The Book Doctor Is In: Protecting Softcover Books

book doctorProtecting Softcover Books

Softcover books — paperbacks — play a vital, though sometimes underappreciated, role in library service. The lower cost of softcover books can help a library provide more total resources by stretching the budget a bit and many excellent works are initially published in softcover form in order to reduce the cost of publication.

The Achilles’ heel of softcover materials is their durability. If they are allowed to wear and become unusable (or simply unattractive) prematurely, the initial cost savings will be erased. There exists a wide variety of products designed to protect softcover materials and extend their useful life. This post will deal with several offered by Demco as those are most familiar to me.

Terminology

Before we deal with specific products, let’s clarify some terms:

  • Mil: The measurement of the thickness of the plastic film in the protecting material. One mil is 1/1,000 (0.001) of an inch. The film in protecting material sold by Demco ranges from 2 to 15 mils.
  • Polyester vs. polypropylene vs. vinyl: All are types of plastic film, but polyester is much stronger than polypropylene or vinyl. Only polyester and polypropylene are safe for archival materials. Most of Demco’s covers are made from top-quality polyester. Vinyl is not a stable material since chemicals will migrate into other materials as the vinyl becomes brittle. Although lower-cost covering products made from vinyl are available, I do not recommend their use on materials you hope to protect for an extended period of time.
  • Repositionable adhesive: The adhesive in the covering material does not form a permanent bond for several hours after application. This is intended to allow the user to carefully lift the covering material, if necessary, and reapply it to eliminate creases or air bubbles. All CircExtender® products use repositionable adhesive.
  • Acid-free or pH neutral: Any acidic material in contact with paper will cause the paper to discolor and deteriorate. Any material used to protect softcover books should be acid-free and chemically stable. For more information on the pH of materials, refer to my Book Repair Supplies and Materials blog post. All the products that Demco sells for protecting books are acid-free.

How to Protect Softcover Books

The products you select to protect specific softcover books will depend upon the value of the book, the amount of use you anticipate it will receive and how long you expect it to remain in your collection.

Tape

Mass-market paperbacks are generally the lowest-cost books you will buy and you may wish to discard them after several circulations. Many librarians simply reinforce the weakest area of these books — the corner where the covers attach to the spine — with a durable clear tape, such as Demco Crystal Clear Book Tape. I strongly recommend that you use a Demco® C-27 Taping System Applicator, which greatly speeds up the process and eliminates taping errors.

Laminates

Demco offers a wide variety of laminates designed to meet different needs. All are sold in rolls with a printed grid on the backing paper to aid in accurate cutting, and adhesive allows repositioning up to 24 hours.

MATERIAL
  • Vinyl
  • Polypropylene
  • Vinyl
  • Polypropylene
  • Polypropylene
FINISH
  • Gloss/Matte
  • Gloss/Matte
  • Gloss/Matte
  • Gloss/Matte
  • Gloss
MIL THICKNESS
  • 5.0
  • 5.0
  • 4.0
  • 4.0
  • 2.5
ROLL LENGTH
  • 200" or 400"
  • 400" or 600"
  • 200" or 400"
  • 200" or 400"
  • 200" or 400"

Applying rolled laminate can be a bit tricky until you get the hang of it, but the following steps make it easy.

One- and Two-Piece Covers

Choosing your preferred style of cover may involve a bit of trial and error, and you will likely find that some styles are best for some applications and other styles work better for different materials. The chart below provides an overview of what is available along with links to where you will find additional information about each style.

Pre-cut Covers

The corners and spine have been trimmed on pre-cut covers to minimize measuring and cutting and make them the easiest to use.

THICKNESS
  • 4 mil
  • 2 mil
MATERIAL
  • Vinyl
  • Polypropylene
FINISH
  • Gloss
  • Gloss

Semi-rigid Covers

The 5 mil front and back covers provide outstanding protection for larger books while the material in the spine area is 2 mils thick to retain flexibility.

THICKNESS
  • 2 mil
  • 5 mil
MATERIAL
  • Polyester
  • Polyester
FINISH
  • Gloss
  • Gloss

Rigid Covers

Use 15 mil polyester front and back covers to support your oversized softcover books. The spine has 2 mil thickness to retain flexibility.

THICKNESS
  • 15 mil
MATERIAL
  • Polyester
FINISH
  • Gloss

No matter which cover you choose, application is quick and easy. Instructions are included in every package.

As always, feel free to use the link below to post any comments or questions and I’ll respond. I may use your input in future posts.

For more help, refer to two resources from Demco. The Demco Collection Care Guide and the Demco Collection Care DVD are both available to help you through your book repair and protection challenges.

Author

John Ison

John Ison

John Ison retired in 2011 after working with Demco for more than 25 years, most recently as the Director of Library Relations. During that time he conducted over 300 book repair workshops, wrote the Demco Collection Care Guide, and wrote and produced the Demco Collection Care DVD.