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Syracuse University Libraries

Preservation: In the lab: terms, tools, materials

Preservation information from the Syracuse University Libraries' Preservation Department. Book repair techniques, general information on preservation practices, and other resources.

Encountered in the Lab

We have seen it all:  Coffee,  Raisins,  Peanut butter,  Mold,  Tire tracks,  Bite marks,  Duct tape,  and  Creatures (don't ask...)

The Preservation Lab

Equipment in the lab includes a board shear and book press from the early 1900s.  Both of these items are still used on a regular basis.  We also have a machine for encapsulation, an area with special ventilation, a large double sink, and storage for materials.

The preservation lab also has additional equipment in other locations, such as a large book guillotine, freezers for storage of books with contamination issues, and large tables to hold architectural drawings.   At right, a student is vacuuming dust from books.  Below is a picture of a book guillotine, used for trimming entire text blocks at once.  

Lab workflow

Most of the items in the preservation lab are books.  Circulation staff are trained to set aside damaged books for preservation.  Occasionally librarians, faculty, or other library staff bring books directly to the lab.  Acquisitions, cataloging, and delivery services are other sources of books that might need some type of preservation work.  Finally, on some occasions student employees are sent "fishing" to find damaged books in specific sections of the stacks.

As items arrive in the lab, they are assigned to the preservation lab location in the library computer system.  Books are sorted by the type of repair needed and placed on designated shelves.  Students repair the books and then place them on their individual shelves for drying, further work, etc.  Books that are complete move to "end processing."  End processing involves a final quality check, removing the lab location on the book's catalog location, security tagging, and then sending the books onward to the shelving room, librarian, or other location.

The files below are some of the forms used as part of our workflow.  You are welcome to adapt them for your use if desired.

  A few lab posters...

Sometimes our work involves cleaning books.  We use a variety of supplies for cleaning items.  We use Goo-Gone or other equivalent adhesive removers, smoke sponges, and various types of erasers (including electric erasers.)  A very lightly dampened cloth can remove dirt from some covers.


Custom made boxes are used with books or other items when the paper is too brittle for other repair techniques or the object is difficult to shelve.  The object is to keep the item together, safely contained.   All our boxes are made on a Dyss machine from England.  The software allows users to input measurements and produces many different styles of boxes, including clamshells, triangular boxes, specimen boxes, and boxes with circular cutouts.  Pictured below is the automated box maker.


Having the box maker allows us to quickly make containers that fit a large variety of items perfectly.  Measurements can be done by hand and input to the software.  Our conservation lab also has a machine that measures books and other items using a laser guide, which allows for high precision and automatic transfers of the measurements.

Other preservation labs

Many large public and academic libraries have preservation and/or conservation labs.  Some are similar to our preservation lab here at Syracuse University Libraries.  Some are highly specialized conservation labs that handle rare and valuable artifacts.  We hope you enjoy seeing the variety of labs and the challenge and excitement of preservation and conservation work.

Basic Tools and Materials

Acrylic Book Repair Rods – Used for setting joints/grooves properly when tightening hinges and re-casing books. Knitting needles can also be used – the diameter should be equal to the board thickness.

Adhesive Glue – We use PVA, a polyvinyl acetate adhesive.

Awl – pointed tool used for making holes when sewing a pamphlet binder or new text block on a book.

Bone Folders – smooth flat tool with rounded or pointed ends; used to crease paper, to rub down paper/cloth after gluing, and to set the joints when repairing bindings. This tool can be made out of animal bone or a synthetic alternative such as Teflon. We primarily use Teflon folders.

Buckram – a heavy stiff fabric with a sizing agent used in bookbinding. We have rolls of buckram in various colors and widths.

Cambric - a linen cloth used for attaching text blocks to the boards.

Clay-based kitty litter - useful for removing smells from books. There are also commercially made mixes available.

Glue Brushes and Pens– a variety of sizes and types can be useful.

Lifting knife – a relatively dull knife useful for cleaning the backs of spines or lifting book cloth. We have a number of different types.

Olfa knife (snap-off blade box cutter) or utility knife – Good for cutting spines and boards. Used with a self-healing cutting mat. It is a good idea to have extra blades on hand. A dull cutting tool can be dangerous and difficult to use.

Microspatula – used for lifting labels, slitting paper, or applying adhesives in hard-to-reach places.

Rulers and straight edges – used for measuring, a straight edge with a safety guard works best for cutting with scalpels or knives.

Scalpels - useful for detailed work in trimming pages, etc.

Scissors – good quality, accurate scissors in a range of sizes are essential, heavy scissors for cutting board and cloth, medium for cutting paper and smaller for reaching narrow spaces.

Self-Healing Cutting Mat – provides a grid surface for cutting paper; particularly useful for trimming end papers on the book where you cannot use a paper cutter. It does not dull the blades of cutting implements.

Thread - heavy thread, sometimes waxed, is used for pamphlet binding and other repairs.

Waxed paper – provides a barrier to protect pages from glue.

Weights – Weights are used to secure pieces in place during work or put on top of finished books to help them dry in the proper position. We use bricks wrapped in heavy paper or book cloth. Many other types of weights are available, including fabric bags filled with buckshot.

Circulating Collections Care

Paper repair:  Done on books, maps, and other documents that have tears.  For some repairs, Japanese paper is preferable. However, for the vast majority of repairs done in the preservation lab, archival tape such as Filmoplast P is used. The Preservation Department is doing extensive repair on architecture drawings that are currently being digitized.  

Tip-in: Used when a single or only a few pages have detached from the text block.  After gluing in the pages, the book is weighted overnight to dry.  If necessary, paper can be added to give more space near the gutter.

Hinge repair:  A hinge repair is done when the hinge (typically paper but sometimes fabric) that is located just inside the front or rear cover has been loosened but is not torn or severely damaged.  The paper connecting the board to the text block usually first loosens near the top or bottom edge of the book.

Fan-glue: Fan gluing is done when more than just a few pages are detached from the text block.  It involves regluing the entire text block together and re-casing the book. This procedure is not difficult, but it is time-consuming and involves many steps.  The following file provides a detailed overview of the process as done in our lab.

Spine repair: This type of repair is done when the hinges holding the text block to the case are still satisfactory, but the spine itself has been damaged.  Usually the damage is at the head cap or along the edges of the boards.

A video of a spine repair is available.  Written instructions are in the book repair guide located under the "Instructional Resources" tab.

Full reback: This is done when there is spine damage, and the text block is not securely adhered to the case.  Damage to the hinges requires a full reback.  In addition, if the glue or sewing holding the textblock together is delaminating or coming apart, a full reback may be required. 

A video of a full reback is available.  Written instructions are in the book repair guide located under the "Instructional Resources" tab.

Stiffening: This procedure is typically done on items with flexible and inherently fragile covers.  A stiff paper board is attached to the existing outside covers to make them more durable. 

Encapsulation: Encapsulation is done for maps and other paper items that may deteriorate with direct handling.  Transparent coverings protect entire items, allowing library patrons to closely examine both sides. We cut pieces of mylar from large rolls and then use a machine to seal the edges at a high temperature.

Pambinding: Pambinding (pamphlet binding) is done for items such as music scores that require additional protection on the outside.  Binders are either stock size or custom made if necessary, and items are hand sewn into the new binder.

Water damage: Books that are wet are dried using fans and paper towels and  then pressed to reshape them.  The items are checked for mold and other potential problems. 

A video demonstration is available at: