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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Mending in the Library

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, September 23, 2012

I was helping to sort the load of books that had arrived to fill requests, and happened to open an older book from the Lima Public Library.


In red ink, carefully placed with a large, bold rubber stamp for anyone to see were the instructions, “Do Not Mend or Repair this Book.”


Even a librarian would shutter, and I got a mental picture of a stereotypical librarian from an earlier era standing sternly lecturing someone who had glued a page.


Actually, I have seen similar messages in books over the years of my library career, usually a softer, gentler phrasing, however.


The goal is to suggest that if a book comes apart, or is torn when checked out and in use, it is a better idea to allow the library to make repairs with proper book repair supplies.


Most libraries have many mending products on-hand to clean, repair, and mend books, not-to-mention flexible book glue to allow books to be used many times after being damaged.


Libraries spend a lot of time “undoing” repairs that well-meaning library users do trying to repair damaged library books.


I am not aware if book mending skills are still taught in library schools, it is unlikely with the emphasis on technology and information management.


As part of my library program at WVU, the Cataloging Class had a session regarding various aspects of book repair.


The professor provided us with some of the saddest-looking books that could be found, and told us to do our best with book tape and glue to reassemble the books into a usable format.


We were given a 25 page guide to book repair, and told to “do our best.”


I didn’t want to confess that I had already done book repair at my school library, where I was given another book repair pamphlet and a box of supplies, and told to fix whatever I could that was sitting on the mending table.


That experience was an aid to my college mending class, and I was awarded a free pair of scissors for my efforts repairing the book that I was given.


That was the end of my practical book mending instruction, but during my Graduate work at Case Western Reserve University,   I was assigned to the government documents department of the college library where a large stack of items sat in the back room awaiting tender care.


I finally mentioned that I had some experience in book repair, and was immediately given a chair and box of supplies, and there I sat for several days.


Over the years, I have discovered the differences between public library book repair and restoration of archival materials.  Tape is the enemy in an Archive.


In a public library, we deal with books that have been wet, or gotten dirty somehow.  Some people try to patch the spine with duct tape, masking tape, or whatever is available, and we have to carefully remove the repair to start over.


People try to repair books with whatever white glue is at-hand, but real library glue dries flexible to allow bindings and pages to twist and move when opened.


Water damage is generally the end of a book’s life, as mold will establish itself as time passes.  Pages can be mended with special repair tape, or can be copied and tipped back into the book.


We have special tricks that can be done with moth balls, microwaves, and book cleaner; but it is often easier to simply replace the book.


Paper quality determines whether a book is worth mending.  Paperbacks and some cheaper books use a poorer quality of paper that crumbles with time.


Probably the next generation of librarians will not deal with paper bindings on books, and that will be limited to Archives and the volumes that are considered historical.


I will keep my scissors, library glue, bone depressor, and scrape knife ready just in case a poor book needs a little repair job.