Life can be dangerous for a book. Someone might thoughtlessly pull it off a shelf by the top of its spine, bash its corners, ignore its aging leather, not to mention the cruel effects of time. With this in mind, some of our library staff got the opportunity to learn about minor book repairs during a workshop with Caroline Bendix, Accredited Freelance Library Conservator.
The aim of the workshop was to learn how to repair broken book spines, repair damaged corners, and reapply leather peeling off the cover boards – all so that we could carry out this basic conservation work ourselves in the future.
The workshop started with a demonstration by Caroline on one of our large rare books. Using wheat starch paste, she showed us how to re-stick leather corners back onto the cover of a book using nothing but a paintbrush and the paste. She also astounded us with her ability to restore frayed book corners, once again, using only a brush and starch paste (with paper protecting the inside of the book of course). She also reassured us that the worrying tearing noises from the book were normal and that it would all turn out good in the end.
With her knowledge imparted and our assortment of paintbrushes, tweezers, bone folders, papers, paste, bandages (!) and scissors in front of us, it was time to try out these techniques on rare books for ourselves!
Each of us chose a book and tentatively began repairs. We started by preparing the starch paste, which was almost like mixing a cake.
We then turned to the nerve-racking task of applying paste to paper. Most of us began by repairing the corners. Many of the corners had become frayed, revealing the layers of material used to make the book covers. Using the paste, we stuck the layers back together, one by one, and the results were impressive.
Some of us were lucky enough to carry out repairs on the spines of the books. After investigating if the book had a tight or hollow spine (very important) we could then repeat the process we had used for repairing loose material, by pasting, pressing and going over our work with baking parchment and a bone folder. After completing a spine repair, the book needed to be bound tightly in bandages until the paste had dried.
The workshop ended with Caroline showing us a more advanced repair as she reapplied a partially detached spine cover. By carefully folding a piece of strong paper and attaching it to the spine and cover of the book using the miracle substance, wheat starch paste, Caroline was able to make the book look like new!
I would like to extend a huge thank you from the library team to Caroline Bendix for taking the workshop and teaching us all something new about book repair. Hopefully our books will thank us for their pampering sessions in the future.