Tag Archives: book repair

Books Can be Deceiving

As someone who repairs books for a living, the idiom “don’t judge a book by its cover” can have a much more literal meaning than expected. I’m regularly encountering books that seem to need only one kind treatment from the outside, but then have more problems than I realized on the inside. This can be a bit frustrating when you’ve mentally prepared yourself for one kind of project and instead find yourself tackling more than you had planned for. Even so, it is especially satisfying to finish a treatment on a book that you felt was going to be complicated. In today’s blog, I’ll be sharing my most recent encounter with a book that I misjudged.

The Problem

The Perkins Library has a great number of collections of Arabic books like the ones you see below.

These books are especially striking due to the eye-catching uniformity of their spines. Outside of how aesthetically pleasing they are, there is an added benefit to the fact that all the books are identical in design. Take a look at this collection of books below. Do any of them look different than the rest?

If you happened to notice the fourth book from the left in particular, then you can see what I meant earlier by “an added benefit”. Thanks to the collections precise design, it’s all the more obvious when something isn’t quite right.

In this case, this poor book seems to have been crushed under something as well as torn along the spine. We certainly can’t leave the book to be handled by patrons in this state, so back to the lab it goes.

At this point, I had assumed the only problem I was dealing with was the crushed spine of the covers/textblock. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t realize that this book had been through more than just some extreme pressure. Right as you open the book to its title page, you’re greeted by discolored paper and some significant black speckling. The spotting continues a good 20 or so pages.

These are the tell-tale signs that not only did the book get wet at some point, but mold had made itself at home here as well.

Now, luckily this isn’t a terrible amount of mold to be dealing with. However, it does mean I have to add several more steps to my treatment before I can tackle the original issue of the crushed spine.

The Solution

Let’s say there hadn’t been any mold in this book. What would my treatment have looked like?

First, I would remove the covers so I could assess the damage done to the spine of the textblock. Once I had addressed that, I would prepare the textblock as I normally would for a recase. Finally, I would repair the covers by making a new spine piece to replace the damaged one, and reattached the textblock to the case.

Now, I will have to remove all of the mold first before I can start anything else.

Based on the dry and powdery consistency of the mold, I can tell that it is no longer active and can be safely cleaned by hand. To do so, I used a soot sponge to manually clean the mold and debris off of every page.

You can see the immediate difference before and after using the sponge on the old mold, both on the pages and the sponge itself.

The soot sponge is mostly likely also picking up dirt and dust on the pages as well, but regardless it’s clear the book needed a good cleaning.

Now that the textblock is free of the residual mold, I can finally get to the treatment I had planned at the start. This book will be back on the shelves and ready for patrons in no time!

Stapled Instead of Sewn

When you look at how books are generally made, you’ll find that a majority of them are either sewn with thread, glued together as individual sheets, or occasionally bound with a combination of sewing and commercial glue.

On rarer occasions, a book will be stapled together. As luck would have it, one of these books recently came across my bench in need of a new cover. At first glance, you can’t immediately tell the difference between a stapled book and a sewn book.

It’s not until you open the book up and look at the gutter of one of the signatures that you might be able to see whether the book is stapled or not.

An opened book revealing the gutter of the pages where a staple can be seen.

It’s even easier once you’ve taken the cover off and can look directly at the spine of the textblock. As you can see in the images below, there are staples running through a significant portion of the signatures of this book.

Now, in a perfect world where I have all the time and patience I could want, I might remove the staples, mend any damage to the signatures in the process, sew the book back together, and then make a new cover. In this case, such an approach would be too labor intensive and time consuming. As the only senior conservation technician charged with maintaining the general collections, I cannot devote that much time to one book when I might have as many as 25 other books also waiting to be treated.

Considerations

With binding structures like this, the treatment decisions tend to boil down to preserving the provenance of the object vs choosing to rebind the book for greater longevity. In this blog post by Peter D. Verheyen in 2011, it’s evident that these wire bindings are a curious part of the history of bookbinding. Since they’re unusual, and since our goal is to conserve as much of the original item as possible, one might think that saving the original binding would be the obvious choice.

But how do technicians in general collections conservation (such as myself) reconcile keeping as much of the original object intact when we also have to prioritize making sure that the book can withstand regular use from patrons? If the staples in the binding had been so rusted that they were breaking whenever I opened the book, I would most likely take a more involved approach to the treatment of this book. An example of such a treatment would be adhering a cotton cambric to the spine and sewing through it along with the textblock, which you can see an example of in this paper by our very own Beth Doyle.

Luckily, in this case, both the paper and the staples were in good enough condition that a secondary treatment wasn’t necessary. However, it could be argued that perhaps I should have gone ahead with the more complex treatment just in case the staples failed in the future. In the end, these are the dilemmas we face in general collections conservation.

Treatment

I decided that the best course of action would be to clean the spine of its original lining and glue and replace it with a strong Japanese tissue adhered with wheat starch paste. By doing so, the spine is stabilized and strengthened while the staples are also given additional support. This reduces the potential damage that could occur from future use and repeated opening and closing of the book.

A picture of the stapled textblock post spine cleaning being held in a hand. The spine and staples are protected with a thin Japanese tissue, so you can still see the staples.

With the textblock now in a stable state, I could prepare a new case for the book. The original case had already failed and since the original materials were too fragile to keep using, it didn’t make sense to try and reuse the case. Instead, I made an inset on the front board in order to preserve the original cover material. If you’d like to learn more about the book, you can find the catalog record here.

Previous Repairs in Leather

One of my favorite aspects of my job is getting to closely examine books from our collection and learn more about how they have been used and maintained over time. A binding’s current condition or the way in which it has been repaired can tell you a lot about its value and use, but I am also very interested in the variety of the techniques or craftsmanship found in historical book repairs. The history of book repair is as long as the format has existed, and the level of proficiency can range from crude utilitarian (like this example) to a more subtle sophistication (such as our current standard of repair). We have shared examples of historical repairs from the collection before, but I found this next item to be very interesting in its execution and level of workmanship.

This 16th century atlas in a full calfskin binding has obviously been through a great deal and has been extensively repaired. The spine has been rebacked in dyed calfskin, the corners have all been repaired, and large areas of loss have been filled with new leather. I cannot say for certain when these repairs were done or even if they were all done at the same time, but suffice to say they are not recent. Several techniques have been used to blend the repairs with the original binding material and they are marginally successful in this regard. Click the photos below to enlarge.

Civitates orbis terrarum

New leather has been applied to the spine in the way of a typical reback: the original covering material has been lifted and new material has been adhered underneath. Nothing unusual there. The board corners and edges, however, have been repaired with onlays, or very thin pieces of calfskin adhered on top. Lines have been tooled in blind over the reback and onlays to continue the original decoration around the boards.

Civitates02

The fore-edge corner of the lower board has been repaired with a large inlay. Inlays are shaped pieces of leather of the same thickness as the original material, which fill the area of loss. My favorite part of this repair is the decoration which attempts to imitate the original floral patterns at the corners. The image below shows an intact original corner with decoration on the left and the decorated inlay on the right for comparison.

Civitates_Inlay

The binder who executed this repair did not have decorative rolls or stamps to match, so they just kind of made it up. The lines in this corner decoration are quite rough and shallow, which makes me think they were just drawn into the dampened leather, rather than actually impressed. Decorative rolls have been used around the outer edge of this corner, but they are quite different from the other decoration on the book. The binding has been heavily dressed, resulting in a very shiny surface to the leather.

It is apparent that a great deal of time and effort was put into this repair and it is successful insofar as it is still structurally sound and allows the book to function. We would approach treatment for a similar item very differently today, however.

1091 Project: 5 Days of Preservation

1091 graphicKevin Driedger, author of Library Preservation 2, had a brilliant idea to ask institutions with preservation and conservation responsibilities to post at least one picture a day this week on the theme, “This is what preservation looks like.” Everyone tagged their posts with #5DaysOfPreservation. Search the hashtag on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and you will see hundreds of images from across the country. He’s also collected the entries on a Tumbler.

For our contributions we divided the post responsibilities between Conservation, Preservation and the Digital Production Center. On Monday, we visited Conservation as they made custom enclosures for some very old pin cushions.

On Tuesday we visited Winston Atkins, Preservation Officer, as he was working on reconciling the just-ended fiscal year budget. As he reminded us, “What we do is administration, after all.” That is one of the hidden secrets of library preservation, we do a lot of paperwork, research, writing, program administration and attend a lot of meetings to gather information to help form our vision for the preservation program’s future.

On Wednesday, we went over to the Digital Production Center to see Zeke digitizing the Duke Chronicle, our campus student newspaper. This digital collection has proved to be one of our most successful projects, and more issues will be available soon.

Thursday we were back in the conservation lab with our student, Wolfgang, who was putting CoLibri (TM) covers on books from our New & Noteworthy collection. These covers protect the publisher’s dust jacket, are non-adhesive and take just a couple minutes to complete.

On Thursday we got two more posts from the Digital Production Center. Mike was working on preparing digital files for transfer into the Duke Digital Repository.

And Alex was working on reformatting videotape to preservation standards.

Friday was a flurry of activity. We found Beth and Rachel changing out the board shear blades in the conservation lab.

And finally we visit the not-so-attractive but vitally necessary job of insect monitoring.

Overall I think Kevin’s idea was a huge hit, and we should all do this again. So often preservation and conservation are hidden in basements or offsite, and I sometimes thing that even our own colleague may not know what we do every day. #5DaysOfPreservation demonstrates the wide variety of services we provide for our institutions and how we contribute to the accessibility of our collections. Let’s go see what Parks Library Preservation’s contributions were this week. What did you do post? Put your links in the comments.

 

Conservation Tips: Sharing knowledge, Solving Problems

Conservation Department tips session.
Conservation Department tips session.

When I first started here we had a variety of skill sets on the staff. To help build our skills, share ideas and create a forum to ask questions, I started “Tuesday Tips at Two,” a weekly meeting with the staff. On Tuesdays we would gather and share tips and tricks on everything from turning corners on cloth clamshell boxes to controlling the curling of the endsheets when putting a new case on a text block.

Those weekly tip sessions have turned into monthly ones. Before our monthly staff meeting, if someone has a tip or wants opinions about how to solve a treatment problem, we gather as a group to  learn from each other or to offer feedback.

tips5
Corner repair demo.
tips1
Jig for corner fills.

Last month we had a double-tip session. Mary presented a tip on using Japanese tissue and paste to fill lost corners on 19th Century publisher’s bindings, and Erin presented a tip on using embossing plates (sold in craft stores) to mimic the pressed-fabric you often see on 19th Century publisher’s bindings. It was an educational and fun tips session.

Embossing plates (purple).
Embossing plates (purple).
Embossed repair tissue.
Embossed repair tissue.

1091 Project: The Good, The Bad, the Past Repairs

1091 graphic

This month on the 1091 Project we discuss old repairs, when to remove them and when to leave them alone. Sometimes the decision to undo an old repair is an easy one, sometimes not, and sometimes it really is a conundrum because there are valid arguments to be made on both sides. Let’s look at some recent items that have been brought to our attention, and be sure to check out Parks Library Preservation’s post.

Old Repairs: The Good

A “good” repair is one that is sympathetic to the original object in both form and function. It may not be immediately obvious that something has been fixed, but it shouldn’t be so transparent that it hides the fact that damage occurred. In a perfect world, a trained eye would catch it upon close inspection, but the lay-person might not realize it unless you pointed it out.

prior repair
Fugitive Sheet: Prior repair on lower right corner of sheet. Note the in-painting of the printed border.

bleau atlas
Bleau Atlas, prior fill also has new media applied to fill in the map.

The repair on the lower right corner of one of our Fugitive Sheets (top left) is a prime example of a good repair. The color of the newly incorporated paper matches the existing paper very well, and the border was even simulated to provided as to not disturb the eye with a break in the printing.

You can see a similar repair in one of our Bleau Atlas volumes (top right). Here you can see a well-crafted fill that includes the application of new media to fill in the illustration where that information was lost. We may not do that level of infilling today, but you cannot deny it is an effective repair that if removed may effect the way the object is interpreted.

Old Repairs: The Bad

Taped binding
A DIY repair that does more harm than good.

I think nothing says “bad repair” like packing tape. We’ve talked about this before, but it is good to reiterate that self-adhesive tape of almost any kind is very damaging to books and can be difficult to remove.

Because of the damage these sorts of tapes cause, it easy to decide to remove the tape and give the book a more sympathetic and reversible repair.

 

 

 

spine repair
An old library repair done with “book tape” with infilled title.

“The Open Polar Sea” is the sort of prior repair that makes it a little more difficult to decide what to do. This repair was clearly done with care and it is still holding. It is not reversible and will likely result in some scarfing when/if we remove it.

The real issue is how much time do we spend undoing these repairs? There are so many in our stacks. If the repair is holding up and not causing further damage, is it better to spend our limited time and resources on these knowing that they ultimately will do damage to the book, or do we work on items that are in more immediate danger of losing materials if they are not repaired? I tend to lean towards the latter, but the argument is worth having, and the decision changes based on a lot of factors (ye olde “value, use, risk, resources” discussion).

 

 

Old Repairs: The Past (With Provenance)

The four pictures below represent prior repairs that we would likely not choose to remove because they are

  • well executed
  • not significantly harming the original
  • still functioning as repairs
  • traditional to a time or type of material
  • tell a significant story about the life of the object

If one of these repairs were to fail, then we would address the problem in a more modern way, that is by using stable methods and materials that would not harm the original materials either physically or chemically, that would be visually sympathetic to the original structure and components, and would be reversible later if the repair failed.

Ethiopic MS 5_3
Ethiopic codex with damaged board, repaired by sewing the two halves together.

ethiopic scroll
Ethiopic scroll, repaired traditionally by stitching the two sides of the tear together with heavy sewing thread.

leather book repair
Leather patches carefully stitched to the binding to repair a damaged spine.

Ethiopic MS 30_2
Tear in the leather is carefully sewn back together. This may have been done at the time of binding to make a usable piece of leather, rather than repaired later as a result of damage.

Deciding on removing an old repair is both objective and subjective. The decision is based on your knowledge of the physical and chemical nature of the original materials as well as the repair materials. It also helps to know the collection and the provenance of the item. Luckily we have great working relationships with all our curators and together can make sound treatment decisions when we come across these sorts of quandaries.

1091 Project: Making Treatment Decisions

This month on the 1091 Project we talk about how we make treatment decisions. Treatment decisions are based on a conservator’s experience with materials, knowledge of treatment options, and understanding of the object as it relates to the collection.

Treatment Goals

Conservators must balance the item’s value to the collection, how and how much it has been or will be used, and to what extent the binding and its contents are at risk for further loss or damage. For any item in the lab we have a few overarching treatment goals:

  • Save as much of the original as possible
  • Use reversible repair methods as much as possible
  • Use high quality repair materials and adhesives
  • Repairs should not be stronger than the weakest part of the original
  • Create a sympathetic repair that does not obscure the fact that it was done (conservation vs. restoration)
  • The repair should facilitate use of the item

From there we ask:

  • Can we do it?
  • Should we do it?
  • How should we proceed?

There is an entire chapter to write just about this section, but let’s move on to the process of making a treatment decision for one book from our general (circulating) collections workflow.

Condition Review

Transactions of the Zoological Society of London, volume VI (London, 1869)

This book came to the lab because someone used packing tape to repair the damaged spine. The fragile leather binding tore off the book as a result.

The binding is a hollow-back binding in quarter leather with tight joints. The leather is weakened and failing; the marbled papers over the boards are abraded; the corners are worn; the spine and boards are off the text block; and the spine has been heavily taped with fresh packing tape, the carrier and adhesive are present, and the adhesive is very sticky.

The text block is made with wove paper and is borderline brittle and oversewn; the paste downs and flyleaf have detached; the spine adhesive and linings are intact; the sewing is intact except for the first and last few pages; the printer’s ink is stable; there are foldouts, some of them are misfolded with damaged edges; several pages at the front and back have multiple tears.


Treatment Options

Can we do it?
The two biggest problems with this book are the tape and the oversewing. If removed, the adhesive on the packing tape will take the fragile, thinly-pared leather with it resulting in a time consuming repair. Oversewing creates a very inflexible spine that restricts the opening and puts tremendous stress on the first few pages, resulting in breaks at the bound edge that are difficult to repair because of the stitching. The fastest, most economical and most practical option may be to replace the binding, but the oversewing will continue to be problematic.

The borderline brittle paper worries me. Because they are stronger than the substrate, repairs can provide a breaking edge for brittle paper. Although this paper is slightly brittle, it still has some flexibility. I think we can repair the page tears and fold-outs but it will take a lot of time.

Should we do it?
The information in this book is likely more valued than the binding by researchers. This book has only five circulations on its record. I could check with the biology librarian whether this may be a faculty favorite, it seems likely that it is.

The new binding and paper repairs will take an estimated 3-4 hours of bench time. I have one technician for the entire general collections workflow (5+ million books). Is this one book worth repairing three or four others that may have higher circulation records? Good question.

We can defer the treatment until its next use. All the parts are here, and though the boards and some pages are detached the book can be carefully used. We could make a protective enclosure (about 15 minutes of time) and put it back as-is if we think that its future use is likely not going to be high.

How should we proceed?
Readers, what do you think? Weigh the issues and options and leave your thoughts in the comments. Head over to Parks Library Preservation to find out how they make decisions.