Reader Mailbox: Answers to 9 Book Repair Questions

Reader_MailboxHave book repair questions? We’ve got answers! Expert John Ison covers a variety of common book repair topics in his Book Doctor series, and we’ve pulled together his answers to some of your more specific questions. Keep reading to find answers to some of the sticky book situations you’ve gotten yourself into!

 

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  • Answer:
    That’s a tough one, since there’s a very good chance that you will remove some of the color from the cover along with the grease. I would suggest that you place some paper towels on the stain and weight it down for a few days. That may draw some of the grease out. If the stain is still objectionable, you could try gently working some diluted dishwashing liquid into the stained area. Since that could remove some of the color from the cover, you might just be trading one problem for another. You should test for colorfastness in an inconspicuous place first. Along the bottom edge or inside the book where a bit of cover cloth is exposed would be good.

    I checked online and found other suggestions such as rubbing alcohol and auto brake cleaner, but I’ve never tried them and they sound risky to me as there seems to be a good chance of further marring the cover.

  • Answer:
    This is a simple repair that you can do on your own. Please refer to Book Repair ASAP, which deals with repairing a torn page. The first suggestion there is to use high-quality tape, such as Scotch® 810 Magic™ Mending Tape, but I would be hesitant to use tape to repair 10 pages since that would result in a very thick area in the book. Instead, refer to the next section heading, “Alternative to Taping a Tear,” and follow that process.

    Start by placing a sheet of waxed paper under the last torn page and then follow the steps outlined. After applying the adhesive, place a sheet of waxed paper on top of the repair and smooth it down. At this point you can move to the next torn page and repeat the process. By using waxed paper on top of each repaired page you should be able to quickly complete mending all damaged pages. Then, leaving the waxed paper in place, close the book, place some weight on top of it and let the repair dry overnight.

  • Answer:
    I think we’re dealing with two related problems: acidic paper and loose bindings.

    A bit of background on acidic paper: Before the mid-19th century, book paper was made from primarily cotton stock, but manufacturers switched to wood-based stock because it was easier and cheaper to obtain. The manufacturing process allows acidic lignin from the wood to remain in the paper, and books printed on that stock invariably become discolored and brittle as the acid destroys the paper. After pressure from librarians and others, manufacturers began adding buffering agents to book paper in the early 1980s, and the life of books was greatly lengthened.

    The books you are dealing with were published around 1906, and the photos you sent me show edge damage caused by brittle paper being broken due to normal handling. As a reader would turn a page, the weakened paper would simply break due to lack of flexibility. There is nothing you can do to reverse the damage.

    I also suspect that the bindings on your books have become loose over time, and that has allowed some sections of pages to protrude more than others, which has resulted in some groups of pages showing much more damage than others.

    I’m sorry I don’t have better news about your books, but to extend their life as much as possible, you will need to limit handling and be as gentle as possible with them.

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.