Repairing the Library Books

In one of the previous posts on this blog, we focused on how the library books are cleaned. But what happens when the cleaning team find books which are too damaged to be cleaned? They pass them on to Nostell’s book repairing team!

Table full of poorly books awaiting treatment

The volunteer in-house book repair team come to Nostell once a week to do minor repairs on the library books. They have been trained by a professional book conservator, and regularly have refresher training to ensure that they are taught any new techniques or skills. If they find that damaged books require more than usual care, they note it down and the books are sent away to a book conservator.

Tasks that Nostell’s in-house repair team do vary from simple repairs (for example minor tears and re-attaching loose pieces of leather) to slightly more complex ones (such as laminating scuffed corners of covers and repairing spines, which requires the creation of a hinge made out of hand-made paper).

The most important tool that the book repair team use is the book paste, which is all-purpose and used in every repair.

The all-important book paste!

The book paste is made by mixing strong white wheat flour with water and boiling the concoction until it thickens. It’s completely free from any harmful ingredients, and is reversible (it can be dampened and removed if necessary by trained bookbinders). The same recipe has been used for about a thousand years and if the books are kept in the right conditions (temperature and humidity) could last for a thousand more years! The paste is used very thinly, as a thick coat of of paste takes much longer to dry than a thin coat.

Here’s how a minor repair is fixed by the book repair team:

The paste is applied not to the book directly, but to the loose piece of leather in need of re-attachment. It’s brushed on carefully from the centre outwards, ensuring that no paste gets onto the surface of the loose piece.

The pasted piece is then very carefully and gently placed and pressed into position using fingers. A steady hand is necessary!

The repair is then covered with silicone paper (non-stick baking paper), and then rubbed over with a bone folder (which presses the repair in and helps to fix its location).

The final stage is bandaging (using normal hospital bandages). This holds the book tightly together and allows the repair to dry in a fixed position with no chance of it slipping.

More careful bandaging. Once bandaged, books are usually left for a week before unravelling to check that the repair has been successful.

A fully bandaged book, left to dry

Records are kept so we know what repairs have been done to each book, which helps to monitor progress and will tell us whether a book is deteriorating rapidly or not

A tidy table at the end of the day – ready for the next session of book repairing!

And that’s how it’s done! Some books need multiple repairs which are done separately, after the previous repair’s bandages have been taken off. The team are very good at spotting where a book needs more work doing, and know when a specialist book restorer is needed. The book cleaning and book repairing teams act as a method of preventive conservation so that we can stop further damage happening to the books by regular care, maintenance, and monitoring. 

We really appreciate the volunteers and the hard work that they do in the library, and I’m sure that the books appreciate all of their love and attention too!



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