Abraham Koblin, 83, research chemist, library volunteer who mended books

April 07, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Abraham Koblin, a retired research chemist and longtime Baltimore County Public Library volunteer who donated thousands of hours mending worn books, died in his sleep Tuesday at his Pikesville home. He was 83.

Mr. Koblin, known as Abe, was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in 1936. He earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry from Brooklyn College in 1940, and went to work at Edgewood Arsenal in 1947.

The 40-year Pikesville resident, who held several chemical warfare patents, worked as a research chemist at Edgewood Arsenal until retiring in 1972.

It was in his second career as a volunteer at the Randallstown and Reisterstown branches of the Baltimore County Public Library that Mr. Koblin compiled a phenomenal record of nearly 14,000 volunteer hours, according to library officials.

"He began volunteering at Randallstown in 1982, and at his death had worked there 12,781 hours. He also began volunteering at Reisterstown in 1996, and added another 674 hours of volunteer time," said Judy Kaplan, assistant manager at the Randallstown branch.

It is estimated that Mr. Koblin repaired more than 45,000 books for the library.

"He gave so much to the community. There was no end to what he would do. He'd mend books and make displays and sculptures for the children's department. He was an amazing individual," she said.

Karleen L. Zandick, a clerk at the Randallstown branch, said, "He was very artistic and handy with his hands. Whatever you asked him to do, he did it."

"Had it not been for Abe, thousands of books would have gone by the wayside," she said.

Five days a week, he repaired to his orderly office in the basement of the Randallstown library. There he happily whiled away the hours mending bindings and replacing covers, listening to classical music that filled the room from a nearby radio.

Tools of his trade, such as glue pots, book tape, knives and other instruments that helped resuscitate worn Hamlets or Great Gatsbys, littered his work bench. Signs warned casual visitors not to touch books wet with glue or fail to return tools.

"My job is to try and get them back together so they will survive circulation. If [borrowers] were more considerate, our books would be in better shape, but we have some books that come back with their corners chewed off. A dog did that," said Mr. Koblin in a 1999 interview with The Sun.

Considered an expert in book restoration and acclaimed for his fine work, he was invited to give demonstrations to other county librarians and staff.

"He saved the library all kinds of money. He mended pages, spines and could even reproduce covers that looked like the originals," said Monty J. Phair, information coordinator at the Pikesville branch of the Baltimore County Public Library.

"He was truly a Renaissance man who combined all into one -- artistic, scientific and humanitarian skills. We are really going to miss him at Randallstown. In addition to repairing books, he could build anything we needed," said Mr. Phair.

An expert woodworker, Mr. Koblin designed and built library exhibits.

In his basement home workshop, he had through the years built beautifully detailed reproductions of sideboards, china cupboards, and breakfronts.

His wife of 55 years, Nita Nigrine, who died last month, was a retired English and speech teacher when diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1994. In Mr. Koblin's Notes From The Diary of a Caregiver, published by American Literary Press Inc., he detailed his wife's struggle with the disease and his method of care.

Mr. Koblin also built a telescope with which he studied the stars, and enjoyed vegetable gardening and playing bridge.

He was a member of Temple Emanuel synagogue.

Services were held Friday.

Mr. Koblin is survived by a son, Alan Koblin of St. Louis; two daughters, Eileen Ruppel of Ellicott City and Beryl Koblin of Metuchen, N.J.; two sisters, Miriam Solomon of New York and Evelyn Kaye of Plantation, Fla.; and six grandchildren.

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