Published: May 20, 2024

The Libraries Preservation and Collection Care team works to repair a book.Never judge a book by its cover, but can you judge a book by its condition? An exhibit at the University Libraries seeks to demonstrate how to care for damaged book spines. 

Titled “Treating Damaged Book Spines,” the exhibit is not just a display of the library’s Preservation and Collection Care team’s work, but a comprehensive educational experience. It delves into the intricacies of spine mends, one of the most common areas of damage on a book. Through examples of treated and in-progress items, the exhibit will illustrate the meticulous steps taken for treatment and highlight the nuanced differences between caring for circulating and non-circulating collections. The exhibit is designed to give patrons a deeper understanding of how physical collections are cared for and the myriad factors influencing preservation care decisions. 

Books that have a clean, brand-new look are pleasing to the eye, but it is the books with noticeable wear and tear that are said to be the most popular as they are the ones that have been in the hands of many readers. Bookbindings can tell you a lot about a book’s history, so understanding each book’s structure is crucial for preserving it. 
Preservation and Collection Care is a team of staff and student workers who focus on the treatment of circulating and non-circulating collections. In addition to book repairs, the team prepares newly acquired items to go on the shelf by creating their call numbers and protective dust jackets, prepping items for offsite storage, and conservation, which involves more complex mends—typically working with non-circulating collections such as Rare and Distinctive (RaD) collections—like flattening documents, cleaning mold, and reattaching covers. 
“If your dog gets a hold of your book, but you’re unsure of how to care for it, you can reach out to us for advice and guidance,” says Hillary Morgan, Preservation and Collection Care conservator. “This exhibit will provide information about how individual institutions care for their collections and how you can do repairs at home.” 
In the past, the team posted two videos on caring for items damaged in fire and water and received requests for guidance from patrons who’d viewed those videos. Another patron returned from a term abroad and wanted information on shipping a cThe Libraries Preservation and Collection Care team works to repair a book.ollection back to the States. Even if you don’t have a question about books, Preservation and Collection Care can still find resources on how best to help you. “We had a patron who needed to store and care for military uniforms and were able to connect him with different resources and services on how to do that,” Morgan said. 
When a book comes in for mending, the first question is, “How is it being used, and how often?” Circulating items are used heavily, so it’s vital to ensure that they are durable and can withstand frequent use without taking too much time to repair. For non-circulating items, such as those in RaD and reference collections, it’s important to preserve the item’s history and focus on conservation. 
Many factors affect a preservationist’s decision-making regarding book repairs. Materials must be durable but don’t necessarily need to match the original materials. 
“When mending leather bound books, we are cautious about repairing them with similar materials and often use different materials from what was originally made,” added Morgan. “Degraded leather could potentially react with non-degraded leather causing it to react because the original leather is fragile, which makes it difficult to attach something else to it. This leads to Red Rot, an acidic reaction that causes the leather to break down and become powdery. You can only delay this process or consolidate the leather, but you can’t reverse it or prevent it from happening.”
Following the exhibit, patrons can learn more about preservation methods at CU Boulder and other institutions from a more in-depth digital exhibit that will be accessible through a QR code. If you have any questions about preservation or need guidance on conducting your repairs, you can email Preservation and Collection Care directly. Tools used to repair a book.
The exhibit will run through summer in Norlin Library M350B.