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Caring for the books in the library

Here at The Mariners’ Museum Library, we have thousands of rare books in our collection. They are not all in pristine condition like the ones at a bookstore.. These books have character. The downside is that they require a bit more care so that the resource remains available for the public to see. Let’s take a peek at what we do in the Library to care for these rare books.

Tying the book together

In the image above, we have Nystrom’s pocket-book of mechanics and engineering from 1887. The string adds a bit of charm and is nicely wrapped like a little gift, but it does have a purpose. Without the string, the book would sit on the shelf with its pages exposed because the leather cover has split from the spine as we can see in the image below.

Many of our books are stored on the shelves in this fashion for a number of reasons. The pages inside may have separated from the spine and cover, the book may have an insert that was placed inside the cover instead of bound, or the cover is thin, unable to support the contents resulting in warped pages as it slumps on the shelf. Without the string, the book continues to wear through the years as other books move around it, or as we continue to bring it out for patrons.

The Damage That Bugs Can Do

Some of the books that we have in the collection have also been attacked by insects. In the image above, we can see just how much damage these little guys can do. They’ve eaten little holes and trails through this books by Struys: The voiages and travels of John Struys through Italy, Greece, Muscovy, Tartary, Media, Persia, East-India, Japan, and other countries in Europe, Africa and Asia.

It is hard to tell what kind of environment books have been exposed to before they come to us, so we make sure to freeze our books for two weeks whenever we see skittering critters coming out of the pages.


Ok, my whole goal with this next part is to stop everyone from licking their finger before turning a page. The brown speckles all over this book above is what we call foxing… Or, a fancy word for a paper discoloration, or a fungus of an questionable origin. Some say it is due to the age of the paper but others say it is a result of fungal growth in a humid environment. In any case, we keep the stacks in a temperature and humidity controlled environment to stabilize whatever may be happening between the covers.

In the image below, we see a close-up of what you would be touching and licking when turning the page. Please, for your health and my stomach, don’t put this anywhere near your mouth.


Now it’s no secret around here that I am pretty short. That being said, it’s always tempting to stand on the tips of my toes to snag the spine of a book with my finger.. That’s what that little finger-sized gap is for, right? WRONG! By pulling a book down off of the shelf, especially a rare, fragile book, you risk tearing the spine or eventually ripping the whole spine off. The example below is what not to do and what happens as a result:
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