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Book restoration - Book restorer

Conservation and restoration of books and paper

Since the invention of the printing press in 1440, the book has played an outstanding role in the communication of knowledge and art. It is an important cultural medium. Book restorers thus play an important role in the preservation of this sensitive medium and help to preserve knowledge over the centuries.


The field of activity of a restorer in the book trade is as varied as that of other specialists. Therefore, the completion of an independent study is necessary. Restorers in the trade who take the training path via a trade rarely work in this field. Only the university degree in conservation and restoration provides the necessary specialist knowledge to carry out preliminary investigations and analyses, to develop methods for preserving substances and to document them.

Book Restoration Areas

As with other areas of restoration, book restorers are able to treat a wide variety of different objects. The area of book restoration is subdivided into sections for graphics, archival and library materials, and paper and tissue volumes. Specially trained paper restorers can also be consulted when processing papers of any kind. Historical maps and documents as well as music sheets also belong to this field of activity. The restorer does not work exclusively with paper: he processes both the pages inside the book and the outer cover. The pages can be made of paper of various qualities and manufacturing processes as well as parchment. The book covers are made of many different materials such as velvet, silk, wood, leather or metal. The book's date of origin can be quickly read from the cover. Certain materials were fashionable in different epochs. As different as the object's materials are, so different are the damages that occurred and the procedures necessary for restoration.

Do traces of age remain visible or renew?

In the field of restoration, it is always necessary to weigh up how strong the intervention in the existing substance of the object should be. To what extent is the condition with all its traces of aging worth preserving? Or must the object be made usable again? For the restorer in the book trade, the distinction is made according to the place of storage: On the one hand, the books, prints or archives of a museum collection to be restored should be preserved for future generations. On the other hand, the traces of aging are often part of the presentation. On the other hand, it is the task of a restorer of library holdings to make them usable again.

When should a book or a graphic be restored?

In museums and libraries, the collections are regularly inspected. The task of the book restorers is to determine in a preliminary examination whether the object needs to be treated. In connection with the presentation of these important cultural assets, technical innovations in the field of thinning and storage also play a major role. For a library, the usability of the object is of paramount importance. Restorations and preventive protective measures are carried out here more frequently. Whether a restoration is considered necessary in the private sphere is closely connected with the sentimental value of the object: An inherited encyclopedia or a table game often played with the grandmother is possibly classified as very worth preserving. The presentation of the book or cultural object to a book restorer is worthwhile in any case. The analysis provides interesting facts about age, origin and the state of preservation.

Typical damages and their causes

  • Mechanical damage, deformations, kinks, folds and cracks e.g. due to wear or transport
  • Contamination due to improper storage
  • Water damage e.g. due to extinguishing water in case of fire or flooding
  • Fire damage due to direct fire or indirect exposure to smoke and gas
  • Mould infestation e.g. due to humidity or water damage
  • Ink corrosion by iron or copper sulphates in the ink
  • Discoloration due to unsuitable adhesives or light
  • Damage caused by pests, e.g. worm damage or insect infestation
  • Acid damage caused by acid-forming substances in the paper
  • The drying out of seals can be a further danger.

Typical Materials for Book Restoration

  • Various types of Paper supplements, paper laminations e.g. with Japanese paper
  • Parchment, parchment chips and parchment fibres for supplements
  • Leather leather binding supplements
  • Woven fabrics and fabrics for fabric binding complements
  • Metal fittings for bindings
  • Animal glues and acid-free adhesives for bonding, e.g. house bubble glue
  • Methyl cellulose for post-gluing, e.g. lamination with Japanese paper
  • Ethyl alcohol for disinfection
  • Isopropanol for spray disinfection
  • Special beeswax for seal restoration
  • Protective packaging for transport and storage

Typical tools and techniques of book restoration

  • Dry cleaning with paintbrush, brushes and sponges
  • Needle and thread for bindings
  • Scalpels and fine knives e.g. for removing older laminations
  • Vacuum tables for the smoothing of mechanical damage, e.g. creases, folds
  • Freeze drying plants for drying in case of water damage
  • Cleaning machines to remove dirt and dust
  • Deacidification machines with deacidification solution for deacidification
  • Gammabestrahlung for the destruction of mould and germs
  • Digitisation for documentation of pre-, intermediate and final states, for reprints or replicas (facsimile)
  • Breathing masks, protective gloves and work clothing as work protection

Procedure of a book restoration

First, the expert carefully inspects the object. The materials used inside and outside, and the manufacturing process are analysed. This allows the origin and age of the book to be determined. The client then decides whether the object is to be treated or not. The restorer has various, mostly technically sophisticated procedures at his disposal. These range from freeze-drying in the event of water damage to eliminating mould with chemical substances or gamma radiation. If desired also a digitalization of the contents can be made.

Do you want to restore books yourself?

A treatment by laymen is urgently to be advised against. Paper is a very fragile raw material and requires careful treatment. In addition, only experts have the necessary substances, equipment and techniques at their disposal. In the event of improper restoration, there is a risk that the substance of the work will be increasingly damaged or irreparably destroyed. Water damage and excessive moisture are the most common causes of damage to books. In many cases, mould damage is also caused by mould. A treatment without protective equipment can lead to massive health damages with the layman.

Do you have damage of a valuable book and want a restoration?

In the section Paper and Book Restoration on our website, you as the client can see a list of references of the restorers registered with us. You can also find a suitable expert in your area via our directory of restorers and our search by area.

If you are interested in restoring archival and library material and are looking for an internship, training or further education, we offer a lot of detailed information in our job exchange as well as in the subject area of education and studies. Furthermore, we also provide basic information on the job description and the training as a conservator-restorer.

Restorers in the field:
Paper and book restoration

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