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Saving books one repair at a time

“Mending books is very zen for me. If I’ve done my job properly, good books continue to circulate, and patrons should never even know it was repaired in the first place,”

CANMORE – Deserea Komar carefully holds a small brush in one hand and paper cup with paste in another as a book rests on a table in front of her.

After dipping the brush into the radiant bond paste, she glides the brush against the spine of an open paperback book The Cat Who Walks Through Walls by Robert A. Heinlein.

In a note from a staff member, two pages are identified as needing to be fixed, adding the library is unable to get another replacement for the popular science fiction book.

In a matter of minutes, Komar has worked magic and given the book a new lease on life for readers to continue to enjoy the novel.

“Mending books is very zen for me. If I’ve done my job properly, good books continue to circulate, and patrons should never even know it was repaired in the first place,” said Komar, a clerk with the Canmore Public Library.

Though not every book can be resuscitated, the Canmore Public Library mended 1,387 books in 2022, which required 104 hours of repair time. The main reason for repair is spine damage, but it can also include stains, loose pages and tears.

The library has been repairing books since moving to Elevation Place about 10 years ago and Komar has been involved in the role for the past five years.

Repairing the books in the library isn’t so they last forever, but rather so they can continue to be usable for the remainder of their lifecycle for readers to enjoy.

A book repair might seem quite simple, but Komar said when done improperly, books can end up worse due to the discolouring of pages or further damage from inadequate tape and glue.

When books are returned, they are examined to determine if the book is still good, damaged, or possibly beyond repair. If a book needs repair, it will get a slip of paper taped to it outlining where and what the damage is which in turn speeds up workflow.

This means doing these repairs requires a set of precise hands, and of knowledge in what to do when a book requires special attention. With that in mind, Komar asks the public doesn’t attempt these repairs on books they borrow from the library.

Due to Komars’ educational background in museum studies from attending Algonquin College in Ottawa, where she focused on repair and preventive care for paper-based artifacts, ultimately gave her the skill sets and knowledge need to perform the delicate repairs at the library.

In repairing the books, it’s estimated between $5,000 to $10,000 in annual savings are realized rather than replacing books too damaged to circulate.

With those savings, the money can be put towards supporting programs, patron requests and making new purchases, which allows the library to grow its collection rather than spend more money on buying replacement books.

Michelle Preston, library director at the Canmore Public Library, said the repairs are appreciated by patrons.

“Not all libraries have trained staff who can do book repairs, so we are very lucky in this regard,” said Preston.

“People are sometimes surprised we are able to repair books in our library’s collection, and they also appreciate it when they don’t have to pay to replace an item because it can be repaired.”

The equipment is quite minimal as they only need a few small paint brushes, a small metal tool that spreads the glue with great precision, acid-free tape, a granulated eraser for stains, and radiant bond, a special glue that doesn’t discolour the pages while still having strong adhesion to the paper.

Books can’t be repaired if there is water damage, intentional cuts, biological matter, natural wear and tear and page tears repaired by users with packing or scotch tape, which can cause more damage than before.

The difference between tears and cuts is there is no rough edge with paper fibres for the glue to adhere to the other side as there would with a rip in the page, rendering cuts unrepairable.

“Everyone should love to read a book that feels brand new, every time it is checked out,” said Komar.