Unusual Damage


Every library that participates in interlibrary lending has experienced some damage to collection materials at some point in time.  There are, of course, the usual signs of damage we expect in circulating collections like beverage stains, something sticky on the covers, and dog chew.  Then there is the damage caused during transit.  We have received books in their packaging that look as if they have been run over, others that were wet, and once we received a book soaked in meat juices.  But considering the amount that this library lends and borrows, the percentage of damaged materials is low.

Breaking news:  A USPS truck from Ames, Iowa headed to the Des Moines, Iowa USPS sorting facility caught  on fire on Interstate 35.  The good news is that the driver walked away uninjured.  The bad news is that ISU Library had twenty-four packages on the truck.  The packages contained books being interlibrary loaned to other libraries as well as books being returned to various libraries.

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Remains of library books damaged in the USPS truck fire.

When I heard the news, I was a little surprised since I had never heard of a mail truck catching on fire.  I wanted more details but could not find information on the USPS site or any local media so I simply used a third-party federated search engine (yes, I Googled it).  There were more mail trucks catching on fire across the country than I would have guessed, and these hits did not even include the Ames/Des Moines fire at the time of my search.
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The fire occurred on a Tuesday and the first few packages arrived back at the library on Friday.  The items were still in what was left of their packaging and wrapped in plastic.  Some were total losses including an old pocket guide to France and a book on Camp Dodge (local history), while a handful were just a little singed, sooty, and damp.  Interestingly, one book came back with severely burnt packaging but the book itself was only damp; the subject was witchcraft.  More books trickled in over time, some were actually delivered to the receiving library; some libraries immediately returned books to us and other were told to toss them and we would pay to replace them.  Through all of this, the books remained damp and tightly wrapped in plastic.  Surprisingly, nothing was moldy.  I am still perplexed since it is summer in the Midwest.  USPS response to the fire and water damage was to spread out all items on wire racks, with halogen lights on the materials (I’m assuming for heat and/or UV exposure) and fans blowing.  There was no mention of dehumidifiers running.  Then packages were hand sorted and wrapped in plastic.  Their quick response must have prevented the mold; although, I still do not understand how the damp books wrapped in plastic that we received a week later did not show signs of mold, not that I am complaining.

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For ISU materials, treatment decisions were easy, and books were air-dried and covers removed.  The trickier decisions were what to do with other library’s materials.  I thought about what my reaction would be if one of our books was returned rebound or repaired without my approval, and decided that 1) I might question their judgment and ability to properly treat materials, and 2) my level of acceptable damage that I can live with may be very different from theirs, so I tended toward recommending replacements if the books was relatively new and treatment if it was just a little stained and could be air-dried.  Our head of Resource Sharing communicated with all of the libraries affected by this fire, but none of them were very forthcoming on whether or not they wanted us to treat their materials or simply pay for replacements.  While waiting for responses, these books were also air-dried and flattened.

The lab started to smell like a bar-b-que because of the charred books.  The fumigation trashcan was set-up with Gonzo odor removal bags, the books were placed inside on grates, and the trashcan sealed tightly.  After a few days, the Gonzo was replaced and after several more days the books had a less strong smoky odor, but still noticeably smoky none-the-less.

Damaged books arranged in the fumigation trashcan.

Damaged books arranged in the fumigation trashcan.

This incident is really making me rethink interlibrary lending of any Special Collections and University Archives materials.  In general, we only lend reference materials and University Archives books that are replaceable, but books in the Archives are our faculty publications which are more valuable to us than they are be to other libraries that have them in their circulating collections.  Most, if not all, of these titles are available through other libraries, so I do not feel bad sending the request on to the next lending library.

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“Peel and stick” are very bad words in the world of books.  We know these as adhesive labels or sheets to correct errors made by editors and publishers.  I haven’t seen one in a while, but this time I found two old sheets as replacement pages in the book Turbidite-Hosted Gold Deposits, GAC Special paper 32, 1986.  This book came to me after a recent mini-water disaster of roughly 1,000 books here in the Parks Library.  The book survived the water disaster very well; however, its old adhesive pages had not.

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There were two “replacement pages” in large sheets that had been inserted as corrective pages for errata, and over time the adhesive had stained other pages, come apart in some areas, and also was very sticky in other areas.  The old “Fasson Crack’n Peel Plus” was failing in several areas.

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To remedy this, I will remove the two adhesive sheets, photocopy the pages onto acid free paper, and tip them in.  I cannot remove the yellow stains on the other pages but can scrape and clean away any remaining sticky residue.  The peel and stick correction seems to be a good idea but in reality is not.

I’m going to grinch about your holiday decorating. Pinterest is awash in images of “Christmas trees” made from stacked-up books. Fine. If they’re your own books, and you understand that you are causing both short-term and long-term damage to them, then fine — go for it. They’re your books. You can do what you want with them (although I would still advise against it).

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The worst offender: expect warped spines, warped pages, tears, and pages popping loose from adhesive bindings.

However, if you are a library professional, and you are using library materials to build a book tree as a display in your library, then I am calling you out.  There are a million and one ways to decorate and share your festive holiday spirit (have you looked at Pinterest lately?!) without sending your patrons the wrong message. “But we chose general collections, circulating materials!” you say. “We used that serial journal that no one ever even looks at!” you might add.  It doesn’t matter.  You’re showing everyone who walks into your library that it is o.k. not to handle borrowed library materials respectfully, because you as a library are not treating them respectfully.  You’re putting a strain on the bindings, and exposing them to acute light damage, dust and debris.  So, why shouldn’t your patrons fill those books with highlighter and pencil marks, use them as coasters, prop open their doors with them?

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At least this tree isn’t draped with string lights. However, the staggered stacking and weight distribution is still likely to warp the book boards.

Fellow book conservators and preservation professionals, we still have work to be done.  Then maybe my heart would grow three sizes, too.

“Oh, what a beautiful book,” we thought when this General Collections item was given to us to work on. Oh wait! It’s not a book – it’s a box! Our excitement quickly turned into…despair? Those darn artists and publishers; don’t they think about how libraries are going to handle items like this? That’s a common thought around here – I am sure many of you have thought the same at some point.

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This item fooled us in more ways than one. Not only did we think that this item was a book, but based on the condition we thought that this was a new item as well. We soon learned that this item was actually from 1967!

Now, while the outside of the box looked to be in great shape for its age, the inside pieces were another story. While at first glance the 4 inner portfolios don’t seem to be in terrible condition, upon looking closer it was evident that there was in fact some damage. Due to the type of tape used, the adhesive has seeped through and stained the paper, failed entirely, or a combination of those on the various parts in this item. Unfortunately, there is not much we can do to correct this other than reattaching the detached items.  

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Have you seen items with similar inherent vice? Do you think the creator intended them to last longer than they did? Or maybe they were meant to have a short lifespan?

Special Collections has asked us to encapsulate multiple over-sized photographs in polyester film. The goal of the project is to minimize handling damage, in particular damage caused by sliding the photos between layers when removing and returning them to a drawer. I’m spending a lot of quality time with our Minter Ultrasonic Encapsulator. I’m sure it will get boring eventually, but I have to say that the photos are pretty cool. It is especially satisfying to see older photos of campus after all my work on the old campus maps.

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Morrill Hall with Old Main in the Background

The photo above includes Old Main, a building that once held the entire college and has a pretty interesting history which can be read about here. For our purposes today though, we are a bit more interested in what is on the other side of the photo.

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“What the heck?”

I was a bit surprised when I turned the photo over to discover the back covered with what at first appeared to be the brown gummed tape often used by framers. A more careful examination revealed that it isn’t gummed tape, but just brown kraft paper like the kind used to make paper bags. As you can see in the photo below there are even fold lines in the paper.

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Not gummed tape

I showed the photo around the lab and asked if anyone had an idea why someone would “tape” the back in such a manner. The resounding response was variations on “What the heck?” The best theory we have is that someone applied the paper to try to prevent the photo from bowing. I can say that the photo is flatter than some similar photos I encapsulated but not the flattest in the group.

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Flat, but not the flattest

So, we are perplexed and were wondering if any of you have seen something like this or have any idea what the intention of the “taper” was.

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We’ve all seen them.  Books returned to the library have been tasty treats for cats, dogs, rodents, and even rabbits.  The World of Wolves came into my hands with two corners chewed on by a dog.  You can usually tell a book has been chewed by an animal by the stiffness in the pages from the saliva, and the size of the tooth marks suggests what kind of animal.  This book needed both damaged corners replaced with new binder’s board and book cloth to closely match the original cover.  Luckily, the text block was barely chewed so no work was required there.

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I first removed the damaged end sheet and carefully peeled back the paper cover enough so I could get good access to the corners to remove the damaged board.  I cut small pieces of binder’s board to match the thickness of the original board and peeled back layers on each corner, so I could stagger the layers and glue the two new corners on.  Next, I cleaned up the existing cover and cut away chewed parts.  I then glued on the new book cloth, which I think matches pretty well.  I pressed the corners well for a good, tight fit and then added a new end sheet and ISU property stamp label.  I was pretty pleased with the outcome of this book.

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Today I received another big book in the Preservation Lab for repair that has split apart in the back, so that the case is detaching from the textblock.  Its treatment will be a recase, with textile hinges to reinforce the case-to-textblock attachment.  I see this kind of damage all too often in large books.  Publishers put everything they can into one large book instead of breaking the content down into two books of a more manageable size.  Thin, cheap, or slick paper, bulky size, too much weight, and too many pages all add to the structure of the book failing.

Hinge splitting at the back of the book.

Hinge splitting at the back of the book.

Next is a post-bound book that one of our student workers, Hannah Isabell, is going to be working on.  She will dismantle it and put sections into custom portfolios for easier use and shelving.  As you can see, this book measures a whopping 8.25”!

Post-bound book too large to use safely or easily.

Post-bound book too large to use safely or easily.

Our next example is Veterinary Medicine: A Textbook of the Diseases of Cattle, Horses, Sheep, Pigs, and Goats by Radostits, Gay, Hinchcliff, and Constable.

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This book measures 3.5” thick and suffers from a typical split in the back of the book and wrinkled pages in both the front and back.

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Veterinary Medicine: A Textbook of the Diseases of Cattle, Horses, Sheep, Pigs, and Goats by Radostits, Gay, Hinchcliff, and Constable.

Over 2100 pages of excellent veterinary information drew my eye and my hands to repair this book.  This book is so big that it must be sitting on my desk and not in my hands to look at, and would be much easier to use had it been made into two volumes.  The content could have been split up by species, such as cattle and horses in volume one, and sheep, pigs, and goats in volume two.

Veterinary Medicine: A Textbook of the Diseases of Cattle, Horses, Sheep, Pigs, and Goats by Radostits, Gay, Hinchcliff, and Constable.

Veterinary Medicine: A Textbook of the Diseases of Cattle, Horses, Sheep, Pigs, and Goats by Radostits, Gay, Hinchcliff, and Constable.

While we understand that publishers are trying to save on costs by cramming all of the information into a single volume, it actually ends up costing us more, because we have to spend time and resources repairing these volumes after they have circulated just once, if they even make it that far.

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