We just finished our fall semester Care and Handling sessions wherein we give out tips on safely handling library materials. We also display our “show of horrors” which covers amongst other things torn pages, food spills, damaged spines, and of course brittle paper.
These sessions are valuable to us because we get to talk to the staff and students who are our partners in keeping our materials in good condition and ready for the next reader. A great many items that come to the lab do so because they have circulated. If damaged, an alert staff member recognizes that it should go to Conservation and sets it aside for us. We could not be successful in our efforts to keep materials circulating without their help.
We also hold these sessions to get feedback on our services and how we can help create effective and efficient workflows. Over the years we have heard some comments about how much boxing we do and the perception that we prefer to box things rather than fix them. This is why we put brittle materials into our show of horrors. At some point, paper becomes too brittle to do anything for it. It cannot be sewn or glued, sometimes it can barely even be handled without self destructing.
We make every effort to repair the books and manuscripts in our care but sometimes we simply don’t have any durable repair options due to their fragility. This is why we make thousands of protective enclosures every year, a good portion of these are for brittle items. Protective enclosures keep pieces together while we make reformatting or replacement decisions, it protects the already fragile book from further damage while checked out or while on the shelf, and it alerts people to handle these books just a little more gently.
A box can sometimes be a hindrance to use. But it is our job to balance the needs of the reader with the needs and preservation of the object. This balancing act is not always an easy thing to do, but hopefully our patrons understand that it is a far better thing to have access to a brittle book than having no access to that book at all.