Her journey started at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where O’Hara started on her masters degree in 1990. While there, she began work in the preservation and conservation area in the basement of the library. She learned to triage and do everything from “tipping” an entire torn page into place to disassembling a book to wash the pages, then put it back together.
The lead conservator at Wisconsin-Madison taught classes on book-binding, and O’Hara also learned how to build a tome from cover to cover. Later, she took over for the astronomy librarian at the university and loved it – but she needed to be a student at the school to retain the position.
Enter art courses – art preservation, paper-making, and more, after her library courses came to an end. Google “artist’s book” for an idea of some of O’Hara’s work then, which used the structure of books as an art medium, instead of a means of printing reproductions of art.
Every job O’Hara has had at a library included some form of book repair. She worked at the Rochester Public Library from 2004 to 2015/16, she said, and the staff there keeps her card on hand in case someone comes in with a “challenge book.”
She’s taught book repair and book-binding classes, and found that many crafty members of the public prefer the more fun, artsy aspects of book-binding.
Anyone can develop either of the skills, though.
“It’s like any skill or language – it just takes practice,” she said.