How do I keep books with a cracked spine from worsening?
June 30, 2007 6:11 PM   Subscribe

I have quite a few books that I bought used that have cracked spines. They're not to the point where I need to rebind them, but I'd like to do everything I can do to keep them from reaching that point. Suggestions?

Most of the books in question are softbacks, and are glue-bound. Besides being careful when using them (most of them are reference books, like foreign language stuff), is there anything I can do to prevent them from getting worse? Would putting a thin line of glue down into the crack (no sexual jokes, please ;) help matters, or would that be pointless? Taping the outside of the spine? Doing a book dance around the damaged books while praying to LibraryThing?

These aren't ultra-rare books or anything, but some of them were a real pain in the ass to get (been out of print for a while), so I'd really like to preseve them as best as I can.
posted by JoshTeeters to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm assuming you don't want to go to a bookbinder and pay a lot, since the books are not rare. It sounds like you just want to be able to keep reading them without them falling apart. If you don't care about keeping the original spine, you have some options.

Take them to a local full service print shop. Ask them to cut the spines off, and rebind them. They can use hot tape, or a spiral binding (also referred to as "plastic coil"), or they can do "comb binding." You won't be able to read the titles from the side with any of these methods, but they won't fall apart. Have them show you samples, and pick an option.

Adding tape over the spine will only help the covers stay on; it won't do anything for the pages inside.
posted by The Deej at 6:26 PM on June 30, 2007

(Meant to say... I don't think you can do anything to stop the deterioration... so that's why I am suggesting inexpensive rebinding)
posted by The Deej at 6:28 PM on June 30, 2007

I've taken clear packing tape and run a strip of it down the spine, carefully folding the excess over onto the front and back covers. Works great for me.
posted by jbickers at 6:43 PM on June 30, 2007

Seconding The Deej's suggestion for inexpensive rebinding.

If you want to keep glued bindings from deteriorating, you can never open them, or expose them to heat, cold, humidity, or dryness.

But a cheap spiral or comb will probably last longer then the acid-based paper my collection of cheap paperbacks is printed on.
posted by rossmik at 6:56 PM on June 30, 2007

My library does the clear packing tape along the spine, but it's not as effective once the spine is cracked. Visit the library and ask them for advice.
posted by theora55 at 7:29 PM on June 30, 2007

Shelve them horizontally, not vertically. Especially hardcovers. And please don't put tape on them. I know I'm a fetishist about books but gads, tape? Consider a rubber cement specifically for paper like Best-test.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:31 PM on June 30, 2007

Toekneesan: I understand, I'm a book fetishist as well. The idea of slapping tape on my books makes me cringe; however, the idea of them falling apart makes me cringe more. :)

Rest: Thanks for the info. It sounds like a cheap rebinding is the way to go.
posted by JoshTeeters at 7:46 PM on June 30, 2007

Would putting a thin line of glue down into the crack (no sexual jokes, please ;) help matters, or would that be pointless?

At the used/antiquarian bookstore where I work, we put a thin line of glue down into the cracks of lots of softbound books whose spines are cracked, sometimes severely; it works very well to bring the book back into readable shape. We use tacky craft glue (it dries more flexibly) and a small squeeze bottle with a narrow metal tube and tip to lay in a line of glue, then tuck a piece of clear plastic into the page (a cut-up outer sleeve for an LP is perfect) so that any excess glue won't stick the pages together. Then close the book, rubber band it tight and leave it overnight. Next day, open the book, slowly remove the piece of plastic, and you should have a paperback whose spine is in much better shape. If you didn't get it right, just repeat the process again with another very thin line of glue. We routinely use this process to fix books with cracked spines and sections of pages (or individual pages) falling out; I've only rarely had to do it twice.

There's really no need to rebind, inexpensively or not, a paperback whose spine is starting to crack.
posted by mediareport at 7:53 PM on June 30, 2007

It sounds like a cheap rebinding is the way to go.

Whoa, slow down there, hoss. Give AskMe a chance to work for more than an hour and a half before deciding what to do. Again, from someone who does this a lot: what you're describing sounds like a very easy routine repair, no rebinding necessary.
posted by mediareport at 7:56 PM on June 30, 2007

mediareport: sorry, brakes applied, awaiting more information from the hivemind. ;)
posted by JoshTeeters at 8:16 PM on June 30, 2007

Yeah, give the hive a chance.

I like mediareport's method, but would still go with a cement rather than a glue for posterity.

Check out the section on Best-Test's site on how to use the cement and substitute that for the craft glue in mediareport's suggestion. Mediareport's method is spot on, but I'd reconsider the adhesive. Craft glue is permanent. Cement sticks but allows future generations other options. By considering this you will probably save a bunch of money and preserve an important cultural artifact at the same time. If the book is important to you, it will probably be important to it's next reader/owner.
posted by Toekneesan at 8:16 PM on June 30, 2007

@mediareport: btw, your explanation is great, but I'm a little confused on what you mean by tucking a piece of clear plastic into the page. Can you elabroate a bit? Do I need a (roughly) rectangular piece of plastic, with it laid over the glue, so as to "wrap" it, keeping it from the pages? Or am I misunderstanding that bit?
posted by JoshTeeters at 8:20 PM on June 30, 2007

Do I need a (roughly) rectangular piece of plastic, with it laid over the glue, so as to "wrap" it, keeping it from the pages?

I don't understand, there's no wrapping at all. Open the book to the page where the crack is most obvious, lay glue into the crack - we use a very thin metal tip - then place a piece of plastic along the inside edge of the right-hand page and close the book. The point is that you shouldn't have the glue touching the plastic at all; it's there only for insurance to keep the pages from sticking if you used too much and it spreads out from the crack.

Here's another attempt: Just cut a 1" strip of plastic (again, the outer sleeves for LP jackets work great) and make it longer than the book is high. Tuck the plastic between the two pages after you glue and before you close the book; you want some of the plastic to stick out at the top and bottom of the book to act as a barrier between the pages all the way down the spine. I gently tug the plastic toward the spine at top and bottom so it's fairly snug before I close the book with rubberbands. When you open the book the next day, the plastic should be easy to gently pull off.

Not sure how else to describe it; maybe someone else can help.

Can't respond to Toekneesan's point; I've never used rubber cement and don't know how it would work. But if you go for glue, use tacky or "craft glue." Lots of folks, including Elmer's, make it; it's nothing special or expensive, but when it dries it's more flexible than ordinary Elmer's-style glue.
posted by mediareport at 9:40 PM on June 30, 2007

I travel a lot, and paperbacks come apart in all sorts of horrible ways. But often there's a paper cover which is separating from clumps of pages.

I've always just squirted Elmer's white glue down the nooks and crannies along the spine and press the sucker overnight.

It "does the deed" to the point where I can read it and no pages fall out. Let it disintegrate on the unlucky sot I pass it onto.

Bookstores won't touch most of my books for resale, but I'm sure they go thru several grateful readers before death, which in the end faces us all...
posted by DickStock at 12:26 AM on July 1, 2007

@mediareport: Thanks for the second explanation. I get it now.
posted by JoshTeeters at 5:37 AM on July 1, 2007

Every time a glued-back book comes into our Preservation Dept. I get so enraged. This kind of binding is fine for small disposable paperbacks, but when you start getting into fine art books and books that you might want to keep for more than 1 year, you really need to invest the money in a book that is sewn. A sewn book is really a thing of perfect design. And their repair is sometimes not as intuitive as you might think. We get a lot of "repaired" stuff back in which the "repair" has actually done more damage than if had just been left alone (this is why you should never tape your books, everybody).
A good conservator could probably fix your books in question for a lesser price than you think (it's a fairly easy job). I have a feeling that rubber cement has properties to it that will make your book sad in the future. There are "reversible" PVA (read: Elmer's) styles of glue that you can get for above described techniques, but really, first - demand sewn books, and second - get a professional to rebind your more treasured ones.

PS theora55 - please tell your library to stop with the tape!
posted by ikahime at 2:30 PM on July 4, 2007

Of course, do keep in mind the difference between "I have this rare / valuable book I want to preserve and restore and hand down to my children" and "I have a book, the value of which resides in the information it holds, and which I want to be able to read without it falling apart, and I don't care about restoring it or making it look like new." The latter is what the cheap binding methods are for.
posted by The Deej at 5:18 PM on July 4, 2007

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