In an age of technology, where “print” is now proliferated online via web sites, eBooks, and blogs, it’s a wonder the significance that paper still holds in the day-to-day. Technology continues to grow at an increasingly rapid rate, archived books will remain a vitally important aspect of our history, and our future.
The problem arises, however, in maintaining the integrity of these archived books and other printed materials. Archived books are susceptible to the elements, and thus prone to damage. The most common causes of damaged books include fire, water, mold, and, of course, time.
There are a variety of ways to undertake damaged and antique book restoration and some debate as to which methods produce better results. Freeze-drying versus vacuum-drying are two contested methods for drying out flood damaged books, for example. While the methods described below can be implemented for personal use, it’s important to stress that the best results will likely be produced by an expert in book restoration and damaged document recovery. And the sooner an assessment can be made by a professional the better the results will be.
When restoring a book damaged by water, experts recommend leaving the book in its original condition when found. Do not open a water-damaged book (or close one, depending on how you found it). Furthermore, if the book uses coated paper, attempt to place wax paper between the pages to best preserve the book. To store or move books before treatment, it’s best to pack them spine-down in boxes or crates with freezer paper separating individual books. For coated-paged books, experts recommend keeping the books wet, packing in boxes lined with plastic, and freezing immediately.
At this point, if you’d prefer not to seek the services of a book restoration professional, here’s a basic in-home solution. The best way to dry out flood-damaged books is to do so slowly, perhaps with a fan; never use the sun to dry a book. Additionally, common household items like cornstarch and talcum powder work well for absorbing any extra moisture, preventing mold or mildew from forming. It’s important to note that only when books become partially dry, precautions for straightening the pages should be taken to prevent page wrinkling. A number of methods are possible. One, gently press and hold the book together over and over throughout the drying process. Do not press books when they are completely water-soaked. Also, an iron set on low heat can be used. Finally, when the book is close to being completely dry, place it in between two dry boards with a vice or clamp for at least 24 hours. Also, remember that mud is best removed from books when dry, and do not use bleaches or detergents when cleaning.
Antique Book Restoration
While all books are susceptible to damage from external elements, older books also fall victim to inherent sources of decay. Materials and chemicals used to publish pages corrupt the integrity of old books over long periods of time. This is when the art of antique book restoration becomes invaluable.
The first step to restoring old books is cleaning your work area. Use a mild general purpose cleaner and let the area dry completely before beginning. Also, filter direct sunlight away from the book as it may cause damage. Always use a low, natural light (like from a window) when examining or restoring an antique book.
Next, use white cotton gloves to handle the book because oils and residues from your hands can stain and damage pages. As an alternative, you can also wash your hands thoroughly before handling, but you may need to wash them often during the course of restoring the book, depending on how much time you spend actually touching the book.
Begin cleaning the book by gently brushing away dust with a soft brush or gas duster. For fragile covers and pages, only use very loose rubber bands to fasten together. Never use staples, paper clips, tapes, or adhesives of any kind. To clean pages, use pencil erasers. Also, very fine grit sandpaper removes ink marks on pages. Use a single-edged razorblade to remove food, gum, and crayon. Finally, once restored, place the book into a sealable storage bag, sitting upright on a shelf. Use a bookend for support, if necessary.
The process of maintaining archived books seems a trivial and superfluous exercise, especially given our tech-savvy culture. Yet, book restoration, even in an electronically-driven world, remains an important practice, at least for the present day. What an unfortunate day it would be if we could no longer rifle the pages of a good book with our fingers, but instead, must turn them with the push of a button or a click of the mouse as we stare blankly into our computer screens.
~Richard McNeal, 2009