1091 Project: The Good, The Bad, The Past Repairs


This week’s 1091 Project considers previous repairs and when to remove them or let them be.  The examples I was able to find here in the ISU Library Conservation Lab were not all repairs per se; some were preservation rehousing decisions.

Papers-01At some point in the long-distant past, this collection of manuscripts was hinged onto stubs, and bound into a single volume.  In some cases, as shown above in the image on the right, the manuscript sheet was hinged onto a stub and then additional paper was hinged onto the tail edge of smaller sheets to make them all the same dimensions before binding.

Papers-02Many of the manuscripts’ primary supports are becoming embrittled, so I was reluctant to remove the stubs from the paper supports either mechanically or by introducing moisture.  Instead, the volume was disbound and the stubs were trimmed by hand along the edge of the primary supports.  Some of the manuscripts will be encapsulated, and all will be rehoused in folders in archival document boxes.

Click on image to enlarge.

The above images show a student newspaper from 1902 which had been lined with linen or muslin and bound as a book.  The information is completely legible, but not aesthetically pleasing, and not ideal for potential digitization.  However, the image below shows the deciding factor in the debate whether to disbind this volume and reverse the lining.

Beardshear-02As you can see, there are many small tears and losses in the text which were somewhat clumsily positioned in place during the lining process.  While this treatment may be, quite frankly, ugly, the information has been retained intact.  The process of removing the lining could easily result in the loss of many of these tiny fragments, thus defeating the purpose of our preservation efforts.  In spite of this treatment’s shortcomings, the University Archivist and I decided to leave the treated item as-is.

TapeAnd then there’s the book tape.  I hesitated to include these volumes with book tape on their fraying spines as “previous repairs,” since no self-respecting book conservator would ever use — or condone the use of — pressure-sensitive book tape on collection materials.  However, such items are a common problem in many libraries.  When faced with General Collection volumes that have been taped along the spine, if the tape does not extend too far onto the boards, we simply cut away and discard the original spine with its book tape covering and then perform a reback on the offended volume.  If the tape coverage is too extensive, then we send the item to the commercial bindery for a new binding.

When faced with the sad circumstance of a Special Collections volume so mistreated, we either box the item to isolate the book tape (and its attendant “adhesive creep”) from adjacent items on the shelf, or we commit ourselves to removing the tape and the adhesive residue it invariably leaves behind, a time-consuming process usually involving both mechanical and chemical means.

VermontFinally, there are many preservation housings, such as the old-school pamphlet binders pictured above, which were once widely used, but which we now know have their own inherent vice: they tend to be made from acidic paperboard and non-colorfast cloth.  We routinely discard these and replace them with more conservationally sound materials.  (Three cheers for conservation science!)

Don’t forget to visit Preservation Underground to see how the Duke University Libraries Conservation Lab handles past repairs!


  1. The newspaper looks to be silked on the front with the heavier linen/cotton on the back, yes? boy do I have a story about that! Good decision to leave it alone by the looks of it.

    1. You’d expect it to be silked, right? But I’m on the fence about whether this was silked, actually — if it is, then it’s the heaviest and most opaque I’ve ever seen. I suspect a silking technique was used but with a different material; perhaps this is just what was on hand when the repair was done. Either way, yes, I am definitely leaving this alone!

      1. I’ve seen a variety of quality and heft in the silk used for lining. I’ve also seen a lot of recipes that include additives, so maybe there is something else either in the past mixture or as an additional lining? Sounds like a good intern project!

        1. So many interesting questions… that would be an good puzzle for an intern to work out. I also haven’t seen a wide enough range of silked items to be sure what I’m dealing with (without testing). This is actually the first one I have come across since coming to ISU, if you can believe it.

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