1091 Project: Making Treatment Decisions

Welcome to the latest post in our 1091 Project with Preservation Underground at Duke University Libraries.  As a hybrid lab, we operate with two distinct workflows: General Collections (materials that circulate) and Special Collections and Archives (rare and unique materials which do not circulate).  Today I’ll talk about some typical treatment decisions for the General Collections workflow.  I’m not going to address enclosures at all this time, since we have waxed poetic about them in a previous post.

Sorting shelves, where General Collections items await repair

Both ISU Library and our Conservation Lab comprise a smaller operation than at Duke University Libraries, or at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I interned and formed my understanding of and approach to General Collections treatment workflows.  Our smaller size allows us to approach General Collection treatments with greater flexibility, which often feels like a bit of a luxury.  Because we usually have no more than 200 to 300 items in the lab for treatment at any one time, we can be less regimented about the types of treatments we perform and to what degree we carry out a repair.  Our staff of 3 student assistants has now gained enough bench experience to work on more complex book repairs, so they have also been a great boon to our Book Repair Technician, Mindy Moe, and have prevented much of a backlog from building up.

Our incoming General Collections materials are sorted weekly into these main repair categories (and housed on the corresponding shelves in the Sorting Area): Tip-Ins, Page Mends/Missing Pages, Pam Binding, Shield Binding, Adhesive Binding, P305 Tightback Repairs, Recases (reattaching a detached case), New Cases (building an entirely new replacement case), Rebacks (spine replacement), and Full Repair (our catch-all term for items which require repair to both the textblock consolidation and the case).  Full Repair usually includes  repair of the case-to-textblock attachment, as well, and these repairs can vary widely.  When an item requires multiple treatments — page mends and a new spine, for example — it is housed on the shelf for the most structurally complex treatment it requires, along with a streamer detailing its other needs.

Although General Collections repairs are focused on batch processing, to some extent each item still receives treatment tweaked to its particular ills.  It’s challenging to talk about treatment decisions in the abstract, so let’s have a look at a few typical examples of needy books in our General Collections workflow.

Item 1
Item 1
Item 1

Item 1’s spine has split along one of its outer joints, but its inner hinges –both the endpapers and the textile flange — remain intact.  Since the case-to-textblock attachment is still robust, this item needs a basic reback, a simple replacement of the bookcloth covering the spine.  Item 2 looks very similar to Item 1 on the outside, but its more extensive needs become apparent on the inside.

Item 2
Item 2
Item 2

Item 2 exemplifies what we would treat as an in-house Full Repair.  If a book requires a full repair (i.e., repair to both the case and the textblock), then we first evaluate it according to certain criteria to determine if it should be sent to the commercial bindery instead of repairing it in-house.  If the textblock is split, the paper is robust, there is at least 1/4″ margin along the gutter edges, and there are no special aesthetic or historical characteristics about the binding which we wish to preserve, then the item will be sent to the bindery.  As a science and technology university, we send a lot of textbooks to the commercial bindery.

Item 1
Item 2

In extreme cases, full repairs can require resewing; in others, a simple replacement of the spine linings may suffice to reconsolidate the textblock.  The case will be repaired or reinforced as needed, and then reattached to the textblock.

In the case of the Bicycling book pictured above, the full repair will include the addition of new, white endpapers.  However, we sometimes encounter full repairs with printed endpapers that enhance the content of the text in some way, as in the history of Kansas pictured below.

Item 3: front endpapers.
Item 3: back endpapers.

In this case, the full repair will retain the original endpapers by lifting the endpapers along the gutter and inserting the new cloth flange beneath them.  Although this repair is more time-consuming than simply replacing the endpapers with new ones, we consider the extra effort to be worthwhile in order to preserve the aesthetic and informational character of the original book, even though it is “just” a General Collections item.

This has been just a tiny glimpse into one aspect of our lab’s treatment decision-making for General Collections.  Let’s head on over to learn about the process in the Duke University Libraries Conservation Department.  We’d also love to hear your thoughts about some nuances of treatment decision-making at your institution.  Join the conversation in the Comments section!


  1. Great post; thanks. I assume the Bicycling book (with its beautiful title page drawing) was chosen to commemorate RAGBRAI? Well-played!

  2. Who does the sort for your workflow? I have a senior technician who sorts everything from the circulating collections. Every now and then something stumps her and she’ll set it aside for me, but it isn’t very often.

    I’m still trying to find those students who will come to the lab early in their college career and stay for a long time. I’ve had a few in the past ten years, but they don’t stay very long, typically a year, because they want to find a job in their area of study. Have you had success advertising your jobs somehow that I need to copy?

    1. Mindy Moe (our book repair technician), Mindy McCoy (our Preservation Assistant), and I perform the weekly sorting on a rotating schedule. I like that we switch off for this duty because it keeps all of us on the same page (haha — pun totally intended) in terms of standard lab procedures, and it also helps continue to familiarize me with the collection. After 3 years, I am still amazed by some of the wacky things I find in the circulating collection!

      We are actually not allowed to advertize our student positions (a source of some frustration for me). In terms of hiring dedicated students who stay with us, we have had the best luck through word-of-mouth via contacts in the Design Department, at the Brunnier Art Museum, and from our current students.

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