The Book Doctor Is In: Book Repair ASAP

book doctorIn our first installment, The Book Doctor is In: Introduction to Book Repair we presented the number one rule of book repair: Don’t try to fix everything. You don’t want to waste time and other resources repairing a book that no longer belongs in your collection. Nor do you want to deal with the frustration of trying to fix a book that is damaged beyond what you can handle in-house.

The second rule of book repair, Make Repairs As Soon As Possible, serves as a reminder that it’s human nature to put off seemingly minor things. But I promise that if you re-shelve a book with a bit of minor damage to the hinge today, you’ll be re-casing the book next time you see it.

That’s enough rules — let’s get on with the most basic of all repairs:

Mending a Torn Page

Let’s be frank, finding a torn page probably won’t be the low point of your day.  Still, it’s something that should be dealt with before it becomes more serious.

For the vast majority of books, using transparent tape to repair a tear is perfectly acceptable. (If you’re working on a very old or rare book or one that is torn through a nice illustration we’ll offer some alternative methods further down.)

It’s important to use a tape that will remain transparent and flexible for a long time so I recommend Scotch® 810 Magic Mending Tape. Others may work, but this has been my go-to clear tape for years.

The taping process is straightforward: First attach the tape just beyond the end of the tear and smooth it along the entire length of the tear.

It’s likely that the tear will extend to the edge of the page so it’s best to cut the tape long enough that you can wrap about ½ inch of it over the edge to cover the other side of the tear. Don’t try to trim the tape even with the edge of the page as you’ll leave a rough edge that can snag and start a new tear. Note: it’s not necessary to apply a second strip of tape to the reverse side of the page with this technique.

Smooth the tape with a plastic folder to ensure it adheres well.

While this technique is simple, there is a drawback. Over time the tape will collect dirt along its edges since a bit of the adhesive may work its way out from under the tape. This may only be a concern in special cases. For example, on illustrations where appearance is a consideration using a good liquid adhesive is a better approach.

Alternative to Taping a Tear

Since you will be using a liquid adhesive inside the book, be sure to slip a piece of waxed paper under the page you will be repairing. Have a second piece available to cover the repair before you close the book.

Applying a small amount of a liquid adhesive along the edge of a tear is simple but does involve a bit more effort than merely taping. Use a mending stick to apply a small amount of Norbond™ adhesive evenly along the edge of the tear.

Place the torn page on the waxed paper and, being certain that the two sides of the tear are overlapped correctly, press the repair with a piece of cheesecloth. Don’t rub the repair at this point or you’ll cause more damage.

Once you have pressed the repair together, place your second piece of waxed paper on top of the page and gently run a plastic folder along the repair to ensure that it is flat and secure. Leave the waxed paper in place and close the book.

Generally this repair will be secure enough to return the book to use in a couple of hours, but I recommend letting it dry overnight just to be sure.

Remove the waxed paper — it will stick to the repair a bit but just give it a tug — and you’re finished.

Take a little time and care with this repair and you will find that tear is all but invisible and won’t develop a dirty bathtub ring around the tape.

Reattaching a Page That Was Torn Out

Last time I promised to tell you about the most basic (and most often botched) repairs. Taping a tear certainly qualifies as the most basic type of book repair, but reattaching a page that has come out of a book is no doubt the book repair that is most often done incorrectly.

Unless you are very new to libraries, you have encountered books in which someone has tried to reattach a page with tape. Fail! In the vast majority of cases that simply can’t work because the adhesive on the tape won’t allow it to slip all the way into the gutter of the book. The page is taped to an adjoining page — usually a bit crooked and always sticking out of the book.

The solution (only a minor pun) is once again a liquid adhesive. Demco’s Norbond™ is a polyvinyl acetate— liquid plastic — that’s formulated to remain flexible and strong over a long time. When you encounter a page that has been pulled out of a book, simply apply a small amount of adhesive along the edge of the page and slip it back deep into the gutter of the book.

Since you’re working with a liquid adhesive in the book’s spine, it’s a good idea to slip in a piece of waxed paper on either side of the repair while you let it dry overnight.

If you encounter multiple pages that have been pulled loose, you can generally reattach all of them in a single step. Just gather them together, check the page numbers and make certain the edges are even. Apply the adhesive to the inner edge of them all at once, being certain that each page has an even coat, and reinsert them all at once. I have found it helpful to use a spring clamp or two to keep the pages even until they are back in the book where they belong. Then remove the clamps and close the book to dry overnight.

Since pages don’t always tear out neatly for you, the next blog post in our series will delve into some more complicated repairs.

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.