be myself in the program. It accommodates various interests that people can find a niche in.”

-with files from Denis Denisoff

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