As any reader knows, despite our best intentions, books are occasionally damaged. Here in the Collections Dept., we do a lot of repairs on our collections materials, including repairs and stabilization of items upon receipt--a lot of items are in bad shape when they arrive, and we repair and stabilize them so they can be used for research by our users.
The books shelved in our main stacks are not only used by researchers in the Reading Room of the Research Center, but unlike our rare books, they also circulate to staff, and to researchers at other libraries via interlibrary loan. (Rare books never leave the Research Center, and the decision process for their preservation is entirely different--they are preserved as acquired and often placed in protective enclosures.) Sometimes we decide to simply replace a damaged stacks copy by purchasing one in better condition, but when we can't easily replace the copy, or repair is more efficient than replacement, we repair it.
One such item is our copy of the Romance of Piracy--the bottom of its spine was damaged. This typically happens when a book is dropped. This is a picture of the spine at the bottom of the book, showing the spine slightly detached from the front board (the front cover). The book is held spine up in a finishing press, ready for repair:
Using an adhesive that is a mixture of wheat starch and methyl cellulose in water, which is fully reversible in water (should we ever wish to reverse the repair), I used a small piece of hanji paper to repair the spine, placing part of the hanji paper under the rumpled and partially detached spine piece, and overlapping a bit onto the front cover:
Then a piece of wax paper is placed on the repair, with waste paper behind that to absorb moisture, and the book is wrapped in a bandage to apply pressure to the repair, so it dries as flat as possible. It's left like this overnight (and I'm always impatient in the morning to see how it came out!)
This is the dried repair, with the book back in the finishing press, so I can easily trim the hanji paper's little threads that hang below the bottom of the book:
The final step is coloring the hanji paper so that it blends with the rest of the book binding with some colored pencils--this is purely for aesthetic reasons. The finished repair:
And, most importantly, the book is now sound, and opens and closes again as it should, and is ready to be read again!
Want to know more about preservation, conservation, and caring for collections? CoOL, Conservation Online has lots of information and links, including Conservation/Preservation Information for the General Public.