I wear two hats on Wednesdays. I spend the morning at Parks Library doing conservation treatments and the afternoon at the Ames Public Library prepping new books for the circulating collection. It often results in my having a split personality.

Last Wednesday, for example, I spent part of the morning removing half sheets of cataloging information taped in some books from our general collection. My work on the blueprints has made me the lab’s tape removal “expert”, and over the last couple of years I may have said some rather unkind things about the people who have applied tape to the items I’m working on.

tape off

This does not stop me from turning into a veritable taping machine during my afternoons at the public library. My works space includes the mother of all tape dispensers.

tape dispenser

I put stranded packing tape on book covers when attaching dust covers.

Book covers

I adhere all sorts of sticky labels to books and often top it off by putting a clear sticker over the label.


And over the six or so years I have volunteered, I have covered thousands of books with clear adhesive covers.

Adhesive Covers

The end of a productive day can look like this.

End of the day

Is it acceptable for a conservator to put this much tape on books? How can I spend Wednesday morning cursing people for using tape when I spend the afternoon putting a lifetime’s worth of stickiness onto new books? Should I seek professional help for my split personality issue?

Overall I’m comfortable with this contradiction. It all comes down to mission. The mission of the public library is to get books into the hands of the public as many times as possible. The tape and adhesive products I use extend the number of times a book can be borrowed. Books age out of the collection as they become less popular and are replaced with different books. The mission of a university library is to build a research collection that will serve students and scholars for many years. An item added to the collection is expected to remain in the collection for many years, perhaps even the life of the institution. In that case we keep labeling to a minimum, and we remove as much tape as safely possible to decrease potential degradation issues in the future.

P.S. I promise that I have never, ever used the white book repair tape in that tape dispenser on a book. That would be a bridge too far.