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Most books never die in preservation system

Oct. 24, 2000

Workers' jobs to make texts ready for more daily use



Never judge a book by its old, tattered cover.

Checked out thousands of times, dog-eared with a broken spine, the worn 1890 edition of Oevres by Jacques Racine makes its way to the preservation department to begin the repair process.

Like a surgeon, Ann Johnson, a Forney junior, removes the damaged covers and old, blank end pages from the tome. New acid-free end papers and cotton backlining are glued into place. Archival binding boards are skillfully cut to fit. The spine is reinforced.

A c-cloth that is chemically coated to protect against mold, bugs and moisture is selected and cut for the covers. Johnson then loads the c-cloth into a Kwikprint stamp machine, selects the type and color and embosses the spine with the title, author's name and designs.

Back on the table, the cover is glued onto the book. Johnson takes care that no air bubbles are present and that every fold is precise. Tears in the pages are mended with glue or archival tape that is not noticeable to the eye. The book then spends the night in recovery in a glue press to assure a strong, even hold.

With a new lease on life, the beautifully bound and repaired book is ready to rejoin the others on the shelf so that it may continue to be useful to library patrons.

'My favorite part of this job is that I get to take something that's old and broken and repair it to make it useful again,' Johnson said. 'It's great to see your work materialize.'

Preservation plays a major role in the libraries' collections. Kathy Sparkman, head of the preservation department, said the office has repaired 3,049 materials between June 1, 1999, and May 31, 2000. The team preserves and repairs books, magazines, pamphlets, paperbacks and journals.

Preservation is conducted with an eye to the future.

'Everything we do is reversible,' Frank Jasek, preservation specialist, said. 'The goal is to extend the life of the materials as long as possible.'

The largest challenge to preservation is acid. It eats, discolors and makes brittle the pages and covers.

'The most prevalent time for highly acidic paper is from 1850 to 1950,' Sparkman said.

The Baylor collections, which range from the 16th century to the present, often contain acidic papers. Libraries could greatly benefit from specialized machines that pull the acid out of the paper, but those machines are extremely expensive.

Instead, the preservation department builds protective boxes to house the older, more brittle materials.

'We do a lot of work for the Armstrong-Browning Library,' Jasek said. 'We create phase boxes for their books to help protect them.'

Created in 1996, the preservation department is continually working to repair Baylor's collections.

'I'm thrilled to be here. I have a chance to make a tangible difference for my school, and I get to learn a skill,' Johnson said. 'All in all, it's a pretty good deal.'