Open Tues-Sat 10am-4pm: Closed 5/25-5/27 for Memorial Day

The Many Lives of Books

Exploring the Work of Book Conservators

Enter the nuanced world of the book conservator. To the layperson, book conservation suggests book repair: taking a book that has been damaged through age, use, or accident, and fixing it so that it can go back into service. But conservators look at a damaged book and see not only the physical damage, but the story the book itself has to tell. The goal: to retain as much of the book’s physical history as possible, while making it strong enough to continue as a resource.

The expertise book conservators develop in book history and material science allows them to interpret clues and perform historically and culturally sympathetic repairs. Changes that occur during a book’s life—from creation to collection, use, and repair—create a record of its unique history. Owners’ marks, annotations, dog-eared pages, rebinding, and other interventions reflect the communities that the book has been a part of.  

Join us for a look between the covers, at the paper, binding–and the stories that books reveal to a trained eye. From the beginnings of conservation through the Florence flood of 1966, to modern techniques and the tools of the conservator’s workbench, this exhibit provides a window into what it takes to preserve the story of a book.

Curated by:

Kimberly Kwan, Book Conservator, Stanford Libraries

Elizabeth Ryan, Book Conservator, Stanford Libraries

Michelle C. Smith, Book Conservator, San Francisco Public Library



American Bookbinders Museum

The American Bookbinders Museum is the only museum of its kind in North America, celebrating and exploring the history, tools and stories of bookbinders and bookbinding, from its earliest forms through the changes and innovations of the industrial revolution.

Learn more