The Conservation lab is responsible for the preservation of library materials. The conservation technician employs a variety of methods to ensure the protection of rare and valuable materials. Items that are fragile are given customized treatment in-house. Books are re-sewn by hand and damaged covers replaced. Custom boxes are constructed to protect books with brittle paper, or unique bindings. Maps and other oversize materials are encapsulated between sheets of polyester film so that they can be used safely by researchers. Other skilled conservation treatments include spine replacement, paper repair, protective covers for pamphlets.
Frequently Asked Questions about Conservation
- Where can I get my book rebound?
- Where can I get my book repaired?
- Why are the pages in my old book brown and crumbly?
- What can I do to save my brittle book, newspaper, or document?
- How should I store my books?
- Can I save wet books? What if my books are moldy?
- How can I get rid of the smell of mildew in my books?
- How can I preserve my family photographs for my grandchildren?
- I have an infestation. How can I get rid of bugs in my books?
- How can I preserve my newspaper clippings?
- The leather on my books is worn and scuffed. Should I oil my leather books?
The University Libraries uses Etherington Conservation Services for the professional conservation treatment of books and documents. Employees are trained conservators and technicians who repair books for individuals as well as institutions.
Your book is what preservation librarians and conservators call “brittle,” and it got that way because of the acid left in the paper during the papermaking process. Until roughly 1850, most paper was made using cotton rags, which created a stable, long-lasting product. With the push towards mass-production, however, paper manufacturers switched to a new process using wood pulp. The new process produced acidic paper, and over time that acid breaks down the chemical composition of the paper until it becomes brittle and breaks when handled.
Paper manufacturers can now produce acid free or archival paper from wood pulp. Some publishers print books on acid free paper, and archival paper can be purchased in most places that sell paper.
There is a process called deacidification that can halt to deterioration process that occurs in acidic paper, although it does not reverse any deterioration that has already occurred. This process is very expensive, but can be completed by trained conservators. A conservation center such as Etherington Conservation Center can deacidify your materials.
That said, replacing, photocopying, or proper storage would be a much more economical approach to preserving your brittle material. If the artifact itself is not what you value and it can be replaced with a more recent edition, you can save the content of the item by replacing it. If the item is a document or a newspaper article, photocopying onto archival or permanent paper will save the content and allow you to still hold onto the original. Whether you replace the original, photocopy it, or neither, if you want to preserve the original for as long as possible, proper storage is necessary. The item should be stored in a cool, dry room, out of direct light.
The answers to the following questions are from the Library of Congress’s Preservation Division web site and have been slightly modified for local considerations.
Store books out of direct sunlight and where air can circulate freely. Store them away from windows and don't put them on shelves against outside walls.
Store books on flat, smooth shelves that are strong enough to support their weight. Stand books vertically side by side. Keep similar sizes together: small books next to small books, and large books next to large books. Use bookends to keep the books from falling over, and be sure they are high enough to support the books completely.
Avoid storing books in an attic or basement because attics get too hot and basements get too damp, and either extreme is harmful to books. Both are also subject to rapid changes in temperature and humidity levels, and it is best to keep them in steady levels of temperature and humidity. Keep books out from under plumbing and water pipes; water damage from these sources is all too common.
To protect books with monetary or sentimental value, keep them in custom-fitted archival boxes made from high-quality materials. Commercial binderies such as Mid Atlantic Bookbindery or Southern Library Bindery can usually construct these boxes.
Yes. Books can be air-dried, or frozen and then dried later. The most important thing to do to save your wet books is to take action immediately, or as soon as possible, after they have gotten wet. In warm and humid conditions, mold can begin to grow within 24-48 hours after the materials have gotten wet. Stabilize and air dry as much of the collection as possible. What cannot be air-dried in 48 hours can probably be frozen to stabilize and dry later.
Fan volumes open and stand them on the top or bottom edge on an absorbent material and change the material as it becomes wet. As the book dries, turn it upside-down. Humidity levels should be maintained below 75% RH with dehumidifiers. Low temperatures will assist in the avoidance of mold problems.
Increasing air circulation will dry out most items efficiently. Use electric fans to provide maximum air circulation, but do not point them directly at the drying books. Weather permitting, set up a drying space outdoors, under cover.
Mold is the greatest risk and hazard, both to books and to humans. If you suspect or see mold, or think that the water may have been contaminated with sewage or harmful chemicals, you must wear protective clothing, gloves, and a mask while salvaging your books. Also, take strict precautions to protect your skin and lungs. If mold is present, seek professional advice and proceed with caution. If any negative health effects are observed, contact a doctor, mycologist, or both, before proceeding.
The smell comes from biological growth on books that are stored in damp, dark, cool locations. Check for active or dormant mold. Remove the materials to a drier (but still cool) environment, and make sure that plenty of air is circulating around them. These conditions should render the biological growth dormant. If the mildewed materials are stored for an extended period under such conditions, the smell will eventually disappear of its own accord. The same technique can be applied to dry books affected with active mold. If you can see mold growth, DO NOT attempt to clean it off until the materials are thoroughly dry. Premature cleaning attempts will grind the mold into the covers or paper and cause stains that are often impossible to remove.
A short exposure to sunlight and circulating air outdoors also may help to rid the books of the mildew smell. Remember, though, that light damages paper-based materials. Drying materials in the sunlight may result in some darkening or fading of book materials and paper, so select this approach only with materials for which such damage is considered acceptable.
Store photographs at 68 degrees F. and 30-40% relative humidity (HR) in a closet or air-conditioned room. Don't store them in the attic or basement. Higher humidity levels speed up deterioration; very low humidity may cause prints to crack, peel, or curl. Storage at lower temperatures is particularly advised for contemporary color prints.
Avoid exposing photographic materials to anything containing sulfur dioxide, fresh paint fumes, plywood, cardboard, and fumes from cleaning supplies. Store photographs in proper enclosures made of plastic or paper materials that are free of sulfur, acids, and peroxides. Preservation quality paper storage enclosures are available in buffered (pH 7.5-9.5) and unbuffered stock. Stable plastic enclosures are made of uncoated polyester film (Dupont Mylar Type D or ICI Melinex 516), uncoated cellulose triacetate, polyethylene, and polypropylene. All materials used for storing photographic collections should pass the PAT (Photographic Activity Test) and will be marked as such by suppliers of high quality photographic enclosures. If relative humidity cannot be controlled consistently below 80%, plastic enclosures should not be used because photographs may stick to the slick surface of plastic.
Avoid acidic paper envelopes and sleeves, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, rubber bands, paper clips, and poor-quality adhesives such as pressure-sensitive tapes and rubber cement. Buffered enclosures are preferred for deteriorated photographic prints on poor-quality mounts.
Avoid the cheap, readily available "drugstore type" photo albums. Instead, buy albums made of high-quality materials. Generally, use photo corners and only those materials that are known to have passed the PAT tests. Particularly, avoid albums with sticky adhesive pages.
Identify the bug if possible (trap one with sticky pest strips) and try to answer the following questions that a professional will ask you:
a. Is the insect already dead or alive and how many insects are there?
b. How many books are affected and with what kind of damage?
c. Have you seen insects like these elsewhere in your home?
d. Where have the books been stored and are they damp or moldy?
e. How valuable and old are the books?
Isolate the affected books by placing them in a tightly sealed plastic bag. Seek assistance from an entomologist. A local university or state extension service should be able to put you in touch with one.
Fumigation must be performed by professionals under controlled conditions. Non-chemical preventive measures against insects include:
a. Seal entry points including windows, doors and put filters on vents.
b. Keep room temperatures and humidity levels low (insects need water, too).
c. Keep the environment clean and dusted, and don't store books near food or rubbish, etc.
Desiccant dusts like diatomaceous earth or silica, can be used around the perimeters of a room, but will not be effective for insects with a winged portion of the life cycle.
Newspaper is made from wood fibers and it will turn dark and brittle very quickly, particularly when exposed to light. Although it can be chemically treated to slow down further deterioration, many of the treatments will also darken the paper. Newspaper will damage other paper or photographic materials with which they are stored if the other items are not protected from them.
The only way to preserve the original is to store them properly:
a. Place clipping in a polyester film folder with a sheet of alkaline-buffered paper behind it.
b. Put the polyester folders in file folders and boxes of high quality acid-free, alkaline-buffered materials.
c. Store in a cool and dry location, such as a closet in an air-conditioned room.
Leather dressings were at one time thought to be useful in extending the life of leather bindings. Experience has shown, however, that the benefit is primarily cosmetic and that inexpert use of leather dressing does more harm than good. Studies have shown that leather dressing can cause the leather to dry out over time. Leather may become stiffer, accompanied by darkening or surface staining. If too much dressing is applied too frequently, the surface of the leather may become sticky and attract dust and the oil stains and deteriorates the paper.
Consolidants like Klucel G (food-grade) can be applied by book conservators to bind dry rotted leather and keep it from offsetting onto other books or textblocks. For handling purposes, polyester film jackets can be made for books.
For additional assistance, contact the University Libraries Conservation Lab at 974-1832.