Repairing & Support Supporting Artifacts


Repairing & Support Supporting Artifacts

Repairing & Supporting Artifacts

Thin Tissue Repairs

Reengineering Broken Book Spines

Reengineering broken book spines working group presents this first of many instructional videos that demonstrate the variations of this innovative book conservation treatment.

WHO IS INVOLVED AND WHY: Jana Dambrogio, Thomas F. Peterson (1957) conservator, Ayako Letizia, conservation assistant, and conservation Associate Kate Beattie of MIT Libraries, Brien Beidler, director of the binding and conservation studio, Charleston Library Society, and Mary Uthuppuru, private conservator and contemporary book artist, Spring Leaf Press. Dambrogio taught the repair to Letizia, Beidler, and Uthuppuru in September of 2014. In early June of 2015 the working group convened in the Wunsch Conservation Lab for a week to perform simple-to-complex variations of the repair on 21 books found in MIT Libraries special and general collections. At that time, the group worked with Beattie to explore ways the repair could be implemented on books found in the Libraries’ circulating collections.

BACKGROUND: About 14 years ago, while studying and conserving several large historic collections ranging from the late medieval period to the mid-20th Century (Fondo Veneto, Sezione II Record Group, Vatican Secret Archives, Vatican City-State; David Lubin Memorial Library, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and The British Institute of Florence--Harold Acton Library), Dambrogio realized the value in studying books that received very little treatment or repair. These collections were essentially left in their original condition and contain both bound and flat documents.

She began to think of ways to repair books with a couple goals in mind: preserving their original materials, and minimizing intervention (such as lifting original cover materials or removing spine linings), resulting in a sound treatment that preserves the physical history of the book.

This treatment is ideal to perform on a book with broken spines or detached boards.  It is a type of thin tissue repair. Often the damage occurs at the “joints” and “hinges”, the flexible areas that allow the front and back covers to flex open and close. The value of this innovative treatment option is in its economy, the gentle nature of the repair, its versatility, and the ability to complete each repair step within small amounts of time throughout busy workday schedules. The repair itself uses methyl cellulose, wheat starch paste, various weights of Japanese tissues (often several layers of 5 gram or 10 gram tengujo) , and sometimes textile for badly damaged or heavy books. This treatment is delicate yet sturdy. It is ideal for non-circulating special collections, which can receive a polyester protective jacket after treatment, and must be supported with a book cradle during use. For more than fifty years, variations of a spine reback have been the only option to repair books and their spine covers. The technique is effective but invasive, requiring the conservator to lift or remove original materials to anchor newly added repair materials. The treatment we propose is an innovation in book repair that will offer book conservators an alternative to more invasive techniques.


Inexpensive DIY Book Cradles

How to make an inexpensive book cradle from one Tyvek™ envelope.

Watch our MITemp Lucy Brown demonstrate how to make this quick, easy, and inexpensivebook cradle with one Tyvek™ envelope and some recycled air pillows. Book cradles are a type of support that help to reduce stress on the spine of a book, stress that over time can cause book covers to pull away from the area where they connect to the text pages. Cradles help prop a book open, usually at an angle less than 180° so that the book doesn’t lay flat on a tabletop. Reducing stress on the book opening is a preventative measure and helps reduce the need for expensive and time consuming repairs. Cradles made from Tyvek™ envelopes and air pillows have the following benefits:

    1.) Replenish envelopes and pillows as needed (after the bags are soiled or air pillows deflate)
    2.) Lightweight and portable (easy to set up and break down)
    3.) Great for working with books that require mold abatement (throw away supports after exposure)
    4.) Easy to use and easy to store when not in use
    5.) Adjustable by filling in more or fewer air pillows
   6.)  Also useful as a spacer to keep books vertical (while in a partially filled box or during transit).
   7.)  Cost: probably less than $1.00 to acquire materials, $0 if using recycled envelopes and air cushions

8.) Time: 10 minutes or less.

Please visit the Institute Archives and Special collection to view the rare book used in this video: Mémoires de chimie by Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, 1805, vol. 2, from our MIT Derr Collection. Here is the link to the Barton record:

Check out our blog post to learn how to make a book cradle out of two Tyvek™ envelopes: Learn more about conservation at MIT at:


How to make an inexpensive book cradle for your treasures. Click on the picture to learn how.