Connecticut State Library with state seal

Preservation Office

Preservation Advice for Libraries, Historical Societies and Home Collections:
Conservation and Repair

CONSERVATION TREATMENT

You may want to treat your materials to increase their longevity. Top-of-the-line conservation can be expensive but provides the best protection for valuable items. Depending on the item, a conservator may recommend:

For photographs, the most economical choice may be creating new prints or negatives.

Deacidifying, repairing and encapsulating are labor intensive and expensive. Depending on your needs and resources, you may want to select only a few important items for these treatments.

More information:

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you don't want someone to harm your materials. Methods that seemed acceptable in the past, such as laminating, are now considered harmful. Look at these sites for background on how to make an informed decision on what to do and who to hire to treat your materials.

Choosing and working with a Conservator by NEDCC

How to Select a Conservator, and, Find a Conservator  :  Look under "Conservation and you" then "Other resources" for two articles from the American Institute for Conservation (AIC.) This is very specialized and you should look at the Institute's guidelines before asking them for help in finding a conservator.

Members of the Regional Alliance for Preservation offer conservation services for a variety of materials.

DOING YOUR OWN REPAIRS

CAUTION CAUTION CAUTION You don't want to damage, reduce the life expectancy or lessen the market value of a rare and valuable book. If you try repairs yourself, ensure that your own materials and procedures will do no harm to your books. Seek training and practice on materials you don’t care about. Even simple repairs with approved materials can damage your valuable items when you lack experience and sufficient knowledge. Conservators receive years of professional training and are able to judge what the appropriate treatment should be. Your watchword should be LESS IS BETTER. If you lack experience, the right materials or adequate training, do the least invasive treatment. For example, consider putting it in a box with torn pages and stains, that you didn’t try to fix, rather than trying something that harms the item.

Self-Adhesive Tapes

Avoid using “archival” self-adhesive tapes. Conservators, who want to be able to reverse any treatment done to a document, advise against using any kind of self-adhesive tape. “…pressure-sensitive tapes that are advertised as archival … are probably more stable than other similar tapes but because their aging properties are not yet known, their use should be avoided for objects of value. … Commercial products in general should be avoided even if they are reputed to be safe because commercial products are subject to alteration by the manufacturer. This year's non-staining tape may have an adhesive with a different formula next year.” (Repairing Paper Artifacts by Sherelyn Ogden, Technical Leaflet, Conservation Procedures, Section 6, Leaflet 3 Andover, MA : Northeast Document Conservation Center, c1999).

Conservators use wheat- or rice-starch paste and japanese paper to repair tears in most documents. The advantage is that this is strong and reversible. If you have a lot of work to do, it may even be cheaper to use the wheat-starch paste and japanese paper than to purchase a similar quantity of self-adhesive “archival” tape. The disadvantage is that this uses a water-based paste that takes experience to make correctly and takes time to dry, so you have to plan ahead. The paste has to dry under weights to prevent buckling or wrinkling the paper. In addition, the moisture can cause water-soluble inks or colors to bleed.

Paste & Adhesives

There are several adhesives used for repair that are better from a conservation perspective, in particular because most of them are reversible. Wheat starch paste is good for repairing torn pages and to tip in loose pages. It has to be mixed with water. For small projects, make it in small batches and heat it in the microwave oven.

Methyl cellulose is weaker but when mixed 50%-50% with the other adhesives it helps them stay wet longer.

The polyvinyl acetate (PVA) sold in the archival supplies catalogs is not reversible but is very strong and is flexible when it dries. Use it to repair bindings.

It is a matter of opinion which is better for any particular use. It is also a matter of experience how much to use and how thick to make the paste. In fact, experience is the most valuable element in repairing books.

University Products, a supplier of conservation materials, has published a quick recipe for wheat starch paste. The recipe appears in the leaflet Repairing Paper Artifacts by Sherelyn Ogden, Technical Leaflet, Conservation Procedures, Section 6, Leaflet 3 (Andover, MA : Northeast Document Conservation Center, c1999).

 More information:

Conservation book repair : a training manual by Artemis BonaDea. (Juneau, Alaska State Library, 1995)

 How can I remove old tapes, make repairs or flatten curled photos? From The U.S. National Archives Preservation site

 Preservation Workshops and Conferences in Connecticut

 Preserving Archives and Manuscripts by Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler (Chicago, Society of American Archivists, 1993.) describes the proper method for removing rusty staples and dried-on elastic bands, gives great detail about surface cleaning, humidifying and flattening, encapsulating and more for manuscripts.

Repairing Paper Artifacts by NEDCC is one of several leaflets on “Conservation Procedures.” Check out the full list of leaflets at Preservation leaflets

A Simple Book Repair Manual from Dartmouth College Libraries Preservation Section

Surface cleaning of paper by NEDCC is one of several leaflets on “Conservation Procedures.”

BOXES, ENVELOPES AND ENCLOSURES

Some books and collection materials will lose value if they are repaired in any way. Some may be so little used that they should be stabilized rather than conserved. Perhaps the simplest protection is to tie a piece of cotton ribbon around a book in order to keep the pieces together. Use a piece of undyed cotton, linen or polyester ribbon about ¼ inch wide. Tie the ends so the knot is at the top or fore edge of the book to prevent it from pressing on the book while it is on the shelf. Do not use elastic bands.

A box or envelope can protect collection materials from light, dust and even the wear and tear that comes from sitting on a shelf. Some suppliers make custom-made boxes and others sell boxes in standard sizes. When a box is custom-made to fit, the book does not rattle around inside. If a standard size box is a little too big, perhaps some acid-free tissue will be sufficient to fill the gaps and protect the book. Some vendors sell envelopes with an expandable bottom, rather like paper grocery store bags, which can hold small books.

A fragile pamphlet or letter can be protected in a paper or plastic envelope or sleeve. Paper envelopes should be acid-free. Although you can’t see the contents without removing it from the envelope, paper envelopes allow the contents to breathe, which is helpful if the relative humidity fluctuates. Some fragile pamphlets should be folded in a sleeve and then placed in the envelope.

Maps, posters, and letters can be put in plastic sleeves or sandwiched between sheets of a safe plastic, if they are acid-free. Polyester, polypropylene or polyethylene are generally considered safe but watch out for additives to the plastic which may cause unintended harm. Do not use plastic if the ink or paint is flaking off. Some plastics have a static charge that will lift loose ink or paint right off the paper. If single-sided, an acidic map, poster or letter, can be placed in plastic with a piece of buffered (alkaline) paper, which will absorb the acids for a while. But, as a general rule, if the item is acidic, generally do not put it in plastic.

More information:

Card stock enclosures for small books update of the leaflet by Richard Horton, originally written in 1999.

The Library Binding Institute includes members who are "certified library binders," many of whom also provide the service of making custom fitted boxes.

A phase box for the protection of books by Per Culhead. Conserv o gram no. 19/23 Washington, D.C., National Park Service, June 2001 

Polyester encapsulation by Susan Nash Munro. Conserv o gram no. 13/3. Washington, D.C., National Park Service, July 1993.

Protecting books with custom-fitted boxes by Richard Horton, Technical Leaflet, Storage and handling, Section 4, Leaflet 5 (Andover, MA : Northeast Document Conservation Center, c1999)

Storage enclosures for books and artifacts on paper by Sherelyn Ogden. Technical leaflet, Storage and handling, Section 4, Leaflet 4 (Andover, MA : Northeast Document Conservation Center, c1999)

DEACIDIFICATION

Supply catalogs offer deacidification sprays but consider carefully before trying one. Ask a professional conservator about your item before attempting to deacidify on your own or paying for this service. The National Park Service cautions that these sprays won’t make a paper less brittle or less discolored and don’t permanently remove acidity. They can darken some papers, can change the color of some dyes, inks or papers, can cause staining or cockling and can make some inks run. If you decide to try one, test it first on a document you don’t care about or in an inconspicuous place. Think also about the ventilation in the room where you are spraying.

More information:

How to preserve acidic wood pulp paper National Park Service. Conserve-o-gram no. 19/24

SUPPLIES AND EQUIPMENT

Appropriate tools and materials are sometimes available at craft and art supply stores. Some items, such as wax paper and razor knives, are available at grocery or hardware stores. Here are several catalogs that offer archival materials.

More information:

Amigos Book Repair Workshop Supplies List by Amigos Library Services lists the equipment and supplies needed for each type of book repair. 

Archival Products, Des Moines, IA, 1-800-526-5640 

Gaylord, 1-800-448-6160 

Light Impressions, Rochester, NY, 1-800-828-6216 

Preservation/Conservation Suppliers and Services from Amigos Library Services 

Suppliers List by NEDCC

Selecting Preservation Supplies: Some Basic Guidelines by Amigos Library Services 

University Products, Holyoke, MA, 1-800-628-1912

Prepared by Connecticut State Library Preservation Office staff; last updated Nov. 2011.