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Minnesota State University, Mankato

Minnesota State University, Mankato

Lee Ann Larson

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Every year thousands of books are checked in and out of Memorial Library's collection. Many more are used in the building but never circulated. Even the most careful use takes a toll on pages and binding, which means that hundreds of books a year must be evaluated for repair or replacement.

When library student workers or staff members find books with loose pages, a torn spine, or other problems, they send the items to the Bindery Department for evaluation. Lee Ann Larson, who heads the library's conservation effort, works with librarians to evaluate what should be done with damaged books.

In each case, there are a number of factors to be considered. Is the title a "standard" in the subject field? Is there a newer edition of the book? Are there more recent books that reflect new knowledge about the topic? How much use is the book likely to receive in the future? What is the quality of the paper? Are the margins large enough to allow rebinding?

During 1996-97, 1900 books were reviewed. In 1997-98, the number passed 3300. Already this year, more than 4600 books have been identified for consideration. This increase reflects heightened awareness on the part of those who work in the library about the need for preventive preservation as well as the age and heavy use made of the library collection. The actual binding and rebinding of books is done in Nebraska by Houchen Bindery. Last year, they handled more than 1600 books for the MSU,M collection. This year's total since July has already passed 1300. Larson pointed out that commercial binderies have standards which must be followed, which means their bindings will last longer than those of most commercial publishers. When paperback books are ordered for Memorial Library, they are sometimes sent to the bindery immediately after cataloging if heavy use is anticipated.Larson instructs the bindery to use the original paperback cover and back as part of the process. Those paperbacks not sent to the bindery can receive both laminated covers and a new hinge to strengthen them before they circulate.

Many worn books are repaired locally. The most common procedure involves replacing the book's spine. Larson comments that most people don't realize how much damage pulling a book off the shelf by the top of the spine can do. In addition to the work she does herself, she supervises 4-8 student assistants, each of whom has special training in one kind of repair. One concentrates on fixing corners, while another repairs loose joints, for example. After a repair, the books must stay overnight in a book press to make sure they dry correctly so that the durability of the repair will be increased. During the last couple years, between 450 and 500 books have been mended. This year, more than 600 have already been repaired.

Larson has received specialized training in book repair and conservation in a number of workshops and classes offered by the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, and the Eastman School of Music. She stresses that the goal of Memorial Library's conservation effort is to extend the life of a book so that the information it can provide users lasts as long as possible.

Sometimes, however, there is little that can be done. Brittle paper crumbles as pages are turned. Tiny margins make rebinding or repair impossible. So many pages are torn out that inserting photocopied replacements is impractical. "Annotations" in marking pen or highlighting of text deface the book to the point where others cannot use it effectively.

"We try to make a book pleasing to the user," Larson notes. "We want to have the material inviting so a person who comes to the shelf wants to take it off to use it."

By Kathy Piehl, Library Resources, Vol. 4, #1, March 1999, page 4. Publication of Memorial Library, Minnesota State University, Mankato.