Mutilated books often come to Conservation for repair. We don’t normally like to talk about it, because no one wants to admit that it happens. It does, and it happens in almost every library. Luckily it doesn’t happen often. This week we had a book sent to us from the Stacks Maintenance unit. On the shelf it doesn’t look very damaged. The head is a bit torn, and it would normally go into the commercial binding workflow.
The real problem was exposed when we opened the book. It was missing about 3/4 of the text block. All the pages had been cut out with what looks to be an X-acto or similar tool.
Before we did anything we needed information. We went to the stacks to look around. This book is shelved well above eye level on the top shelf. There were some paper fragments on the floor. We looked at the items around this one to see if other books were also vandalized but we didn’t find any further damage. Our next step was to ask some questions to determine if we could figure out what to do.
Putting on our Mr. Holmes hat
First we looked at the circulation record and determined that it had not circulated since 2013. That means the damage could have been done any time in the last seven years. More information was needed.
Next we talked to the Director of Security and Facilities to determine how often the stacks are swept, trying to figure out if this might be new damage or old. The stacks have been closed to patrons since March, it is unlikely that this was done during that time as our Security personnel are very good at their jobs.
We then talked to the Stacks Maintenance Supervisor. Amazingly one of their Student Assistants was working in that area and discovered the book was missing pages. The paper bits fell on the floor when she removed the book from the shelf. She took it back to Shelf Maintenance where staff looked at the item record. There were other copies available, and as we also noticed, they determined it hadn’t circulated in seven years. So they sent it to us for evaluation, which is the standard workflow for items like this.
What did we learn?
First, there is no way to determine if this was new or old damage. It is very unlikely that this was done in last nine months because of the Covid-19 lock down. This could have been on the shelf in this state for a very long time. There is just no way to definitively tell when this happened.
Finally, and most importantly, we learned that our system works. Our colleagues in Stacks Maintenance have a big job. Beyond re-shelving books they alert us to environmental issues such as leaking pipes, and they find damaged books when they are returned or at the shelf like this one. They are on the front lines when it comes to the preservation of our collections. We are so thankful for them and their student assistants.
Conservation routinely replaces missing pages. However, we normally cap that at ten pages per book. Beyond that number and we want Collection Development to review it, so we will send it to them for evaluation. Both Conservation and Stacks Maintenance will continue watching the area but we are fairly certain this is a singular incident.