Book repair
August 25, 2008 3:35 PM   Subscribe

The Dartmouth College Library hosts a Simple Book Repair Manual, which teaches you how to repair common problems such as torn pages and wet books. For more complicated procedures, the Alaska State Library put together a training manual, with illustrations of repair procedures. (Full PDF here.) There is also a book conservation dictionary hosted by the Stanford conservation department, which explains many of the terms used.
posted by Upton O'Good (17 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for this. My former library school comrades who have become archivists will be pissed that this info has been made public. Now I don't feel so bad about dropping out of the program.
posted by HotPatatta at 3:56 PM on August 25, 2008

MICROSPATULA CITY! Buy nine microspatulas, get the tenth one for just one penny! harharhar.
posted by rokabiri at 4:01 PM on August 25, 2008

When I used to have pet rabbits, they used to take my books off the shelves and eat the pages...dunno if you can ever repair that...but it's a nifty thing to know!
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 4:05 PM on August 25, 2008

I have always liked all three of these sites. Thanks.
posted by jessamyn at 7:07 PM on August 25, 2008

These are wonderfully useful links. Thanks for this post!

I spent four years working in the conservation lab at the Lilly Library before conservation was centralized at the Lingle Preservation Lab.. Mending pages and repairing bindings are still some of my favorite things to do when I have the time. I've gotten past the old habit of trotting out my microspatulas and bone folders in front of company, though.
posted by Heretic at 7:19 PM on August 25, 2008

Enough to make my conservation colleagues very happy in a nerdy way....And a good chance to see what they're really doing down there in the basement.

Secretly, *I* get a thrill out of flagging a damaged book/other material and sending it down to tech services. It comes back all pretty and new!
posted by librarylis at 7:48 PM on August 25, 2008

I have taken the starter class hosted by the Alaska State Library and have seen their conservation crew in action. For anybody who has never repaired the spine of a book, it is really fun. Buy a crappy book from a used bin, a microspatula, some wheat paste, some japanese paper, and other various supplies and go to town. Tipping in pages from another book creates chaos and enjoyment.
posted by Foam Pants at 7:59 PM on August 25, 2008

My first thought was less than savory...certain adult magazines with their pages stuck together. I hope to whoever the god(dess) of porn is that they've never had to do that.

On the other would be one hell of a final exam for your degree in book care!
posted by Kickstart70 at 8:19 PM on August 25, 2008

I'm just surprised Dartmouth College has a library. Those things are inside. Inside!
posted by srboisvert at 3:00 AM on August 26, 2008


It's a two-edged sword ... and what keeps places like the New England Document Conservation Center in business.

I wasn't aware of the Alaska manual, so on a lark I looked at the "Advanced Repairs". I found this comment telling:

There are many older book structures that function differently from a case bound book. If a book looks or operates in an unusual way, carefully research the book structure or consult a trained book conservator before attempting repair.

Oh, yeah. Definitely. It suggests a "How to do trepanning at home" attitude.

While much of the hand work that conservators do doesn't require a graduate degree in library science, there is SOOOO much more to it than simply "fixing the book". And sadly, too many of the library science programs today have no component that addresses the issue of collection preservation and conservation (the hot thing these days is "digital preservation" ... and yes, THAT'S important, but the physical collections are still waiting for the proper respect they deserve). Preservation work must, of course, deal with thousands upon thousands of such materials, so it is good that these manuals and sites are there to encourage an understanding of the task. But please be a little more Hippocratic about it: "First, do no harm."

As the printed collections in our institutions grow older each year, and thus increasing in the possibility of their rareness, such attempts to locally repair may cause more harm than sending them out to trained conservators.

I must say that I am glad to see that the Dartmouth entry on wet books states that they should, ideally, be freeze-dried then treated. I can't stress how important that little fact. Having seen and dealt with too many floods and wet books, this fairly simple approach is a non-invasive way of dealing with a huge problem and I'm glad that more people will now be aware of it. I never want to see the aftermath of a flood in the library again ... I've had my fill (3rd link: scroll down to the section entitled "Libraries in Crisis: Accounts of the Houston Floods"). I know my comrades-in-bone folders would say the same about Katrina.

Support your local libraries and bookstores, support your local librarians ...
posted by aldus_manutius at 6:35 AM on August 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow! Some very interesting stuff here.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 8:41 AM on August 26, 2008

aldus_manutius ---> Thanks so much for your comments. I saw this go up last night, and shuddered a little. It's one thing to follow written instructions in order to perform a simple repair. It's another to suss out the nuances of resewing and recasing an entire book. I love the DIY culture that has sprung up here in the otts, but sometimes it supercedes legitimate apprenticeship and training in its zealousness. I've seen so many well-intentioned repairs or badly performed repairs pass over my worktable (my favorite being one recased in suede and cardboard with blue kitten wallpaper endsheets - perhaps I'll post a photo sometime).

Carpentry, plumbing, car repair, book conservation, trepanning... these can all be done by the amateur, or turned into a serious hobby, but at least know when to say no; even the professionals do.
posted by ikahime at 11:04 AM on August 26, 2008


Yeah ... I didn't even go into serious details about some of the pre- and post-disaster nightmares. I spent time training and working at the Humanities Research Center, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the University of Michigan's Book Conservation labs, as well as working with a private conservator, often being called in to help out ... and while I applaud the DIY attitude, it scares the bejeebers out of me when I see this kind of thing.

One of the reasons I finally got out of the book conservation field was to go BACK to graduate school and get an MILS so I could actually have some impact on getting collections treated, moving further up the decision "food-chain" to see that things got looked at, considered for treatments and taken care of by trained people. I got interested in a very informal manner (I was asked to submit a collection of photographs and I decided to make a book of them, so I first had to learn how to make a book ... aahhh, what a slippery slope THAT was!), so I heartily encourage people to follow their interests and learn more about these arts.

Ah, well ... "so it goes."
posted by aldus_manutius at 11:59 AM on August 26, 2008

As a note, the Alaska manual is intended for Alaskan librarians, a breed of people who often have to make a go of it all by themselves so it is appropriate to advise them how to do this.
posted by Foam Pants at 1:31 PM on August 26, 2008

Sweet, now I finally know how to repair the slipcase of my complete Calvin and Hobbes collection. (Water damage made the cloth come loose on the lip; didn't know what kind of glue was appropriate for book repair. Guess I'm off to buy some PVA!)
posted by bettafish at 5:32 PM on August 26, 2008

Oh, and from a professional standpoint, I think this is pretty awesome. Getting information available to the public is always good. As for collection preservation/conversation issues, there's a dichotomy that needs balancing: it's important to consider whether you, as a preservationist, are working to keep intact the material object or the raw data it was meant to house. There are times when you does need to choose one or the other. Obviously guillotining for scanning destroys the book, but what if paper preservation treatments make parts of the text illegible, or you have to replace the cover? In my ideal, yay-we-got-a-huge-grant universe, of course, we can do both because the object is in a good enough condition, so we digitize it and then concentrate on keeping the book nice and pretty.

I'm not even going to touch the preservation vs. conservation issue, because I am so not qualified. The technical definitions are obvious (preservationists keep what is there intact, conservators restore), but in usage - boy, do the lines get blurred.
posted by bettafish at 5:45 PM on August 26, 2008

Foam Pants, I understood that (about the book being intended for folks who are not always able to call their local book conservator) concern was for the more general public and the DIY attitude elsewhere.

bettafish, that IS the difference between conservation and preservation: understanding the impact of the treatment on the long-term use of the object and access to the content ( I refuse to cast this in terms of "data"). No trained conservator would blithely and knowingly recommend a treatment that would cause the loss of meaning or context.

Conservators DO NOT RESTORE ... restoration is a nasty word. Conservators may be excellent at restoration, but that is not their chief goal. Many "restorers" simply focus on the "aesthetic" restoration of a object and ignore the mechanical; a conservator has to be concerned with maintaining the mechanical functioning of the object (yes, books have "mechanics") and the structural integrity of it as well as its appearance.

Digitization is simply ONE means of providing access to content that might be lost or endangered through continued physical handling. The hard question is what do you do if you CANNOT guillotine the book for scanning and it MUST be scanned? And replacing the cover is not so serious as you make it sound ... been there, done that routinely. With a cloth bound or leather bound book it's frighteningly easy to do (not always!), once you know what you're doing.

BTW, the reason the cloth came off is because an appropriate adhesive WAS used ... starch pastes and some methyl-cellulosic adhesives are intended to be reversible. Using straight PVA means that in the future, your DIY repair will not be reversible. At least dilute the PVA with half rice starch paste or methyl-cellulose. Or was that just a flip reference, I couldn't tell ...

And yes, for the record, I am qualified to have this discussion.
posted by aldus_manutius at 7:13 AM on August 27, 2008

« Older You've got to follow your balloon...   |   Save Everyone! Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments