In September 2003, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries, in partnership with the University of Alabama, University Libraries, received an IMLS National Leadership grant to create the digital resource, Publishers' Bindings Online, 1815-1930: The Art of Books (PBO).
All academic libraries have within their holdings books bound in 19th century decorative bindings. These materials are significant in their place within the fabric of American history and culture, but efforts to present these bindings in a collection that is representative of the era as a whole and to make them available virtually, via the World Wide Web have been limited.
PBO, a significant digital collection of decorative bindings, will strengthen the growing interest in and create broader awareness for this "common" object called the book.
Decorative bindings cover many of the books that people have in their homes today, but their owners are often unaware of their cultural and historical significance. These bindings reflect not only social and cultural history, but bibliographic history as well.
PBO expands awareness of the book as artifact and of the role decorative bindings play in providing a window into historical, cultural, and industrial period of 1815-1930. This project increases the awareness of the general public about the importance of publishers' bindings as reflections of historical events, art movements, and the evolution of commercial binderies.
The project will also afford students, teachers, binders, and scholars in many different areas the opportunity to study up to 5,000 decorative bindings from two different physical collections in a single, virtual location.
One can look upon this project as developing a model that other repositories can use with their own collections. PBO greatly broadens a relatively unexplored scholarly field. This resource will encourage interested parties to look at their own collections, and to gain an understanding of design movements and trends both within the United States as well as abroad, comparable to Jugendstil in Germany, Art Nouveau in France, Arts and Crafts in England, and Glasgow School in Scotland.
Additional resources and scholarship were part of a previous website maintained for this project from 2003 until 2018. Essays, resources and other information from that archived site can be visited from the following pages: Teaching Tools and Lesson Plans, Research Tools and Bibliographic Resources, Galleries & Essays Index, and the original Credits for the project.