Monday, September 2, 2013

How to get your book repaired


As hard as it is to believe, lots of books do not reside in libraries. A large number of people don’t feel that having access to books in a local public or academic library is enough – they want to own books for themselves. And, just like the books in libraries, sometimes these privately owned books fall apart.

The motivation to have a book repaired, however, seem to be different between the library and the individual. For the library, providing access to functional volumes is a core of their business. Libraries don’t want to put significantly damaged books back on their shelves, because they are putting it on the shelf to be used and providing access to books which are damaged is not great customer service. When individuals put their books on a shelf, they are not usually putting them on the shelf to be used, but putting them there to be stored and owned.

Because of these different approaches to books (and I just came up with this explanation as I was writing it so I’m not sure how valid it is) there are different motivations to why a library or an individual wants to have a damaged book repaired. For the library, providing access to books is what it does (yes, and much more) and repairing a book may be a more economical way to provide that access rather than replacing the book – though not always.


The individual’s motivation for seeking to have a book repaired tend to be much more focused on ownership and emotion. The individual wants a book repaired because that book means something to them. Most of the items people have asked me to repair, or simply to consult on, are books laden with personal and family connection: family bibles, grandmother’s journal, father’s collection, map that includes the family homestead. I remember some years back a pre-teen bringing me her copy of the first Harry Potter book with concern about the cracking sound the book made as she opened it – so she would only open the book the minimal amount needed so she could read it for fear of damaging it.

The value these individuals are looking to restore is often much less about financial value than it is emotional value. The motivations tend to be more about making sure memories are honored and live on.

What was supposed to have been simply a blog post about sources for book repair has morphed a little. Back to my more pragmatic intentions.

If you have a book that you would like to be repaired there are a variety of ways to go about finding people and companies that can do that. Here are some ideas, in no particular order.

1) Contact the preservation department or individual at a larger local library, usually academic but state and large public libraries may be able to assist as well. Some preservation departments – or the individuals working there – provide book repair and other preservation services, but they all should know of what book repair services are offered in your area. (Within mid-Michigan, Michigan State University Libraries Preservation Department maintains a list of Local Book Repair Services.)

2) Another potential source for information about local book repair services is a good local used book store. These stores, especially those that also sell move valuable rare volumes, will often make use of, or at least know about area individuals and vendors who can do book repair.

3) The American Instituted for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works maintain a Find a Conservator web resource which guides users to lists of conservators with particular specialties and in particular locales. They also provide helpful information on how to choose a conservator.

4) Yellowpages, other corporate directories, the internet. You can also search for a book repair service the same you might search for a plumber – by looking in the yellowpages or searching online.

5) Do it yourself. Doing the book repair yourself is always an option. It may not always be the best option depending on the value you place on the item. The DIY approach can be great for inexpensive functional volumes that you just want to get more use of. It would probably not be a good approach for precious family collections. There are some great resources online and in print which teach basic book repair, and many of these techniques do not require purchasing many special tools or supplies.

(Updated on Sept. 3 - thanks to Eric for an updated URL)

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