The Book Doctor Is In: Repairing Damaged Covers

book doctorNow that we’ve covered all of the most common repairs that you can make inside a book, we’ll move out to the cover.

Mending a Torn Cover Spine

In a hardbound book the covers are generally made up of a strong cardboard covered on the outside with cloth or paper and covered on the inside by the end sheet. The spine area of the cover is usually reinforced with a lightweight cardboard which is covered with the same material as the cover boards.

Since the hinge areas must be flexible in order for the covers to open, they have no reinforcing cardboard. This results in hinges being relatively weak and subject to wear from repeated flexing when the book is used. Over time one or both hinges are likely to fail and leave the spine area of the cover loose from the book.

Demco’s Collection Care DVD has a very good step-by-step procedure for repairing or reattaching a loose or missing cover spine. Follow the steps in the video below and you can’t go wrong, but I’ll add more explanation about the “why” behind these steps.

This repair is also covered in detail in Demco’s Collection Care Guide so, rather than repeat them here I’ll clarify the reasoning behind some important details.

Why use a tape that is 1½” wider than the thickness of the book?
The tape should be wide enough to extend well onto both covers for durability.

Why remove a loose, but usable cover spine?
After a book is rebacked with tape the author/title information and call number must be visible on the new spine. In the last steps of this process you will see how to reattach a usable spine. If the spine is missing or unattractive, you will need to letter the information onto the tape.

Why attach folders to the tape prior to cutting it?
Folders help determine the length of the tape and help center the book.

Why place a strip of light cardboard or heavy paper down the center of the tape?
The strip reinforces the backing tape so it doesn’t crinkle when the book is opened. It also prevents the tape from sticking to the text block and closing the tube. (Refer to Bookbinding 101 for a discussion on the importance of the tube.)

Why place a strip of tape along the inside edges of the folder across the backing tape?
This tape reinforces the headcaps for greater durability.

Why cut the backing tape at angles from each corner?
This will keep the tape from attaching to the hinges inside of the covers so that the tape doesn’t flex and work its way loose.

Why fold the center tabs of the backing tape over on itself?
Folding over the center tabs results in a much stronger area at the headcaps.

When I am reattaching a cover spine do I really cover the entire inside of the cover spine with Norbond adhesive and attach it to the backing tape? Won’t this glue the tube closed?
Yes, you should coat the entire back side of the cover spine with Norbond.  Since the cover spine is attached to the outside of the backing tape and you used a strip of material to prevent the tape from sticking to the text block, the tube will be fine.

Why coat the outside of the replaced cover spine with Norbond?
While this step is not essential, it will help to ensure that the edges of the reattached spine don’t fray. It also adds a clear protective coating to the spine.

Mending Worn Corners and Headcaps

Two final repairs to book covers are illustrated in the Collection Care Guide. Both of these repairs use pre-cut tape products to simplify repairs that can otherwise be much more tricky if you’re trying to cut the tape from rolls.

Corners and headcaps will quickly require more extensive treatment if they are not repaired at the first signs of wear. View Instructions on repairing corners and headcaps.

There you have it. As you study and practice the repairs outlined in these Book Doctor blogs, you’ll be even more confident handling the wear and tear that comes with circulating books in your collection.

People have asked about the materials we have been using for these repairs since Demco has several kinds of repair tapes and liquid adhesives. In our next post we will discuss some of these product variations and why some may work better than others in specific instances.

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.

Throughout this series, we reference two resources from Demco. The pamphlet Demco Collection Care Guide and the Demco Collection Care DVD are both available to help you through your book repair challenges.


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.