The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 12, Number 5
Jul 1988


IFLA's 1979 Book Conservation Principles

Reprinted with permission from IFLA Journal 5 (1979) 4, p. 298-300.

In 1979, when the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions published its "Principles of Conservation and Restoration in Libraries," the part that dealt with treatment (Sections #6-8, below) were the most complete guide or standard for book conservation available. When the Principles were revised in 1986, those sections were omitted, perhaps because there were problems with them and it seemed unlikely that a consensus could be reached in a reasonable period of time among the committee members.

Interest in the principles of book conservation is lively, however, at least in the United States, and is increasing. The Book and Paper Group of the American Institute of Conservation has begun work on a Book Conservation Catalog, which will describe in detail all methods in use, and will supplement these Principles nicely. Two committees of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the American Library Association, those on Conservators' Collation and on Curatorial Issues Raised by Conservation, have given specific attention to matters discussed or implied below. The ongoing discussion of the Code of Ethics of the American Institute of Conservation (AN Nov. 1985) also relates closely to these principles.

All these activities are helping a new professional consensus to evolve in this country, which may one day result in a revised and reissued set of IFLA principles of book conservation. Until then, the old Principles (either in the original version or in the Editor's revision, below) can help librarians and conservators work together to make some of the hard decisions in treatment of rare books.

Most changes made in revision are only rewordings to make the text read more easily. Paragraph 8.3 was omitted because its meaning was unclear; some material (e.g. in Paragraph 6.3) was inserted or changed to reflect current practice in this country, and probably also abroad.

In European usage, "restorer" means almost the same thing as "conservator" in the U.S., but because the apprenticeship system and class distinctions have persisted in Europe, restorers tend to use more traditional methods, and have a different pattern of professional interaction with scientists, peers and supervisors than their American counterparts do.

6. General Observations on Restoration [Original version]

6.1 It is not possible to reverse the process of decay. Restoration in the absolute sense is therefore not possible. The restoration of a decayed item in a library collection is the stabilization and reconstruction of the decayed and damaged object, using as much of the original material as is functionally possible but also new material where necessary. This process always means a change: some properties of the original materials will be preserved at the expense of others and it is for the librarian to decide whether this change is acceptable or not. The aim of restoration is to provide the new restored object with as many of the qualities as possible, functional, visual and tactile, as the original.

6.2 Before restoration of an object is undertaken the librarian must assess, with technical advice from conservation and restoration experts, whether restoration is necessary, or whether the object can be suitably preserved for its normal usage by taking appropriate conservation and protection measures. Restoration should never be undertaken unless it is unavoidable.

6.3 The need for any form of restoration implies that decay or damage has already taken place on such a scale that the item can no longer be used. Frequent use is in most cases a more compelling reason for undertaking restoration than the level of decay or damage. Books even in poor condition are in no great danger, at least in the short term, if they are out of use and stored in good conservation conditions.

6.4 To assist in deciding what restoration needs to be undertaken in a collection, an inventory needs to be compiled, even on a limited scale, and regularly brought up to date so that the current condition of items in the collection is recorded in detail.

6.5 Restoration work on library collections is inherently an expensive process in labor, and sometimes also in materials. As the aim is to make an item fit for use as long as possible, the librarian may decide that the needs of availability of the text may more economically be net by another copy, or by a microfilm or photocopy, while the original is kept stable by suitable storage out of usage.

6.6 With the great quantity of items in need of restoration (especially in older collections) and the wide variety in the possible methods of restoration, librarians must decide with the advice of their restoration experts upon the type and degree of restoration that is necessary. Before the decision is taken a detailed study of the structure of each book and of its materials must be made. This will ensure that the most suitable methods and materials are used. It will also ensure that details that may be of historical interest are observed and recorded.

6.7 Materials for restoration work (papers, leathers, tissues, adhesives, etc.) and especially chemicals (solvents, bleaching agents, solutions for deacidification etc.) should be used only after advice on their use has been obtained form a chemist with special knowledge of the material or chemical and with experience of their use in restoration.

6.8 All forms of restoration work on any item must be fully recorded, including in some cases photographic documentation. A description (or photographs) of the state of the item before treatment and details of the treatment (including the materials and chemicals used) are essential to provide complete evidence of the changes that restoration has introduced. The item should be clearly marked as having received restoration and the documentation on the restoration (showing when the treatment was undertaken and by whom) should be kept readily available for consultation by users of the book.

7 Restoration of the Body of an Item or of Individual Leaves

7.1 The aim of the restoration should be to match or even surpass the durability of the original. It is, however,

important that the visual and tactile qualities of the object should be left as little changed as possible.

7.2 In the choice of materials for restoration work and of the techniques for their use, their suitability, durability, safety and (as far as possible) the reversibility of the process should be the prime consideration. The conveniences of rapid and inexpensive treatment or the easy availability of materials should be regarded as only secondary to these prime requirements.

7.3 The librarian and the restorer need to be fully conscious of the dangers of falsification and disfigurement during restoration. This is particularly necessary when considering the replacement of lost sections of illustration or text. Those replacements must be recorded with special care, especially when they are not immediately identifiable.

8 Restoration of Bindings

8.1 The purpose of the binding of a volume is to protect the body of the hook from damage and to delay the process of its decay. It is therefore inevitable that the bindings are themselves particularly susceptible to damage and decay and many libraries have very large numbers of bindings requiring treatment, repair or restoration.

8.2 Restoration of bindings must be undertaken only if it is functionally necessary (see 6.2), for in many instances a box or slip case will provide adequate protection.

8.3 A library with a large collection of bindings requiring restoration should consider the restoration not only of those bindings of exceptional beauty and value, but of the collection as a whole.

8.4 The restoration of a damaged or decayed binding should be undertaken using as far as possible the materials and techniques of the original, as long as the original materials or techniques provide a sound and durable construction. If the original materials are unsatisfactory or unobtainable, a durable substitute as close as possible to the original should be used. When making use of historical binding techniques and materials the restorer should ensure that he recognizes their functions.

8.5 If a binding is so severely damaged that it cannot be repaired but a new one has to be made by making use of the old, all parts of it bearing information of any kind (remnants of the decoration, marks of ownership, old title and shelfmark labels, waste paper or vellum bearing text used in the preparation of the binding) must be retained, even if their content and value are not immediately recognizable. All such details transferred to a new binding should, if possible, be used in their original position and have the same functions as in the original binding. Care should be taken that these original details are easily seen and sufficiently protected. Alterations which are not easily discernable (such as removed fragments) should be indicated in such a way that a user of the volume can identify then immediately.

8.6 If only mere remnants of an original binding have survived, the librarian may decide that It is preferable to make a completely new functional binding and preserve the remnants of the original separately.

3.7 If nothing of an original binding has survived an unpretentious binding should be provided that uses techniques and materials sympathetic with the body of the book.

General Observations On Restoration Of Rare Books [Revised Version]

6.1 It is not possible to reverse the process of decay. Restoration in the absolute sense is therefore not possible. The restoration of a decayed item in a library collection is the stabilization and reconstruction of the decayed and damaged object, using as much of the original material as is functionally possible, but also new material where necessary. This process always means a change: some properties of the original materials will be preserved at the expense of others and it is for the librarian to decide whether this change is acceptable or not. The aim of restoration is to extend the life of the item significantly, while saving as much as possible of its original character, including its function, structure type, appearance, and handling qualities.

6.2 Before restoration of an object is undertaken, the librarian must assess, with technical advice from conservation or restoration experts, whether restoration is necessary, or whether the object cam be suitably preserved for its normal usage by taking appropriate conservation and protection measures. Restoration should never be undertaken unless it is unavoidable.

6.3 Although items are sometimes restored for exhibition purposes, the need for any form of restoration usually implies that decay or damage has already taken place on such a scale that the item can no longer be used. Frequent use is in most cases a more compelling reason for undertaking restoration than the extent of decay or damage. Unused books are in no great danger, even if they are in poor condition, if they are stored properly under safe and nondamaging conditions.

6.4 To assist in deciding what restoration needs to be undertaken in a collection, a survey needs to be done, even if this is possible only on a limited scale, and the results regularly updated so that they reflect the current condition of items in the collection.

6.5 Restoration work on library collections is inherently an expensive process in labor, and sometimes also in materials. As the aim is to make an item fit for use as long as possible, the librarian may decide that the readers' needs may more economically be met by a microfilm, reprint or photocopy of the book or document, while the original is withdrawn from use and placed in safe long-term storage.

6.6 With the great quantity of items in need of restoration (especially in older collections) and the wide variety in the possible methods of restoration, librarians must decide with the advice of their restoration experts upon the type and degree of restoration that is necessary. Before the decision is made, a detailed study of the condition and structure of each book and of its materials must be made. This will ensure that the most suitable methods and materials are used. It will also ensure that details that may be of historical or bibliographical interest are observed and recorded. Books should be collated if taken apart for treatment. The preferred method is to keep a separate record of the order of pages; if the book's pages are marked to show their order, it should be done lightly, and the marks should not be erased afterwards.

6.7 Materials for restoration work (papers, leathers, tissues, adhesives, etc.) and especially chemicals (solvents, bleaching agents, solutions for deacidification, etc.) should meet the usual conservation criteria of maximum chemical stability (inertness), permanence, and reversibility. If this information is not available in the conservation literature, it may be necessary to consult a regional conservation center or a chemist with special knowledge of the material or chemical, and with experience of its use in restoration.

6.8 All forms of restoration work on any item must be fully recorded, including in some cases photographic documentation. A description (or photographs) of the state of the item before treatment and details of the treatment (including the materials and chemicals used) are essential to provide complete evidence of the changes that restoration has introduced. The item should be dated and clearly marked as having received restoration at such and such a laboratory, and the documentation on the restoration (showing when the treatment was undertaken and by whom) should be kept readily available for consultation by users of the hook and future restorers.

Restoration Of The Body Of An Item Or Of Individual Leaves

7.1 The aim of the restoration should be to match or even surpass the durability and functional quality of the original. It is, however, important that the visual and tactile qualities of the original object should be left as little changed as possible.

7.2 In the choice of materials for restoration work and of the techniques for their use, their suitability, durability, safety and (as far as possible) the reversibility of the process should be the prime consideration. The convenience of rapid and inexpensive treatment or the easy availability of alternate materials should be regarded as secondary to these prime requirements.

7.3 The librarian and the restorer need to be fully conscious of the dangers of falsification and disfigurement during restoration. This is particularly necessary when considering the replacement of lost sections of illustration or text. Those replacements must be recorded with special care, especially when they are not immediately identifiable.

Restoration Of Bindings

8.1 The purpose of the binding of a volume is to protect the body of the book from damage and to delay the process of its decay. It is therefore inevitable that the bindings are themselves particularly susceptible to damage and decay and many libraries have very large numbers of bindings requiring treatment, repair or restoration.

8.2 Restoration of bindings must be undertaken only if it is functionally necessary, for in many instances a box will provide adequate protection.

8.3 [Dropped]

8.4 The restoration of a damaged or decayed binding should be undertaken using as far as possible the materials and techniques of the original, as long as they can contribute to a sound and durable construction. If the original materials (i.e., materials identical to those that make up the original binding) are unsatisfactory or unobtainable, a durable substitute as close as possible to the original should be used. When making use of historical binding techniques and materials the restorer should ensure that he recognizes their functions and knows which techniques and materials to choose for a particular book.

8.5 If a binding is so severely damaged that it cannot be repaired, all parts of it bearing information of any kind must be retained and transferred to the new binding, kept with the restored item, or kept with the documentation of work done, even if their content and value are not immediately recognizable. This includes remnants of the decoration, marks of ownership, old title and call number labels, waste paper or vellum bearing text used in the preparation of the original binding. All such details transferred to a new binding should, if possible, be used in their original position and have the same functions as in the original binding. Care should be taken that these original details are easily seen and sufficiently protected. Alterations which are not easily discernable should be indicated in such a way that a user of the volume can identify then immediately.

8.6 If only fragnents of an original binding have survived, the librarian and restorer may decide that it is preferable to make a completely new functional binding and preserve the remnants of the original separately. [In the U.S., conservators are less likely to reuse parts of an old binding in a new one, as European conservators do.]

8.7 If nothing of an original binding has survived, an unpretentious binding should be provided that uses techniques and materials sympathetic with the body and period of the book.

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