Repair, Renewal, Rejuvenation!

This blog post will be a departure from previous ones in that I won’t be focussing on the content of a particular biography, but on the physical care of the books.

Inevitably in a collection of this size and age, some of our books become fragile and need TLC to extend their borrowing lives.  I am able to do basic repairs having been taught some very useful methods by the wonderful Georgia Vossou, conservator at City of Westminster Archives Centre.  Georgia is a fount of wisdom on the history of paper production and binding, and all the technicalities of how books are made and what to do when things fall apart.  (When it comes to general handling of old books, three of her golden rules echo in my head every day, and anyone who loves books old or new should remember them too – never take a book off a shelf by its spine – spines tearing away at the top is probably the single most common injury old books sustain, due to this – instead, hook your fingers over and gently push an old or fragile book outwards from the shelf from the other side; never stack books on top of each other, and never squeeze them too tightly onto a shelf!)

My skills are basic, and I limit myself to minor problems with less old and precious volumes.  For anything more complicated, we have been incredibly fortunate to have the skills of an experienced and qualified volunteer, Sylvie Beaufils, who has been working wonders with archival glues, tapes, paper and cloth.  It is a wonderful thing to see some of our most sadly out-of-sorts books returned looking beautifully strengthened, refreshed, and ready for another lease of life for our readers.

Here is a batch of 19th and early 20th century books Sylvie recently repaired. They date from between 1879 and 1930, and have a combined age of 704 years!

In these before and after pictures, you can see the work done to ‘Anna Jameson: Letters and Friendships’ edited by Mrs Erskine Steuart and published by T. Fisher Unwin in 1915 – the head and tail of the spine were completely tattered, but are now robust enough to sustain the attention of years more interested readers (provided they obey that golden rule of not pulling the book by its spine, which is probably what caused the problem in the first place)! Jameson was a 19th century Anglo-Irish art historian, thinker and early feminist.


Sylvie has worked similar wonders with F. C. Burnand’s My Time and What I’ve Done with It (Macmillan, 1874), restoring the author’s elegant portrait photograph to its rightful place and replacing a completely missing portion of the spine.

I had slightly given up hope for Notable Personalities of 1927 (Whitehall, 1927); the binding was completely coming away and what was a once handsome volume grandly bound in shiny oxblood leather, with gilt-edged glossy pages and weighing a significant amount, was in sad disarray.  Sylvie ministered to it with tinted Japanese paper and an elegant method of board reattachment; binding and pages are reunited, and it is now ready for perusal by anyone interested in looking at its hundreds of photographs of the movers and shakers of nearly a century ago.

I hope you have enjoyed this insight into the physical care of the collection.  Next time, I will take a closer look at the books Sylvie has repaired, going inside the covers for some surprising revelations about what is inside!

Claudia, Kensington Central Library