Proper Book Handling and Cleaning

The following is taken verbatim from a document that appeared several years ago in the Maine State Archives.  It seems to have been removed from their website.  I happened to have made a physical copy of it at the time I was looking into the preservation of leather book bindings back in 2006.

Main State Archives: Guidelines for Restoration and Preservation of Documentary Papers, Maps, Books. [http://www.state.me.us/sos/arc/general/admin/doconsrv.htm]

Handling Books

Never remove a book from the shelf by pulling upon the headcap.  Push back a few books at wither side and firmly grasp the sides of the selected volume.

Books leaning to one side will be damaged along the spines.  Books should stand upright, and, in the absence of book ends, should be supported by lying several volumes flat against the standing volumes.

Large books should be stored flat.

Cleaning Books

Using a prepared cloth such as “One-Wipe” or a clean cloth treated with “Endust” will reduce the spread of dust.

Take one book at a time, and hold the book firmly closed to prevent dust from entering the pages.  With the spine up, tip the head forward and down; dust the top or the pages thoroughly, stroking downward; then dust all other surfaces..

Certain erasers may be used to clean book covers and any surface dirt from pages. However, in cleaning paper, a soft bristled brush should be tried before resorting to erasers.

Erasers, in order of decreasing abrasiveness, are Faber’s “Pink Pearl and Magic Rub” and art gum erasers.  For paper, the “Opaline” Dry Cleaning or Dietzgen’s “Skum-X” can be used; using the latter two, sprinkle eraser crumbs over the soiled area and gently rub in a circular motion with the flat of the fingers.  To lessen the likelihood of damage, work from the center of the page to the edges. Remove all eraser crumbs when finished.

If any doubt exists about the strength of the paper, leave the page alone.

Care must be exercised to avoid damage to the gold stamping of titles on book covers which can be ruined through improper erasures.

The erasers referenced above are available through stationary or drafting supply stores.

Leather Bookbindings

Factors influencing the deterioration of leather are the quality and age of the original skin and the tanning process by which the stability of the leather was achieved.

Leather produced before 17th Century was of fine quality and very long-lasting; whereas that produced since the late 17th Century frequently show rapid and sever degradation.  The older vegetable tanning processes (the type usually used for bookbinding) may have left protective or buffering salts that reduced deterioration; apparently, these salts are missing from modern leather bindings.

Strong mineral acids from air pollutants and sulfuric acid left by the tannage process contribute to the destruction of leathers.

Relative humidities below 40% cause leathers to dry out and deteriorate; on the other hand, high humidities and high temperatures speed up the chemical deterioration of leather.

Light, even indirect sunlight, will produce fading or darkening of dyes in leather; valuable bindings should be protected in boxes made from opaque and inert materials.

The flexibility and suppleness of leather depends on the sliding action of fibers which can become dried out if not lubricated.  Thus, an important step in the preservation of leather is replacement of those natural oils which may have oxidized.  In some cases before lubrication, the leather may require rehumidification to restore moisture content.

The sulfuric acid used in processing modern leathers is extremely difficult to remove; also, in the process, the natural buffering salts are washed out of the skin.  The lost salts can be replaced with potassium lactate (see SOURCES) which serves as a buffering salt and neutralizes any strong mineral acids.

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