When a book comes back broken: A look at mending

by Annette DeFuso

The Adams County Library system offers over 100,000 items for our patrons to borrow. With over 300,000 total check-outs of our physical materials just in the last year, we strive to maintain our book, video, and audio collections in good circulating condition. Our most popular items circulate dozens and dozens of times, so wear and tear is to be expected over the lifetime of a book or disc. Eventually, book spines will break, and DVDs will become scratched. Other accidental damage happens to our materials while they are out in circulation, such as torn pages, coffee spills, and dog-chewed covers.

All of our items are checked for damage upon being returned to a library. Library staff will look at the overall condition of each item to see if there are any issues that would prevent it from returning to the shelf and circulating again. Some additional problems we find with our books include torn dust jackets, faded spine labels, and detached covers. Audiobooks and DVDs might have broken cases or discs that skip and will no longer play.

Any items identified as candidates for mending or replacement are sent to our Technical Services Department located in the Gettysburg Library building. Technical Services provides some of the behind-the-scenes work for the entire system, including acquisitions, cataloging, processing, and mending. Here we assess each item we receive to determine if and how it could be repaired and returned to circulation. Most of the time, a little glue and/or book tape is all that is needed to repair the damage to a book. Missing or faded labels are reprinted and replaced. Torn dust jackets are removed, mended, and recovered. For audiobooks and DVDs, we replace broken cases with new cases, cover art, and labels. If discs are scratched, we’ll clean each one in our disc-cleaning machine. It uses a special cleaning solution formulated not to harm the disc, and most of the time a disc will come out looking and playing as good as new.

If we can’t repair the damage, it will be necessary to withdraw the item from circulation. Some examples of this are books that are missing pages or DVDs that will no longer play even after cleaning. When a book is returned to us wet or stained, we must withdraw it too. Liquid damage and food stains encourage mold growth, which could spread to other parts of the library, and might also attract insects. We then notify the librarian who selects for that collection to consider replacing the item. They will research how much the item has circulated, whether or not we own other copies, and if it’s still available from our vendors. If a replacement copy is no longer in print, we might be able to provide it on request through interlibrary loan.

Simple in-house repairs prolong the life of each item, helping the library stretch its collection budget and provide an item in good condition to each borrower. Mending is a key component of our overall collection maintenance, and it’s something that happens behind the scenes every day at your library.

Annette DeFuso is Technical Services Director for the Adams County Library System.

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Deborah Collins
Deborah Collins
7 months ago

Such a thorough description of the care that books deserve! Thanks, Annette!

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