Many of us have personal libraries, and within those libraries the chance that we own a standard hardcover book is high. Modern case bindings (also known as hardcovers) are everywhere. These bindings are constructed from paper boards covered by a sturdy cloth or decorated paper, and the cover is generally made separately from the text block and attached later by endpapers.
Case bindings are made the same way now as they were made in the 1800s, and so often the problems I see with older books are the same problems that will eventually happen to the new book sitting on your shelf. In fact, it even happened to a friend’s copy of a recently bought Game of Thrones book!
Some mechanical problems that are frequently met in case bindings:
- Before the text block is out of the case you may find that the joints are loose and simply need to be tightened (I will cover this in more detail further down).
- The text block falls out of the case but the entire case is intact. This will require that the text block will need to be rehung in the case.
- If the text block has separated from the case, you could have text block problems or spine problems, and this will require re-backing the text block and possibly re-sewing.
- Damaged and weak corners on the board.
- The case is falling apart (as when the spine of the case has come away from the boards leaving the boards attached to the text block but the spine missing).
The most issue common with case bindings is joint problems. If you’re able to catch it in time, a little bit of PVA glue to tighten up the joints will go a long way in preserving your books and preventing them from falling apart.
Since the covers and text block are often held together only by endpapers, joint problems are the biggest issue we run into with standard hardcover books. There is little that can be done to prevent it: it’s simply going to happen eventually. Because the weight of the text block when the book is standing pulls downward on the spine and over time the end paper cannot hold it.
In the photograph below you can see the looseness of the joints. This, as I mentioned before, is an easy fix. It requires taking a skinny metal rod (perhaps cut from a clothes hanger), dipping the rod in PVA glue and then sliding it into the joint where the paper is coming loose. Once you’ve applied glue to the joints that need it, from the top and bottom if necessary, you press the book for a minute or so until the PVA is dry.
Photo credit: Arielle VanderSchans
Once the joints are tightened you can see that the paper now fits snuggly against the boards.
Photo credit: Arielle VanderSchans
This repair is quick and easy, and will help the book last longer, as you’re catching the joint problem before the paper can tear away from the boards completely (which would leave you with a detached text block!).
Another problem that can occur with case bindings is that if the end pages tear, the text block can come completely out of the case, or the spine of the case can tear and come completely off but the boards remain attached to the text block. Below is a photo that shows a text block detached from the case. This text block also had to be resewn.
Photo credit: Arielle VanderSchans
These fixes require a bit more work, from resewing the spine to re-backing and attaching a hollow tube on the text block. If your book reaches this state, consult a professional who can determine what steps are needed to repair the book.
Other common issues to look out for in book preservation are:
Mold can develop on any book and the risk of mold comes in areas of high humidity. If you’re worried about mold growing on your books, try to lower the humidity of the room to make the mold inactive. If you do find mold on one of your books, take it off the shelf and let the mold dry up. Small amounts of mold can be vacuumed up using the upholstery attachment of your vacuum. You can also wipe the bindings and text block edges with cheesecloth dipped in 70% alcohol and wrung out very well!
Dirt & Soot
A book can be easily cleaned of dirt, soot and dust by wiping it gently with a dry-cleaning sponge. You can also vacuum the book with the upholstery attachment. Start with the top of your book and wipe from the back of the book to the front, or the spine to the edge of the text block.
Keep an eye out for bugs like silverfish that commonly live in homes. Store your books off the floor to keep them away from silverfish that might live in the carpets. A few other tips for storiage to keep in mind:
- Store books that are the similar heights together; if they are 15 inches or less in height and of medium thickness store them standing upright but if they are taller or thicker lay them on their sides.
- Leather-covered books shouldn’t be stored next to cloth- or paper-covered books because the leather may stain the other books.
- Give your books room to breathe: don’t shelve them tightly together or it may cause distortion– but keep them close enough together so that they support each other.
These are just some of the things to keep in mind when working with hardcover books! Store them properly, take care of them, try to catch joint problems early on and your case binding will last a long time!
Brown, Michele. Preserving Books in Your Home Library. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Library, PDF.
CBBAG: Repair & Restoration Workshop. Dan Mezza, London ON. January 2017.
Guest blogger Arielle VanderSchans is a linguist and librarian living in Canada. She currently studies bookbinding through the Canadian Bookbinding and Book Arts Guild. You can follow her as she learns the trade here: https://ariellesbindery.com
Preservation Week is here again! This weeklong celebration of preservation and conservation activities in libraries, archives, and museums is the brainchild of ALCTS, the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services, a branch of the American Library Association. Later this week we’ll be sharing two guest blog posts on the preservation and conservation concerns of two common kinds of bindings: case binding and library binding.
While conservation and preservation are words used somewhat interchangeably in everyday conversation, in the library world they have specific, but intertwining, meanings. Preservation refers to the steps taken to slow the deterioration of materials. These steps include environmental controls provided by an HVAC system, housing items in neutral-pH folders and boxes, and reducing exposure to light whenever possible. Conservation refers to the steps taken once an item has been damaged and needs repair, cleaning, or restoration. If you’ve been following our Instagram feed, you may have noticed some photographs of metal artifacts at various points in the cleaning process. This is a conservation project we’re currently tackling.
If you have questions about preservation, conservation, or Preservation Week, don’t hesitate to contact us here at the museum. There are also lots of great free resources at the Preservation Week website.
Fifty years ago last night, the Arno River in Florence burst its banks and flooded the city, reaching depths of 18-22 feet. Water raged through the streets at some 30-40 miles per hour, tumbling cars and even newsstands as easily as if they were children’s toys. Shops on the famous bridges of the Arno looked as though they had been hit by bombs. Basement furnaces leaked and exploded, and the pressure of the water blew out the sewers. When the waters receded after a few days, the city was covered in a thick, foul slime of mud, sewage, oil, and waterlogged detritus.
Our exhibit, BOOKS AND MUD: THE DROWNED LIBRARIES OF FLORENCE looks at the damage and recovery effort in a single library in Florence, the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, in which nearly 100,000 precious early modern volumes were left waterlogged and mud-caked. It has been up for two weeks, and many of the visitors who have come to see it have some memory to share of the 1966 flood. Some remember hearing about it and wishing they had gone to help, while others tell us a bit about being on the scene.
The technical achievement of the restoration workers is, of course, vitally important and interesting to study. The methods the skilled men and women who saved the books developed informs much of the way water-damaged books are managed even today.
That said, the part of the story that seems to lie at the heart of everyone’s memory of the Florence flood of 1966 is the part where thousands of young people came from all over Italy, Europe, and many parts of the world to volunteer their time and labor as angeli del tango: mud angels. They formed lines to the basements of museums, libraries, and palaces, passing books, artwork, and other treasures one at a time to the fresh air and the hands of the professional restorers. They took shovels and buckets and dug mud out of stores, homes, and streets.
The raw film footage and photographs of these mud angels, most of whom remain unidentified in these visual records, is moving and heartwarming. It is beautiful to see the way they move through the streets, filthy and tired, doing what they can to restore the everyday life and priceless treasures of Florence. In the well-worn phrase, it gives one faith in humanity.
As I write this, Italy is once again dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters. In the past few months, nearly 250 medium-strength or greater earthquakes have rocked the country. Nearly 300 people died as a result of the August 24 earthquake around the town of Amatrice. The town of Arquata del Tronto has been more or less destroyed. Those wishing to aid the relief efforts can donate here. The Italian Cultural Institute here in San Francisco is also offering the chance to donate via an artist’s exhibit and auction. The auction will take place at the Institute on December 8, 2016, from 6-9pm.
We have also kept track of floods in 2016 as part of the exhibit, or at least, as many floods as we’ve been able to track down. We have a world map on display with color-coded pins indicating flood frequency and severity, and it is updated daily.
Recent major flooding in the United States has of course caught our attention. West Virginia, Louisiana, and the Carolinas have been particularly affected recently, and all have put out appeals for help in rebuilding the public library collections and those of the public schools. Baton Rouge school librarian Trey Veazey’s blog post on the subject spread around social media, but aid is needed all over the affected areas. Most have lost most or all of their collections, and rebuilding is expensive and necessary. Veazey writes:
We are relocating. We’ve been ushered over to a building that was built in 1937. That means my new school is the same age as And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street. It also means that, in my first year as a librarian, I have a library without any books.
Access to books is the key to educational success. Our library doesn’t have books. Our classrooms don’t have books. Many of the homes of our students don’t have books. Like the tears that rolled down our faces both in silent & violent measures, they became a part of the flood before being swept away as we looked toward rebuilding & recovery.
Most of us can’t go dig these places out of the mud and sweep away the flood waters, but other ways you can help may be found here:
Rebuilding School & Classroom Libraries in Louisiana
Flood-damaged West Virginia Libraries seeking help to rebuild
West Virginia Libraries Pick Up the Pieces
Book collection underway for libraries destroyed by Hurricane Matthew flooding
Floods in 2016
An interesting article that briefly outlines the process that a rare book conservator is taking in the restoration of a rare 2 volume botanical guide. The guide “Figures of the Most Beautiful, Useful Plants Described in the Gardener’s Dictionary,” written by Philip Miller and published in 1760, is part of the University of Virginia’s colonial era collection.
Article from University of Virginia’s UVA Today