Cranky says, "While many worn or damaged books need the attention of a bookbinding professional, there are quite a few small repairs any book owner can perform. We use these techniques with care and patience in our bindery. They should work fine for you too, but we can't be responsible for any work we didn't perform. If you have any doubts, please consult your binding professional."
Mending torn pages - applies to books and magazines
Some book repairs can be made without any specialized equipment or supplies. Page tears are the most common type of damage. Some professional bookbinders will not use pressure sensitive tape for page repairs. We agree up to a point. Cellophane (shiny clear) tape is notorious for oozing adhesive, turning yellow, and staining pages and covers. We have also received books for rebinding that were messed up with masking tape, upholstery tape, and even duct tape! All of these dry out or turn into sticky goo, and none of them prevented the eventual need for proper restoration.
But for minor page repairs, we have had very good luck with high quality "magic" tape, the kind with the frosty finish. Find a roll that is at least one inch wide. Carefully align the torn pieces of the page before applying the tape. Try to cover the entire tear with one strip of tape if possible. Let it extend beyond the edges of the page. After both sides of the page have been taped, trim off the excess using the page edge as a guide. A smooth, curved tool like the bottom of a spoon can be used to burnish the tape onto the page surface to improve adhesion and transparency. Pages we mended in this manner twenty years ago are still secure and have not discolored or oozed adhesive. Of course, just like the rest of the book, a repair like this doesn't hold up in harsh environmental conditions or withstand much abuse.
If the torn page is incomplete, try to find another copy of the book and make replacement photocopies of badly damaged or missing pages. If this is not possible, cut plain paper to the shape of missing pieces and repair with mending tape. In most cases, a page with only part of the original printing is better than removing and discarding a page entirely.
Wet books - reducing damage done by water:
One of the worst disasters to befall a book is getting soaked. Immediate action is absolutely necessary to minimize water damage. If you can't work on the wet book right away, put it in a plastic bag and freeze. Don't thaw it out until you are ready to dry it thoroughly. The following steps work best for us:
1. Find a clean, dry, low-humidity work place. Especially avoid any place that might have mold spores.
2. Place paper towels between the book pages and on the surface of a clean table.
3. Stand the book upright on the towels with the pages fanned open enough for air to circulate between them.
4. Electric fans or air conditioning can be used to speed the drying process. Don't have the air flow directly on the wet book; let it circulate around the room and indirectly refresh the work area.
5. Replace the paper towels as they become wet from blotting the water out of the pages and covers.
6. Be especially careful drying books with coated paper pages (pages that have an opaque, shiny or dull finish on top of the paper base). If two coated sheets dry while touching each other, they will bond together and cannot be separated without tearing them or transferring printing from one to the other. Interleaving every sheet with a paper towel is an absolute necessity.
7. When the book feels almost dry (barely damp) put it under an evenly distributed weight for a couple of days of final drying. The weight will minimize page wrinkling and cover warping, although these conditions probably won't be completely eliminated.
8. Once the book has dried completely, keep it separate for a few days and check it regularly for mold and mildew. If everything seems to be okay, then it can be re-shelved with other books.
Magazines and periodicals storage:
Although they are not bound in a permanent fashion, periodicals can still last through many years of use, but not if they are exposed to continuous air and light. If you want important periodicals and other papers to last for a long time, put them into sturdy storage containers. Stored periodicals should lay down flat in the container. Avoid those open, corrugated magazine holders that stand up on a shelf for anything except short-term convenience. Periodicals that stand on end for even short periods will develop a permanent and annoying curl in the pages.
The best containers we have found for long-term periodical storage are made of soft plastic with snap-on, air-tight lids. Usually these are sold for kitchen use, but office supply stores are starting to stock them too. Dark colors are best, keeping out the light that turns paper yellow. Translucent plastic is okay too, as long as the containers are kept in a closed cardboard box or on a dark closet shelf. In highly humid climates, toss in a couple of silica gel packets to absorb moisture. If paper-eating bugs are a problem, add a few mothballs to each container.
If you want to store periodicals in cardboard boxes, seal the issues in plastic freezer bags. A two gallon bag is sized perfectly to hold a keepsake newspaper or large magazine. Freezer bags come in a variety of sizes. They are thicker and have a better "zipper" seal strip than sandwich style bags.
For the most permanent method of retaining periodicals, have them bound into a hard cover. Bound periodical archives in libraries have remained sturdy and usable for more than one hundred years. Ask your bindery professional about this service.
Problems with paperback books:
Also not intended to last indefinitely, paperback books can still be pretty durable. Interestingly, the most cheaply produced often last longer than expensive paperbacks. Soft, pulpy paper and coarse cover stock soak up and hold the adhesive that binds these books better than higher quality materials. Extremes in temperature tend to dry the adhesive and ruin its flexibility. Air and light will turn paper yellow and brittle. Very low humidity also makes paper and covers brittle, while high humidity encourages the growth of mold and mildew
If the cover pops off of a paperback book but remains in one piece, it can sometimes be reattached by touching the spine briefly to a cloth covered hot iron. This only works for books perfect bound with hot-melt adhesive. The adhesive will soften and reseal the cover to the pages again. Be careful not to scorch the book or overheat the adhesive. It only needs to soften, not run off the spine.
If a few pages are loose, a tiny thread-sized bead of library white glue can be applied down in the spine, then the page carefully placed. Close the book and put an encyclopedia on it overnight. Be very sparing with the glue. Too little will just have to be done over, but too much can ruin several pages.
When many pages are loose, or the cover is falling apart, or the paperback book is suffering from a variety of problems, it can probably be returned to service only by having it bound into a hard volume. Not all damaged paperbacks are worth this expense, but a treasured book that is no longer available can start a whole new life in hardcover. Consult your bindery professional about this service.
Repairs for hard bound books:
Except for mending a torn page or dust jacket, most other repairs on hard cover books should be performed by a bindery professional. Still, there are a few repairs that do not require any special equipment.
End sheets occasionally pull loose from the cover. If the end sheet is torn, it should be replaced by a bindery to insure the continued sturdiness of the binding. If the end sheet is still intact and only pulled away in a small area, then reattach it with white paper glue applied carefully with an artist brush or stylus. Apply glue sparingly and avoid having any squeeze out of the repair and stick to book pages. After making the repair, close the book and put an encyclopedia or other heavy book on top of it. Let it dry overnight before using it again.
Small separations of leather or buckram cover material from the board backing can be repaired with white paper glue in a similar manner. However, these conditions are usually indicative of a book showing its age and use, and probably means it will soon need professional attention.
Ribbons in Bibles and other books can be reattached or replaced. Open the book near the center and lay it flat on the pages with the spine upward. If the spine does not bow outward, providing an opening down into the sewn area, then gently separate it with a dull, round end table knife. Don't pry the cover with a sharp edge!. Apply a thin coat of white paper glue on about a half inch of the ribbon end, then carefully place it inside the spine with tweezers or a stylus. Try to stick the glue to the sewing or the kraft liner. Once the ribbon is correctly positioned and pressed into place, leave the book and ribbon overnight to dry. This is not a permanent fix, but will put a ribbon back into service until it is convenient to have a professional repair made.
Beyond these small fixes, hard bound book repairs usually require specialized equipment. Please consult your bindery professional in those situations.
Return to ahLS home