Preserving Precious Words

By Kristi Mexia

December 20, 2012 4 min read

As avid bookkeepers and tepid librarians alike will say, minor book repairs are necessary to keep stories in the hands of readers. A favorite book may wear -- acquiring torn pages, becoming waterlogged or falling apart from improper storage -- but with the right tactics, a well-worn favorite can be preserved and handed down for years to come.

A quick turn of page or carelessly creased corner can result in a page tear. While that paperback Danielle Steel novel will most likely get a Scotch tape fix, a book that errs on the side of expensive is worth a more detailed and long-lasting repair. Robert Colver, a book-restoration specialist, describes a more permanent fix on Alibris, an online marketplace for independent booksellers and buyers.

Colver recommends using the U.S. Library of Congress-approved heat-set tissue sold by BookMakers Inc. "It is an almost transparent, but strong, lens tissue, treated with a clear, heat-set acrylic resin on one side as an adhesive," says Colver. Carefully place the tissue over the tear -- or on its reverse -- and smooth it over with a tacking iron. The heat radiating from the iron sets the resin in the tissue, creating a near-perfect mend. If the repair needs to be undone, according to Colver, the resin bond is reversible in alcohol. It's better to use bonds that are reversible in alcohol rather than water, he says, because when submerged, alcohol is less damaging to book pages than is water.

Page-turning eagerness often can be replaced with book-dropping lackadaisicalness. A water-soaked tome could prove a spatial disappointment after it's dried if it's not first cared for properly.

Once a book has met a watery fate, cover a flat surface with absorbent paper -- not newsprint. According to Rochester University's library services in New York, the book should be placed at a slight angle on the paper, with a paper towel inserted at about every 20 pages. Leave it to dry flat. After an hour, stand the volume on its head or tail, leaving it open and slightly fanned. The university library instructs book owners to continue to change the paper beneath the book until it is no longer wet and only just damp. Then use fans, angled toward the material, to completely dry it out.

But, according to the Library of Congress, a budding book preservationist can avoid all of these do-it-yourself fix-it projects if he or she simply stores the tomes properly.

It turns out libraries are dark and cold for a reason. A cool room, minimal light exposure, and regular dusting and book housekeeping are all preventive novel-fixing measures. Shelving books is also of importance to preservation. Placing volumes of similar sizes together is not only geometrically ornate, but it also supports the face of the covers, lending strength to each side. After all, a book can't be judged by its cover if it doesn't have one.

Keeping these novel-saving measures in mind will preserve books and keep cherished tomes in prime reading condition.

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