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Basic Repair


We repair books to extend their use. This can mean different things to different libraries depending upon their mission. A research library will want almost every book to be preserved indefinitely. A public or school library may feel certain books need only to be kept in circulation until they lose popularity (a few months to a few years). Does this mean that there should be a different set of less stringent standards for public and school libraries? A good repair IS a conservation quality repair and a bad repair can do more harm than good to the very materials it seeks to preserve. The techniques and materials used in the recommend sources below should be followed.

Library staff may want to seek assistance for repair to items of historical significance or books published before 1930 - a rather arbitrary date but linked to the fragility of most paper published prior to that time.


Nearly all repair procedures, beyond simple rehousing, may lead directly to loss of value (shortened use-life, intellectual, aesthetic, economic, etc.). Less obviously, it may also lead to a loss of value over the course of the life of the book. A repair that appears to have been successful at the time it is done may, over time, result in damage, whether through choice of materials whose aging behavior is not what was expected, through mechanical failure of the repair, or through unfortunate interactions between materials.

Some training resources are discussed elsewhere in this document.

Selection for Repair

A key issue is determining to what extent a book is important only for its information (the words printed in it) and to what extent it should be treated as an artifact. For a good discussion of this topic see: On the Preservation of Books and Documents in Original Form -- Barclay Ogden

See also:
Identifying Material Appropriate for In-House Repair ( Dartmouth College Library)

This document discusses some of the criteria by which books are evaluated for selection for repair. It suggests a set of questions that should be answered by curatorial, circulation, and preservation staff to determine whether a book is a good candidate for repair.

General Principles for Responsible Book Repair

There are some simple principles that form the foundation of responsible book repair. For more detailed discussion of these issues, consult the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC). While that document is intended for conservation conservators and conservation scientists, its philosophical underpinnings apply to simple repair.

In truth, virtually any treatment beyond rehousing may, at some level, be "irreversible", See the AIC Code for discussion of this issue.

For research libraries and archives, it is important to recognize that it is very unlikely that any repair done today will be the last one the book receives during its lifetime. Moreover, if the history of conservation has taught us anything, it is that today's materials and techniques are very likely to be found wanting tomorrow.

So, the goal is to design repairs in such a way that they can easily be undone in the future without doing damage to the book. For these types of institutions this eliminates a wide range of materials and techniques (e.g. most pressure sensitive tapes, many widely available adhesives). However, we urge that all cultural institutions err on the side of caution when using repair materials. Unless one is very, very sure that the object will never have artifactual value, always use the best quality archival, reversible materials available.


As mentioned above, training for book repair is not a trivial enterprise. The manuals and other training resources below are offered not as a substitute for formal training, but as an adjunct and reinforcement of such training. Manuals and tutorials can help a prospective repair technician make the most of his/her training efforts, but are not themselves an adequate training experience. We recommend that the novice technician practice different techniques many times on discarded books and documents before attempting a repair on a book that is to remain part of the collection.

California Preservation Program
Workshops on basic and intermediate book repair

A Simple Book Repair Manual ( Dartmouth College Library)
From the introduction:
"General Collections conservation is a necessary and key activity of an effective preservation program. This manual has been written to provide background on standard commercial book production, give guidelines for selecting appropriate candidates for in-house book repair, and introduce staff to the elements of book repair. Included is a bibliography of sources used in preparing this manual."

Contains a list of necessary book repair tools, and instructions for ten simple repairs: Self-Closing Wrapper, Cleaning, Torn pages, Tip in a Page, Hinge Repair, Corner Repair, Sewing a Single Signature, Spine Repair, Air Dry Method, Hinge Tightening.

Conservation Book Repair: A training manual (Alaska State Library)
Artemis BonaDea, Alaska State Library, Alaska Department of Education, 1995
Excellent detailed illustrations by Alexandria Prentiss help to visualize each repair. The entire 200 pages are downloadable.

Spine Repair (Northwestern University Libraries)
Describes a simple spine repair.
From the document:
"This treatment is appropriate for circulating books with average to heavy use. Used in conjunction with internal repair and reinforcement, it provides a strong cover repair for the critical areas of wear at the spine with a minimal amount disruption to the original binding components."

 Selected Book Repair Documents (UC Berkeley Conservation Department)
These in house documents, prepared by the UC Berkeley Conservation Department provide some examples of approaches to book repair decision making and procedures. They are of general interest and could be adapted for use by a range of multi-type libraries.
Repair/Binding Decision Trees, Instructions for Photocopying, Repair vs. Copying, Tipping In.

 Procedures and Treatments Used for Book Repair and Pamphlet Binding (University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign)
This manual provides illustrated descriptions of a number of common repair procedures. Note seriously the caveat given in the document: "These pages demonstrate a number of the procedures we use on a daily basis. They are intended to show both the complexity of some procedures and the range of preservation decisions one must make for each individual item.

A familiarity with the specialized language of repair and conservation will make the training process more effective. A clear understanding of the parts of a book is the most critical area. It is also useful to distinguish between the differing usages of conservation/repair and the book trade.

Parts of a Book ( Dartmouth College Library)
Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology (Roberts & Etherington)

This is a thorough and extremely readable treatment of the terminology used in conservation and bookbinding.  


  2007 by the California Preservation Program
Page last modified: April 2007
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