Care and Feeding of Yer Books
April 26, 2012 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Simple Techniques for the Repair and Maintenance of Books.

Or listen to a professional: To begin with, if you remember nothing else, remember this: A book is a machine. For all the magic, mystique and awe that may surround it, the bound book is a machine. And like all machines, it will obey the laws of physics that have been built into it, whether or not they were what the binder intended. If a book was bound, rebound or repaired without regard to how all the parts work together to make the machine work, the laws of physics will relentlessly tear it apart, even while it is sitting quietly on a shelf. If a binding structure was made aesthetically pleasing, but too weak to support the textblock, gravity will do its job. If a hinge is not properly made, or repaired, it will not be a hinge and do what hinges do, which is to open and close the book. It will instead be a lever, and it will do what levers do, which is to pry apart the book.

That's an excerpt from one of Robert Colver's articles on book repair.

The Bitter Truth about acid.
Bringing Life to Tired Tomes which includes secret techniques to remove library number labels from those books you bought at their used book sale.
Common Antiquarian Ailments. and finally,
Tying Up Loose Ends wherein Colver describes a situation where all is lost:

A few years back, I alerted a local dealer to keep his eye peeled for the Limited Editions Club Gulliver. I wanted a copy, with its folio Brobdingnag and its l6mo Lilliput. He called me a few months later and said, "I've got one, but you don't want it." When I asked why, he said: "Come look at it. You'll see."
I went. I looked at it. I saw. He was right. It was a beautiful copy. But the previous owner had written, clear across the pastedown and free fly of Brobdingnag: "Property of Mrs. X Y Z." With her complete address. And her phone number. Including area code. In inch-high letters. In bright crimson crayon. If there is an eighth circle of Hell...
posted by storybored (12 comments total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
You know, apart from the unfortunate name of the publishing house, I've got a bit of a pile of late-19th/early-20th century hardcovers that I am fearful of glancing at because I don't want them to fall apart, but by god I'm going to take the crummiest ones and give this stuff a red hot go. Great resources, thanks storybored!
posted by tumid dahlia at 7:51 AM on April 26, 2012

This is what I do professionally (book & document conservation/restoration).

His series is generally good, if you have the hand skills and pay close attention to his instructions and warnings. But I would caution diving into this sort of thing on any book which is truly valuable to you - either in terms of family history or actual rarity. Because what he says is right - much of the work I have to do is undoing previous repairs.

Link to my conservation website in my profile, if you want to see more.
posted by Shadan7 at 8:13 AM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Amazing post, thanks for this. DIY-filter is fine with me...

Shadan: link noted, though the page isn't loading. I suspect there is a disturbance in the force regarding the internet for me today though, various [large] websites aren't loading as they should either.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:16 AM on April 26, 2012

I'm firmly convinced if DaVinci had done The Last Supper in Crayola, it wouldn't need restoration. It would be as bright today as the day he did it.

Terrifying, I knew there was a reason I never liked crayons growing up. I must have had an innate sense of their power to mark [read:mar] forever.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:18 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just double-checked the link, RolandOfEld - everything looks good on this end.

And yeah, crayons are a real SOB to deal with, though there are things which can be done to minimize the damage. In most cases I recommend to the client to leave it be as just part of the history of the book/document.
posted by Shadan7 at 8:22 AM on April 26, 2012

Heh. All the repairs I've been doing for the past decade are of the MacGuyver variety. Not every book in need of repair is a leather bound work of art and history, after all. At Harvard, we'd just send those ones off to HC (and if they couldn't do it, they'd send it across the river to Houghton), but when it came to fixing damaged copies of bound serials from the 1970s, we were pretty much on our own. Fancy presses and special glues gave way to discarded accounting textbooks and Elmer's pretty quickly - if the job was too tough, we'd order up a phase box, the Darth Vader armor of the library world.

At my current library, we don't have any sort of preservation department, so we're even more on our own. I try to take care of the some of the older monographs, but given that they see so little use (it is the rare undergrad who uses a book that their prof has not told them to use), it's not something that can take up a lot of my time. Besides, most of the casualties are students ripping out entire chapters, so it's not like I have anything to rebind.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:23 AM on April 26, 2012

Ok, so the Preventative Maintenance section in the main link in the post is pretty amazing.

I've always had trouble with dust jackets being damaged right off the bat, never knew there was a proper way to open new hardback books, and would love to reinforce loved paperbacks against the ages. This is even more important since many of the books I'm referencing aren't going to be absorbed in my Kindle-reading future. They're older books that may have been purchased in a questionable state to begin with, often at a bargain price, and aren't collectible/historic copies that deserve kinder treatment. Many thanks.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:33 AM on April 26, 2012

Not that there isn't tons of helpful information in that first link, but do bear in mind the main purpose of it is to sell you supplies from Gaylord, sort of like those freebie little cookbooks where every recipe starts "Take one cup of MIRACLE WHIP® BRAND SALAD DRESSING"
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:42 AM on April 26, 2012

Take one cup of MIRACLE WHIP® BRAND SALAD DRESSING and slather it liberally over the textblock with a bone folder.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:45 AM on April 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

The Alaska State Library's Historical Collections has a nice set of PDFs on simple repairs. Having been through the two hour intro class they give, it was fun and fascinating and made me wish I had chosen book repair as a career. Buy some old books at the thrift and practice.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:03 AM on April 26, 2012

OK, so I won't be starting with the boxed, decaying first edition Innocents Abroad I got at the FoTL sale... but this is gonna help me a lot. I'm a total sucker for library sales, and have been meaning to contact the Bindery down the street from me about ex-ex-libris-ing some some of the more interesting titles I've managed to acquire. ...but I think I'd rather do this myself. Thanks for the links!
posted by carsonb at 11:05 AM on April 26, 2012

What about getting WITHDRAWN stamps removed from Limited Editions Club covers? That's really the only thing I can't figure out about this Maps of Los Angeles copy I have.
posted by carsonb at 11:08 AM on April 26, 2012

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