Book Care 101

I learned how to mend books when I was in university.

Here are some lessons on keeping books in good shape.

Don’t Use Tape on books

One of the first things I learned was don’t use tape on books. Duct tape or clear “scotch” tape on pages and covers may help the situation for a time, but the adhesive yellows, it becomes brittle and the acids in the tape damages the books in the long-run. Duct tape especially is really hard to get of off covers and leave icky residues behind.

You can sometimes find a library supply source that sells archival tape, and it will help with many tears in pages, just know it’s very expensive and will not last forever.

Be careful with how you open books

Don’t open them up and “crack the spine”, by pushing them back too far. Especially with softcover books, what keeps the book together is a thick layer of glue  that is somewhat flexible. When the spine gets “cracked” it started to pull away from the cover, and the pages become loose, sections fall out and people start to use tape to keep it together. But, remember, don’t use tape!

With hardcover books and new books that are stiff, know they can be softened. It’s recommended that you open the front and back covers and carefully to stretch them gently back a few times to loosen up the binding and make the book more usable. Just be gentle or else you could pull too much and separate the cover from the book.

Use a bookmark

Part of the above problem is when you don’t use a bookmark, you tend to leave the book open with something heavy on top or you place it upside down to keep your place. This is again hard on the book and it pulls the spine apart thus shortening the life of the book.

Don’t drop books or treat them roughly

Now I have a problem. I drop things all the time. It’s almost never on purpose, but it still happens. I would prefer that my books be drop-proof. The reality is most books aren’t.

Beware of DIY

You can learn to make repairs. Just please be careful. Don’t use tape unless it’s archival book tape. Know the “anatomy” of a book before you start gluing and taping a book back together. You may be making the situation worse. There are some wonderful Youtube videos out there with people showing how to sew signatures of pages and make covers. Do some research and make sure the video is done by a trained book maker or book binder. Also, look for archival quality glue, paper, and tape before starting out on your repairs.

A few things regarding Bibles:

Here are some special points that I notice with Bibles but also applies with all books. Now, I was very thankful for all the Bibles I mended in college. The payments I got from those repairs paid for my laundry and other small expenses. But truly, please be careful with your Bible because these things really do weaken your books.

Don’t Keep stuff in the front and back covers

I do it too. I know, it’s handy to stick the bulletins and the hand-outs and the random other bits of paper in the front and back covers. The problem is that when the stack becomes thick it pulls and stresses the small/delicate “cheese cloth” and “flysheets” that hold your Bible to your cover.

Be cautious when using a Bible Case

I use one, but I take my Bible out of it for studying and reading in church. When you use the flaps and keep your Bible in the cover all the time, it pulls and stresses the covers, like the above problem, and because you have it tucked under the flaps, it’s much more tempting to add those notes, pens, notebooks, bulletins and other papers to make a thick stack of papers that pull your Bible apart.

Don’t Bend the cover backwards to preach or read

Sometimes I watch someone teach from a Bible or book and they bend the book all the way around, so that the it’s folded back. This is really hard on books. Some soft covers are made for this, and most coil or spiral-bound books are designed for this, but most books aren’t and this is not good for your book/Bible.

Don’t keep a pen or pencil in your Bible

This is again a problem that just adds stress to the binding, the stitches and the cover when you keep “foreign” objects in your Bible.

Now I should add that I have done all of these things, I will probably, at some point do them all again, but I also know how to take books apart and put them back together, so I can sort of get away with it better than most people. And that doesn’t mean I should still do these things. I try not to, but sometimes it happens.

Some of my pet peeves for book quality:

Poor craftmanship. I’m a book snob. My husband laughs at me, but truly, there are very few books manufactured today that are of good quality. I almost prefer antique books because they were made to last.

New softcovers have weak glue, hardcovers have very little “cheese cloth” anchoring the book block in place. You may drop the book by accident, and it will separate, mainly due to poor manufacturing. Now, you shouldn’t drop books on purpose, but it happens, and I would hope that they would hold up. Sadly, most of today’s books don’t last.

Bible publishing companies are terrible for quality.

I repaired at least ten ESV journal-ling Bibles when I was in uni. Every one had the vinyl cover torn and the book block was pulled away from the cover. There was very little reinforcement in the book to keep it together. Some had spines split down the middle as well. Some had pages pulled apart. I was not impressed with the design of the books.

My recommendations for Book choices:

Determine when will you be using the book, such as every day use or occasional use? If it’s something you want to last, you may have to pay more for a better quality. You may not find what you want. I usually don’t. But you shouldn’t take quality for granted. I didn’t do any research for this post, this is just from what I’ve noticed over the last ten years of book repair. This December will mark ten years when I learned how to mend books.

Cambridge Bibles tend to have a bit better cover quality. Now I have had to glue a cover back in place, but the pages and book block were fine, so was the cover.That’s much better than most of the cardboard, hardcover Bibles out there, and the fake leather or soft fancy design foam textured covers I see most commonly that don’t last.

I did notice that one company, Bound to Stay Bound, does really nice hardcover books. They are designed for library work, with reinforced covers, strong pages and materials. The books are made to last, dropped, pulled on and enjoyed.They will come at a much higher price, and their options are limited I’m sure.

In the last few years I’ve been asked to repair hymnals for several churches. I don’t mind doing it since I actually enjoy working with books, however it is really hard on my back. My shoulders and neck and back and hands don’t like my mending projects. I have to space out the work and limit how much I do. It’s also not done for free. I do charge a small fee, even if it’s often for a ministry.

I hope this was helpful for you. Please let me know if you have any other ways of repairing or protecting books.





2 thoughts on “Book Care 101

  1. Thank you for stopping by as Grandma Says. You might also like Garment of Praise –

    I certainly enjoyed reading this post of yours, as well as your post titled Applying Trust and Obey.

    I’m also a book person. I work in a small print shop where we can make short runs of hard or soft cover books. These are for a temporary market, not archival quality at all. There is an art to binding books properly. You put your entire heart into it. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you for your comment and for reading my blog. Thank you for your suggestion, I’ll take a look. Ever since I learned how to repair books, I’ve become possessive of the care for books. My husband laughs at me because every time pick up a book, I check it’s quality and whether it’s in good condition or not. 🙂

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