Custom protective enclosures

One of the most important skills for a preservationist is the ability to decide what treatments are appropriate in what situations. We’ve learned a number of repair techniques so far for both paper and books as a whole, and this week we covered protective enclosures—in other words, what to do when direct treatment of an object is, for some reason, not an option (or not the best one). Next week we’ll switching gears and covering exhibitions, so I wanted to take a moment now to list off some of the things must be considered before an item is treated:

  • What the best treatment options are
  • The limitations of the preservationist’s own skill
  • The limitations of the treatment (e.g., it is only feasible to tip in so many pages)
  • Time spent on the treatment (and related activities, such as de-/recirculation and shelf prep.)
  • Departmental budget and cost of materials
  • Whether the department has the necessary equipment
  • Considering the above limitations, alternative treatment options
  • Whether the item might be suited for special collections or the archives
  • Whether their are other copies in the collection, and how many
  • Circulation statistics for this and other copies
  • Importance/relevance of the item to the collection (i.e., is it worth keeping?)
  • Alternatives to repair (e.g., reformatting)
  • Cost/availability of a new copy

In the end, preservationists must learn to set aside the idea that we should save everything—because we can’t (and shouldn’t). Now let’s take a look at some of the options for protecting an item when direct treatment is for some reason undesirable.

Wrappers

Wrappers are best for small, lightweight books in need of protection but not a lot of support. They provide a buffer between the book and the shelf and other books surrounding it, but because they’re made from folder stock, they tend to shift shape slightly. This is fine for books whose structure is essentially sound, but not for those in need of greater protection.

The procedure for making a wrapper is quite easy. Measurements of the book are taken (the book itself can be used for height and width measurements, if desired, but thickness should at least be measured onto a piece of scrap paper/folder stock). Two strips of folder stock are then cut: one with the height of the book and one with the width, each long enough to wrap around the book fully (and then some). The points where each strip of folder stock will wrap around the book (i.e., the thickness of the book) are then marked off, and the folder stock is scored with a bonefolder and folded against a straightedge along these lines. The strips are then nested (again, ideally with the height wrapper on the outside and the width wrapper on the inside) and joined with an “N” shape of double-sided tape. Finally, the tab and its slot are cut out of the height wrapper (or, in my case, the width wrapper). That’s all there is to it!

I had reasonable success with this repair in class, although when I went to fit the two pieces of folder stock together it became clear that they fit together better with the height wrapper inside of the width wrapper, rather than the other way around as they’re supposed to be. So, I simply reversed them. The basic idea is the same, and although this arrangement might not be ideal in a library setting (the flap could slip out on the shelf), it’s not really an issue for my own use.

My finished wrapper. The tab slides in horizontally, rather than vertically as it ideally should, but it still works fine.

My finished wrapper. The tab slides in horizontally, rather than vertically as it ideally should, but it still works fine.

Upon opening the tab, you can see the height wrapper enclosing the book. It’s important that the bottom portion always be folded up first, even when the height wrapper is on the outside of the structure.

The wrapper fully opened. This isn't the book it was made for (it's a bit small for this wrapper), but the book the wrapper is intended for is something I hope to write about in the future, so I'll leave it a mystery for now.

The wrapper fully opened. This isn’t the book it was made for (it’s a bit small for this wrapper), but the book the wrapper is intended for is something I hope to write about in the future, so I’ll leave it a mystery for now.

Corrugated clam-shell boxes

Corrugated clam-shell boxes (essentially pizza boxes) are good for small to large books in need of greater protection and support. They are quite sturdy, and to not shift shape very much at all when put together properly. Although creating these is definitely more involved than creating a wrapper, it is still overall a simple procedure that can have great benefits.

For this enclosure, you start out with a piece of corrugated cardboard. Ideally, the corrugations should run parallel to the height of the item, although it’s not strictly necessary. Then, starting from the lower-left-hand corner, lines corresponding to slight variations on the thickness, width, and height of the book are drawn (the variations account for the thickness of the cardboard). Unnecessary lines are erased, and the cardboard is cut to size. Waste areas are then removed, and the cardboard is creased and folded with the help of a bonefolder and straightedge. At this point, the corrugation is cleaned out from some of the corners (the triangles you’ll see in the pictures below), and and PVA or double-sided tape is used to adhere the corners.

I ran into a few minor issues with this one in class, but I realized my errors while I was still in the penciling phase, so I simply redrew the necessary lines before I started creasing and cutting. That said, the book I was making the box for is in rough shape (it could stand to be recased at the very least), and my measurement for the thickness was an underestimate; additionally, the loose cover kept shifting around, which made consistently measuring the width and height difficult and more time-consuming than it had to be. When I made the second box at home, I took very careful measurements of the height, width, and thickness and marked them on scrap card stock (in class, we did this only for the thickness). I then used this for all measurements.

The lines have been sketched, and extraneous lines erased. There's actually one error here in the lines (on the spine portion of the box) that I later fixed.

The lines have been sketched, and extraneous lines erased. There’s actually one error here in the lines (on the spine portion of the box) that I later fixed.

Cutting the corrugated cardboard with a utility knife. I seem to be getting at least slightly better at cutting in a straight line, but the ruler still shifts around. I might have to learn to cut with the cork side down, but with that you run the risk of the blade shifting against (underneath) the ruler.

Cutting the corrugated cardboard with a utility knife. I seem to be getting at least slightly better at cutting in a straight line, but the ruler still shifts around. I might have to learn to cut with the cork side down, but with that you run the risk of the blade shifting against (underneath) the ruler.

Here the cardboard has been cut, and you can see that I fixed those lines on the spine portion.

Here the cardboard has been cut, and you can see that I fixed those lines on the spine portion.

The cardboard has been creased. Next, the remaining pencil lines are erased and the corrugated middle is stripped from the triangular portions.

The cardboard has been creased. Next, the remaining pencil lines are erased and the corrugated middle is stripped from the triangular portions.

The boxes from class (top) and home (bottom). In the latter, I cut out a triangular portion to make the box easier to open. You can also see here that when I was cutting the cardboard, I made a mistake with one of the triangles—so it ends up wrapping around the wrong way. It looks silly, but it still works just fine.

The boxes from class (top) and home (bottom). In the latter, I cut out a triangular portion to make the box easier to open. You can also see here that when I was cutting the cardboard, I made a mistake with one of the triangles—so it ends up wrapping around the wrong way. It looks silly, but it still works just fine.

The opened box, with its book inside. It fits much better in this one.

The opened box, with its book inside. It fits much better in this one.

♦ ♦

There are other types of protective enclosures, but these are two of the most basic and ubiquitous ones. When all was said and done, I came away from class with three useful enclosures (well, two, but I’m sure I’ll be able to find a book to fit in the first corrugated clam-shell box eventually), which feels pretty great. Having worked on these enclosures will also give me a leg up when I start looking into more decorative box-making, which is featured in one of the books I mentioned in my first post. See? It all connects.

Comments

  • Awww, Leaves of Grass is getting it’s own box. This is a really interesting article, and is making me less apprehensive about trying some of this stuff out, sans help from preservation experts. Any advice on what the best storage strategy is for limp, calfskin bound books that do not have the ability to stand up vertically? Just make a bunch of boxes and stack them up on their sides?

    ErichJuly 12, 2011
  • That book really needed it. As you know, it’s in pretty rough shape.

    It’s difficult for me to give advice without seeing the books, but since you’ve described them as limp, I do have a few suggestions (with the disclaimer that I am by no means an expert in any of this and that there are only two types of enclosures I know how to build, so I don’t know what the others are usually used for):

    —I’d go with a box instead of a wrapper. It provides more stability, which it seems is needed.
    —You might want to consider storing the books horizontally, rather than vertically, even in the boxes. This is where it’d be easier if I were seeing the books in person, but really aside from shelf space, there’s no reason not to do this.
    —Stick to acid-free, lignin-free, buffered cardboard (we used 1/8th inch thick cardboard, I think this one: http://www.gaylord.com/adblock.asp?abid=139&search_by=desc&search_for=corrugated&mpc=WW). Polyvinyl acetate (PVA) is your best bet for gluing (a strong double-stick tape will also work, but not your typical Scotch variety, I’d imagine). It’s always good to use archival-quality materials when they’re available, but I want to stress it here since I know you’re a collector of these books, and there’s probably enough red rot going on already without having the boxes do further damage.

    It looks like Gaylord actually sells some boxes, if you want to save yourself the trouble. (Alternatively, I could probably use some extra practice if you feel like paying for the cardboard I’d use.) Or I could just send you a diagram for making the boxes and you can have at it yourself; it’s pretty easy overall. Let me know if I can be of any help picking out materials for you.

    Jackie SmithJuly 12, 2011

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