The Book Doctor Is In: Introduction to Book Repair

book doctorGuest blogger and former Demco employee John Ison gives you lessons from the stacks on how to give books the tender loving care they deserve.

“They want you to write a blog on fixing books … like how to plug in a Kindle?”

So much for impressing my 30-year-old daughter. No, we’re not going to cover resurrecting dead e-books; we’re going back to the basics of how to prolong the usefulness of the backbone of every library’s  collection — books with real ink printed on real paper.

In the 25 plus years I was with Demco, I presented something like 300 book repair workshops. It was the easiest part of my job because my 300th presentation was just like my first presentation — except I didn’t sweat as much. I loved teaching librarians about book repair.

There’s not a lot of change going on in the world of book repair. Paper is still paper; tape is still tape; glue is still polyvinyl acetate. And your best judgment of what to repair, what to ignore, and what to get rid of is still just that — a judgment call.

DogBack in October Demco ran a blog post entitled Book Repair: The Stuff They Don’t Teach You in Library School. Darned right they don’t. If you’re paying big bucks to earn an advanced degree, you don’t want to spend your time learning about adhesive tapes. You want knowledge about how to help people. Never mind that if you’re lucky, you’ll be overseeing people who need to know how to repair books. In a lot of cases though, you’ll be the only staff person in the library when the dog starts eating your collection.

So maybe a little knowledge of how to care for your book collection is a good thing. Maybe something worth a bit of your time and attention. You could be the ace of book repair! Now that I’ve got your interest, I hope you’ll allow me to pass along some key book repairing knowledge in a series of blog posts.

But one word of caution: Everything we deal with is applicable to a circulating collection or a reference collection open to the public.

While some of the techniques I present you with are similar to the techniques used on rare or valuable books, none of the book repair supplies that I will cover will be suitable for archival preservation.

This does not mean they’re bad products. Many experts and even archivists insist that archival repairs should be reversible and your goal is to make permanent repairs.

Demco Collection Care DVDWhat to Repair

Rule #1: There are few rules in book repair but this one is paramount — “Don’t try to fix everything.”

Before you reach for the tape or glue ask yourself if a damaged book belongs in your collection. If it’s out of date, badly soiled or one of several duplicate copies, it is a candidate for the discard pile.

On the other hand, if you decide that the book adds to the strength of your collection but it is damaged beyond your capability to repair it in-house, send it to a commercial bindery for treatment.

Beyond the books that you decide to discard and those that warrant the expense of professional repair, you will find those books that can be returned to service quickly and easily using the in-house repair techniques we’ll cover in future columns.

What are your book repair questions and concerns? Post your comments below and I’ll respond.

Additional Resources

Throughout this series we refer to two resources from Demco. The Demco Collection Care Guide and the Demco Collection Care DVD. Both are available to help you complete tough book repairs like a champ. Also, if you send your questions or concerns through the Leave a Reply link below, I’ll be happy to respond.


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.