More on the evils of mixing adhesives (stickies) and books

As a follow-up to my earlier post, A Book’s Worst Enemy #4 – Adhesives and metals, I have some graphic images to show you that illustrate the damage that an innocent-seeming sticky-note can do to a book! Beware – this is not for the faint of heart. This particular volume was published in 1968, so the paper isn’t as robust as it would be in a newer book, but it’s not a hundred years old, either! And LOOK WHAT HAPPENED:

photo 4 photo 3

So just a word to the wise about stickiness and paper. It’s never a good idea.

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
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.)

Metals
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:
https://www.library.cornell.edu/preservation/librarypreservation/mee/
preservation/basicremedial.html

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.

A Book’s Worst Enemy #3

Number Three – Mold and insects

There are always mold spores floating around in air, so if your books are in a warm, humid place, you can safely assume that mold will be growing in them soon. If it isn’t already. The air doesn’t have to be warm for mold to grow if the air has a very high moisture content, as you may have seen in some refrigerators, but I admit, the likelihood of the air around the average person’s book collection being that high, is low. But stagnant air will certainly increase the chances for mold development, so, as mentioned in my previous Healthy Books post, make sure to keep your books well-ventillated.

Mold stains paper very quickly, and it is next to impossible (if not actually impossible) to get most mold stains out of paper. Mold can also weaken paper, and if it is left to its own devices, it can take over and erase pictures, and even eat away the actual paper. I have seen a book where the mold made several consecutive pages inseparable. There was no paper left in that area, just one big lump of mold.

Now for bugs. My first encounter with the bugs/books combination was as a very naive, newly-arrived Texas resident. I put a box of books in a storage unit off my porch (climate very much not controlled), and when I looked in again a few months later, the roaches scattered, shocked at being disturbed from the feast they had been enjoying for so long. After my shrieks died down, I noticed that the leather cover on my great-grandmother’s traveling letter case had been eaten, along with the glue that held it together, and many pages of the other books had their corners eaten. Roaches do not mess around! Silverfish, termites and some beetles also enjoy a tasty meal of paper. Insects tend to prefer warm, dark, damp places, so keep your books off the floor, try to keep the temperature cool, and make sure your books aren’t near any plants, or food particles.

Just as a final fyi, bird and rodent droppings are also bad for paper, as they are corrosive.

A Book’s Worst Enemy #2

Number Two – Light

This post is going to be brief, because the message I hope to convey is really simple: Damage from light is cumulative and irreversible

With that important tidbit in mind, be sure to keep books you care about away from a lot of light. Archives, museums and libraries that have rare and/or culturally significant books keep them in cool, dark places unless they have to be on display, in which case they make sure the light in the display area is low, and they put ultraviolet filters over windows if they can. Books that have to be open are not kept open at the same page for the duration of the display because of the damage that would occur to the open page.

While all light isn’t great for books and paper, it’s the ultraviolet radiation in light that is the most active and therefore the most potentially damaging. Light bleaches paper and will cause inks and dyes to fade. Conversely, light can also make poor-quality paper darken. In addition to the aesthetic damage that occurs when paper is exposed to ultraviolet radiation, light speeds up paper’s oxidation, making it weak and brittle. Did you know that along with natural sunlight, fluorescent light contains ultraviolet radiation as well?

Just to review:

  • Light (especially ultraviolet radiation) is damaging to paper and books
  • Keep your books away from light as much as you can – apply UV filters to windows if you really want to protect those books
  • Light will weaken, bleach and/or darken your books

A Book’s Worst Enemy #1

Number One – Temperature and Relative Humidity

Heat speeds up chemical reactions and thus paper decomposition. Lower temperatures are actually very good for paper, but not for humans to live in, so a low temperature is not really practical advice here. High humidity means there is a lot of moisture in the air, and when there is a lot of moisture in the air, mold and mildew can form on paper. Low humidity, on the other hand, can cause paper to dry out too much and become brittle. In an environment where relative humidity fluctuates, paper expands and contracts with moisture gains and losses, and it experiences structural stress, becoming unstable and easily susceptible to damage. Therefore, fluctuations in both temperature and relative humidity should be avoided. Lower temperatures and stable (ideally 35-45%) relative humidity are best for books.

  • Do not place your books on an outside wall that will be cold in the winter and warm in the summer.
  • Do not place your collection near heating or cooling vents so hot or cold air blows directly on them.
  • Make sure your books are not jammed in too tightly together on a shelf. Good circulation helps prevent pockets of still air, which allow for mold to grow more easily.