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Mastering the art of book mending

Published: Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
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DeKALB – A label pusher, half a clothespin and a small wooden stick are just some of the tools librarian Diane Tollhurst uses at the DeKalb Public Library.

Add a bit of glue, and she’s ready to work.

Tollhurst is one of the library’s part-time book menders, workers who spend several hours a week repairing the damage books have suffered while in circulation. Tollhurst, who has worked at the library for almost 20 years, started as book mender in the late ’90s.

Also an experienced book mender is Nancy Allen, who mended books at the library at 309 Oak St. in DeKalb, for six years. Although she took on a different role in the library a year ago, she looks back fondly on her years as a book mender.

“If nothing else, it gives you more respect for books,” she said.

The most common damages to library books are crayon marks, liquid stains and torn pages or covers. Crinkled and rippled pages – a sign they were once wet and have since dried – also are common.

Tollhurst and Allen agreed that the most common (and difficult) books to mend are graphic novels and children’s books, because of their heavy, shiny pages and frequent use among patrons. But spiral-bound books, with their unique binding and loose pages, really make the two cringe.

When menders are unable to fix a book, the library sends it to a bindery, orders new copies or decides to take it out of circulation.

But Tollhurst and Allen have found that books are sometimes difficult to replace because they are out of print. Richard Scarry is an author whose books used to be in high demand among children, but many of his books are out of print. Caldecott and Newbery award-winning books, some of which date back to the 1930s, also are hard to replace.

Book mending can involve anything from reattaching the cover, removing pen markings or sewing pages back into a book. The supplies needed often include thread, a needle, liquid paste and several different kinds of tape.

Tollhurst said it can take time to figure out the best way to fix a damaged book. She attended one book mending workshop when she first started, but said she is largely self-taught and has honed her technique with practice.

“You’ll have an idea of what you’re supposed to do and how you’re supposed to do it,” she said. “But it takes awhile to really get the feel of how much glue to put on that page.”

Although she loves her job, Tollhurst said there is a downside to being an experienced book mender: She finds herself noticing all the imperfections in every other book she sees outside the library.

“I’ll be at church and notice the hymnal is falling apart,” she said. “And then I’ll start thinking of ways to fix it.”

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