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The Fix – The Do’s and Don’ts in Caring for Paper Based Collections

We field a lot of questions in the Book Conservation Lab about caring for personal collections.  In the spirit of Preservation Week here are some answers to some of our Frequently Asked Questions.  If you have additional questions we have a live “Ask Our Book Conservator Anything” April 30th from 12-2 PM!

1.  Where should I store my books and papers?

The Best advice is to store them where you live in your house – think living room, extra bedroom and NOT attic or basement.  The ideal environment for paper based items is a stable one where the temperature and humidity do not radically fluctuate.

2.  How do I fix torn paper/a torn page?

There is no great DIY option for paper repair.  Your best bet is to consult a conservator because we use specific papers and reversible adhesives to execute these repairs.  Whatever you do DO NOT use pressure sensitive tape!

3.  Why is tape so terrible?

Pressure sensitive tape consists of an adhesive and a carrier.  Over time the adhesive can ooze and discolor leaving permanent stains on your precious family heirloom. These stains are incredibly difficult to remove.  Every tape has a different make-up and hence different solvents that will aid in its removal.  Identifying the tape and the solvent that might work on it is a time consuming process. Avoid the expense of tape removal by JUST SAY NO to tape!

Tape Damage to "Le Cheval"
Tape Damage to “Le Cheval”


4.  Why is my 1950’s paperback in terrible shape and older books are often in better shape?

Around the mid-19th Century the papermaking process changed from using cotton and linen pulp to using wood pulp. Wood pulp is highly acidic and consists of short fibers whereas cotton and linen have long, strong fibers.  So paper produced from wood pulp is inherently weaker due to the short fibers.  Compounding that is the high acid content, due to a component called lignin in the wood pulp, that causes the paper to discolor and become brittle over time. In the 1980s there was a movement to create acid free wood pulp based paper (by removing the acidic lignin from the wood pulp and adding in a buffering agent) so papers used today in the book trade are usually acid-free.

Brittle Paper from "The Star Cookbook"
Brittle Paper from “The Star Cookbook”


5. How do you feel about bookmarks?

Well that depends on what you are using as a bookmark!  Generally, you want to use an acid-free paper bookmark and remember to REMOVE IT from the book when you are finished.  The worst bookmarks are newspaper clippings.  Newspaper is made from unrefined wood pulp so it is highly acidic.  If left in a book over time the acid will migrate to the books pages and cause permanent stains.  Do not use anything that is bulky and please no PAPER CLIPS!


Stains From a Newspaper Bookmark
Stains From a Newspaper Bookmark


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