Thursday, January 29, 2009

Basic library procedures: Simple book repairs

There’s nothing to match curling up with a good book when there’s a repair job to be done around the house.”
Joe Ryan

Book repair
Rebinding a book is not always the most cost effective option for preserving material. Simple repair techniques can extend the circulation can extend the circulation life of the book if they are done with care using the proper materials. Mending is an option for items that have:

  • Torn or loose pages.
  • Weak or damaged hinges.
  • Loose signatures.
  • Worn covers.
  • Moderately damaged spines.

Repair considerations
Just as with binding an item, some thought should be given as to whether the item should actually be repaired. Since even simple repairs require time, effort, and the use of library supplies, there are some questions to consider before beginning a repair.

  1. Is the item worth keeping in the collection?
    Again, this is a key question. Consider how essential the book is to the library’s collection, whether the item can easily be replaced, and whether there is another copy. If the item is heavily used, rebinding may be the better option.
  2. What is the physical condition of the item?
    Is the item reasonably clean with no excessive damage to pages? If pages are missing or if they are flimsy, brittle, badly torn, or excessively marked up the book may not be worth repairing.
  3. What is the desired outcome of the repair?
    How long does the library intend to keep the book? Is the repair only temporary until something better can be done? What are the consequences of the chosen repair?
  4. How much time is available for the repair?
    How much time is there for the repair? As you will learn, it takes time to properly execute a repair. Items often have to be left overnight to dry. It may be better to set aside the item until there are other similarly damaged items.
  5. Personnel available for the repair?
    Who makes the decision about the repair? Am I the only person that can do this repair? Can someone else help me? Are there steps I can leave to others?
  6. Funds available for this repair?
    How much money will it cost for the repair? Is the repair affordable? Do I have the necessary supplies?
  7. Do I have the expertise for this repair?
    What techniques do you know for executing this repair? Is the repair beyond my abilities? Should I ask for outside help?

    Generally an item is repaired in-house because of the simplicity of the problem, the economy of the process, and the expediency of getting the item back in use.

Basic tools and supplies
A designated work area for in-house repair is helpful for conducting repairs. All materials and supplies are readily accessible and no other process needs to be interrupted to conduct work. A clean, well organized workspace increases efficiency and helps you to conduct an effective and well-done repair. A large table, proper lighting, and an adjustable stool or chair are helpful. In addition, an area to store repair supplies will facilitate work.
Tools and supplies do not have to be a costly investment. A core of basic supplies might include:

Tool Purpose
Plastic or bone folderUsed to press loose pages into place, rub tape down flat, or score hinges. Bone is best but of course more expensive than plastic.
BrushesUsed to brush on glue. A small brush with a flat tip is useful. Try to find a brush with bristles that are securely crimped so that they do not shed into your repairs.
Long wooden sticksUsed to apply glue in difficult to reach places (e.g. hinge repair). Should be thin and with rounded tip.
X-Acto knifeUsed to make sharp accurate cuts (e.g. on card stock).
RulerHandy for making accurate measurements.
Wooden dowelsIn combination with elastic bands, are used to press book.
Rubber bandsUsed to keep book tightly closed and pressed so that repair dries properly.
ScissorsHandy for cutting tape and wax paper.
T-Square or TriangleConvenient for making accurate angular or perpendicular measurements and cuts.


Supply Purpose
Glue (plastic adhesive)Used for many simple repairs. Should be polyvinyl acetate (PVA). Avoid using other types such as rubber cement because they are harmful to books.
Cloth tapeUsed for strengthening spines.
Transparent mending tapeUsed to repair torn pages. Do not use scotch tape. Should be archival quality mending tape that will not bleed or yellow.
Double stitched binder tapeUsed for refastening contents of books to cover. Two strips of heavily gummed gray cloth sewn with gumming on the outside.
Hinge tapeFor repairing or re-inforcing book hinges and spines.
Heavy duty transparent book tapeFor reinforcing worn covers.
Card stockFor rebacking worn cover. Should be thin enough to be cut fairly easily but still provide reinforcement.
Wax paperUsed to protect pages from glue after repair is completed and while drying.

Type of repairs
For this module, students are required to watch the videotape, “Mending: a practical guide to book repair”. The videotape provides visual details on the procedures for some basic book repairs. These repairs are intended to keep material functional and circulating. There are other repair techniques that are more reversible. Such repairs may be more desirable with materials that are rare or need special preservation techniques. The Website, A Simple Book Repair Manual, provides details of these techniques if you are interested in learning more. The following repair procedures are demonstrated in the videotape.

Type of repair Supplies and tools Repair steps
Torn page
  • Transparent mending tape
  • Scissors
  1. Unfold edge of tear.
  2. Match and smooth out page.
  3. Tape both sides of tear.
  4. Trim close to page edge.
Loose page
  • Liquid plastic adhesive
  • Wax paper
  1. Apply bead of adhesive.
  2. Insert loose page.
  3. Insert wax sheets.
  4. Close book and press.
Weak hinge
  • Liquid plastic adhesive
  • Wax paper
  • Applicator stick
  • Wooden dowels
  • Plastic folder
  • Rubber bands
  1. Open hinge.
  2. Apply liquid adhesive.
  3. Repeat at opposite end.
  4. Insert wax paper.
  5. Close book and press.
Torn cover hinge
  • Liquid plastic adhesive
  • Wax paper
  • Single stitched binder tape
  • Wooden dowels
  • Rubber bands
  • Plastic folder
  • Hinge tape
  1. Attach single-stitched binder tape to contents.
  2. Attach contents to cover.
  3. Reinforce hinge.
Worn spine
  • Light weight card stock
  • Scissors
  • Light plastic adhesive
  • Straight edge
  • Cloth tape
  • Hinge tape
  • Single edge razor blade/X-acto knife
  1. Cut card stock to size.
  2. Cut tape to size.
  3. Trim tape for folding.
  4. Set the spine.
Worn edges/covers
  • Cloth tape
  • Heavy duty transparent book tape
  • Scissors

Worn edges.

  1. Cut transparent tape to length.
  2. Fold over cover.
  3. Smooth tape.

Worn covers.
1. Cut tape in 2" squares.
2. Place tape over cover.
3. Clip two 45-degree angle cuts to corner point.
4. Fold the two pieces over the corner.
5. Smooth tape into place.

Frayed corners
  • Liquid plastic adhesive
  • Wax paper

1. Fan out frayed edges.
2. Apply liquid adhesive.
3. Squeeze adhesive out.
4. Fold wax paper over.
5. Let dry overnight.

Appendix 1 of this module also includes a copy of Mending books: protecting paperbacks, magazines that provides information on mending techniques and supplies. It is available online at

Additional resources
The following references are not required reading for this module. They are provided in the event you would like additional background material. All materials listed are available from the RRC library.
Greenfield, Jane. Basic book repair with Jane Greenfield. New York : H. W. Wilson Co., 1988.
Lavender, Kenneth and Stockton, Scott. Book repair : a how-to-do-it manual for librarians. New York : Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1992.
Yale University. Library. Simple repairs for library materials. New Haven, Conn. : Yale University Library, 1981.74 colour slides + 1 sound cassette + sample materials + script

WWW sites on book repair
Preservation services, Dartmouth College Library (1996). A simple book repair manual. Hanover, New Hampshire: Dartmouth College.

Roberts, Matt T. and Etherington, Don. Bookbinding and the conservation of books : a dictionary of descriptive terminology.
The succinct definitions and explanations, as well as the biographical vignettes, contained in this dictionary will be a boon to those who seek this kind of information. Those concerned, whether they are practicing binders, technicians, rare book librarians, collectors, or simply laymen, will find this a welcome source of answers to their questions.

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