All rare book reading rooms need book cradles of some sort. The cradles hold fragile books open at a moderate angle while the researcher takes notes or types on their computer. Ideally, the cradles prevent wear and tear while facilitating use.
There are many different types of book cradles: gray foam wedges; black foam wedges; custom, pose-able cradles made of wood and brass; an ultra-suede "hammock" with a metal frame to name a few. They all work to a certain degree, but the staff at my library were not completely satisfied. The foam wedges come in sets of differing sizes that allow a number of different configurations, however, it is hard to keep track of all the pieces, and they do take up quite a bit of storage space when not in use. Also, if you prop the wedges from the back so the book is tilted toward you while you read or take notes, the book can slide off the cradle or out of its dust jacket or a heavy text-block can sag and stress the joints of the cover. Wooden cradles are not always adaptable to the variety of books that are used in our reading room, and again, they take up a lot of storage space when not in use.
So, how to build a better book cradle that can: support a fragile book at a gentle angle of opening; safely tilt it up a little to make reading and note taking easier for researchers; be flexible enough to accommodate a variety of book sizes; not take up too much storage space; be easily used by staff and researchers?
Well, here's my prototype- a simple Plexi "Z" that tilts the book up at a moderate angle, but has a lip on the bottom to support the text block and cover, and can be used in combination with foam wedges that we already have on hand to support different sized books at varying angles of opening.
The "Z's" by themselves would easily stack on a table in the reading room when not in use. They could also be used for manuscript or any flat documents, again the moderate tilt would facilitate reading and note taking.
I've left the prototype in Special Collections so that the staff can test drive it on a number of books and collect feedback
So far, we think the lip on the bottom needs to be a little deeper
...but what else????