A Book’s Worst Enemy #4

Number Four – Adhesives and metals

How many of us have picked up a book that was mended with Scotch tape, only to have the tape come off in our hands as a rigid, brittle strip, leaving a corresponding stain on the still-broken page it was meant to fix? And how many of us have seen the rust that leaves a permanent stain on the page under a paper clip? I know you’re all nodding knowingly. Well, here’s a post to help you ensure your own library is free of casualties that can be easily avoided.

Adhesives like tape will break down over time, losing their stickiness, and likely staining the paper under them in the process. Images and text under the tape can also be rendered illegible by this deterioration. If you want to repair a torn page, use very fine Japanese paper and a starch paste, such as wheat or rice. Such pastes are water-soluble and can be easily removed if necessary.

If the spine of your book is coming apart, don’t use tape or Japanese paper. Go to a book binder who can re-bind it and preserve as much of the old binding as possible. (More on that in a post coming next month.)

Whether it is a paper clip, staple, straight pin, brad tack or any other type of metal fastener, it’s bad for paper, and therefore bad for books. Aside from the rust that can form, the metals emit contaminants that can break down the paper under and around the fastener, leading to brittle paper. Metal is also rough and can cut paper that is in constant contact with it. The moral of this story is, of course, to keep all metal and adhesive fasteners out of your books! If you do come across some metal tucked into a book that you want to remove, you can do so by hand, but be cautious of the paper underneath it. If you find a grommet that is embedded in the paper, or another type of fastener that is so tightly secured that removal will cause more damage, those are best left in place.

For more information on adhesives, metals and other book enemies, as well as how to combat any ill effects, see Cornell’s library website:

A Book-Lover’s Candy Store: Libraries

What book blog is complete without a post about libraries?

Having just visited a beautiful library myself, I’d like to open this post up to all of my loyal fans and ask that you write in with a library (or libraries) that you have personally visited. Please tell us which library you were at, a link to it, and a brief description of what made it especially awesome!

I’ll go first to get things going: Last week I went to the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library and it was as glorious as ever:



With roughly 700,000 holdings, this library is the largest of its kind in Canada, and ranks third (I think) in North America. Their claims to fame are a Shakespeare First Folio, one of the largest Alice in Wonderland collections in the world, and a Babylonian cuneiform tablet, among many other gems and rarities.

Their website is http://fisher.library.utoronto.ca but it’s not tremendously exciting. If you want pictures to feast your eyes on, I suggest doing a simple Google search for Fisher Library images, and sit back and enjoy!

3D Digitization and the St. Chad Gospels

3D is the next step in digitization. Please watch the video below and prepare to be amazed:

If you’ve ever viewed a digitized book or manuscript, you know how very two-dimensional it is, and that seeing an image on a computer screen is nothing like holding the object in your own hands. Of course, a 2D version is far better than nothing, but it is limited in the information it can convey to you.

You do not need specific software to view the images that Dr. Endres and his team have made available, just an up-to-date browser. Imagine having texts in a language unknown to you, translated and viewable in your language, right on the page that still contains accurate stains, tears and cockling as found on the original. 3D can also digitally flatten pages that were so warped that reading the original artifact difficult. Each 3D page is built onto a digital wire frame that exactly matches the original page in every warp and wrinkle, and a full range of photographs is taken in every colour in the spectrum to create the truest possible representation. In short, while 3D acknowledges that a digital image in not the same as the real thing, its aim is to make a representation of the original that may be even better: the pages can be rotated 360* in any angle; infrared pictures allow us to see any corrections that were made to the manuscript that the naked eye can’t pick up; digital flattening of warped pages; and digital translations.

3D digitization is extremely time-consuming and expensive, which is why it is still very rare. But the more people who know about this, the better, so spread the word!

To see some 2D representations of the St. Chad gospels, click here:

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(image retrieved from https://lichfield.as.uky.edu/st-chad-gospels/features)

Or, click here:


Red Rot: What is it?

Have you ever noticed that old books can leave their mark on you, in more ways than one?

Vegetable-tanned leathers can start to break down as a result of exposure to less-than-optimal environmental conditions like high relative humidity, airborne pollutants, or high temperature. The leather becomes powdery and reddish-brown in colour. The damage is permanent and irreversible, but further deterioration may be prevented or slowed by the application of a sealant that protects the leather from further contact with air. For all conservation or preservation procedures, application by a professional is strongly recommended. Locate a book binder or conservation expert near you to find out what they can do and how much it will cost.

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(image retrieved from http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk)

In the meantime, it’s best to keep books affected with Red Rot isolated. Sleeves of polyester, polyethylene and polypropylene are best because they are chemically stable and will therefore not affect the items stored in them. Paper boxes or enclosures work too and should be acid-free and slightly alkaline.

For more information on conservation and preservation, visit:

The Canadian Conservation Institute at http://www.cci-icc.gc.ca

The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works at http://www.conservation-us.org

There are also many museum and archive associations that will be able to guide or direct you if you have any questions.