Saturday, January 7, 2012


You may or may not be aware of my day job as the Book Conservator for the Special Collections and University Archives for the University of Central Florida Libraries. I also do private book repair and after all the horrible do-it-yourself fixes I've seen I feel the need to present this post as a public service announcement about not using staples or tape on your books.

We have a large amount of pamphlets held together by rusty staples that need removing, but I thought these (this?) little pamphlets were in need of documentation because of the... unique way they have been joined together. It is (they are?) three stapled pamphlets that have been stapled to each other and then taped together with some specialty bookbinding tape which is more like electrical tape than anything that should come in contact with a book.

The first order of business is to remove the the horrid red tape that is acting as a spine in this Frankenstien creation....

Heat is applied to the tape with a tacking iron. Heat will usually reactivate the adhesive of the tape, or if you would like to use proper terminology it reactivates the gooiness. However there are cases where heat will just cause the tape to dig its nasty little claws in deeper, so one should always test the waters carefully before removing tape with a tacking iron.

Using a metal micro spatula dipped in rubbing alcohol the tape is slowly lifted

Look at that progress!

Now that the tape is removed you can see where the three pamphlets have been stapled together. The two staples near the spine only go through a pamphlet and a half. There is another set of staples on the back side leaving these helpless pamphlets in a carnivorous jaw of four ruthless staples.

The tape may be gone but some of the tackiness has remained. To remove the sticky I use a soft white eraser, specifically MagicRub, and gently rub the surface. This rolls up all the tape goo in with the eraser poop (ask your mom if you don't understand) and the leavings can be easily brushed away. Once the sticky spine was returned to a satin finish I removed the four staples that held the pamphlets together. This proved to be a Chinese finger trap of sorts since I could not get at the end of the front staples until the back ones were removed and vice versa. After some contorting however, the pamphlets were free for the first time since... probably the 70s.

Now on to the two staples for each individual pamphlet.
The two photos below illustrate how harmful staples can be. The left shows the rusty staple and the effect it has had on the paper. To the right is the page next to the staple showing how deep the rust has permeated the paper. 

The micro spatula returns, this time sans alcohol, to lift the staple prongs on the inside and then carefully wiggle the staple out the back.

Once the staples are removed new "cloth staples" need to be sewn in to hold the pamphlet together. Here I am using some safe linen thread. The pictures below show the substitution- the pamphlets will never know the difference!

Here they are- separated and free of their rusty shackles. After some paper work they were let loose in the stacks where they now graze freely with their fellow pamphlets; a new and happy life.


  1. Wow, this was a fascinating post! It's amazing to see what happens when the best intentions go wrong. I also find it very interesting that the way the pamphlet itself was constructed was also damaging to the piece. Are most modern pamphlets still constructed with metal staples?

    Thanks for sharing this, Whitney =)

  2. I'm so glad you found it interesting. Most modern pamphlets are still constructed with metal staples as well as magazines. We have many modern publications in the collection that are stapled together, and just because the sheer amount of them I usually don't remove staples unless they are old and may rust soon or are already rusty. Otherwise I would be a full time staple remover!